South Sudan: heading for chaos? The newest country in the world recently hit the headlines when the warring parties signed a peace agreement to end the 20-month long conflict. One of the clauses of the accord – which president Kiir signed reluctantly on the 26th August, was that a cease-fire would ensue. But before the ink was dry, government helicopters were firing on rebel positions. The tit-for-tat attacks that have punctuated the last two years, once more taking centre stage.
As with political situations, the dynamics are complex and multi layered. However as a newcomer to Juba – South Sudan’s capital, the cause of the conflict is relatively easy to identify. Kiir – the incumbent – has the mantle, and the rebel leader – Riek Machar wants to take it from him. Everything else is just smoke and mirrors.
There are external actors involved of course, that goes without saying – this is Africa after all. Uganda for example in supporting Kiir, has stationed several thousand members of the Ungandan Peoples Defence Force (UPDF) in Juba – some of which are ‘dug in’ around the international airport. Part of the peace accord was that Juba was to be made a de-militarised zone. But Kampala is sending mixed messages on whether it will pull out its contingent or not. It too possibly reneging on what seems to be a doomed peace deal.
This uncertainty within the country has made for a very unsettling situation. The US government for example, recognising the insecurity in the country, has increased the ‘danger pay’ for its South Sudan staff to that on par with Afghanistan and Iraq. But as those countries fight militant Islamic forces, South Sudan is fighting itself.
The conflict within the country is man made. The tribalism of Dinker versus Neur; Kiir v Machar, manifesting itself in a war that has ripped the potentially oil rich country apart. The result is that South Sudan is bankrupt. The government unablee to pay its soldiers, policemen and other government employees, their salarys unpaid for several months.
President Kiir has survived his short tenure as president not with the support of the people by providing law, order and security, but by buying people off. With hard cash in the country diminishing daily, his influence is waning. This combined with the loss of support within his own government for signing the unpopular peace agreement, means that he’s put himself into a vey precarious position.
Money is in short supply. Annual figures recently put inflation at over 60%, with the consequence of rocketing prices equaling increased criminality. The streets of Juba have become dangerous. Armed robberies – that are being reported as perpetrated by unpaid soldiers and police – a daily occurrence. Of the 160 NGOs currently ‘in country’, over 40 have been robbed within the last three months.
The variables enabling an insurrection are numerous. Financial, criminal, political, they’re all here in spades. And as the country gets closer to the edge, it would only take one as a catalyst to send South Sudan heading into chaos.
No one predicted what happened in December 2013 when the spark between the two warring factions ignited; the result, the brutal conflict which the peace agreement is trying to stop. Chances are that no one will be able to ‘call’ what happens next either. Yet if the government makes it through the next month or so it has a chance of surviving. The only constant however, is the suffering of the South Sudanese people.