By Biff Boffington*
Around 4 million individuals are in need of aid and struggling to acquire the nutrition they need to live. This disturbing food catastrophe in South Sudan is not the result of drought as has been the norm previously in Africa; in the case of South Sudan, it is manmade. The world’s newly formed state is at danger of plunging into complete conflict once again. The peace arrangement reached between the South Sudanese administration (SPLA) and the largest armed opposition group (SPLA-iO) in August after a serious African-led intervention is on the periphery of failure. In the meantime, autonomous armed rebels outside the agreement are increasing. South Sudan ought to be a country filled with optimism four years after gaining freedom; however, it is now in the command of an immense humanitarian disaster. Political conflict has triggered colossal dislocation, intense violence, and awful food absences over the past two years and has made the situation for everyday South Sudanese people extremely hard. Over 2.4 million people (1 in 5) have been displaced and tens of thousands have been slaughtered. Just over 770,000 people have run away to bordering states in the pursuit of protection, while others are imprisoned inside the warring nation. A report released by the African Union in October detailed carnages on both sides, including mass killings, rapes, and cannibalism. According to the International Crisis Group, there are 24 known armed groups aligned with neither the government (SPLA) nor the main opposition forces (SPLA-iO). Thus, the possibility of conflict reoccurring in 2016 is highly likely and possesses a real threat to the already fragile state of South Sudan.
With oil prices severely plummeting globally, the possibility of economic growth in South Sudan looks bleak. The World Bank:
“estimates that the current conflict has cost up to 15% of the potential GDP in 2014. Military expenditure has increased, jeopardizing the availability of resources for service delivery and capital spending on much needed infrastructure. Oil production has fallen by around 20% due to the conflict, and is expected to remain at 165,000 barrel/day up to the end of FY2015/16. The recent decline in oil prices from $110 per barrel to less than $50 per barrel has further aggravated the losses of oil revenue, and has had a negative impact on macro-budgetary indicators, requiring painful fiscal adjustments.”
Succeeding this problem was the 15 December announcement by the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Mr. David Deng Athorbei, that the fixed official exchange rate of 2.90 South Sudanese Pounds (SSP) to the US dollar was abandoned to a floating market-driven exchange rate. This means that inflation in the coming weeks and months will develop into a major difficulty and will place immense burden upon everyday people, especially those living in the rural parts of the country with limited access. In time, this will only impinge on the already fragile macroeconomic steadiness of South Sudan. This over-dependence and mishmash of macroeconomic instability will only be a cause for several of these 24 non-associated groups to resume fighting and fend for what they feel is right, which is ultimately the survival of their kind and their loved ones by any means possible. With an administration exclusively reliant on oil proceeds to drive its economy, it is only a matter of time until conflict breaks out in South Sudan once again and cripples the government. This will have damaging consequences on civilians on the outskirts of the capital, especially those based in the Upper Nile region and Unity State.
The creation of 28 states
In two Republican decrees issued on 24 December, President Salva Kiir Mayardit relieved the governors and caretaker governors of the obsolete ten states of the Republic of South Sudan and selected 28 fresh governors in agreement with the provisions of forming presidential order 36/2015. This was a defilement of the peace agreement, and SPLM/A-IO and an association of eighteen political parties condemned the declaration. Such political manoeuvring, designed to win the presidential re-election if an election does take place in the near future, will only aggravate the political stability for which many South Sudanese were hopeful. Many international organisations and governments see this move as reckless and constitutionally unwise, especially given that the state is struggling to deal with ten states and provide adequate developmental support as it is. To add to this unjustified disorder, many of the locations where the establishment of the additional 18 states are to be formed have neither the infrastructure nor the presence of a local government. Further, there have not been any pre-existing governmental institutional structures put into place. In other words, the formation of the 28 states is not an ideally sound validation. The president’s decree also aims at moving dissimilar ethnic groups to areas with which they have never had any historical ties, which will only stir and raise grievances further. This has been evident between the communities of the Upper Nile state where this move has impinged and transformed inter-communal relations in the state, particularly within the protection of civilian camps. In the Upper Nile, new alliances have been formed between the Shilluks and their former rivals, the Nuer, who are now attacking Dinka communities. The formation of the 28 states is also a key breach of the arrangement signed in Addis Ababa and Juba in August 2015 to end South Sudan’s conflict. While low-level conflict is continuing in Unity State, the conflict is now escalating in the Equatorias and Western Bahr el Ghazal. Politics, in some cases, can be helpful, but in this case, the government’s position stands to do more harm than good.
IGAD and the international communities forged peace
On the 15th of December, The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) extended its United Nations Mission to South Sudan’s directive to July 2016, authorising the use of drones and the further protection of civilians. Regional players, especially members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which mediated the original peace agreement and international powers, including IGAD partners China, Norway, the United States, and the United Kingdom, need to be more firm and press South Sudan’s leaders urgently to honour their obligations to the peace deal and resist the temptation to start fighting. The peace agreement was possible because IGAD, particularly mediators from Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda, and the wider international community were united. However, as implementation faltered in the face of predictable foot-dragging from the parties, IGAD heads of state did not meet in November as planned and there has been no synchronised strategy to date. Despite difficulties, implementation seems to be the only option for IGAD mediators to prevent an intractable conflict on multiple fronts, a return to regional competition in South Sudan, and an even worse humanitarian catastrophe.
One of the biggest problems facing the United Nations and international communities is their semi sacred focus on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) and small arms control. Alongside these programmes are other initiatives, such as the Community Security that is based and created around an entirely different political model to that of South Sudan. This model is utterly inappropriate for states such as South Sudan who have endured decades of fighting and have only dealt with and resolved their issues through the barrel of the gun. Ultimately, these programmes will not result in helping to create a stable democratic state, but will encourage the state to continue to use perpetual violence and rebellion to solve issues.
In addition, a country that has been culturally and ethnically divided since its formation will need great healing and reconciliation to resolve the problems with the underlining institutional and community-based systems that have been destroyed because of decades of fighting. This is why the president’s move to create 28 states will only, in the end, destroy any hope that South Sudan has of forming sustainability and lasting peace. While the rhetorical commentating and condemnation from the IGAD, AU, UN and the international community is welcomed there are still colossal gaps between public rhetoric and diplomatic efforts. With the former not doing much to shift the car into gear, it may be time for the UNSC and the International Criminal Court to consider serious sanctions for some of South Sudan’s leaders.
The bleak fate of South Sudan
Dr. Granag was undoubtedly the only person who could articulate and reconcile the overwhelming desire for the south to peacefully flourish with a vision of giving unity within South Sudan a chance. With Dr. Garang’s sudden death, the SPLA’s strategic understanding of the peace process changed almost overnight. Consequently, there were major ramifications for the future of South Sudan and the vacuum that he left when he passed away. At independence, the government had yet to secure a monopoly over violence, with many individuals and groups continuing to use violence to further their own political and personal agendas. A country torn by conflict where the power of the gun is the only way of resolving deep-rooted issues means that the fate of South Sudan continues to look bleak.
To further democratic governance, the government must maintain a monopoly over violence and force rather than politics. As Alex DeWaal has highlighted, Sudanese politics have historically been defined by a routine of endless negotiations over the smallest details. Seeking delays to the resolution of difficult topics has long been the norm, to the point where the art of tajility (strategic delay) often determines who ultimately wins. This is evident in the delays in implementation of the August agreement that gave Juba the space to announce the break-up of the country’s original ten states into 28 in December. Whilst it is clear that the people of South Sudan are hungry for peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness, it appears that the political powers and the president will continue to destroy the potential that South Sudan has to be a great nation. With each passing year and with each new initiative, the President’s enemies will only grow longer and stronger unless more is done to invest in and deliver the peace and prosperity that the people of South Sudan so desperately seek and deserve.
*Biff Boffington is a student of conflict studies at the University of Essex and works as a consultant in South Sudan.