Shaky peace in South Sudan as Unity Government struggles to take shape

Shaky peace in South Sudan as Unity Government struggles to take shape

Fighting continues in South Sudan and more people flee every day. What can be done to build a true peace for the country?

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By Gloria Laker Aciro

The latest round of violence in South Sudan has further complicated the process of peace and recovery. On the eve of the country’s July Independence Day, fighting broke out in the centre of the capital, Juba. Scores of people were killed and many more fled the country. The total number of South Sudanese people displaced now stands at over one million.

Until 7 July Juba had been quiet. Citizens had begun to feel hopeful about peace, describing the formation of a national unity government as a ‘healthy’ step.

Ugandan and Kenyan charity workers and business people working in South Sudan shared this optimism. In an interview in May, Edmund Yakani, the director of a community empowerment initiative, told reporters in Juba he was optimistic peace will return in South Sudan saying, “we are still in a state of truth telling then reconciliation.”

Few expected violence to begin so soon.

Peace agreement – a time bomb?

Some South Sudanese citizens, like Tokwo Justus, knew that a return of hostilities was inevitable. Tokwo stated in April that the formation of the unity government was a superficial step, failing to address deep-seated problems of governance and so delaying progress towards peace:

“Underlying historical factors needed to have been tabled and agreed upon before a final unity government could be formed. The elders body, for example, has been biased in its decision-making and should have been abolished.”

Experts on the conflict in South Sudan agree. They argue that allowing the two top government leaders to have their own troops was a mistake, suggesting instead that one neutral army would have formed a stronger foundation for the unity government and the peace process.

Fresh wounds opened

These failings in the formation of the unity government and the recent return to fighting have hit civilians the hardest. The people of South Sudan continue to face violence, and each day more are displaced from their homes.

Even with calls to end the war and the current ceasefire, fresh wounds have been opened. Recent reports tell of the mass recruitment of children by both warring parties, widespread sexual violence and hundreds of children left without parents.

Take for instance 18-year-old Victoria Akotwho. Victoria is among the new arrivals at the Adjumani Centre in northern Uganda. She and her siblings were at school when fighting broke out. On returning home, they found their front door open and the house empty.

When shelling and gunshots continued, Victoria decided to run, taking her siblings and joining a group of people heading to Uganda. After days of walking without food to eat, they made it to Uganda, but Victoria has not been able to find her parents. “We are now one month here and I don’t know where my parents are,” says Victoria.

According to a local journalist who also fled to Uganda, many South Sudanese citizens are still trapped deep in rural villages and are trying to enter Uganda through the bush. They do this amid fear of being abducted or killed by gunmen who are taking advantage of the insurgency to raid villages and ambush vehicles. These gunmen are active in the western part of the country bordering Uganda.

The journalist says most of the people trapped are women and children and that they are in a state of helplessness, with many having lost hope. He says they have no food, shelter or medical support, confirming a recent local radio report in Uganda quoting Amnesty International research on the impact on civilians of continued hostilities in South Sudan.

Holding onto peace

The fighting rages on. In July about 500 people were reportedly killed, according to the South Sudanese government. They say the majority of those killed were fighters of the former vice president Riek Machar.

Regardless of who lost more troops in the fight, it still hurts to see civilians killing civilians. In this case South Sudanese people killing each other in years of senseless war.

It’s important therefore that the South Sudanese citizens, government and its political wing come to the negotiating table and agree on a real peace for the country. A section of South Sudanese society see progress in the replacement of Riek Machar as vice president and the defection of a number of his troops to the government side.

But peace must also come through education: informing normal citizens of the need to forgive, reconcile and unite.

Gloria Laker Aciro heads the Peace Journalism Foundation of East Africa, a Peace Media Organization which reports on the post-war recovery and development of Northern Uganda.

This piece was originally published by Insight on Conflict and is available by clicking here. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of TransConflict.

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1 Response

  1. jjoe paomo

    The way things look, there is no peace yet. You may need to be on the ground and see how South Sudan is engulf again in war.

    The used to be peaceful Equatoria Region has seen 100,000s heading to Uganda from the region of Yei, Magwi, Maridi, Kajokeji, Torit etc. Ethnic killings has been the order of the day since 2013 December conflict erupted, High way ambushes etc.

    The government being ruled by the Jieng (Jenge0 or Dinka) Council of Elders feel that they are in better position to rule since Machar is out of Juba. My fear is that if the world do not act soon, then there is a serious genocides in waiting. The tit for tat killing between the Dinka/Jenge and Nuer including now the Equatorians might escalate seriously. As long as the government continue to use reprisal attacks on civilians in Equatoria, the rebellions will take the same revenge. We have seen houses destroyed by both ground and air attacks. Innocent civilians sprayed from the air with bullets.

    Taban Deng Gai is being used outside there to give good public image to the world. He has no troops to be called under his command. The Cantonments so called designed are completely empty including those in Equatoria Region.

    In nutshell, there is no peace and the AUgust peace deal is either dead or stuck in the quagmire.

    What did Uganda do? They intervened in 2013 and later pulled back. They were more or less mercenaries who came to keep the government in power and to avert killings by the Nuer against Dinka. But Uganda did not leave behind a changed minds of the army and the government. They should have made sure there were disciplines in the SPLA soldiers and the government. Again we saw prior to July 2016 fighting in Juba, Uganda supplying 1000 of tons of amunations to the government.

    But Uganda forgot one thing or two. They failed to analyse the kind of government and its army they came to deal with. The South Sudan Government and its army is the worst compared to Idi AMin’s government, and the UNLA army of Milton Obote. I wonder what good legacy has Uganda left in SOuth Sudan intervention?

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