South Sudan: Violent Social Eruptions

Introduction

South Sudan is still reeling from 6 years of a vicious Civil War between December 2013 to February 2020, which has killed an estimated 400,000 people and displaced millions. This Grey Dynamics African Intelligence Article analyses the boom in intercommunal violence despite a unity deal between long-time rivals President Salva Kiir, and former opposition leader Riek Machar, now Vice President. 

  • On the 22nd February 2020, deadlock was broken through the unity deal at the State House in the capital Juba. This rejuvenated hopes that the struggle for power may be replaced with peace and reconciliation.
  • While political fighting has declined, reverberations are being felt in the Jonglei region. Ethnic clashes are intensifying and displaying increasingly military characteristics between Lou Nuer pastoralists and Murle farmers. 
  • It is likely that the fighting will not decrease, amid fears of food insecurity as over ½ of South Sudan’s population will need humanitarian food assistance this season. With a health system largely destroyed by the civil war, combined with the Covid-19 pandemic, a humanitarian crisis overshadows newfound hopes for peace in the world’s newest country. 
Location of South Sudan and Jonglei.

Violence Outbreak 

The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights has condemned the recent outbreak of violence, with intense clashes between 16th-17th May, resulting in over 300 deaths. The Murle group has carried out attacks on six villages, as part of a revenge attack for similar attacks from the Loue Nuer group in February. In the 1st quarter of 2020, the intercommunal fighting has been the prime source of violence, witnessing 658 deaths, 452 injured, 592 abducted, and 65 subjected to sexual abuse. Among the dead were a Red Cross volunteer and a Doctors Without Borders (DWB) doctor. The conflicts have evolved to a military style of operating tactics, as well as the presence of military-grade weapons. 

The clashes characterised are between Lou Nuer pastoralists and Murle farmers, an ethnic conflict that has eluded the authority of the new government peace efforts because of local grievances outside of the political spectrum. The February peace agreement merged the Fangak, Bieh, Kobo, and Jonglei state, however a governor has not been named and stability in the Jonglei region has spiralled out of control. The well-armed and militarised capacity of the ethnic groups challenge the state ability to control the conflict, South Sudan is limited in the capacity to use military force to police the conflict. In addition to this, and more importantly, there is little capacity to tackle the economic root of the grievances, which without attention will likely continue to exacerbate conflict. 

Source of Grievance

Food insecurity looms as a constant threat and reality in South Sudan. In the Jonglei region, survivability depends on cattle and crops, facilitated by access to water sources. Substantial pressure on these resources have placed the Murle and Lou Nuer at odds with each other, competing over limited resources for survival. The Initial Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) projects that an estimated 6.5 million, over half of the population, will require humanitarian food aid this season. In March, the price of wheat increased by 36%, while the March-April period also witnessed 10% of crops destroyed by locust swarms in the Magwi and Lopa/Lafon counties.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network, in addition to this, expects that white sorghum prices will be 54-180% higher than the price over the last five years. Over the years, these conditions have witnessed the unfortunate practice of child abductions from competing faction families, who are later sold into slavery. The data does not provide us the full extent of the disaster as the humanitarian crisis unfolds and destroys communities and childhoods. 

Consumer Price Index of Sudan

(Sudan Inflation Rate; the price of goods will continue to rise along with the Consumer Price Index)

The Path Ahead

The critical state of South Sudanese stability is shaken further by the looming Covid-19 pandemic within the country. 10 ministers have so far contracted the virus, as well as Vice President Riek Machar. The civil war has left the nation’s health system almost entirely incapacitated, as the healthcare system adjusts to prepare for the virus, the intercommunal fighting is occurring under terrible circumstances. Inability to care for gunshot wounds and injuries will certainly escalate the number of casualties if the fighting continues. As resources and food security dwindle, this is highly likely to continue, if not escalate even further. The state inability to establish a monopoly of violence in the region creates an unregulated zone that will operate outside of the peace agreement. Humanitarian aid is urgently required, and intervention may soon become necessary to control the conflict. 

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