Peace eludes the world’s new­est na­tion

Africa Renewal - - Africa Watch: South Sudan - BY PAVITHRA RAO

On­the eve of the fifth an­niver­sary of South Su­dan’s in­de­pen­dence on 9 July, spo­radic gun­fire rent the air in Juba, the cap­i­tal city.

What many as­sumed was a cel­e­bra­tion of the world’s new­est na­tion’s fifth an­niver­sary turned out to be a pre­cur­sor to a deadly clash pit­ting troops loyal to Pres­i­dent Salva Kiir against those loyal to his deputy Riek Machar.

Fight­ing quickly spilled over, re­sult­ing in hun­dreds of deaths and caus­ing thou­sands to flee to neigh­bour­ing Cen­tral African Repub­lic, Ethiopia, Su­dan and Uganda.

Although yet another cease­fire agree­ment came into ef­fect on 11 July, there were still fears that, as has hap­pened many times in the past, it could be vi­o­lated.

By mid-July about 300 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 33 civil­ians and two Chi­nese peace­keep­ers, had been killed in the fight­ing.

The wors­en­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion is now a ma­jor con­cern. Within the last five years, South Su­dan has pro­duced the fourth-high­est num­ber of refugees in the world, just shy of 750,000, ac­cord­ing to the UN High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees’ “Global Trends Report 2015.” The top three coun­tries are Syria, Afghanistan and So­ma­lia.

The lat­est out­break of fight­ing, if not con­tained, is ex­pected to ex­ac­er­bate refugee out­flows, par­tic­u­larly from cities such as Juba, Wau and Ben­tiu. In ad­di­tion, thou­sands of peo­ple have sought shel­ter at the UN mis­sion in Juba.

UN Sec­re­tary- Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon con­demned the clashes and called for peace: “I urge Pres­i­dent Kiir and First Vice-Pres­i­dent Riek Machar to put an im­me­di­ate end to the on­go­ing fight­ing, dis­ci­pline the mil­i­tary lead­ers re­spon­si­ble for the vi­o­lence and fi­nally work to­gether as part­ners to im­ple­ment the Agree­ment on the Res­o­lu­tion of the Con­flict in South Su­dan.”

Hervé Lad­sous, the UN un­der-sec­re­tary-gen­eral for peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions, wants a stronger man­date so that UN peace­keep­ers can en­force an arms em­bargo and im­pose tar­geted sanc­tions on those per­pe­trat­ing vi­o­lence: “If this is a fore­warn­ing of what is yet to come, only a strong po­lit­i­cal and co­or­di­nated

ap­proach can sal­vage the peace process now,” he said.

At the July sum­mit in Ki­gali, Rwanda, African Union (AU) lead­ers agreed to send more peace­keep­ers from Africa to South Su­dan, with a ro­bust man­date to en­force the cease­fire and pro­tect civil­ians.

AU Com­mis­sion chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma called on po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to en­gage in di­a­logue and pro­tect the South Su­danese peo­ple. Af­ter terming the fight­ing “un­ac­cept­able,” she said, “Hardly two months af­ter the for­ma­tion of the govern­ment of na­tional unity, the bel­liger­ents seem to be back in the trenches and the peo­ple of South Su­dan, in­stead of cel­e­brat­ing five years of in­de­pen­dence, must flee like sheep be­fore the wolves. [The govern­ment and lead­ers must] pro­tect the vul­ner­a­ble to serve the peo­ple, not to be the cause of the peo­ple’s suf­fer­ing.”

There are about 12,000 UN peace­keep­ers in the coun­try, and other UN agen­cies such as UNICEF and UN­HCR are pro­vid­ing other forms of as­sis­tance, in­clud­ing med­i­cal and hu­man­i­tar­ian, to those af­fected by the clashes.

Trou­ble be­gan in 2013 when Pres­i­dent Kiir sacked his deputy, Mr. Machar, ac­cus­ing him of plan­ning to top­ple the govern­ment via a coup. Since then the two po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights have been at odds.

Hopes for peace were roused in Au­gust 2015 af­ter the two signed a cease­fire agree­ment, which led to Mr. Machar’s re­in­state­ment as vice pres­i­dent in April 2016. How­ever, it ap­pears the frosty re­la­tion­ship be­tween the pres­i­dent and his deputy never thawed.

Panos/JB Rus­sell

Tra­di­tional dancers dur­ing in­de­pen­dence cel­e­bra­tions in the cap­i­tal Juba when South Su­dan be­came the world’s new­est na­tion af­ter se­ced­ing from the North.

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