South Sudan: A war of Ethnicity or a Power Struggle

President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Vice-President Riek Machar Teny during happier and more agreeable times.

South Sudan is arguably experiencing its greatest level of crisis since its independence in 2011. President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his deposed Vice-President Riek Machar Teny have divided the country and caused a civil war that does not appear to be coming to an end, despite poorly conceived and ill thought out token UN sanctions that were issued in August 2015 and the threat of more if a ceasefire was not called. The country has been plunged into chaos since the war began in 2013, caused by a mixture of personal problems and ethnic conflicts. President Kiir and Vice-President Machar represent the two largest ethnic groups, Nuer and Dinka, and the apparent ethical reasons for war has created extreme tension, distrust and hatred amongst the South Sudanese people. Amnesty International have documented instances of door-to-door searches for men of particular ethnicity and in one case reported that 200-300 Neur men were shot at a police station in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Other instances of mass killings, sexual violence and other war crimes, committed by both sides, have been reported by journalists and human rights groups. It is estimated by the UN that there are around 9000 child soldiers in what is an extremely bloody and violent war. The Sentry reported that around 2.3 million people have been displaced from their homes since war broke out and suggest that the war is about a struggle for power and nothing to do with ethnicity. The excuse of ethnicity is arguably just being used to gather support for either side, but it is working and has split South Sudan causing families and communities to be ripped apart. Their report argues that the war only serves the personal agendas of each man and the groups of elite leaders who profit from the conflict.

An image showing the divides between the two largest tribes in the South Sudan

The former deputy governor of South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, John Ivo Mounto explains the confusion felt by many in the worst affected regions: 

“You don’t understand who is in control. Is it the chief of general staff or President Salva Kiir or Jieng council of elders? It is like the country is being run like individual property, and more especially the way the soldiers have been committing serious atrocities, killing innocent people, raping young ladies and even to an extent of raping lactating mothers, women who have just delivered, which is totally morally wrong and unacceptable in South Sudanese cultures”

This confusion, lack of unity and divisive leadership perpetuates the chaos which is at a tipping point and this is likely to continue until the UN steps in and applies harsher punishments to bring the war to a swift end.

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