The South Sudan Conflict

by Redie Bereketeab

On 15 December 2013 South Sudan was rocked by fighting in the capital Juba. Apparently the conflict was sparked by dispute within the presidential guard pitching Dinka against Nuer in support of the President Salva Kirr Mayardit and his previous vice-president Riek Machar respectively. Soon it spread like a wild fire to other parts of the country. What began as a political power struggle within the political elite turned into deadly ethnic conflict taking the life of several thousands. While President Salva Kiir Mayardit accused his opponents of trying to seize power through military coup, his opponents led by Riek Marchar accused him of trying to use the incident to suppress his opponents.

The outbreak of the conflict could be explained stemming from two interlinked factors of failures. The first is the failure of the SPLM government to transform itself from a liberation movement to a democratic political governing party and from bearer of a liberation political culture to civic political culture. Liberation political culture demands loyalty to the leader. The vice-president and the secretary general of SPLM were fired from office because they expressed their intention to run against the president in the coming presidential and party election which was construed by the President as harbouring lack of loyalty to the president. Democratic institutions of governance and conflict resolution do not exist. The second failure concerns transforming the virtually conglomerate army of militias to a national disciplined army. During the liberation struggle several ethnic based militias emerged and latter were incorporated in the SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army). Following secession no effort to transform the SPLA was carried, it remained divided on ethnic basis. When the political struggle within the political elite exploded therefore the army degenerated into its ethnic origin. The double failures of transformation aggravated the already highly fractured society along ethnic fault-lines.

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