International Crisis Group (2015). South Sudan: Jonglei – “We Have Always Been at War”
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Jonglei state’s combustible mix of armed political opposition, violent ethnic militias and dysfunctional political system were part of the tinder that led to the eruption of the civil war in South Sudan in late December 2013. Despite eleven months of peace talks, mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the war threatens to reintensify in the coming weeks. The negotiations do not reflect the diversity of armed groups and interests in South Sudan and the region, most of which are nominally allied with either President Salva Kiir’s government or former Vice President Riek Machar’s Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO). The constellation of regional and South Sudanese armed groups in Jonglei is emblematic of the regional, national and local challenges to peace and the pattern of a warthat cannot be resolved by engaging only two of the nearly two-dozen armed groups in the country and ignoring those that have not yet engaged in the fight.
These armed groups’ casus belli are often different from those of Kiir and Machar, and many do not support the peace process, creating a chaotic environment on the ground. Most of these groups are not fighting for control of the government in Juba and some of their conflicts are best resolved at the state or local level. Yet if they are ignored the main protagonists will use these groups to continue the fight and derail national peace efforts. This round of fighting in Jonglei represents more continuity than change with past decades, and its deep roots are similar to those across the country.