By Catherine Nalule
21st February 2017
South Sudan is currently the source of Africa’s largest refugee crisis. Since the beginning of the civil war in 2013, over 1.5 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Why has there not been sufficient media coverage of this crisis?
Surely, the circulation of dead black bodies and warfare in Africa, is something the Western media has never failed to perpetuate. So why are so many people unaware of what is happening in South Sudan, and even more so, the severity of it?
Gaining its independence in July 2011, South Sudan is the world’s newest country. Before their succession, Sudan as a whole suffered civil wars lasting decades, most notably; 1955-72 and 1983-2005. With the latter civil war being a continuation of the former, it stands as the longest running civil conflict in history. Caused by political and ethnic tensions; the current civil war in South Sudan is not so different. In 2016, almost 350,000 people fled South Sudan into neighbouring Uganda alone. A total of 200,000 people fled Syria in the same year. Without demeaning one country’s refugee crisis for another, the crisis in Sudan is dire and must not be overlooked. Daily, an estimated 2,500 people from South Sudan are becoming refugees, often with stories of the turmoil. Perhaps by focusing on the more specific causes of the past civil wars in Sudan, we can gain a more profound understanding of the current crisis in South Sudan.
Political Manoeuvres: the War of the Educated
Ethnic tensions have remained the forefront for reasons behind the violence within the Sudanese region. At least for the civilians. However, J.H. Jok et al. write about this wave of realisation among ordinary citizens; that this new form of warfare has “transgressed all the ethical limits on violence.” In short, up until 1991 when the SPLA (Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army – the army of South Sudan) split, the conflict was less aggressively centred around patterns of cattle raiding. However, once SPLA-Nasir formed (the split faction of SPLA), there was an increase of militarisation in South Sudan. This cultivated a rise of military assaults; intentionally killing women, children and the elderly.
The SPLA-Nasir, led by Riek Machar (former Vice President of South Sudan), and SPLA, led by John Garang (former Vice President of Sudan and former President of South Sudan), had been fighting a proxy war. Aside from any ethnic, economic or religious tensions, the fighting that has been ongoing since the outbreak of the second civil war has been politically motivated, by the politicians themselves. Jok writes about former SPLA Dinka soldier who explained how political differences were confined to the educated elites. They struggled for political backing, so by converting Dinka / Nuer conflicts from the above tensions to a political conflict, was in interests of the politicians.
“Mixing political differences with economic competition, and emphasis to each group the danger presented by the other is the only way Riek and Garang can get us to fight their wars for them.”
Today, Riek leads the Nuer dominated SPLA/M-IO (Sudan People’s Liberation Army / Movement – In Opposition) after being dismissed as Vice President of South Sudan in 2013, following coup allegations by current President Salvar Kiir Myarditt.
As a Dinka, Myarditt’s decision to dismiss key figures of the ruling party, who were mostly Nuer, saw to an imbalance of representation and increase in retaliatory, targeted, ethnic attacks in villages. A repeat of past events, with rival politicians causing those loyal to them to wage war, has resulted in the displacement of over 1.5 million refugees.
Uganda has welcomed almost half a million refugees since the outbreak of violence in 2013. Built in just six months, Uganda boasts the largest single refugee settlement globally, the Bidi Bidi. However, it’s the rapid growth of this camp that depicts the severity of the conflict in South Sudan.
Ethnic Tensions or Ethnic Cleansing?
While the conflict has proven to be driven by political and (later) ethnic tensions, the growing number of refugees indicates that South Sudan may actually be facing a genocide. Displacement is targeted along ethnic lines. This is carried out through killings, abductions, rape, arson on homes and looting. By 2016, almost a quarter of South Sudan’s population had left their homes. A third of the country’s teachers have fled.
For a country that was only established six years ago, its crisis appears almost irrevocable. A lot more media attention is required to raise awareness of the region. While countries like Uganda are acting in accordance with their humanitarian duties, they don’t have the resources and capabilities to continue such an intake in the near future. The Bidi Bidi camp is now full, and another camp is already under construction in order to meet the pressing inflow of more refugees.
With neither international interest, nor adequate media coverage, one can go as far as to say that the brutality in South Sudan is being interpreted as permissible. The current feud between the political government and the armed opposition requires intervention from the international community. It has become unresolvable domestically. An entire race’s existence is at stake. Urgent help is needed as the number of refugees and deaths continues to multiply daily.