An update on the South Sudan civil war

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Juba managed to browbeat IGAD into reneging itself and refusing the participation of the Seven, a move that immediately choked off whatever little life was left in the “peace talks”. But Riak has recently declared that he was now planning to start a national organization, i.e. a kind of SPLA 2. Meanwhile,both Riak and Salva want to be the oil masters, so as to extract aid from Khartoum.

Well, I left my readers in a state of suspended animation when talking last about talks in Debre Zeit in February. But like so many things in the South Sudan tragic-comedy, those ended up in a cul-de-sac. The telecom situation in Debre Zeit was so bad that the rebel delegation (and discreetly even their government brethrens) protested till they were taken back to Addis Ababa proper. But to no avail. A change of location did not lead to a change of hearts (or minds). Fighting went on , in a confused way , in both Unity and Jongleï States , trouble spread to Lakes , the international community got tired of the whole thing even if the US vaguely threatened to take sanctions against peace process spoilers and the “peace conversations” proved as abortive as ever . So where are we today, two months later?

 

The civil war is still on but with several interesting developments. The talks about the talks have moved towards the proposal of an interim government. But the Juba authorities are not happy at all about it, even if they give lip service to the idea. Why? Because the seven ex-detainees who are still hovering in political limbo would make a perfect interim government team: they are well known, though corruption has made them politically weak , they are highly capable and their future is , to say the least , clouded . So allowing them into the peace talks proper might be Juba’s undoing since a lot of people (apart from the Bahr-el-Ghazal Dinka hardcore) feel that anything-but-Salva is the only option. The not-so-magnificent Seven might be the answer: a disposable interim administration to prepare for next year’s election (or a bit later). So Juba managed to browbeat IGAD into reneging itself and refusing the participation of the Seven, a move that immediately choked off whatever little life was left in the “peace talks”. But since most South Sudanese do not care two hoots about the “peace talks”, life, war and conspiracies went on inside the country. And this has largely meant an increased political isolation for Salva.

 

The Equatorian tribes are fed up with Dinkacracy and they are trying to organize not to fight for Riak but with Riak. So far they have been only moderately successful. The same thing is going on in south Bahr-el-Ghazal among the Kresh, Fertit and Balanda. So far they have been even less successful than the Equatorians. But this does not mean that they either support Juba or plan to stay neutral. Simply they are short of means, especially weapons, communications are terrible and there was no previous political organization worth the name that could be used as a base for fighting the government. So things move very slowly. But Riak has recently declared that he was now planning to start a national organization, i.e. a kind of SPLA 2. The success of such an endeavour will depend essentially on his capacity at creating a framework that would not simply be a tribal front, the way SPLA has been a front for the Dinka. If Riak’s SPLA 2 is simply a thinly-veiled Nuer organization with a bunch of Equatorian hangers-on, he will fail. If he can provide, in the middle of the battle, a true democratic (i.e. tribal, because this is what it means in the South Sudan context) alternative, he will win. A lot depends on what will come out of this still unborn initiative.

 

But in the meantime oil remains a key factor. Khartoum is helping Salva and – probably – also helping Riak, either directly or through the agency of Issayas Afeworki. Why help both sides? Simply to keep the oil flowing, at all and any cost (Khartoum is in bad financial shape and seriously needs the money). Riak understands the situation and this is why there is at present heavy fighting around Bentiu. Both Riak and Salva want to be the oil masters, so as to extract aid from Khartoum. The future is uncertain but Salva has to rely a lot on foreign fighters (Ugandans, Northern Sudanese rebels, even some forlorn M23s) and that does not make for a very solid fighting force. So the future is in the balance. And in any case, the fighting will soon subside as the rainy season is nearing and you can’t quite fight in mud up to your knees or to your axles. Meanwhile the civilians pay a heavy toll: over one million IDPs, 200,000 refugees with starvation on the march. And so is History. History is seldom generous and kind.

 
 

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