War looms over South Sudan as fighting intensifies

War looms over South Sudan as fighting intensifies
In South Sudan's short history as an independent nation, the oil-rich country has been shattered by war and inter-communal violence. After recent clashes, full-scale war now appears imminent.
3 min read
11 July, 2016
South Sudan is gripped by a sense of uncertainty and fear [AFP]
When South Sudan won its independence in 2011, the people of the newly-founded nation hoped violence would be consigned to the past.

With masses of oil, a relatively small population, and the backing of international powers, South Sudan was prepped to be a success story for Africa and inspiration for the rest of the world.

However, the euphoria of independence didn't last long, and fighting has mired the country ever since.

Fighting between the government and rebels and competing tribes has made South Sudan one of the most fragile states in Africa.

As the country marks five years since independence, many wonder if it can survive a decade as a nation.

Back to war

Refugees are once again fleeing their homes for the safety of UN camps, as the capital Juba becomes a place of fire fights and explosions.

On Friday, a battle between the president's security and former rebels left 150 dead, and it became inevitable that tensions would escalate further. Now, more than 272 are believed to have been killed, according to Reuters.

By Sunday, pitched battles took place in the western suburbs of Juba, where both sides have bases close to Jebel Kujur mountain, AFP reported.

The agency also noted fighting in Gudele – where Vice President Riek Machar is based, a former rebel leader who is a rival of the president. Gunfire was also witnessed around the country's international airport, forcing Kenya Airways to suspend flights due to the "uncertain security situation" according to AFP.

The spokesperson for Vice President Machar told the BBC that South Sudan was "back to war". Government officials appeared more cautious in their analyses of the situation.

This senseless violence is unacceptable and has the potential of reversing the progress made so far in the peace process
- Ban Ki-moon, UN chief

But the international community accept that the situation is grim, and the United Nations is desperately trying to find a way out of the crisis.

Emergency meeting

The United Nations' Security Council met behind closed doors on Sunday to review the situation, with Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon saying he was "shocked and appalled" by the situation.

"This senseless violence is unacceptable and has the potential of reversing the progress made so far in the peace process," Ban said, urging "decisive action" to stop the instability spreading out of the capital.

The UK said they have urged other Security Council members to apply an arms embargo on the country.

What will be key is the diplomatic work of neighbouring African countries, who could help find a route out of these turbulent waters.

The roots of the conflict are based on President Salva Kiir accused his deputy Machar of orchestrating a coup against him and sacked his government in December 2013.

Full-scale civil war broke out, leading to a massive humanitarian crisis in the country, and tens of thousands dead. A peace deal was signed in August 2015, while Machar returned to his former position as deputy president in Juba, after fleeing the country.

Kiir is part of the majority Dinka tribe, while Machar is a member of the Nuer, and many argue that as well as politics, there are also ethnic tensions at play.

While South Sudanese should be celebrating their anniversary as a nation, these divides still remain evident.

An economic crisis has also hampered development, and the people live on a hand-to-mouth existence, the World Bank has said, largely relying on aid.

This is despite sizable natural resources it could exploit, if the situation is peaceful, but low oil prices have also battered South Sudan – which is the most oil-reliant country on earth – and is on the verge of collapse.

With war returning, then few can expect the situation to improve for South Sudanese.