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On 9th of July, South Sudan reached its third year of independence. However, the country is still dominated by unresolved conflicts. Since December 2013, an ongoing civil war resulting out of political and power disputes between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, has overshadowed developments in the world’s youngest state.
One of the major reasons for the ongoing civil war in South Sudan are certain developments that followed the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the Government of the Republic of Sudan and the Sudan People’s
Liberation Movement/Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which eventually led to South Sudan’s independence. Fundamental internal political reforms within the two principal political parties, among them the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which held political preponderance over Southern Sudan’s autonomous government, did not take place. The failure of the SPLM to engender meaningful political reforms in South Sudan and the resultant bad governance, characterized by pervasive corruption and an ineffective government, created a precarious political environment in the country, which finally exploded on December 15, 2013. Fights within the presidential guard started the ongoing violence within the country and escalated into an armed confrontation in Juba, later on spreading to several parts of the country. Large towns, such as Bor, Bentiu and Malakal, have alternated between control by government and non-government forces.
Even though the ongoing armed conflict can be traced back directly to a political conflict over power and influence within the SPLM/A, other root causes of the conflict can be identified, among them ethnic grievances and conflicts over resources and land. South Sudan is believed to be a country where ethnicity greatly influences the political affiliations of people. With the start of the current conflict – for example - the security forces split largely along ethnic lines. In the same line, civilians belonging to the Dinka, which is the largest ethnical group, support President Kiir while many of the Nuer hold up to Machar and the SPLM/A in Opposition, as the part of the SPLM/A that broke away and now fights the government calls itself. Even though the South Sudanese government tries its best to eliminate ethnic grievances from the discourse on the underlying root causes of the conflict, it can therefore be observed that within the ongoing violence ethnicity supersedes politics as the primary motivation for fighting when it comes to civilians taking up arms and joining one of the two parties to the conflict This has further deepened already existing cleavages within the South Sudanese society, which were not overcome ever since the state gained independence in 2011.
Briefly after the conflict started, the regional organisation IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) took up the task of facilitating a mediation process. Even though there were multiple ceasefires agreed on, so far no conclusive peace agreement is in sight. Furthermore, due to the complexity of the conflict, the question how peace can not only be achieved between the political elites, but also be maintained on all levels, is crucial. Therefore, during the conference the root causes and triggers of the conflict will be discussed, the mediation process so far will be reviewed and analysed, and possible ways forward - including possibilites of transitional justice, institutional reforms, and reconciliation - will be developed.