“This violence is not the result of ethnic rivalry, but a political division among members of the same party. I do not believe we will return to war, simply because the South Sudanese do not want it. They paid way too high a tribute in blood for their independence and now just want to live in peace”, said Monsignor Paulino Lukudu Loro, Catholic Archbishop of Juba.
The violence broke out last December between President Salva Kiir and his former vice-president Riek Machar. Kiir said the unrest was triggered by an attempted coup, led by Riek Machar. The former vice-president has consistently denied the accusations, and observers have said the violence erupted when renegade soldiers attacked an army headquarters building in Juba. Analysts recall that a number of factors have contributed to the current tensions that have led to an escalation of violence in South Sudan.
According to Jok Madut Jok, the head of the Sudd Institution, a South Sudan think-tank, based in Juba, the tensions began when Machar started envisioning himself as a more fitting leader in what was then the semi-autonomous region of southern Sudan. He says the deputy would attempt to undermine Kiir. “Sometimes there would be agreement on issues or programs to be implemented and the vice president, being the top administrator in the country, would sometimes fail to implement what had been agreed upon”, he said. Both men kept their leadership positions in the ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), when the country gained independence in 2011. Jok says Machar and some of the other party members became more openly critical of Kiir after he dismissed them in a July 2013 Cabinet purge. “President Kiir had been accused extensively by a number of people that he fired back in July, including the former vice-president, that he had been heavy-handed and undemocratic and was developing dictatorial tendencies”, he said.
Kiir and Machar fought side-by-side during the north-south conflict but, at some points, they also fought against each other. Machar, at one point, moved out of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. He formed a splinter group composed mostly of ethnic Nuers.
A clash between politicians
“We condemn the senseless killing of civilians and we call on President Salva Kiir Mayardit and former Vice-President Riek Machar to stop the fighting and negotiate peacefully instead of resorting to arms”, says an appeal launched by Christian leaders of South Sudan.
“We are tired of war, we need peace and south Sudanese peace is African peace”, said the Christian leaders calling for the mediation of the Kenyan government, of the UN, of the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development, of Britain and the United States. The statement continues and underlines the need that the divergence between the two political leaders (Kiir is a Dinka while Machar is a Nuer) does not turn into an ethnic-tribal conflict”.
We strongly recommend that all the tribes whether they are Dinka, Nuer, Shiluk, Lotuko etc., are not involved in the violence. The conflict which broke out recently in Juba should not be confused as a Dinka-Nuer conflict but must be seen as a clash between politicians”.
According to Archbishop Deng, the Episcopal Anglican Archbishop of South Sudan, the conflict has severely damaged the credibility of everyone in South Sudan including politicians and the army but, most importantly, it has reversed the efforts of rebuilding the young nation since its secession in 2011. “All that we have been trying to do to bring this country together, to live as one family, has been damaged”.
Archbishop Deng continued: “This conflict is a power struggle, that can easily lead to another civil war in a country that has in the past experienced over 50 years of civil wars”. “Enough is enough”, said the Archbishop, “we need peace in this country. We don’t need war”. According to the U.N., more than 250,000 people have been displaced across South Sudan since violence began on December 15, with the numbers increasing by the day. Many continue to flee the country as well, with most taking refuge in neighboring Uganda, where the number has reached some 40,000 refugees. Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan are also seeing an influx of refugees. The UN estimates that more than 1,000 people have died since the conflict began last December. (T.S.)