The world’s newest country, South Sudan, has been embroiled in a civil war since December 2013. The conflict erupted following a split in the governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) party between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and then Vice President Riek Machar. Due to the monopoly of power vest in the presidency, President Kiir fired First Vice President Riek Machar following an accusation that he had attempted to stage a coup. The firing of Riek Machar and the authoritarian nature of President Kiir resulted in anti-government protests, which have been predominantly by supporters of Machar. Like in the previous occasion, the government responded to the protest violently, with security forces and militias allied to the government committing human rights abuses and violations, according to the human rights organisation. In fact, a day protest broke out in Juba following President Kiir’s allegations about Machar, the security forces belonging to the Dinka tribe proceeded to kill over 500 Nuer civilians within three days in an incident referred to as Juba Nuer Massacre. Therefore, the South Sudanese conflict quickly evolved into an ethnic conflict, mainly between the Nuer, who support Riek Machar, and the Dinka, who support President Kiir. Along with the political conflict, competition for two primary resources, land and pastures, has further fuelled inter-communal conflicts since the distribution of resources is often tied to ethnicity and political power.
Despite strong condemnation from the United Nations, African Union and other international organisations, President Kiir’s government and its security agencies have continued to massacre civilians, especially when they reclaim territory from the opposition. Additionally, despite evidence provided from the UN and the Intergovernmental Organisation for Development (IGAD), as well as from international organisations, about the security agencies wrongdoing, the government still insists that they did not commit any crime. President Kiir’s government tends to deflect the blame to the opposition forces for the mass killings of civilians. Though the government forces are guilty of most of the attacks on civilians, the opposition militias are not innocent. Reports have shown that, though to a significantly smaller scale, some of the opposition groups have intentionally targeted civilians.
The latest attempt to solve the South Sudanese civil war through political means began in 2018 when both President Kiir and Reik Machar agreed to a ceasefire, commonly referred to as the Khartoum Declaration. The Khartoum Declaration propelled the peace process to allow for the signing of the Entebbe Proposal and the new peace treaty. The South Sudanese peace process is currently at a fragile state. Despite the signing of the Khartoum Declaration, both sides are still fighting. The Entebbe protocol and the peace agreement did not address the initial problems that caused the previous 11 peace agreements to collapse. The significant issues not addressed are; 1) redrawing the boundaries of the districts to the original ten, 2) the creation of the of a unified army, and 3) the possibility of a third-party security force in Juba. The fragility of the peace treaty is complicated further by the fact that other opposition groups like National Salvation Force (NAS), led by Lt. General Cirillo, and People’s Democratic Movement (PDM), led by Hakim Dario, have not signed the peace agreement. All these challenges were supposed to be addressed before the May 12th deadline creation of the new unity government. Though the deadline passed, the two parties, with the support from IGAD, agreed to extend the deadline by another six months.
Six years after signing the CPA and finally gaining independence from Sudan in 2011, the civilian, population of this young republic are overwhelmingly the victims of this protracted conflict. The longer the key actors to the take to agree on a political solution to solve the South Sudanese conflict, the more likely the civil war will continue. The continuation of the conflict guarantees that more civilians casualties. Thus far, more than 300,000 have been killed as a result of the war, drought and famine.
Where: South Sudan
Population: 12.3 million
Deaths: Estimates are between 300,000 and 700,000
Refugees/Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs): 2 million IDPs, 2. 47 Million refugees – as of May 2018
UN Personnel and Peacekeepers: 19,135
Once coming to power, President Kiir has been accused of seeking to preserve the Dinka hegemony in government. Additionally, he has been accused of poorly distributing resources, i.e. oil revenue and land among the 60 ethnic tribes, with Dinka, his tribe, benefiting the most. The 2013 Juba Massacre, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Nuer civilians, is usually seen as the best example of the negative impact of his ethnic-oriented rhetoric. Additionally, by re-dividing the ten states into 32 by January 2017, President Kiir increased the total land area controlled by Dinkas from 25% to 42%.
In December 2016, President Kiir initiated a National Dialogue aimed at finding a resolution to the conflict but undermined his efforts by allowing the military to carry out attacks on opposition
Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) spearheaded the movement for independence from Sudan from the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005). Once South Sudan became an independent country, SPLM became the first, and current, ruling party with President Salva Kiir as its head. SPLM is referred to as SPLM-IG meaning SPLM In Government (IG).
The SPLA is loyal to President Kiir and the Dinka tribe. They used to be heavily supported by the Mathiang Anynoor, a militia group controlled by SPLA chief Paul Malong but he created his political party, the South Sudanese United Front (SSUF). Other supports include the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), a social and militant group focused on local issues in Darfur and the Kordofan region in Sudan.
Riek Machar is the leader of SPLM-IO who is currently in exile in South Africa since July 2016 when he was forced to flee to DRC then South Africa after intense clashes with the South Sudanese military. Following gaining independence from Sudan in 2011, Machar became the first Vice President. The tension between him and President Kiir reached an all-time high that by February 2013, Machar had announced his intentions of challenging the president. Five months later, President Kiir dissolved the entire Cabinet and Machar was removed as first Vice President. After his removal from office, President Kiir replaced him with SPLM-IO’s chief political negotiator, Taban Deng Gai. Many SPLM-IO elites do not accept or recognise his appointment, and Taban is often seen as a tool working for President Kiir to divide the opposition. The SPLM-IO rebel group remains loyal primarily to Machar
Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM/IO) is the leading opposition group, with an army/rebel component, in South Sudan. It officially became operational in 2014 following the split with SPLM-IG in early 2013, before the Civil War began. SPLM-IO, led by Reik Machar, cited the Juba Massacre as the catalyst for the division. Since Juba is SPLM-IG stronghold, SPLM-IO moved its operations to Pagak, in the Greater Upper Nile region. As a result, Pagak remains heavily targeted by government forces. SPLM-IO’s demands include President Kiir, and those responsible for the Juba Massacre be held accountable and vacate their political/military positions, return to the original ten states and expulsion of all foreign forces supporting president Kiir, among other issues.
SPLM-IO troops are mainly supported by the Nuer ethnic group. Other rebel groups that support them include the Nuer White Army Militia, Arrow Boys who operate in Western Equatoria region, and National Democratic Movement led by former Minister of Agriculture Lam Akol. Regional countries that support SPLM-IO are Sudan and Ethiopia.
Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is a Horn and East African regional organisation aimed at supporting regional processes related to peace, prosperity, and regional integration.
IGAD’s involvement in South Sudan began as soon as the civil war commenced in December 2013. The 15-month IGAD-led peace talks resulted in the signing of the Agreement for Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) in 2015. The process to reach consensus was complicated by the biased nature of IGAD. Uganda openly supports the Kiir government. In fact, the Ugandan government has sent troops across the border to support SPLM/A. Ethiopia supports Machar and SPLM-IO. Their support of the Nuer stems from the fact that the same tribe can be found in Ethiopia. Moreover, some of the Nuer in Ethiopia have gone to fight alongside Nuer in South Sudan. Furthermore, since their national security interest shapes Ethiopia’s regional foreign policy, the proximity of traditionally Nuer land near their border has made Ethiopia support the Nuer. Though Sudan is known to support SPLM-IO, some of the members of the government have close ties with members of President Kiir’s inner circle. Though Kenya leans towards supporting President Kiir, their interest in South Sudan is economical.
The warring parties within the IGAD coupled with the unwillingness to compromise in order to reach an agreement prolonged the timeframe for the peace talks. The need to create an efficient way to mediate the peace process led to the creation of IGAD-PLUS, which included AU, UN, EU, the Trioka (US, UK, and Norway) and China, in March 2015.
A UNSC resolution approves the creation of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on 8th July 2011, a day before South Sudan gained its independence. The original mandate, which was approved to last one year, was to “consolidate peace and security, and help establish conditions for development in the Republic of South Sudan, with a view to strengthening the capacity of the Government of South Sudan to govern effectively and democratically and establish good relations with its neighbours.” A significant element of this included supporting the government’s efforts in implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005).
After the Civil War broke out in December 2013, UNMISS could not operate as freely as they previously operated due to allegations that they were not a neutral force. The disdain for the UN was illustrated by the frequent demonstrations outside their compound in Juba and other places in the country. As the fighting intensified, UNMISS compounds in the country became places of refuge, with thousands of civilians attempting to force their way into the crowded space. The intensity of the conflict resulted in the expansion of the mandate and peacekeeping force as detailed in the UNSC resolution 2132 (2013). The new mandate stated that UNMISS focus is the protection of civilians, human rights, and contributing to the creation of security conditions conducive to the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
The United States has been a very active mediator of the South Sudanese Civil War, until Trump took office in January 2017. Before the civil war began, the US government was militarily supporting the South Sudanese government. The US government even sent specialists to train and advise the military. However, as the war continued and reports of potential war crimes and crimes against humanity allegations, the US began taking a strong stance against President Kiir’s government. Obama administration pushed for sanctions against officials of the South Sudanese government, both within the US and UN. Though the involvement of the US in the conflict is as strong under the Trump administration, they have at least maintained the script. Former US Ambassador to the UN, Nicki Haley voiced her concerns about president Kiir’s leadership during a trip to the country. In 2017, the US placed new sanctions against three South Sudanese nationals. Moreover, the US issued warning to American financial institutions that fail to comply with the economic sanctions by allowing sanctioned individuals to use their banks to launder money.
Timeline of the crisis
Refer to the UNMISS section in the key stakeholders to learn more
Sudanese people voted overwhelmingly voted in favour of independence during a national referendum between 9 and 15 January 2011. South Sudan formally became an independent country on 9th July, a move that was celebrated throughout the world. The independence of South Sudan was seen as a new era of peace and stability for the people the South Sudanese people. South Sudan and Sudan still contest the boundaries of their respective countries, with the Abyei region as the most contentious.
The Pibor Massacre occurred when heavily armed fighters from the Luo Nuer ethnic group advanced towards Pibor town which is inhabited with their rival ethnic group, the Murle. The two tribes have been clashing for decades in which each tribe is destroying large pieces of land and raids cattle. Right before the massacre, peace talks between the two tribes had failed. UN peacekeepers and government soldiers could not stop the Nuer fighters as they were outnumbered. Additionally, the terrain of Pibor town, which is rugged, isolated and surrounded by thick forests and swamps, made efforts to help the villagers harder. As a result of the massacre, over 3000 people, mostly from the Murle tribe, were murdered, and 1000 children abducted. Over 370,000 cattle were also stolen. The Pibor Massacre is considered one of the worst and brutal ethnic massacres recorded.
Before the Civil War began, tension Kiir and Machar was increasingly growing. As a result, President Kiir began reorganising the senior leadership, which included reshuffling of the Cabinet and security agency personnel, with individuals loyal to him. In total, 36 people lost their jobs and were replaced by Kiir supporters. Additionally, 117 generals were forced to retire.
President Kiir fires Machar from his position as First Vice President, along with his entire Cabinet. Analysts say the reasoning behind the firing of Machar was due to a power struggle between the two leaders. Machar’s decision to announce his decision to run for the 2015 election sparked the internal struggle. The previous day, the president had issued a decree where he dismissed all deputy ministers. Following the dismissal of all major government officials, the government was technically being run by under-secretaries until further notice. The monopoly of the power vested in the presidency allows the president to dissolve national and state legislatures, dismiss ministers and vice president, elect state governors and judges. Due to the unpredictability of the announcement, security forces were deployed throughout Juba, though the city remained relatively calm.
The precursor of the South Sudanese Conflict is the accusation from President Kiir that FVP Machar had attempted to stage a coup. Following the accusation, nine suspected conspirators were arrested. VP Machar denied the allegations.
Juba Nuer massacre was a consequence of the accusations that VP Machar had attempted to plan a coup against president Kiir. Dinka members of the military killed over 500 Nuer civilians in the capital city of Juba. Over 20,000 civilians fled to the UN compound for safety. The aftermath of the Juba Nuer massacre was a mass defection from the government with many Nuer military soldiers and personnel leaving SPLM/A to join SPLM-IO. Additionally, ethnically Nuer militias such as the Nuer White Army pledged allegiance to SPLM-IO.
The fighting between the government and opposition forces in Jonglei state was devastating. Both sides and militias loyal to each side staged revenge attacks on each other, killing thousands of the civilians. The displacement of civilians fleeing from violence forced the president to declare a state of emergency. The stalemate between the two sides prolonged the conflict. UN peacekeepers were not spared in the attacks. An attack on the UN base resulted in the deaths of 2 Indian peacekeepers.
Resolution 2132 (2013) increased UNMISS military component up to 12,500 and 1323 police to form Formed Police Units
Refer to the IGAD section in the key stakeholders
Bentiu Massacre occurred when the SPLM-IO fighter killed approximately 400 civilians following capturing Bentiu from government forces. According to UN human rights investigator, the rebel fighters went throughout the town, killing anyone whom they believed did not support them. They did not spare those civilians who had sought refuge in religious places such as mosques and churches. It is believed that some of the victims of the massacre were traders from the Sudan and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) soldiers.
Riek Machar and SPLM-IO denied responsibility for the attack, claiming that the government staged the massacre and blamed them for the attack.
UNSC imposed sanctions on six generals accused of fuelling the South Sudanese conflict. The sanctions targeted three generals from the government, including the commander of president Kiir’s Special Guard, Major General Marial Chanuong Yol Mangok, and three from the opposition including Maj Gen Simon Gatwech Dual, the Chief of General Staff of the opposition forces.
The IGAD statement said that forces loyal to President Kiir, including the military, have conducted military offensives in five of the nine countries in the oil-rich Unity state. The aim of the offensive, according to IGAD, is to increase territorial gains into Jonglei and Upper Nile states. Credible reports say acts of violence targeting civilians, human rights violation/abuses and destruction of villages have occurred. South Sudanese government denied the allegations
The Agreement for Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) called for the creation of a power-sharing unity transitional government that would be in place for 30 months. During the 30 months, the unity government was expected to “ensure justice, accelerate constitutional reform, improve economic and political govern ace, and reconcile society.” The document also called for a permanent ceasefire, transitional security arrangements. The new agreement was meant to be the foundation for the peace process since once the unity government is created, the path towards demilitarisation of both sides, and possibility the creation of a unity military, would begin. Despite the high hopes, the ceasefire was short lived as both sides continued to fight.
In another attempt to use political agreement to bring about the end of the conflict, President Kiir reappoints Machar as the FVP, as part of the new peace accord. The move by President Kiir comes after Machar returns to the Juba after fleeing the country following heavy clashes between his and the president’s supporters. He maintained his position for a mere two months before he was once again sacked. Following the decision, Machar once fled the country. It is reported that the government forces pursued him by helicopter gunship to kill him.
As soon as Machar was fired for the second time, protests broke out. The clashes resulted in the deaths of an estimated 300 people, predominantly civilians within four days in Juba. A Chinese peacekeeper was among the killed. The killings come as South Sudan was supposed to celebrate its fifth anniversary since independence.
Many analysts say that President Kiir appointed Gen Taban as first Vice President in an attempt to divide SPLM-IO, i.e. divide and conquer. If this is the case, it means that President Kiir is intentionally trying to prolong the conflict since he was trying to create tension within SPLM-IO. Irregardless of his actions, most of SPLM-IO supporters remained loyal to Machar rather than Taban, including the military/rebel element of the party.
Kenya withdrew its troops once the commander of the UNMISS, Lt Gen Johnson Magoa Kimani Ondieki was dismissed from his position by Ban Ki-moon, then the UN Secretary General. The decision came after a damming report was published showing that the UN mission failed to protect civilians in Juba during the July violence which were sparked by the firing of Machar from his position as First Vice President. The report stated that, during the July clashes, peacekeepers abandoned their posts, and failed to respond to pleas for help from aid works under attack near the UN compound
Following a ten-day fact-finding mission to South Sudan, the UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan stated that the process of ethnic cleansing is well underway in the country. The report adds that starvation, gang rape and the burning of villages are being used to maximise the effects of ethnic cleansing. In addition to ethnic cleansing and division between various tribes, there is an increase of hate speech and a crackdown on the media and civil society. The report also stated that if the world does not act, what happened in Rwanda is going to happen in South Sudan. The commission recommends that the government set up a hybrid court which was promised to the south Sudanese nationals by the government.
In December 2016, President Kiir initiated a National Dialogue aimed at finding a resolution to the conflict. As part of the process, he offered amnesty to rebels and asked them to return to the capital city of Juba. Some analysts say that he announced the national dialogue to change the narrative from the UN report detailing ethnic cleansing. Regardless of his motives, by January 2017, a dozen SPLM-IO officials had defected to government forces. However, he undermined his own efforts by allowing the military to carry out attacks on the opposition.
UN expresses concern over the declaration of famine in parts of the country with over 100,000 people on the brink of starvation. The acting US State Department spokesperson, Mark Toner, stated that the crisis is man-made since it is a direct result of the conflict and obstruction of humanitarian access.
After former Deputy Head of Logistics Lt Gen Thomas Cirillo Swaka left SPLM-IG, he created his group, the National Salvation Front (NAS or NSF). By the end of March 2017, NAS, which mostly operated in Equatoria state, immediately got new defectors from SPLM-IO including; 1) Commander in Wester Gahr al-Ghazal Area General Faiz Ismail Futur, 2) six SPKM-IO governors from Equatoria region, 3) Head of Cobra Faction Khalid Boutros, and 4) Commander of Central Equatoria state John Kenyi Loburon. Many of the defectors claimed the division among clan lines was the reason for leaving SPLM-IO. The creation of NAS shifts the conversation about the conflict in South Sudan since NAS has increasingly become an active opposition group, distinct from SPLM-IO. The more influence NAS got, not only did they pose a threat to the current government but also the international community needed to pay attention to their actions and involve them in the peace process.
In a presidential announcement, President Kiir not only does he declare a unilateral ceasefire on the ongoing civil war but also promises to release political prisoners. His efforts were met with scepticism since he had previously declared ceasefires and promised to release prisoners but never followed through with it.
Following the failure of the previous ceasefire and peace agreement in 2015, IGAD did not take a backseat to the conflict. In a communique, IGAD calls upon all parties of the South Sudanese conflict to take urgent steps to draw concrete plans and timelines to compensate for the delay and the revitalise the full implementation of the ARCSS. To ensure that this new process succeeds, IGAD needs to ensure that the two main sides, SPLM-IG and SPLM-IO, agree to security arrangements in Juba, the integration of rebels into the national army and redrawing the district borders. These three issues dictate whether renewed efforts will succeed.
The Pagak Offensive was an aggressive push from the South Sudanese government to take rebel stronghold of Pagak and wider Maiwut county which is near the Ethiopian border. The offensive led to thousands of people to flee the area. The opposition forces attempted to repel the advancement of the government forces but were unable to do so.
The government denied the existence of the operation, stating that the military push in Pagak was the work of the new Vice President Taban Deng Gai. It was not until the SPLA retook Pagak and Maiwut county did the government admit the operation
A UN report says that 1 million refugees have entered Uganda since the conflict in South Sudan began in 2013. The report details that approximately 1800 South Sudanese arrive in Uganda daily in the past year alone.
Renewed efforts to bring about the end of the conflict has brought initial success with both SPLM-IG and SPLM-IO agreeing to a ceasefire. The ceasefire aims to revive the 2015 IGAD-led peace process that had collapsed. The progress was welcomed by the international community.
The smaller opposition groups combine forces to create the South Sudan Opposition Alliance in an attempt to get a seat at the negotiation table. The alliance involves National Salvation Front (NAS/NSF), National Democratic Movement (NDM), Federal Democratic Party/ South Sudan Armed Forces (FDP/SSAF), People’s Democratic Movement (PDM), South Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SSLM/A), South Sudan National Movement of Change (SSNMC), South Sudan Patriotic Movement/Army (SSPM/A), South Sudan United Movement/Army (SSUM/A), and United Democratic Republican Alliance (UDRA).
Note: Though the alliance is still operational, the alliance has faced many internal struggles for power, causing some of the original founding members to leave and create other opposition groups.
In the new report, the UN claims that between the specified period, 232 civilians were killed, 120 women and girls raped
Note: the report also mentioned the violations that the opposition has committed but at a far less extent
The Khartoum Declaration, which is the Declaration of Agreement on a Permanent Ceasefire, was able to reduce fighting between the two warring sides for the time being.
After the failed attempted in 2016, the United States has successfully gathered votes to pass a UNSC arms embargo on South Sudan. The terms of the arms embargo dictate that all Member states must prevent arms and related equipment of all types, including weapons, ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment and any spare parts, from entering South Sudan. The arms embargo also imposed a travel ban and asset freeze against two new individuals.
The move by President Kiir was condemned by SPLM-IO and SSOA. Ultimately, on July 12th, the parliament accepted the proposal and President Kiir’s presidency is extended until 2021. The extension to President Kiir’s presidential term is problematic since it shows that he is uninterested in leaving office. This becomes an issue because it will be unpredictable, and possibly prolong the conflict if he either does not become president in the unity government or losses future elections.
Like all previous peace agreements, the Entebbe proposal, the new power-sharing deal, proposed the appointment of four vice presidents with Machar as First Vice President (FVP). The signing of the agreement is both positive and negative. On the positive sign, it shows that both sides are willing to come to the negotiation table and discuss a way to end the conflict, which has slowed the fighting. However, on the negative side, since the new agreement did not address the key issues such as third-party security force in Juba, unity military and redrawing of the districts, there is a high likelihood that at a later stage, issues will arise, causing the fighting to continue.
Note: other opposition groups rejected the deal since the new system did not restrict President Kiir’s legislative and executive, one of the reasons why the civil war began in the first place,
Rebel leader Riek Machar returns to South Sudan for the first time since he fled the country more than two years ago. He travels to Juba to demonstrate the strength of the Khartoum agreement.
The new peace treaty, spearheaded by former Sudan president, Omar al-Bashir, was signed in Addis Ababa. This would be the 12th peace agreement that these two leaders have signed between them. The peace deal details the creation of a new unity government, meant to be formed in May 2019. Before the unity government is created, the peace deal stated that interim benchmarks had to be met first. These benchmarks included 1) the unification of the national army and 2) the redrawing of internal boundaries, i.e. reducing the 32 states created by President Kiir to the original ten states. Another aspect of the deal that is being discussed is the use of a third-party protection force in Juba to allow the return of opposition leaders and supporters to the city.
Note: The peace deal is extremely fragile since both sides are unwilling to make drastic compromises to ensure that the three main points are addressed before the intended creation of the unity government in May 2019
Note: Out of the nine groups that are part of the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), six signed on to the new peace agreement. Lt Gen Thomas Cirillo Swaka (SAN or SNF), Hakim Dario (PDM) and Gatweth Thich (UDRA) did not sign the peace agreement.
Reports claim that thousands of civilians have fled the region due to the brutality by government forces.
- IGAD Special Envoy Ismail Wais met with Lt Gen Thomas Cirillo (NAS/NSF) and Hakim Dario (People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) in an attempt to bring all the warring parties to the table. Without the signature of all the essential rebel groups to the peace treaty, the fighting will likely continue.
Head of UNMISS, David Shearer, briefed the UNSC where he expressed concern with the delayed implantation of the three areas agreed upon in the peace agreement, 1) delineation of internal state boundaries, 2) creation of a unified army and 3) ensuring the security of returning opposition leaders. These concerns are valid since these three issues are the reasons why each peace treaty has failed.
Paul Malong, South Sudan United Front (SSUF/A) leader, and Lt General Cirillo (SAN or SNF) did not sign the 12 September peace agreement. IGAD Special Envoy, Ismail Wais, met with them in an attempt to convince him to lay down arms and join the peace agreement. Malong, in a joint statement with IGAD, expressed willingness to negotiate with the government. The meeting with Lt Gen Cirillo was not fruitful. Both opposition leaders and their groups are still fighting against government forces and pro-government militia groups.
During the meeting with President Kiir and Riek Machar at the Vatican, Pope Francis encouraged the two leaders to pursue a path of peace.
- During the meeting with President Kiir and Riek Machar at the Vatican, Pope Francis encouraged the two leaders to pursue a path of peace.