Addressing the root causes of the conflict in South Sudan

From Presbyterian World Mission

Find ways to support our sisters and brothers in South Sudan.

The government of South Sudan has recently taken laudable steps to halt killings and human rights abuses by members of the armed forces, but South Sudan’s people still face multiple threats from inter-ethnic tensions, entrenched patterns of violence, natural disasters and conflict in neighboring Sudan.

South Sudan became an independent country on July 9, 2011, following a referendum in which its people overwhelmingly voted to separate from Sudan.  The referendum, agreed under a 2005 peace deal with Sudan, ended decades of civil war, but the young nation continues to be destabilized by conflict.

Over the past two years inter-communal violence, primarily among the Nuer and Murle, has destabilized South Sudan’s Jonglei State, causing massive displacement. The two ethnic groups, both predominately Presbyterian, have been at odds for more than fifty years. The ethnic rivalries were exacerbated by the 1983-2005 war with Khartoum, which armed both communities and pitted them against each other.

Since the beginning of 2013, the South Sudanese government’s campaign to disarm rebel forces led by David Yau Yau has increased the insecurity in Jonglei State. Clashes between the South Sudan military (SPLA) and Yau Yau’s insurgents have inflicted heavy losses on both sides. The fighting has also taken a heavy toll on the civilian population.  Hundreds of residents, mostly people of Murle heritage, have been caught in the crossfire or have been targeted by SPLA soldiers prone to suspect locals of being sympathetic to the rebels. The six main towns in Pibor County have been abandoned. Women and children have been especially vulnerable. 72 unaccompanied Murle children have been found hiding in the bush. “We were being killed by the SPLA soldiers,” said one woman. “Women go to collect firewood and they are raped and killed.  That is why I had to leave Pibor.”

More than 100,000 Jonglei residents have been displaced since the start of 2013; many have sought refuge either in neighboring countries or in the capital city of Juba. Survivors have been severely traumatized. Anger and hurt often fuels a desire for revenge, which only perpetuates the conflict.

“There is no one to see that justice is done, so the only alternative is revenge,” lamented one Murle elder. “But thousands of people are dying. Revenge will not solve anything.  Our voice is not heard.  We need the international community to understand, we need a mediator.”

South Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir, is facing growing international pressure to intervene to halt the violence.  In July 2013 he fired his  Vice-President and reshuffled his cabinet, a move that some commentators saw as an attempt to stifle dissent and ensure loyalty.  However, on August 21 South Sudanese authorities arrested a dozen high-ranking SPLA officers, including Brigadier General James Otong, on charges that troops under their command played a role in the killing of innocent civilians in Jonglei State. President Obama has signaled the United State’s concern for the region by appointing Ambassador Donald Booth, an experienced diplomat, to serve as a Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan.

Meanwhile, fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces —Sudan’s national army— and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) in Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile states has forced more than 220,000 people into South Sudan’s Upper Nile and Unity states. Overcrowding, outbreaks of disease, poor funding and flooding make caring for these refugees problematic for aid agencies. The ongoing rainy season — which blocks roads for months — will make aid delivery even harder.

Close to 2 million South Sudanese have returned home since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 ahead of independence. The ongoing conflict, high food prices, and large numbers of returnees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) have led to deterioration in the country’s food security. In the contested Abyei region, the mass return of IDPs following increased security has led to food security concerns, while the large number of returnees from Sudan has also put pressure on available food stocks.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Agency (FAO), an estimated 1.15 million people are expected to face food shortages during the ongoing rainy season. In March the UN World Food Program (WFP) estimated that some 4.1 million South Sudanese people would be food insecure in 2013.

Sudan Mission Network

The Sudan Mission Network is among more than 40 networks that connect Presbyterians who share a common mission interest. Most participants are involved in mission partnerships through congregations, presbyteries or synods. Network members come together to coordinate efforts, share best practices and develop strategies.

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