After more than two years of gruelling civil war, the leaders of Africa’s youngest nation have finally formed a transitional, coalition government. But where exactly has the civil war led them? Have the demands for change that triggered the conflict been met? Largely absent from world attention, the machinations of the South Sudanese elite rumble on at great price to their own people.
After more than seven months of delay, South Sudan has finally sworn in its unity government. President Salva Kiir, and former rebel leader, now reinstated Vice President Riek Machar, have agreed to share power.
The government, comprised of a cabinet of thirty ministers many of whom are former enemies, has been formed and it will be in place until the next elections due in 30 months time. It will be led by President Kiir and first Vice President Machar, who had until last week, led a rebellion to remove Salva Kiir from power.
The South Sudanese leadership is now back where it started in December 2013.
Past Leadership Issues Unresolved
Western leaders have praised South Sudan for its political achievements, but remain cautious about providing economic support or being overly optimistic about the longer-term stability of the country. This should come as no surprise given the unresolved sensitive relationship between South Sudanese leaders.
Internal power struggles broke down the political leadership. Kiir claimed that Machar was planning to overthrow him. Machar, on the other hand, accused Kiir of consolidating of power. This thorny relationship started when Machar envisioned himself a more fitting leader for Southern Sudan.
The competing visions of leadership that instigated the war have still not been resolved.
The Horrendous War Record
The civil war has killed 50,000 people and displaced millions. It has devastated an economy weakened by a plunge in global oil prices. South Sudan depends on oil exports for over 90% of its government revenue and now faces a budget shortfall of 40-60%. Economists also warn of hyperinflation as the South Sudanese Pound has lost over 80% of its value against the dollar. Doctors and even parliamentarians have gone without pay. Many civilians are barely able to survive.
The war and skyrocketing prices have created a severe humanitarian crisis. Over 6 million people (more than half of South Sudanese population) are now in need of humanitarian assistance and nearly 3 million people don’t have enough food to survive.
The crisis also triggered major public health risks and disease outbreaks, such as cholera and measles, and destroyed what little health infrastructure the under-developed country had before.
Lives have been lost, livelihoods destroyed and families separated.
With the signing of the peace agreement and the formation of the unity coalition government, the political leaders are back where they were 2 years ago.
But the issues that troubled the country before, such as political disagreements, corruption, reconciliation and reintegration, among others, have not been resolved. South Sudan is now more divided than ever.
With no resolution of the underlying political issues, and less money to buy off allegiances than before the war, the outlook for political stability in South Sudan remains grim.
The Way Forward
The current situation in South Sudan calls for nothing less than courage, restraint and wisdom from both President Kiir and First Vice President Machar. Despite forming the transitional government of national unity to end more than two years of civil war, South Sudan’s newly inaugurated leaders must prioritise security reforms, stability and national reconciliation, and revamp the fragile economy to prevent the youngest country from plunging again into civil war.
While the homecoming for Machar and the formation of unity government are crucial initial steps in returning peace to South Sudan, they are only that.
Both leaders are now faced with a daunting task of rebuilding the shattered South Sudan and paying the price of war. Undoubtedly, South Sudan has a way forward. But this requires complete commitment from the South Sudanese leadership in service of all the South Sudanese people and the focus and attention of the world.
Photo credits: Jenny Rockett CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; Hannah McNeish [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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