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January 2, 2014

Alex de Waal and Abdul Mohammed
ALEX DE WAAL is Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. ABDUL MOHAMMED is Chief of Staff of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan and South Sudan.

The South Sudanese people made extraordinary sacrifices to achieve independence two and a half years ago. That makes their leaders’ abject failure to build a viable South Sudan since then all the more galling. Now, a political crisis imperils the nation. But there is a silver lining: The turmoil could give South Sudan the opportunity to reset the national agenda. The country’s leaders cannot afford to squander this moment, and their first task is a sober appraisal of what has gone so disastrously wrong.


The current conflict has three main dimensions — a political dispute within the ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM); a regional and ethnic war; and a crisis within the army itself.

The political dispute is long-standing: Since before independence in July 2011, the SPLM leadership has been split several ways, including over whether to confront the government of Sudan in Khartoum or cooperate with it, as well as over the distribution of power and wealth within South Sudan. South Sudanese President Salva Kiir preferred good relations with Khartoum as a way to secure oil revenue; South Sudan’s oil exports depend on a pipeline through Sudan to the Red Sea. But other party leaders took the opposite view, arguing that South Sudan should take the opportunity for regime change in Khartoum by supporting northern rebels and seizing disputed areas by force. If that were not enough, Kiir and Riek Machar, South Sudan’s vice president, differed on domestic policies and on who should lead the party into the next election in 2015.

With the government paralyzed by infighting, Kiir dismissed Machar and most of his cabinet in July. The dismissed politicians counterpunched through internal SPLM decision-making bodies such as the political bureau, in which they were confident they could command majority votes. In turn, Kiir froze those institutions. When he belatedly called a meeting of the National Liberation Council, the party’s highest decision-making body, on December 14, the dispute erupted into the open. The meeting closed in fractious division, and units of the presidential guard exchanged blows, then shots. A dispute that had been nonviolent drew first blood.

This essay is available in full through subscription at Foreign Affairs

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5 Responses to Breakdown in South Sudan: What Went Wrong — and How to Fix It

  1. Whats happening in South Sudan nowadays its ethnic struggle over power, this ethnic struggle created a political dispute within the ruling party the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and miss trust within the Sudanese People Liberation Army(SPLM)

  2. Khalid AlMubarak says:

    At a time in which graduate students whose main source of information seems to be the articles of Eric Reeves and John Prendergast fill the pages of the Washington Post and other main newspapers; it is refreshing to read this analysis by an academic who has lived in the Sudan and written about it for decades. I fully agree with the optimistic conclusion that the tragic fighting could provide an opportunity for a new beginning. The word “breakdown “in the title is well chosen . A broken down car can be fixed when the battery is recharged or a small spare part is fetched.
    I worry about the “friends”who can help the leadership . Today John Prendergast will appear before a Senate committee. If this is an indication that US policy will be “more of the same “the silver lining” hoped for in the analysis will not materialise easily.The White House has made a very firm and positive statement which builds on the tangible help already provided in training and general advice;but what the White House says is only part of the picture. There is the very influential civil society(eg The Enough Project, Save Darfur Coalition and others)Some see South Sudan only as a means to destabilise the Sudan.They have little or no interest in solving some of the problems outlined in this analysis like demobilisation and downsizing .
    This analysis says quite rightly that the South Sudanese have made extraordinary sacrifices. Equally correct is the fact that the two civil wars have also decimated and distorted the Sudan’s economy and politics.

  3. Kuanyin says:

    One of the main problem facing the new nation of South Sudan is attitude that to get your right ,you must use violence .when the country gained ,South Sudan decided to adopt decentralisation which good for service delivery , however this turned the nation along tribal line in which make it difficult for the community to socialize together as people of one Nation.
    The other coin is the introduction of Greaters term in regional blocks
    1. Greater Bahr el Gazal
    2. Greater Equatoria
    3. Greater Upper Nile. Here the country is divided up in those line and with current fighting rebel have contact with LRA and if not stop now by powerful nations , then the whole country will be terrorist base since Riek Machar supported LRA with money and food a move which make Uganda unhappy with Riek Machar

  4. Khalid AlMubarak says:

    A ceasefire has now been signed between the two fighting groups. All indicators show that -with more IGAD and AU commitment to mediation and international community support-the ceasefire will be maintained and a political solution can be negotiated.There are long term and short-term issues.The retraining of the SPLA and its transformation into an integrated National force will take some time;but it is possible and both the UK and USA have started it before the 15 December fighting.One of the main underlying source of tension between the two sides is the policy towards “The Other Sudan”.Advocates of the “New Sudan” Vision see South Sudan as just a springboard for more struggle to achieve control of the whole pre-secession Sudan.They are encouraged by certain US-based activists.If they prevail(as was the case when they shut down oil production and when they pushed for the occupation of Heglig)South Sudan will embark on a very risky counter productive route.

  5. Khalid AlMubarak says:

    One “collateral” aspect of the tragic situation in the Republic of South Sudan is the infiltration of the Justice and Equality Movement JEM and the havoc it caused. JEM’s fighters were accused of looting and attacks on civilians.Yesterday a contingent crossed the border back to the Sudan where they handed themselves to the Sudanese army in Heglig(which they had helped to occupy during their coordination with SPLA-N and those who have now rebelled against President S.Kiir).JEM are now rebels without a base or “liberated areas” and without a cause because the Doha process has addressed most of Darfur’s grievances.Those who surrendered seem to have realised this.

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