When South Sudan gained independence in July 2011, President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan looked at its future and hoped, “God willing, this state will be stable and develop.” This statement came in reflection after the South Sudanese people had experienced over 20 years of guerrilla warfare with the North, in which nearly 1.5 million people died.
But thus far, independence has only served as a band-aid.
On December 15, 2013, conflict broke out between the country’s two most prominent tribes when President Salva Kiir, of the Dinka tribe, removed Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer, from office and accused him of attempting a failed coup. Violence would continue among Kiir and Machar’s respective tribes until August 2015, when international pressure resulted in a ceasefire peace deal between the factions. But over the past year, tensions have escalated into greater ethnic violence, leading the U.N. to warn the international community of another Rwandan-like genocide.
Here are 10 facts about the ethnic violence in South Sudan:
- Since the beginning of the 2013 civil war to present day, 1.05 million have been displaced in surrounding nations. This is the largest group of people to flee their country in central Africa since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
- Ethnic violence has included hostile rhetoric, killings, and specified rapes on those of rival ethnic groups.
- According to the U.N., the majority of ethnic violence is instigated by the “Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), the SPLA in Opposition, militias, and unidentified armed groups.”
- About 1.73 million have been displaced internally since the conflict began in December 2013.
- The Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda has now become the third largest refugee camp in the world as a result of the crisis in South Sudan. Today, nearly 530,000 refugees have sought safety here; 330,000 of this number fled to Bidi Bidi this year alone.
- Nearly 50,000 people have died directly or indirectly from the conflict.
- As a result of the ethnic violence, South Sudan is on the verge of famine. Projections estimate that roughly four million people to be in dire need of food and humanitarian assistance. This is over one-third of the population.
- The violence has not stayed within ethnic lines: relief operations and its workers have been included in the attacks. This consists of shootings, rapes, and, most grievously, the killings of at least 57 aid workers.
- In order to restore peace, the U.N. pressured Kiir to reinstate Machar as vice president. This occurred in April 2016, but he was once again ousted in July, heightening both tensions and conflict.
- Adam Dieng, who works for the UN to prevent genocide, recently visited and surveyed the state of South Sudan. In his assessment, he reported to the UN Security Council the likelihood of “an outright ethnic war” that could lead to a “potential for genocide”.
On November 19, 2016, the United Nations Security Council urgently called for proactive measures that would “promote reconciliation among the people” and prevent genocide. The United States has proposed an arms embargo on South Sudan, though this was opposed by Russia and China. While no response has yet been finalized, discussion for peace in South Sudan continues to grow—with the hope that a solution is soon to come.
– Brenna Yowell