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South Sudan – A power struggle

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sts5South Sudan’s government and rebels  signed a ceasefire agreement after talks in Ethiopia on 23rd January. Under the deal, the fighting were due to come to an end within 24 hours. However,  fighting still continue in some parts of the country. The South Sudanese government has expressed scepticism over whether the opposition will be able to control all the militias involved in fighting. According to some analysts, effective monitoring of the truce will be vital, as tension between the two sides continues to be very high. On the field, army units loyal to President Salva Kiir are advancing from the cities of Bentiu and Malakal toward south, among the oil wells, in direction of areas still controlled by rebel units. Based on testimonies gathered by Southworld,  loyalist units are advancing both in the Upper Nile region and in Unity. In the first case they are headed from Malakal to Piji, Ulang and Nasir, counties prevalently inhabited by Nuer, to which the former vice-president and rebel leader Riek Machar belongs. In the second, they are moving toward Leer, one of the two last towns still held by the rebel forces. The cease-fire accord signed in Addis Ababa is therefore struggling to be applied. “In Malakal the situation improved thanks only to the deployment of a large army contingent and no one doubts that if the rebels were able to reorganize they would be launching new offensives”, add sources from the main city of the Upper Nile. We talked with Gill Lusk, deputy Editor of Africa Confidential.
sts3How would you describe this conflict in South Sudan?
“A power struggle. In recent months, particularly in May, President Salva Kiir grew increasingly authoritarian, particularly in July, when he dissolved the government. Key figures in the history of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM ), which is the party that fought for and obtained independence, were replaced by the President’s ‘cronies’”.
Machar rebelled ?
“What happened on December 15 is not yet entirely clear. It is possible that the triggering of clashes within the main army barracks in Juba resulted from an order to disarm the departments of the Presidential Guard staffed by Nuer. This was a rather provocative order, because the Nuer are a key component, and perhaps even account for the majority of the armed forces. It could however be that the order was never actually given. The conflict in South Sudan, in any case, has political roots. It is not an ethnic conflict, or at least it was not at the beginning. This is confirmed by the fact that many Nuer still support Kiir’s government, which has been authoritarian but also the legitimate one in the eyes of the international community”.
Who is siding with the rebels?
“Mainly the militias that integrated into the armed forces only recently and that in the past had rebelled backed from the government of Sudan”.
The negotiations promoted by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) stalled over accusations faced by 11 top figures and officers accused of involvement in the alleged 15 December coup attempt. Afterwards, some of they have been released and handed over to Kenya. They will remain in Kenya for the duration of the investigation. Why are these prisoners so important?
sts2“On December 6, some of them had publicly denounced Kiir’s authoritarian drift, corruption and lack of democracy. It is curious that they are now defined allies of Machar, given that it is difficult to associate him with the word democracy. Why are they important? Because they embody the SPLM’s spirit and history. I think of General Alfred Ladu Gore, accused of trying to organize a rebellion in Equatoria, his native region. Pagan Amum, a member of the Shilluk community, former secretary general of the SPLM . Or of Alor Kuol Deng , a native of the disputed region of Abyei, Sudan’s Foreign minister in the period between the end of the civil war and the South’s independence. Their arrest is part of Kiir’s authoritarian drift. A leader who had once also been praised for his ability to mediate and commit to reconciliation”.
How do you see the future?
It is difficult to foresee. In this moment international pressure is important.  The prospect of a prisoners release could lead to a split in the SPLM, allowing the emergence of a genuine political opposition. Another important step would be for Kiir to renounce running for a second term next year. He would have the opportunity to show himself to be a responsible leader, perhaps allowing the election of a head of state, who is neither Dinka, like himself, nor Nuer, like Machar. This would be the best thing for South Sudan”.  (V.G.)

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