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The South Sudan conflictPublish Date: Dec 25, 2013
The South Sudan conflict
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People gather at a makeshift IDP camp at the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) compound in Juba amid ongoing conflict. PHOTO/AFP

On this Christmas Day when Christians the world over celebrate the birth of Christ, Prince of Peace, peace is illusive in many areas of Africa.

The conflict in Central African Republic simmers alarmingly with increased daily body counts of civilians. 

The Democratic Republic of Congo, meanwhile, is barely keeping the lid on all sorts of insurrections.  If not M23, ADF, then it is insurgency sporting a different acronym, ready to stir trouble in the vast land. 

Sure, peace is slowly creeping back into Somalia, thanks to the blood and sweat that AMISOM has poured alongside the Somali National Army.

But the conflict that could kill thousands and displace millions is the one just revving up in South Sudan.  The falling out between President Salva Kiir, and his former vice president Dr. Riek Machar Teny, will turn South Sudan into the killing field that will make Rwanda’s horrific 1994 genocide look tame by comparison.

All the incendiary elements are in place to inflame the conflict into a civil war of unimaginable misery. The first worry has to be South Sudan’s hundreds of thousand of untamed guns. 

This, after all, is the land that has been at war for several decades, where guns abound in the hands of civilians and troops alike. Making matters worse, the world’s newest country has had neither the resources nor time to transform former rebels into a professional army.

The absence of discipline among soldiers on both sides of the conflict is amplified by ethnic animosities.  Who lives and who dies as the conflict unfolds depends on luck and ethnicity.  News reports over the past week point at ethnic killings.  There are unverified claims that around Juba town, loyalist soldiers belonging to the majority Dinka ethnicity went on a killing spree targeting those from other ethnicities.

Non -Dinkas especially those from Machar’s Nuer ethnicity were rounded up and summarily executed.

True or not, that information has set off retaliatory killings of Dinka in Bor town, and neighbouring Unity state to the north.  The preliminary reports that around 500 were killed in first few hours of the conflict may be revised as the true picture emerges from the north on the number of people killed there.

 What is true, however, is that neither side has firm grip on how soldiers armed to the teeth behave in the field. Riek Machar’s claim of controlling the mutinous soldiers is tenuous considering that the generals leading the mutinies in Jonglei and Unity states seem to have trouble keeping in check armed youth roaming the streets.

The combination of ethnically directed anger, lack of discipline among troops, and unbridled leadership ambitions is a deadly Molotov that that could explode with such fury the world has never seen.  

As if these are not trouble enough, the vultures of war will soon be attracted to the indifferent and indiscriminate killings from both sides in South Sudan.   From further north in Khartoum, warmongers will have noticed the opportunity offered by the political chaos in South Sudan. 

President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir has officially expressed concerns over the conflict among his neighbours to the south.  But it is the worst kept secret that the Republic of Sudan has never fully accepted the upstart independence of South Sudan. 

Khartoum only tolerated the breakaway independent nation for fear of picking a fight with the international community already itching to pull the trigger against its leader al-Bashir. 

An indicted war criminal, Bashir is so reviled the world over that many would take pleasure getting rid of him.  So, Khartoum retreated into subdued silence but always watching and waiting with glee and deep satisfaction for signs of unraveling of South Sudan.  For Khartoum, that day came a week ago when blood started spilling in the south.

Now, all that remains is how to get into the action.  Expect al-Bashir whose hold on power was shaken two months ago by deadly protests over oil shortage to move his troops south on the pretext of protecting his citizens along the border, but all along, he will be looking for the oilfields in Unity state.

 In fact, the fight over control of the oilfields will likely inflame and prolong the conflict.  At the moment, troops loyal to Riek Machar are claiming control over the area. 

However, oil revenue is critical for cash-strapped Khartoum and Juba alike, and it will be in their mutual benefits to join forces to secure the oil fields and pipeline corridors. The disputed oil fields that have seen Khartoum and Juba trade blows in the past will now unite them, with Khartoum going for broke to ensure that it will forever have a big share in the oil stake.

While the South Sudanese kill each other, it will be reaping the revenues.  It will proof the adage that war is big and profitable business for some.

In all of this, South Sudanese people are the big loser.  But the region is also losing in a major way.  All the commercial activities that have emerged over the past three years between Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya could be wiped out in the blink of an eye.  Recovery after a major civil war is not guaranteed because the world moves on. 

Finding solution over the conflict, therefore, is a top priority at the regional, continental and international levels.  It may very well be that some pressure need be applied so that democratic reforms take place in South Sudan.  But whatever it is, the parties to the conflict must be reminded that the guns will not solve the problem. 

People talking to people are the way to do it.


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