Astill-Brown (2014). South Sudan’s Slide into Conflict: Revisiting the Past and Reassessing Partnerships
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The seeds of South Sudan’s return to violent conflict in December 2013 were sown long before the world’s newest country achieved independence in July 2011. The consequences of the renewed conflict have been serious. Tens of thousands of people have been killed, and almost 2 million displaced, with at least 400,000 South Sudanese having fled to neighbouring countries by July 2014 and as many as 715,000 refugees anticipated by the end of the year.1 The threats of famine and of sexual violence have increased dramatically; and ethnic tensions and violence have returned to the forefront of intra-SouthSudanese relations. The psychological damage to people – and to a country that was slowly shedding the spectre of civil war – is enormous. South Sudan matters internationally. Its independence marked a change in the dynamics of the Horn of Africa – long a source of worry and insecurity for African and non-African partners alike. The region is one of the world’s most politically unstable, shaped and reshaped by a shared history of cross-border conflict, socio-economic and cultural ties, and competing claims over territory. What had previously seemed to be a single regional conflict dynamic with Somalia at its heart (involving Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda) has transformed into a less manageable dynamic, dividing international attention between conflicts on both sides of the Horn of Africa in the context of increasing global uncertainty.2 An unstable, conflict-prone South Sudan will not change without improved and increased engagement by the outside world.
Home to some 11 million people, South Sudan is a growing potential market, a stakeholder in efforts on the part of the region towards furthering the resilience and integration of its countries, and a partner for regional peace. Both the African Union (AU) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the regional bloc mediating efforts to end the conflict, have been unequivocal about the conduct of the warring parties. Clearly, all sides have behaved in a way that African countries consider to be beyond the pale. Countries of the region including Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya, while not always acting in ways likely to win approval from the wider world, have been clear about their interests.
They have engaged robustly and sometimes unilaterally to mitigate the spread of instability into their own territories. South Sudan is revisiting its war-ridden recent past. Seeing South Sudan in a wider context, and understanding why the country matters to the region and the international community, is essential to shaping the country’s future. This paper charts the path to the outbreak of violence in December 2013, the role of key actors such as that played by the country’s security sector, and examines the context in which the international community must work to support a sustainable way out of conflict and towards an inclusive state.