South Sudan: Where to Now?
After decades lost to 2 civil wars, the division of Sudan into 2 separate states was meant to signal a departure from the ways of violence and a return to peace. Recent reports of 400-500 people being killed in South Sudan suggest that the transition to peace is unlikely to be straightforward. On its own the drawing of an arbitrary line on a map cannot heal old wounds, instead it must be backed up by a process of reconciliation that brings together people to confront the past head on. Only by tackling unspoken grievances in an honest upfront way can the building blocks of community, society and of a functioning democratic state be put in place.
It has been alleged that the recent violence was sparked by a coup attempt against the increasingly dictatorial President Salva Kiir. Now ostracised former Vice-President Riek Machar is the man that President Kiir lays the blame for the incident with. Mr Machar however has ridiculed such suggestions saying that what happened was the result of a “misunderstanding” between members of the presidential guard rather than a coup attempt.
Until now the multi-ethnic makeup of the presidential guard had been held up as an example of how South Sudan had overcome historic tensions to build a promising future. In the light of the violence it appears that this once symbol of integration masked simmering tensions.
Unsurprisingly the upsurge in violence has caused widespread panic among the civilian population. According to UN sources “16,000 people and counting” have rushed to seek shelter from the violence. Similarly, poorly equipped hospitals have been overrun by a massive influx of injured parties.
There are very real fears that the fighting may widen ethnic divisions and that in a country still awash with weapons – the ugly relics of a violent history – that this could result in a prolonged period of sustained violence. To make matters worse President Kiir has started to round up some of his fiercest critics. The heavy handed manner in which the security forces have gone about this has spread fear among the civilian population. When you add fear to the already volatile mix of ethnic tension, a violent history and easily accessible weapons you potentially have a recipe for disaster.
Let us learn from the past. Violence will not solve anything.