Dr. Lawrence Wongo: The Current Crisis in South Sudan

It has been a while since I posted an article on our blog about South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation. I had so much pride and hope in South Sudan. It took almost my entire lifetime for our country to be born and we have overcome so many obstacles that could have easily aborted her birth. My pride and hope seem to have been shattered, since the night of December 15, 2013, when shooting erupted between two groups within the presidential republican guards at the headquarters of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the national army of South Sudan. Accounts of precisely what triggered the violence vary but what is clear is that fighting involving troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those backing sacked Vice President, Riek Machar, got out of control and spread quickly across the capital, Juba, and the rest of the country. South Sudan’s states experienced heavy fighting between government forces and those forces allied to the former Vice President, Machar. The fighting was particularly intense in Central Equatoria, Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states. While the conflict was sparked by political strife, it quickly took on an ethnic dimension, mainly between the Dinka and Nuer tribes. There have been reports of ethnically motivated attacks by armed forces against civilians by both sides, as well as attacks by civilians against civilians, depending on their political affiliation and ethnicity. For instance, members of South Sudan’s organized forces were reported to have targeted civilians on the basis of their presumed allegiance either to Riek Machar, who is from the Nuer Tribe, or Salva Kiir, who is Dinka. These targeted killings resulted in an estimated 10,000 dead according to the Enough Project. Thousands of people, mainly Nuer, turned up at the compounds of the UN peace keepers in Juba to seek protection. As the fighting spread to other states more civilian atrocities, including mass killings, sexual violence and other war crimes were committed by opposing forces, especially in Bor town (Jonglei State) which is located about 100 miles north of Juba on the river Nile. Around 870,000 people are reported to have been displaced by the conflict since mid-December 2013, including 900,000 people within South Sudan and 150,000 who have fled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. 78,000 civilians have sought safety in, or in close proximity to UN bases in South Sudan. President Kiir has accused his former Vice President, Machar, of an attempted coup, which Machar has denied; Machar, in turn, has accused Kiir of having instigated the violence in a move to eliminate any opposition to his Government.

Most of the political and security situation remains very fluid. A cessation of hostilities agreement was signed on January 23, 2014 and led to significant reduction in fighting, although sporadic clashes have since continued in some areas. South Sudan’s Minister of Justice has charged Machar and six other politicians with treason, raising concerns about the fate of the cessation of hostilities agreement and peace negotiations. In addition, demand for the withdrawal of Ugandan troops, fighting along side the SPLA, the release of the 4 remaining political detainees and the recent recapture of Malakal, the capital of the oil-rich Upper Nile State threaten to scuttle the peace talks scheduled to take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Meanwhile, the impact of the fighting on the civilian population has been extremely serious. The combination of targeted atrocities, human rights abuses, displacement, loss of livelihoods and lack of access to basic services has created a humanitarian crisis of epic proportions. Aid agencies are racing against time and risking the lives of their staff in order to deliver emergency aid to millions of people urgently in need of assistance before the onset of the rainy season when most roads become impassable. South Sudanese communities have been divided by this political crisis and ongoing violence. The U.S. has condemned the violence and the continued violations and disregard of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, which was signed by both parties. Continued military conflict will only prolong the violence and worsen the humanitarian crisis that threatens to consume the country.

Dr Lawrence Wongo: South Sudan’s Salva Kiir Sacks Cabinet and SPLM Secretary General

Just two years and only a few days from celebrating its second anniversary of independence, South Sudan’s President has sacked his entire cabinet, in a power struggle with other senior leaders in the ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). Issuing decrees on July 23, 2013, President Salva Kiir dismissed all ministers and deputy ministers, as well as the Vice-President, Dr. Riek Machar, and reportedly, 17 brigadier generals. He gave no reason for the firings, but analysts say Kiir and Machar have been embroiled in a power struggle for months. Among the other leaders dismissed was Pagan Amum, the SPLM Secretary-General and top negotiator in peace talks with Sudan. He is being investigated for mismanaging the party and is under investigation and house arrest. Political analysts argue that, Riak and Pagan have openly voiced their interest in vying for the presidency of South Sudan in the 2015 elections. In June Kiir sacked two other senior ministers embroiled in a multi-million dollar financial scandal, a decision reportedly criticized by Amum. Leaders have appealed for calm as security forces maintained tight security outside ministry buildings. Lingering squabbles with Sudan over oil have hampered stability, and corruption, leadership wrangles within the SPLM party, insecurity, human rights abuses and poor state of the economy have created discontent with Kiir’s leadership. Hence, Kiir is battling to maintain control of the SPLM, the ruling party. Machar, stripped of some of his powers in April, had hinted that, he may stand against Kiir for leadership of the SPLM before the next presidential election. Dissolving the cabinet in South Sudan hints at a wider attempt by the president to restructure, not only the government, but power and access to power in the country.

In recent weeks there have been strained relations within the governing SPLM and the relationship between the president and his deputy were at an all-time low. The timing of the cabinet restructuring is curious and raises suspicions that the president could be using his executive powers to stamp out dissent in the party and disagreement within his government. Whether the sacking of the entire cabinet will succeed in calming the disquiet within South Sudan’s political circles remains to be seen – there is a real fear that this might further divide the country along ethnic lines. Kiir is from the Dinka tribe, the largest in South Sudan, while Machar is from the second largest group, the Nuer, some of whom have complained about Dinka domination. Under-secretaries have been put in charge of the departments and the government insists it can function smoothly until new ministers are appointed. The fact that a new government is yet to be formed, except for the appointment of a Foreign Minister, is indicative of the difficulties the president has in forming one. It is always a tricky balancing act, given the many regional groups to politically appease. Some political analysts have questioned whether or not Kiir has the constitutional mandate to sack his running mate, Machar or the Secretary-General of the SPLM. South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011 after a decades-long civil war.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on July 26, 2013 with President Kiir and expressed US concerns about the political situation in Juba, as well as the deeply disturbing violence and worsening humanitarian crisis in Jonglei State. He urged Kiir to form a new government quickly and transparently in a manner that respects South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution, and in a way that also reflects the diversity of its people. Kerry encouraged Kiir to act expeditiously to protect civilians, end human rights violations, and take urgent steps to cease ethnically motivated violence in Jonglei State. “Those responsible for human rights violations and attacks on civilians – including members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army – must be held accountable”, he added. The world is watching to see if South Sudan pursues the path of peace and prosperity, or the tragic path of violence and conflict that has characterized much of its past.

Dr Lawrence Wongo: South Sudanese in the Doldrums as Situation Worsens

South Sudan is experiencing difficulties that are creating negative outcomes for which the government is being blamed. In a surprise move that baffled its citizens, president Kiir recently placed on reserve or “retired” 163 army generals in the biggest shakeup of the military since independence in July 2011. The action generated rumors of a coup attempt that the government promptly denied, claiming that the changes were made to modernize the army by bringing younger people into top positions. Despite the explanation, a segment of South Sudanese contend that that the possibility of a planned coup deta’t or armed rebellion could not have been ruled out, given the disastrous 2010 elections and the rebellion that followed. The belief is that, the generals have become a hindrance to reforming the army in a bid to preserve their own units to safeguard their positions.

Insecurity in some of the states has compelled the president to fire the elected governor of Lakes State for failure to curb the deteriorating security situation. Sacking an elected official has spurred renewed concerns over concentration of authority in the presidency. Such blatant disregard for the will of the electorate requires real governance reform and respect for the constitution.

In December 2012, soldiers or police shot dead 24 civilians and injured 60 others protesting the relocation of their county headquarters outside Wau, the capital of Western Bahr-el-Ghazal state. Amidst the turmoil, two state journalists were detained for allegedly failing to cover the president’s speech during a visit to Wau. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international media watchdog, challenged the arrest. While the authorities maintained that the arrest was an administrative issue, local journalists said the government was infuriated by a footage showing uniformed armed men firing at the protestors, which had been provided to Aljazeera TV. According to the CPJ, this heavy handed action was an attempt to prohibit the local media from investigating the unrest. The CPJ has called on the authorities to release the journalists. South Sudan has no media law, making it difficult for reporters to get information from the government.

On the night of December 4, 2012, in another disturbing incident, unidentified gunmen shot dead a prominent blogger and government critic, Isaiah Abraham Diing, at his home. To date, “investigations” have led to no arrest or prosecution for the murder. Opinion writers and journalists now live in fear, alleging that they have been threatened by text messages for asking the government to account for the assassination of Diing. The media have reported numerous complaints of intimidation against journalists and civil society activists from agents of the state. It is no wonder that in 2012, South Sudan ranked 111th in the annual press freedom index out of 179 states. The CJP has warned that South Sudan’s ranking is expected to slip in 2013 due to the heavy handedness of the security forces in dealing with the media.

The twin vices of corruption and tribalism continue to worsen despite the creation of an Anticorruption Commission that has yet to prosecute a single case of corruption. Moreover, abuse of power by security forces and restrictions on freedom of expression by the citizenry have created concern within the African Union and the International Community. Meanwhile, on January 9, 2012, the president decreed the formation of the National Constitutional Review Commission to review the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan 2011 and produce a permanent one. The SPLM dominated Commission, which is not politically representative of the people, has so far failed to complete its work, because it says that it lacked the financial support that it was promised by the government. The Commission’s 1-year mandate is likely to be renewed for another 1 year, despite opposition from many groups and questions about the government’s commitment to the process. There is suspicion that this may be a ploy to have the general elections, due in 2014, without a permanent constitution in place – a clear recipe for a constitutional crisis! This development has dampened much of the optimism that came with South Sudan’s independence and many observers believe that, Kiir’s government is reneging on the principles that it stood for during the civil war.

The secession of South Sudan and subsequent dispute over pipeline fees with Sudan, it’s northern neighbor, has left both economies in turmoil. Bashir and Kiir have signed many failed agreements to end the stalemate and resume oil exports. Another new agreement has just been concluded and signed, but given the recent history, it only remains to be seen whether or not this one will hold! South Sudan and Sudan will have to deal more seriously with their economic and regional tensions, and stop demonizing each other, or else a new war between them could erupt.

Dr. Lawrence Wongo: First Independence Anniversary

Against major odds and more than 4 decades of fighting, the Republic of South Sudan (RSS) officially seceded from Sudan on July 9, 2011 after an overwhelming vote in an internationally supervised referendum in favor of independence. The 1-year old RSS celebrated its independence with much pride and a clear manifestation of joy for its new coveted status.

Secession came with extremely high hopes for people, who had endured many years of suffering and the ravages of war. Expectations for quick-fix solutions and a better standard of living were high. Goodwill and support for the world’s newest state, from all corners of the globe, were not in short supply. Despite all this, the first anniversary celebrations for independence on July 9, 2012 were muted, low key and without much of the euphoria that had accompanied the referendum voting and declaration of independence on July 9, 2011.


Dr. Lawrence Wongo: Oil, Secession and Corruption: the Achilles’ Heal of the Two Sudans

On July 9, 2012, the first anniversary of its independence, the prognosis for South Sudan is less than encouraging. Fighting erupted in April 2012 between Sudan and rebels in the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states; thousands of civilians were either killed or displaced. Many innocent people were forced to flee across the border into South Sudan and Ethiopia and now find themselves in refugee camps in areas that are food insecure due to persistent drought and poor harvests. Having to deal with displaced people in areas where residents already suffer causes additional hardships, social tensions and conflict potential. The situation is made worse by the remote and inaccessible places that make it logistically impossible to distribute aid supplies. The UN has started new emergency aid airlifts of food, medicines and other supplies to the refugee camps under difficult conditions.


Dr. Lawrence Wongo: The Intractable Crisis in the two Sudans

The volatile and dynamic crisis of the now two Sudans erupted in late March 2012 when South Sudan’s army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army attacked, captured and occupied Heglig, a disputed oil-rich border town controlled by Sudan. The action set off a wave of international condemnation by the United Nations (UN), the European Union, the African Union (AU) and the US. The AU later issued a 7-point roadmap calling for a halt to the fighting and giving the warring parties until May 16, 2012 to resume negotiations or face sanctions.


Dr. Lawrence Wongo: Looming Food Shortages: a Potential South Sudan Humanitarian Crisis

The Horn of Africa, still battling the worst hunger crisis in 60 years, should be prepared for another dry spell and further food insecurity due to the persistence of weather conditions that last year brought severe drought to the region. These conditions are expected to persist from March to May 2012, the main long rain season on which farmers and livestock herders depend upon for crops, pasture and water. Given the extreme food insecurity during 2011 that affected 13 million people and the possibility of a poor March and May season in the eastern Horn of Africa, humanitarian agencies should prepare contingency plans to quickly address any disruptions to crop and livestock production, and household food access.


Dr. Lawrence Wongo: Current Developments in Sudan

In 2003 two main rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) took up arms against the government of Sudan to compel it to address political and economic marginalization, and underdevelopment in Darfur. Since then Darfur has been in a perpetual state of turmoil, resulting in over 500,000 dead and 2.7 million displaced people in refugee camps inside Sudan and Chad. On June 5, 2011 fighting began in South Kordofan (Nuba Mountains) when Sudan Armed Forces military aircraft artillery engaged in relentless, widespread, and systematic attacks on civilian targets throughout the state, killing and displacing thousands of unarmed innocent civilians.