Civil war, massacres, displacement, hyperinflation and now famine in South Sudan’s six years of existence.
Over 50,000 have been killed with the death toll still rising since the civil war in South Sudan broke in 2013. A report presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva has concluded that citizens are facing slaughter, sexual violence and gang rape on an “epic scale.” This large scale of ethnic cleansing has led to soldiers executing women and children with knives for purposes of saving their ammunition. The current conflict has displaced around 2.3 million – approximately 1 in each 5 citizens of the entire population. Famine has officially been declared in the country with nearly 8 million in need of immediate aid per multiple UN agencies. The current conflict has also had significant consequences on South Sudan’s economy, with hyperinflation being achieved last year. Numerous restaurants in the country’s capital and largest city, Juba, are now no longer printing their menus on paper due to the constant fluctuation of prices. In response to this financial crisis, it has been proposed to increase the cost of work permits for foreign aid workers from $100/person to $10,000 to raise revenue. Indeed, that was somehow regarded as a viable economic solution for a country that is currently facing famine. So how can so many atrocities already occur to the youngest country in the world?
Before South Sudan became an independent sovereign state in 2011, it was part of the greater Republic of Sudan which was under British and Egyptian rule up until 1956. There was a huge ethno-national divide between the country’s two main regions – the north and south. Following Sudan’s independence from British and Egyptian rule in the 1950s, key positions in their newly shaped government were mainly allocated to northerners of the country. It arose as an unpopular one as it neglected much of the needs of the Sudanese people and only enriched its members instead. With various groups in the country being unpleasant at the time, the rift between the north and south escalated into a violent one. The civil war did not end until 2005 when a peace deal that enabled the Southern region to govern itself independently was signed. The opportunity for South Sudan to gain independence was secured six years later after receiving enormous support from the United Nations and the Obama Administration at the time. By guaranteeing its independence, then-US president Barack Obama finally found the success story he long sought-after in Africa. It was widely celebrated by his administration and even described, appropriately, as “a day of triumph for all who cherish the rights of all people to govern themselves in liberty and law.”
Only two years later, another civil war emerged in South Sudan between the country’s two largest ethnic groups: the Dinka and the Nuer. President Salva Kiir, who is Dinka, appointed Riek Machar to be his vice-president when he was elected to rule the young nation. Machar, an ethnic Neuer, was notorious for slaughtering over 2,000 Dinka civilians in a massacre he viciously led in 1991. Hence, his appointment as vice president by Kiir was regarded as a sign of unity and peace at last between the Dinkans and Neuers. The harmony between Kiir and Machar did not last long though. After a fallout between the two, both men gathered supporters from their respective tribes and indulged in a brutal civil war that shattered the fresh dreams of the civilian population in South Sudan.
The country’s war-torn state is mainly a result of yet another intervention by the United
States in a foreign country. They persuaded South Sudan to oversee its own affairs when undoubtedly, it was not mature and stable enough for such a step yet since issues amongst over 60 different ethnic groups in the area were simply set aside without being resolved. The US were in fact more interested in weakening the anti-US government of Sudan rather than guaranteeing the ability the Southern region to self-govern. The Obama administration was one of the main driving forces that were encouraging the people of South Sudan to separate from the Republic and need to be accountable for their actions.
One of the main interests US had in the country was, unsurprisingly, oil. In 2014, oil composed 99.8% of South Sudan’s government export revenue – making its economy one of the least diversified in the world. Sudan was producing at a rate of 500,000 barrels a day, most of which were in held by China. Consequently, as you may have guessed, the independence of South Sudan has not only resulted in the weakening of the Republic’s government but also lead to a significant decrease in the influence of China in the area. The Chinese had existing terms with Northern Sudan for oil control, however, South Sudan inherited almost 75% of Sudan’s oil reserves following its independence which meant that those terms were no longer in place. The newly-formed country became the third largest in Sub-Saharan Africa in terms of oil reserves, creating the ideal scenario for the US. Today, South Sudan is producing around 120,000 barrels of oil a month, only 1/5th of what it used to produce daily. Let that sink in.
The catastrophe in South Sudan now is just another outcome of America “bringing democracy” to other parts of the world. More signs of a Rwandan-like descent into violence are emerging day after day and there is a huge risk that it could extend to other countries across central and east Africa. Well, we can all agree it is definitely not the first time US efforts at achieving peace and promoting democracy abroad have failed.
Waleed Abu Nada
Find him on Twitter @waleedabunada
Featured image rights of Derek Ganon for sofrep.com
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