New and Not-so-improved: South Sudan’s Transitional Government
April 28th marked one year since the Republic of South Sudan formed its Transitional Government of National Unity. The streets of its capital city, Juba, were noticeably devoid of celebrations. The silence was understandable given their political situation has left little to be celebrated.
Since the formation of South Sudan’s transitional government in 2016, ongoing violence in the region has displaced over 36,000 citizens. And a more recent famine has resulted in grave food insecurity crisis effecting over 4.9 million individuals.
The one year anniversary only highlights the failure of their political leaders to improve a situation that a coalition government was intended to fix. Amongst the instability faced by South Sudanese citizens, one thing is for certain; the country has much more to do before it can achieve peace.
Such a realization is unsurprising, since gaining independence in 2011 political stability in the northeastern African country has never been long-lived. Violence erupted over institutional and political reform debates within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in December 2013, and South Sudan was thrust into a civil war that lasted two years resulting in over 50, 000 casualties. The implications of the civil war on the new country was both grave and lasting.
International aid organizations fled the country, increasing the prevalence of water and food shortages. Every consequence appeared to be connected; unemployment followed ethnic violence while worsened public service delivery resulted in an economic crisis.
A mass exodus to neighboring countries accompanied the already 1.6 million internally displaced people.
Succumbing to pressure by the international community, President Salva Kiir led the creation of a transitional coalition government. Most notably in this new coalition was Riek Machar, the leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO). The SPLM-IO had initially separated from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in 2013 when resulting tensions between President Kiir and Vice President Machar catalyzed the South Sudanese Civil War. With Machar as the First Vice President and the representation of other political groups, President Kiir’s new government had a 30-month mandate.
Officiated as the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan on August 2015, it was created with the agreement that President Kiir would allow for the unrestricted delivery of humanitarian relief and the release of political prisoners.
However, after troops from both sides of the conflict failed to observe the peace agreement, violence was renewed in a four-day clash in July 2016 that left 300 people dead.
Attempting to regain peace, Kiir replaced First Vice President Machar with Taban Deng Gai, the former chief negotiator of the SPLM-IO. Although, his actions only exacerbated tensions in an already unstable political climate and rekindled the clash between the SPLM and the SPLM-IO.
In recent months, South Sudan’s situation has only steadily deteriorated.
Conflict has worsened amid accusations that the new government is denying humanitarian relief to civilians. After three days of fighting and displacing 25,000 people in late April 2017, the government military has taken control of the SPLM-IO’s headquarters in Kodok.
The ongoing violence has been a lead factor in accelerating the current famine that currently identifies 230,000 individuals as being severely food insecure according to the Integrated Food Security Phased Classification (IPC) for Juba released in February 2017.
Further complicating the peace process is the general instability that South Sudan faces; corruption, military factionalism, and economic volatility. It’s a situation that appears to be hopeless for a country that - in its attempt to create a coalition government and appease the international community- did everything ‘right’.
The absence of a peaceful future on the horizon roots the problem to evidently lie with South Sudan’s political leaders. The government’s lack of cooperation with United Nations’ peacekeeping troops and its inability to adhere to the initial peace agreement demonstrates a shortage of commitment to the peace process.
Adversely, South Sudan is not a lost cause. Rather, the on-going crisis signifies the need for unity and cooperation between the varying parties - international community, the South Sudanese government, and citizens. Greater political dialogue is necessary in order to stabilize the current situation and address the various issues facing the country. The road to peace will not be an easy one for South Sudan, but considering the last 6 years in the country, that comes as no surprise.