Where the Nile runs red: civil war in South Sudan

Where the Nile runs red: civil war in South Sudan

To say that the world’s newest country, South Sudan, has had a ‘rocky start’ would be an understatement. War, violence and corruption have plagued the new nation since 2011, and its problems look set to continue.


Africa’s largest country, Sudan, ended Africa’s longest running civil war and recognised South Sudan as a fully-fledged independent state on 9th July 2011. The world’s newest nation was founded on hope. But times have changed. South Sudan has descended into civil war: people are killed over cattle disagreements and children are abducted to fight. A country cut in two by the River Nile has been split by bitter ethnic fighting and political turmoil. Hope has long since vanished in South Sudan.

Back in January of 2016, a decisive referendum victory of 99% of South Sudanese individuals voting in favour of independence saw then Vice President of Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, realise his long harboured ambition of South Sudanese independence. He became the first President of South Sudan later in July.

Once proclaiming that being “a second class citizen in your country” is no comparison when you could be “a free man in an independent nation”, the Stetson-wearing Kiir quickly attempted to assure the South Sudanese people, and the wider community, that South Sudan was to be an open and democratic African nation.

Initially, Kiir appeared as a reconciliatory reformer in a country with the largest amount of ethnic groups in Africa. Kiir encouraged his people to “forgive, but not to forget” the apparent injustices they faced as part of Sudan, in order to unite and build. A devout Christian, President Kiir assured amnesty for the South Sudanese groups that fought and opposed his Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and officially proclaimed that any misconduct, rape and other human rights abuses carried out by the police would be met with aggressive prosecution by the Ministry of Justice.

Before the Civil War, Juba, the interim capital of South Sudan with a population of around 500,000, was a transport hub for the country. Roads from Juba linked the capital to the rest of the country while frequent flights continue to connect Juba with its neighbouring countries and Dubai. Juba is also in the midst of an economic boom. It is the fastest growing city in Africa, with merchants from Sudan and Ethiopia moving to the city to trade while large Kenyan and Ethiopian banks have established large offices there.

With the third-largest oil reserves in Sub-Saharan Africa, a flourishing capital, an apparent reformist president and the support of its people, South Sudan seemed poised to thrive after gaining independence. Sadly, the reality of the past six years has been significantly different.

Despite his earlier rhetoric of unity, President Kiir has since acted more like a dictator than a politician. Describing homosexuality as “not the character” of the South Sudanese and “a bastion of western immorality” Kiir has also gone on to establish ‘Operation Restore Peace’, an order giving the police force the power to beat, torture and kill suspected opponents of the government. Journalists have been at the receiving end of ill treatment from Kiir. Only days after Kiir proclaimed “freedom of the press does not mean you work against your country” and warning “we will kill, we will demonstrate on them (journalists)” a political reporter was found murdered in Juba. Later on, a five man journalist convoy was also killed under shady circumstances.

The South Sudanese Civil War, and the bloodshed that has followed, can be traced back to conflict between Kiir and his then Vice President, Riek Machar in December 2013. After Kiir sacked and replaced his entire cabinet, a meeting took place between Kiir and Machar in Juba. Shots were fired during the three-day meeting and Kiir denounced Machar as a traitor who attempt to stage a coup, something Machar still denies. The subsequent years have seen a vicious civil war rage between Kiir’s SPLM and the Machar led SPLM in opposition.

The horrors of the civil war that has engulfed South Sudan are a far cry its motto of Justice, Liberty and Prosperity. Described by the UN as “one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world”, the South Sudanese Civil War has seen around 300,000 people killed and almost half the population displaced from their homes.

The war has escalated pre-existing ethnic fighting and killings, as the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups have engaged in violence on an unprecedented scale. Even before the inception of the civil war in 2013, the Nuer White Army promised to “wipe out the entire Murle tribe”, describing it as the only way to insure the safety of the Nuer-held cattle. This capitulated into the massacre in Pibor County in late 2011 where around 3,000 people were killed and around 1,000 children abducted.

Similar massacres have occurred in the following years. In 2014, the opposition SPLM forces killed 600 citizens as they tore through the northern town of Bentiu. Children and women were raped, scarred by burning plastic bags and burnt alive in their homes. Apparently the abuses took place while Rick Derringer’s 70’s rock anthem Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo was blared from speakers by the SPLM insurgents.

In 2015, a provisional peace deal was signed which saw Riek Machar return. He was to be sworn back in as Vice President in April 2016, but the compromise was short lived. Factional and ethnic fighting resurfaced and three months later Machar was to flee Juba once more, declaring that South Sudan was “back to war”.

The UN and foreign NGOs have flocked to the war-torn state, and the atrocities have not sparred them. In 2016, three female NGO workers were raped in their hotel room in Juba, and a World Food Progamme food storage hut was raided by opposition solders. They left with thousands of tons of food, worth millions, intended for the displaced South Sudanese.

As the killings continue in South Sudan, embers of hope have faded into the seemingly endless night of Civil War.


Featured Image: Wikimedia

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