A young country, an old story.

November 7, 2017

South Sudan is the youngest sovereign nation on Earth. Its independence from Sudan was declared in 2011, after a referendum was held and 98.83% of voters voted in favour of it.
Up to this point everything seems perfectly right, as we expect the creation of a new nation to be. Well, unluckily the picture is way bigger and not a very optimistic one. Independence was declared after decades of conflict within the former Sudan regions. The country’s history (dating back to as far as the 15th and 16th century) explains both its ethnic and geographic fractionalization: through the centuries, different groups have established themselves in different areas of the country and both geographical and cultural barriers have strengthened the separation between the north and the south of the country, with the former developing and the latter staying behind, lacking even the most basic infrastructure (roads, bridges, schools). The country’s ethnic tension has been moreover widely used in the past by politicians, to either increase or maintain power. On top of that, Sudan had one of the strongest slavery traditions in the world, meaning that slavery remained a common phenomenon throughout the 19th century, with frequent raids in the southern part by the Arab north.
1958 marks Sudan’s independence from Egypt, which has been followed by violent conflict among ethnic groups and between the government and specific ethnicities. South Sudan’s independence has a very similar unfolding pattern. Although independence was guaranteed by a referendum vote, the occurrence of conflicts wasn’t prevented. In fact, since its recent independence, the South Sudanese population has been suffering the effects of an ongoing conflict, with only a few, sporadic ceasefires. During December 2013, month that marks the official start of the South Sudanese Civil War, President Kiir accused his former vice-president and ten other officials to have attempted a coup d’état, while vice-president Machar denied the President’s accusations and took the lead of the opposition party. The conflict between the two political movements soon turned into a civil war with ethnic undertones.
The South Sudanese Civil War is now going on since almost four years, although interrupted by several ceasefires and kept under control by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), that has deployed peacekeepers in the area. The situation is far from being solved, with obvious humanitarian implications for all the South Sudanese affected by the war. Looking at figures, it becomes immediately clear how tragic the situation is: out of a population of 12 million - mainly dedicated to subsistence agriculture- 6 million are facing starvation. The conflict has led 2.1 million of people to be displaced within the country and an additional 1.5 million has fled to neighboring countries. Official U.N. estimates report more than 50.000 people dead due to the conflict - a part of them due to ethnic massacres - but the decades of civil conflict have made it impossible to run a census in years, meaning that the number could be much higher (some sources estimate the dead to be 300.000).

 

 


Although those figures are effective in showing how severely the South Sudanese people have been affected by the ongoing war, the atrocities have gone even further. Different cases of attacks on civilian centers were reported, with armed rebels attacking and killing both civilians and aid workers. On the other hand, and more alarmingly, the government allegedly led some ethnic groups, suspected or openly accused to sustain the rebels, to starvation by delaying or preventing aid from reaching some villages. Another element not accounted for by the official figures is the actual number of child soldiers forced into the war, which is estimated to be approximately 17.000 by UNICEF (with 1300 circa recruited in 2016 only) and the real number of victims of sexual violence, a problem that has reached alarming figures (ca. 70% of women in shelter camps reported having been sexually assaulted) and whose main perpetrators are soldiers and policemen.
 

 

The picture we get is thus everything but optimistic, especially if we consider that there has not been any conclusive talk on lowering the tension, not to mention how unsuccessful any attempt of solving the conflict has been. The humanitarian stakes are huge and not only due to the great number of people directly involved or affected.
What strikes the most about the South Sudanese Civil War is that its people have now been suffering not for days, nor for months or years, but for decades, being slowly ripped off every basic human right.
Looking at the past it is easy to see that many countries were built on blood and violence, but we keep on living in the reassurance that this would not happen nowadays. Well, it is happening instead, and the silence on the issue is the most striking signal that some screams will always be ignored and some countries will keep on being built on innocents’ blood.

 

Robin Hendrix

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