Earlier in the year I wrote a piece discussing the violence in Darfur during the earlier part of this century. Violence has continued throughout the country from the 1970s until currently. The country acquired independence in 2011, but civil war has impeded any real progress since then. So why has the violence remained for so long? Will there ever be peace? Recent events demonstrate that the latter question is more complicated than previously stipulated, but peace is not unattainable. Last month, two heads of sparring groups met under direction for the Ethiopian president.

Beginnings of the conflict

One of the primary factors that triggered conflict was ethnic tensions between two communities. The Darfur conflict was fought between African settlers and Nomadic Arab cattle farmers. Ethnic tensions resulted in a huge funding gap between the wealthy North and the deprived South. South Sudan contained over half of the population, but received less than twenty percent of governmental welfare. The welfare and expenditure gap are huge. This fuelled tensions from 2003 onwards until independence. The area contains large quantities of natural resources including gold, silver and oil. Fighting over the valuable assets has continued from their discovery until the present. The installation of mineral industries exacerbated the divided  communities further, fulling further conflict and the inclusion of foreign investors and the Sudanese government.

Ethnic Divide

Ethnicity and heritage has played an important role in the conflict too. The Aguok, Apuk and Kuac have pre-Anglo–Egyptian heritage, relating their identity to their respective chiefs. Citizens were required to register with the local chief to gain access to government benefits. From 2005 until 2008 the conflict allowed for the strengthening of local communities alongside splitting others. Both the Aguok and Kuac united during the period but split from their counterparts. The Eastern region has also experienced ethic conflict between the Rashaida Arabs and the Beja, the two largest groups within the region. Eritrea also joined the conflict, supporting the Beja. The unification of Eritrea with the Beja is unusual, since the two groups had little in common and have recently conflicted over boundaries and funding issues. The involvement of Eritrea therefore complicated matters, allowing for the foreign power to launch a campaign of intrusion, no doubt fulled by the desire to obtain minerals. Unification of the two divided communities demonstrates the complex intertwined community within South Sudan.  The ethnic divide in South Sudan has frequently exacerbated the conflict.

The United Nations become involved

The United Nations launched one of its youngest aid mission to South Sudan in 2011. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UMMISS) has assisted in the transition of the country towards self-rule. The mission has assisted the government by strengthening state authority and boundaries. The mission sent 12,500 troops and about 1,300 police, representing an increase over the original numbers.

On the 15 December 2015 UN troops were given a completely new mandate under UNSC Resolution 2132 (2013) and 2155 (2014) emphasising human security. This mandate stipulated that the UN troops could not prevent the unfolding conflict, but could assist the victims and reduce the impact. This mandate would allow for peace or an active measure by the UN to end the conflict in South Sudan. The United Nations did however support the objective of state building. The Security Council Resolution stipulated the need for ‘institution building’, demonstrating their desire to stabilise the government during the conflict.

Past Peace Agreements

In the past decade there have been frequent attempts to gain peace. Before independence Sudan signed the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement for Sudan (CPA). This agreement contained two charters addressing economic and power sharing. The agreement was signed between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Government of Sudan. This agreement also included plans for the independence of South Sudan. The government held a referendum in January 2011 to decide whether South Sudan should become independent. Approximately 83% of the population voted in favour of independence. The peace agreement between the two groups failed because the SPLM believed that the agreement was a rouse for the government to expel international peace efforts and to assert its own dominance over South Sudan. The government remained reluctant to fund development in South Sudan, eventually causing its partition.

The recent peace talks were instigated by the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed. He brought South Sudan’s former vice President Riek Machar and former President Salva Kiir together. The purpose was to encourage a power share agreement similar to the 2016 arrangement and to establish peace between the two conflicting parties. Both the United Nations and the South Sudan Civil Society (SSCS) encouraged an agreement. The United Nations threatened to impose trade sanctions against South Sudan, impeding both member’s incomes. The SSCS also pressured for an agreement. The group comprises of over two-hundred civil societies and organisations, covering various sections of civilian society. In December 2017 the group gathered to form the High-Level Revitalisation Forum (HLRF). The meeting established five sections of agenda:

  • Firstly: A sustainable peace solution to protect civilians.
  • Secondly: Reconciliation from the two leaders.
  • Thirdly: The two men shall meet with other sparing groups, to become inclusive with the HLRF.
  • Fourthly: The leaders are expected to participate in public events, displaying unity and peace efforts.
  • Fifthly: An assurance of non-repetition of the July 2016 incident.

The agreement was presented to both Kiir and Machar, demonstrating society’s demand for progress. Ultimately however, no significant progress was achieved during the recent peace agreement. The two individuals were encouraged to hug at the end of the agreement but failed to consolidate. Both historians and journalists including Aly Verjee have concluded that the conditions in South Sudan are currently not appropriate for a power share. It is becoming clear that the threat of trade sanctions against South Sudan has had little impact upon the two leaders. On the 3rd July the two sides accused each other of launching attacks against civilians. Over 18 civilians have been killed in the attacks. Attacks on the civilian population remain commonplace, exacerbating the divide between the two sparring communities.

Peace remains a distant prospect for South Sudan. The country continues to experience a civil war that cripples development. However, pressure from international actors and the internal society have provided some positive development. Both the SSCS and the Ethiopian President have shown ambitions to establish peace and have encouraged the sparing factions to meet and open a dialogue. Failures of past agreements and conflict from the 1970s remains to plague South Sudan and their neighbours, but with the increasing international pressure and engagement both internally and externally, progress may appear sooner rather than later.


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