(Originally published in World Politics Review on July 22, 2014)
Seven months after fighting broke out between the government of South Sudan and anti-government forces, the conflict is at a stalemate, both on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Unlike the early days of the conflict, when cities like Bor, Bentiu and Malakal changed hands multiple times, the status quo has largely held since the onset of the rainy season in May.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)—the East African regional organization that spearheaded the peace process between Sudan and now-independent South Sudan in the 1990s—has taken the lead to bring the government, represented by the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), and anti-government forces, such as the SPLM-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) and former political detainees, to the negotiating table. Despite several agreements signed by both sides, however, negotiations in neighboring Ethiopia have not led to a resolution of the conflict or a way out of the current crisis.
(Read the rest of the article on the World Politics Review website)
(Originally published in War on the Rocks on July 17, 2014)
Three years into its independence, South Sudan faces multiple crises on political, security, and humanitarian fronts. After almost a decade of relative peace following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with Sudan in 2005, a political dispute within South Sudan’s ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), devolved into armed conflict in December 2013. The jubilance and optimism that accompanied the new country’s independence from Sudan in July 2011 were eroded; in their wake, prospects for a peace dividend have become bleak.
This was not the war that many had anticipated following the signing of the CPA and South Sudan’s subsequent independence. That war would have been a reprise of North–South conflict that characterized the first (1956–1972) and second (1983–2005) Sudanese civil wars. Rather, the conflict that emerged in South Sudan could be understood as a continuation of unresolved South–South tensions that were, arguably, never adequately addressed by the CPA. Contrary to its name, the CPA was an elite bargain between Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party and the strongest element of the southern resistance, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A).
(Read the rest of the article on the War on the Rocks website)
UPDATE as of 9am EST: Sudan Tribune reports that SPLM-IO has claimed to have recaptured Bentiu, while the government of South Sudan claims the SPLA is defending their positions in the town from rebel fighter.
In case you missed it, Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment released some new briefs last week on the ongoing conflict in South Sudan. In light of today’s reports that the city of Bentiu, capital of (formerly) oil-producing Unity State has once again changed hands, I would direct your attention to The SPLM-in-Opposition and The Conflict in Unity.
Today’s developments mark the fourth time since the outset of conflict in December 2013 that Bentiu has changed hands between the government and the rebel forces, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO). The SPLM-IO first seized the town the week the conflict broke out around 20-21 December and held it until it was retaken by the government on 10 January. Bentiu again fell to the opposition on 15 April, but was retaken by the government on 4 May. Both times the SPLM-IO has taken Bentiu, they have only been able to hold it for a maximum of 3 weeks. Why has that been the case?
For the answers to that question, I turn to the aforementioned Sudan HSBA briefs, which were on the money about the relative weakness of the rebellion in Unity, when compared with its relative strength in Upper Nile State to the east. One reason it’s been difficult for the SPLM-IO to hold Bentiu is that Unity State is exposed to President Salva Kiir’s homeland region on Bahr el Ghazal, from which the SPLA 3rd Division (Northern Bahr el Ghazal) and SPLA 5th Division (Western Bahr el Ghazal) can reinforce the SPLA in Unity. Second, the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA), a mainly Nuer former rebel group which had accepted the government’s amnesty prior to the outbreak of conflict and had been awaiting integration into the SPLA, sided with the government, which not only provided the government with additional manpower, but also forced the Nuer soldiers in Unity to decide between remaining with the government and the SSLA or defecting to the SPLM-IO.
Despite the signing of the cessation of hostilities in January, which was never honored and, quite frankly, isn’t worth the paper it was printed on, we will continue to see the government of South Sudan and the SPLM-IO strengthen their positions before the imminent onset of rainy season and before peace talks gain any real traction. Meanwhile, Toby Lanzer, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan estimated via Twitter that approximately 6 million people (2/3 the population of South Sudan) will be at severe risk of starvation or will have fled their homes by the end of 2014.
Although I’m writing this from my cushy office in northern Virgina, It seemed like relative calm had returned, at least, to Juba after the outbreak of violence across parts of South Sudan in mid-December. (For background on the roots of the current crisis, see Radio Tamazuj’s Nine questions about the South Sudan crisis: A guide for confused observers and South Sudan crisis: A guide for confused observers (II).) However, gunfire broke out at the SPLA barracks at Giada, which was also apparently the same barracks in Juba where the mid-December gunfights started. The cause of this morning’s fighting, in which at least five soldiers were killed, appears to have been a dispute over pay, and may have involved some soldiers from Salva Kiir’s presidential guard, the Tiger Division. Brig. Gen. Malaak Ayuen, an SPLA spokeman, stated “This is purely an issue of salaries. It is not political and will not spread… Soldiers have not been paid since January, why I don’t know, and went to the commander seeking answers.”
It appears that a new procedure for distributing salaries was the cause of this morning’s dispute. The Government of South Sudan had created a new payment system to prevent the payment of SPLA salaries to “ghost soldiers,” thereby requiring soldiers to collect their payments in person. Cabinet affairs minister Martin Elia Lomoru stated ““The whole intention was for the good of the country. It was not meant to deny anybody their rightful dues…the intention was to build confidence in our financial systems so that the issue of transparency and accountability is not ignored.” From the few media reports of the events surrounding this brief outbreak of violence, it appears that miscommunications about this procedure prompted the gunfight as soldiers were queued waiting for their payments.
Like the mid-December gunfights in Juba, it’s very difficult to piece together what exactly happened, but the three most helpful news sources I’ve seen thus far have been:
- Soldiers missing from payroll open fire on officers at SPLA headquarters from Radio Tamazuj
- Salary dispute within South Sudan army triggers heavy gunfire in Juba from Sudan Tribune
- Pay dispute, sounds of war rattle S. Sudan capital from AP
I’m not an expert on military compensation, but when you have segments of the military that, as one security consultant previously described it to me, are being paid not to fight the government, it’s probably best to make sure they’re paid within a reasonable period of time. Especially when you might need them to (re)establish the government’s monopoly on the use of force and retake territory held by anti-government rebels. Just a thought…
(Originally published in African Arguments on January 31, 2014)
Within days of the outbreak of the violence in mid-December, the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) deployed to South Sudan at the government’s invitation. The UPDF’s mission at the outset was ostensibly to evacuate the over 200,000 stranded Ugandan nationals and to secure strategic installations in Juba. However, several weeks into the operation, President Yoweri Museveni disclosed that the UPDF was also involved in combat operations alongside government forces.
Indeed, the UPDF’s helicopter gunships, heavy artillery, tanks, and approximately 1,600 soldiers have been instrumental in helping the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) retake cities held by anti-government forces affiliated with former Vice President Riek Machar. In a motion passed in the Ugandan parliament to retroactively approve UPDF operations, the UPDF’s raison d’être in South Sudan was couched in terms of protecting the Ugandan expatriate community, ensuring Ugandan national security, and preventing genocide and other atrocities against humanity.
Nevertheless, the manner in which Uganda is securing its interests compromises concurrent efforts on the part of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), of which Uganda is a member, to mediate the crisis.
(Read the rest of the article on the African Arguments website)