Chronology of the South Sudan Civil Wars
South Sudan, officially the Republic of South Sudan is a landlocked country in east-central Africa that is part of the United Nations subregion of Eastern Africa. Its current capital is Juba. South Sudan is bordered by Ethiopia to the east, Kenya to the southeast, Uganda to the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the southwest, the Central African Republic to the west and Sudan to the north.
The modern states of South Sudan and Sudan were part of Egypt under the Muhammad Ali Dynasty, later being governed as an Anglo-Egyptian condominium. During the Anglo- Egyptian condominium Sudan had been always officially divided into two areas: The North and the South. The north predominantly Arab and Muslim, where whatever resources were available and whatever development took place were concentrated. The South, African and “heathen,” appeared to be a remote region without resources best left to its own devices and those of missionaries, but also to be protected from slave raiders.
In 1955, a year before it was to be proclaimed independent, Sudan slipped into a civil war that continued until 1972. The two warring sides were the North Sudan, who had been bestowed greater power in the run-up to the independence and the South Sudan, who felt largely neglected and divorced from the decision-making processes at the center. This sense of disenfranchisement within the South and the need to fight for greater regional autonomy led to the first 17-year civil war in Sudan.
This first civil war, ended thanks to an agreement signed in Addis Ababa in 1972 which guaranteed autonomy for the southern region. A limited autonomy of governance was put in place, such as the appointment of a regional president who would be under the national president on the recommendation of an elected Southern Regional Assembly. The provision for recognizing Arabic as the official language of Sudan, and English as the South’s principal language were the other main points of the agreement.
However, the violation of certain points in the Addis Ababa accords led to the eruption of a second civil war. In violation of the accord, Sudan leader General Ja’afar Mohamed Numeiri carried out a series of acts that instigated the Southern rebel forces to realign and restart the war. Aside from the fact that Numeiri sought to institutionalize the sharia as ‘the sole guiding force behind the law of the Sudan’, he also sought to redefine the boundaries of the regionally autonomous South Sudan in order to gain access to the newly discovered oil deposits. These oil deposits were discovered in 1978, close to the north- south boundary. The discovery made it all the more important for the North to maintain control, while providing added incentives to the southern rebels to fight for control of the territory.
By 1983, The country was slipping back into war and old patterns. North-South conflict was bubbling to the surface. Tension that had been intensifying with the Islamist north was increasingly infringing upon the Christian south’s autonomy. The final straw that broke the camel’s back was the Khartoum Government’s declaration that Sudan was an Islamist state, effectively terminating the southern regions status as an Autonomous Region. Guerrilla warfare increased and the rebel forces found a greater purpose to unite and fight the government forces. The main actors against the Sudanese government was the Sudan People’s liberation movement (SPLM) and its military wing, the Sudan people’s liberation army (SPLA) whose goal was to restructure the country into a new Sudan that would be free from any discrimination. This movement was mainly led by Lieutenant Colonel John Garang.
In 2002, SPLM, signed a protocol with the government of Sudan to resolve the issue of self- determination, state and religion. After three years of long discussions the Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed by the government and SPLM in January 2005 ending a war between South Sudan and government of Sudan. The key principles of this agreement are as follows: acceptance of the right for self-determination for South Sudan, and separation of the state and religion by variations in the legal systems embracing both Islam/Sharia and Christian/secular traditions. Also, a protocol which established a six-year interim period starting in 2005; and through a referendum in 2011, South Sudan could vote whether to secede from the Republic of Sudan.
In 2005, after signing of CPA, John Garang died and was replaced by his deputy in the SPLM hierarchy, Salva Kiir Mayardit, a career soldier rather than a politician who was declared president of South Sudan during the interim period of 2005–2010. In 2010, Salva was re- elected as president in multiparty polls in South and He hired to Riek Machar as vice president of the South Sudan. While this happening, South Sudan voted for independence through a referendum. Although Sudanese President Omar Bashir acknowledged this result, the road to independence remained plagued by unresolved issues of sharing oil revenues, defining disputed borders, and deliberating citizenship laws. Moreover, southern Sudan continued to suffer from challenges of severe underdevelopment, poor governance, and persistent ethnic divisions.
In 2013, many within the SPLM said that the party had lost direction since the independence referendum and had no real vision or program for national development and national unity. This uncertainty encouraged a number of potential candidates, not so much to throw their hats in the ring, as to look for hats ready to throw. These included the party’s long-standing secretary general and Riek Machar who had already made clear his ambition to succeed as President. but that debate was shut down in July when Salva Kiir dismissed his entire cabinet and brought in people from outside the party to replace them. This move was accompanied by a more vigorous suppression of public debate through the harassment of journalists and newspapers by the state security.
The most widely discussed dismissals were those of Riek Machar as Vice-President and Pagan Amum as secretary general of the party. ON 16 December 2013 the president of the Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, appeared on state television in military uniform to announce that he had successfully put down a coup attempt in the capital, Juba. The coup attempt was said to have been led by former Vice-President Riek Machar and several ex-cabinet ministers and officials of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), including Madame Rebecca Nyanding de Mabior, the widow of the SPLM’s first leader, John Garang. Riek Machar escaped from Juba and in telephone interviews from secure places, he denied that he had been involved in a coup but then urged the army to overthrow Salva Kiir and announced his plans to march on Juba.
After that, violence erupted between presidential guard soldiers and different groups which supported Machar. Riek Machar created a group called Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) and declared a rebellion. As result of this situation hundreds of civilians died ensuing attacks reportedly targeting Machar’s ethnic group in Juba in the first days of the conflict. The conflict between government forces and militia loyal to President Kiir and forces aligned with Machar, triggered mass displacement compounding the country’s vast preexisting needs and development challenges.
Although the dispute within the SPLM that led to the conflict was primarily political, ethnic targeting, communal mobilization and spiraling violence quickly led to appalling levels of brutality against civilians, including deliberate killings inside churches and hospitals. Dinka elements of the Presidential Guard and other security organs engaged in systematic violence against Nuer in Juba in the early days. Armed actors, responded by targeting Dinka and other civilians in more than a dozen locations.
In late December 2013, the UN Security Council authorized a rapid deployment of about 6,000 security forces, in addition to 7,600 peacekeepers already in the country, to aid in nation-building efforts.
The warring parties periodically recommitted themselves to a January 2014 cessation of hostilities deal, but repeatedly violated it. In May 2014, they agreed to form a transitional government, but failed to agree on its composition and responsibilities. After missing multiple deadlines set by regional leaders to sign a deal, and under threat of international sanctions, including a proposed arms embargo, the warring parties reached an agreement in August 2015. Kiir signed the deal more than a week after Machar, with reservations, calling the agreement divisive and an attack on South Sudan’s sovereignty.
As the first step toward ending the civil war, Machar returned to Juba in April 2016 and was once again sworn in as vice president, after spending more than two years outside of the country. While both sides publicly committed to implementing the peace agreement, progress stalled after it was signed. Major clashes between the two sides decreased, but armed conflict continued and both sides repeatedly violated the ceasefire, once more displacing tens of thousands of people. Machar fled the country and was eventually detained in South Africa.
Violence has prevented farmers from planting or harvesting crops, causing food shortages nationwide. In July 2014, the UN Security Council declared South Sudan’s food crisis the “worst in the world.” Famine was declared in South Sudan during the first few months of 2017, with nearly five million people at risk from food insecurity. The country again faced critical food shortages in early 2019, with aid agencies warning that more than seven million people could be at risk of severe food insecurity during summer months.
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is hosting almost 70,000 civilians fleeing ethnic reprisals, but its badly outgunned peacekeepers are no match for the thousands of heavily armed forces and militias. It has already come under attack, including a fatal one in Jonglei, while protecting civilians. In at least five locations, South Sudanese seeking protection have been targeted and killed by armed actors in or around UNMISS bases. Increasingly hostile rhetoric from government officials and some opposition commanders and limitations on its freedom of movement are additional challenges.
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