A tragic return to form for South Sudan as a rebellion has sparked in the Capital of Juba, a sad reality after the nation won its independence from Sudan through a 2011 referendum. War and violence has retaken the newly formed nation, as ethnic and political divides have created a dire situation for the nation’s stability.

On December 15, 2013, political infighting began between elites in the government over executive and legislative power. Riek Machar, the former Vice President, was dismissed by President Salva Kiir, igniting sectarian violence.

The President and Vice President were from different ethnic groups, and the political nightmare has put a match to the inevitable break up of civil order.

Ethnic divides, once united under the common goal of gaining control of South Sudan from the Muslim-dominated northern Sudan, has become more visible. South Sudan’s two decade-long battle for autonomy from the north was a common cause for the mostly Christian and Animist southern peoples. The civil war, which ended in 2005, began in 1983 and left the once-united Sudan a contentious war zone. A 2011 referendum backed by the United States helped form the nation.

In any new nation, the political establishment is relatively incapable of dealing with ingrained ethnic power structures. Citizens hold allegiance to their respective ethnic groups, not an executive power, regardless if it is a democratically elected government.

Kiir is from the largest ethnic group in South Sudan, the Dinkas, whereas Machar was from the second-most populous ethnic group, Neuer. Both groups wanted to maintain hegemony over the newly formed nation, and the tense political alignment between these two leaders was overwhelmed by rivalry rather than co-operation.

The dismissal of Vice President Machar was responded with immediate violence in Juba. He was accused of attempting an overthrow, with the military splitting along ethnic lines.

When allegations were made, Kiir feared an eventual overthrow by Machar and allocated much of his resources to retain control of the nation. Power sharing was the only logistical way the nation could have progressed past years of war with its northern neighbor, Sudan. The necessity of powerful figures in each ethnic group to maintain peaceful discourse among their fellow leaders prevents events such as the oncoming civil war in South Sudan.

The notion of fear and distrust among political elites in the nation drives the civil war, which has already led to the deaths of many citizens. Refugees fleeing the nation have met with harsh conditions. 200 South Sudanese refugees perished in the White Nile while fleeing the violence. This is a hard price to pay for a nation whose future seem bright after finally gaining independence, coupled with its vast natural resources that includes oil, a valuable commodity.

The civil unrest poses considerable problems for the new nation, whose infrastructure was badly damaged by a two-decade war with its northern neighbor. Unless their leaders can find a common consensus about how to share power, the nation may never find long-lasting peace.

Joseph Abay

Sources: New York Times, News Week, BBC, VOA News, Reuters, Sudan Tribune, Washington Post, Washington Post
Photo: DW