South Sudan: Analysis of the Crisis

Share Article

The Fashoda Institute examines tribal roots, causes of rivalry between President Salva Kiir Mayardit and ex-VP Riek Machar, leader of the current rebellion, assessing chances of Kiir to keep national unity.

News Image
“The fate of South Sudan depends on how diplomatic yet firm in preserving the unity and not yielding to the tribal dictates President Kiir remains”.

The Fashoda Institute, a leading African think-tank, has published a series of analytical articles dissecting the root causes of the current violence in South Sudan. The articles examine the complex history of relations between the President of South Sudan Salva Kiir Mayardit elected by a landslide in 2011 when this young democracy became independent, and Riek Machar, leader of the current armed rebellion, who was fired from the position of Vice President this summer.

The reports point out that during the South Sudan’s War of Independence against the Islamist government of Khartoum, Mr. Machar commanded his tribal Nuer forces to fight on both sides at times directly fighting South Sudanese troops under Kiir’s command. The main reason for switching sides was Machar belonging to the Nuer tribe, second largest after the Dinka – the largest country’s tribe to which President Kiir belongs.

“After independence, President Kiir nominated Machar as his Vice-President in order to draw the Nuer into the nation building effort. However, Machar revived his lines of communication with the uppermost leadership in Khartoum in order to empower himself, his coterie and the Nuer (in this order) at the expense of the national interest”, claims the report.

In June 2013 the Islamist government of Khartoum cut the oil pipeline delivering South Sudanese oil to the markets. This breach of contracts and the peace agreement was designed by Sudanese President al-Bashir to strangulate the young Christian democracy of South Sudan.

“Machar, then the Vice President, was dispatched to Khartoum to negotiate the resumption of oil flow. Instead he started his private back door dealings with Khartoum”, reminds the Fashoda Institute’s report. “As Machar’s allies and confidants explained, “a renewed oil cutoff could bring South Sudan to its knees, triggering a wider governmental collapse” which Machar “can capitalize on to force [Kiir] out and then rise to power.”

“Machar was fired soon afterwards as part of South Sudan’s President Kiir’s revamping of the entire government. Machar and his supporters in the ruling party – the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) – launched a series of drives to subvert the party’s institutions from within in order to topple President Kiir and declare Machar the SPLM’s uncontested presidential candidate in 2015 elections”, asserts the Fashoda Institute. “These efforts did not work but compelled President Kiir to purge some of the SPLM’s elite in order to prevent chaos.”

“Cornered and nearly out of options, Machar reached out to his allies in Khartoum,” continues the analysis. “In early December, Machar sent emissaries to ask Hassan Al-Turabi, the main ideologue of Jihad and spiritual leader of Sudan, to mediate “the current political crisis” in South Sudan. Having realized that their efforts to enlist the support of Islamists or to subvert the SPLM from within came to naught – Machar and his coterie immediately launched the attempted coup in Juba. Its bloody toll is manifestation of the fragility of the country’s popular tapestry and vulnerability to incitement along tribal and ethno-centric lines."

“Should inner-tribal fighting continue and spread - the most important facet of South Sudan’s nation building will be threatened”, warns the Fashoda Institute. “One of President Kiir’s greatest achievements since independence has been to focus and enthuse the entire nation on inclusive unity and national reconciliation. President Kiir strove to have all segments of South Sudan’s diverse population partake in the building of their newly independent state and nation. Toward this end, the government offered unconditional amnesties to anybody - including those who had fought against the SPLM/SPLA during the war and autonomy period - in order to bring them into the fold of the new nation. Indeed, many - including Machar and his warlords - were given senior positions in government in order to expedite the burying of old hatchets and the starting of a new era of national unity.'

“However, the challenging austerity period South Sudan has been going through since independence - largely the result of Sudan’s blocking until recently of South Sudanese oil exports - has added internal tensions,” explains the report. “The needy and destitute who had expected miracles from their hard fought war for independence have been stunned by the harsh realities and everyday hardships. Populist accusations of government mismanagement, deprivation of funds, and discrimination on the basis of ethnic and tribal affiliation have been falling on fertile grounds.”

Fashoda Institute asserts that, “hard as the Kiir administration attempted to ally these fears and accusations - Juba’s efforts were not fully successful. Veterans of the war, many of whom from Kiir’s own Dinka, protested that the government was giving too much to former enemies at the expense of the stalwart soldiers. On the other hand, Machar’s Nuer have been arguing that it was high time to transfer power to their tribe. Other tribes, most notably Jonglei’s Murle, have been supported, sponsored and incited by Khartoum to rebel against Juba in quest of additional rights and funds. However, the majority of South Sudanese remained inclined to give their young state and government a chance to deliver on their hopes and promises."

On December 18th the government forces have lost control of Bor to the force of Riek Machar whose supporters gloated that they intend to reorganize their forces in Bor, recruit Nuer volunteers, acquire new supplies and then march on Juba. “We see no need for negotiations [with President Kiir],” they said.

“This development constitutes a proof of Riek Machar’s responsibility for the coup which now threatens escalating to a wider civil strife. Bor has a unique and tragic place in the history of the war of independence - particularly the peak of Machar’s siding with Khartoum against the South Sudanese patriotic forces”, says another analytical article of the Fashoda Institute. “In 1991, Machar’s Nuer troops conducted an extremely brutal massacre in this ethnic Dinka town. This horrific massacre remains a source of tension and lingering mistrust between both leaders and communities."

The analysis warns: “A sacrosanct threshold has been crossed by Reik Machar as his tribal group has raised arms against another and against the legitimate democratically elected government in violation of the quest for national unity and reconciliation. The fate of South Sudan depends on how diplomatic yet firm in preserving the unity and not yielding to the tribal dictates President Kiir remains.”

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Adam Mbeki
The Fashoda Institute
+44 7580341541
Email >
Visit website