Conflict and Development in South Sudan

26 November 2015

Conflict in South Sudan has been almost constant since Sudan’s independence from British Colonialism when the British Administration ‘handed over’ jurisdiction over the South to the North, unifying them into one state. Wars for South Sudan’s independence followed leading to a Comprehensive Peace Agreement being signed in 2005 with South Sudan eventually gaining independence from Sudan in 2011. Having been subjected to political marginalisation and intense aerial bombardment during their opposition campaign against the much stronger military of the North, South Sudan started life as a state with a depleted infrastructure and minimal vital services. As intercommunal violence in South Sudan was present throughout the war for independence from the North, the new government had to concentrate on uniting the nation. Relative peace was short-lived as the new state was soon embroiled in civil war when ‘political infighting erupted into violence in the streets of the capital, Juba, after South Sudan’s President accused his Vice President of an attempted coup’ in December 2013.

This recent fighting has caused the displacement of a further 2 million people. 1.5million of these are internally displaced whilst the remaining have fled as refugees to neighbouring countries such as Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

Signing a Peace Agreement

The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which worked to help facilitate a peace agreement, struggled to bridge division due to regional rivalries and power struggles, centralisation of decision-making and challenges of expanding the peace process beyond South Sudan’s elites. This led to the creation of IGAD-PLUS to encourage a more united international front and generate more leverage. The expanded group includes the African Union, UN, China, US, UK, EU and Norway as well as five African countries (South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Chad, and Rwanda) ‘each representing different blocs of the continent. Under immense international pressure, including threats of military intervention, a peace agreement was eventually signed on 26th August this year. The agreement was signed between President Salva Kiir, Riek Machar, the leader of the opposition movement, and Pagan Amum, a senior South Sudanese politician who represents other significant political figures accused of involvement in the alleged coup. The Agreement was actually signed over a week earlier on 17th August 2015 by Machar and Amum whilst Kiir originally refused stating that he needed more time. Kirr eventually signed the agreement but said ‘he still had “serious reservations“’ (for more information on the signing of the Peace Agreement, read HART’s blog here).

In fact, the Peace Agreement has only been partially successful as a stepping stone. Since the signing, troops loyal to the Government have been accused of launching ‘fresh attacks’ on civilians suspected to be loyal to the opposition and even ‘as Mr Kiir signed the decree in the capital, Juba, more fighting was already taking place in Unity and Upper Nile, the two most bitterly contested states’ . A unilateral decision by Kiir to create 28 federal states has deepened mistrust (for more information read our blog analysing the impacts of this) and provoked threats of a breakdown of the Peace Agreement.

United Against Genocide highlighted to their supporters that ‘true celebration can only come once concrete measures have been taken to stop the violence, reduce arms, and provide humanitarian aid to the 70% of the population that is facing hunger in the coming months’.

Developmental issues

In areas of fighting, destruction has been severe. Civilians have been killed, sexually violated and there have been reports of the use of child soldiers on both sides. The armies have laid landmines which have killed civilians; they have burned down homes, schools and health posts; and have destroyed livestock and water posts.

As peace is being deliberated, there will need to be considerable efforts on rebuilding and healing physical, infrastructural, emotional and psychological scars.

Whilst the majority of fighting in this civil war has taken place in 3 of the 10 states of South Sudan, people across the country are struggling in this war-torn country to support those who have been displaced and need essential service provision such as healthcare, education and food. This requires large-scale agricultural and infrastructural development.

Before the summer, one of HART’s partners in the Diocese of Wau sent an urgent plea to HART calling for emergency support due to the high number of Internally Displace People’s (IDP’s) entering the area. This was following fighting in the Farajalla Payam of Wau County where South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission confirmed that 739 households (3033 individuals) were displaced from their homes due to the eruption of fighting. The Diocese of Wau stated, ‘[T]he area was completely devastated, the houses were burned down and their properties were looted. The victims now ran to Ngodoakala Boma, where they occupied Ngodoakala primary school due to lack of the shelters.’ They requested international assistance in providing emergency supplies to these people. This was not an isolated request and the need for humanitarian assistance in South Sudan remains high.

Across the country, key issues that are affecting so many include:

People across South Sudan urgently need access to life-saving services and support which can assist them in rebuilding their communities in the hopeful wake of this tentative peace agreement.

Role of development in promoting peace

Development can go a long way towards promoting peace. War is leading to economic collapse which creates conditions for more to join fighting troops. In an area with a history of inter-communal violence, it is essential that development can be allowed to flourish to reduce the propensity for increasing conflict.

How can this be done?

In light of the present situation in South Sudan, this could be a long struggle. This comment, written in 2011 following independence still rings true today; ‘President Salva Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar, friends-turned-enemies [who reconciled a couple of years ago], urgently need to find ways of uniting Southerners behind an inspiring vision that goes beyond the notion of a common enemy in Khartoum.’ The Government must prioritise peace, development and reconciliation in South Sudan.

It is interesting to review parallels between the predictions and warnings following independence in 2011 and the needs in South Sudan today. Needs for development of roads, healthcare facilities, agriculture, peace processes and political stability which were highlighted in 2011 still apply. With this delicate peace agreement, which has been broken multiple times already, Government-led development may still be a way off and the efforts of the international community remain largely focused on the peace agreement.

Many inspirational local organisations are already active on the ground providing emergency food, healthcare, education, training of health workers and teachers and agricultural development. The AU Commission recommends that development of the agricultural sector and education are vital and necessary to the development of state-building projects.

HART partners in South Sudan such as the Marol Academy in Luonyaker, the Diocese of Wau and Primary Healthcare Clinics in Yei are instrumental in providing vital and oftentimes life-saving support in their communities. Marol Academy, lovingly called ‘a girl’s school that boys may attend’ is providing education for children and particularly encouraging the much-needed education of girls.

Many community-based organisations have the drive, determination and ability to improve the situation for their neighbours and are working tirelessly to make this happen. Let’s support these initiatives so that they can expand and replace conditions ripe for conflict with positive and sustainable development.

Disclaimer: This blog is a space for discussion and personal reflection. Any opinions expressed within the blog are those of the author and are not necessarily held by HART. Individual authors are responsible for the accuracy of statements made within the blog.

Back to News

Help our local partners realise their vision of hope for their communities