Is the army in Sudan

Domestic conflicts

Gihan Abdalla

Dr. Gihan Abdalla, born 1974 in Khartoum (Sudan) studied sociology and development studies in Berlin and The Hague. She is visiting professor at the Friedensau Theological University in Berlin. She supports refugees in Berlin through her work at the State Office for Building Management. Her current academic interests include migration theories, dispora and the integration of refugees in Germany.

After five years of civil war, a peace agreement was signed in September 2018 under great international and regional pressure. But the peace is fragile. The destruction, ethno-political hostility and the high level of corruption pose a challenge to any development effort.

The people of South Sudan want peace for all - whether the peace agreement signed in 2020 will fulfill this wish remains uncertain. (& copy picture-alliance / AP, Bullen Chol)

On June 20, 2018, President Salva Kiir Mayardit and opposition leader Riek Machar met for the first time in two years. On September 12th, they signed a new peace agreement to end the five-year civil war. The agreement paved the way for the formation of a power-sharing government, which came about in February 2020 after a conflict-ridden marathon of negotiations and multiple deadlines. On February 22, 2020, Machar was sworn in again as the first Vice President. Central sticking points in the negotiations were the definition of state borders, the creation of a unified national army and the protection of Machar.

Open questions should be negotiated and clarified by the new government. Tens of thousands of rival fighters and their units must now be united into a single army. The United Nations criticizes that the process is behind schedule and poorly implemented. There seems to be a lull in civil war fighting since 2018, but the current peace is extremely fragile, warned reports to the UN Security Council (UN Security Council 2018 and 2020).

The country is facing enormous structural challenges, such as a desolate (transport) infrastructure, a very low level of education, an almost complete lack of state institutions and completely inadequate basic services, especially in the areas of water, sanitation and health. Corruption is rampant right up to the highest level. The economic situation has deteriorated further since the Juba crisis and the ensuing collapse in oil production. It is exacerbated by the fact that the government invests most of its income in weapons and military equipment. Although fewer than a hundred cases have been confirmed so far, COVID-19 is a burden on the already very tense humanitarian situation and makes it difficult to provide aid.

As a result of the civil war, there were an estimated 400,000 deaths in 2018 alone. The UN refugee agency UNOCHA assumes almost 4 million displaced persons in 2017, including 1.9 million internally displaced persons and 2 million refugees who have fled abroad. Their homes and economic assets were destroyed. This means that a third of the population has been uprooted. The UN estimates that 50% of the displaced are women and children.

Causes and Background

South Sudan achieved independence in January 2011 after a decade-long conflict between the north and the south and two civil wars. But since then the youngest member of the international community has not been able to calm down. In 2013 the conflict broke out. President Salva Kiir accused his then vice-president and leader of the opposition party SPLM-IO (Sudan People's Liberation Movement in Opposition) Riek Machar of planning a coup. An agreement between the two conflicting parties to share power in 2015 did not end the fighting. After clashes in Juba in July 2016, Machar went into exile.

In the course of the conflict, both sides have committed war crimes violations, including looting, indiscriminate attacks on civilians and the destruction of civil property, arbitrary arrests, beatings and torture, disappearances, (group) rape and extrajudicial executions. Some of these violations constitute crimes against humanity.

In 2017, the armed conflict spread from the states of Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile to the states of Greater Upper Nile, West Bahr al Ghazal and Equatoria. There were extremely violent government operations. In addition to the ethnic groups of the Dinka, to which Kiir belongs, and the Nuer, to which Machar belongs, the conflict also affected other ethnic groups, such as the Shilluk. Government forces carried out a series of offensives in the Upper Nile, in which soldiers attacked Shilluk, Fertit and Luo villages and towns, killing many civilians, burning and looting houses, and forcing tens of thousands to relocate to opposition-controlled areas or neighboring Sudan flee.

Humanitarian actors such as UNOCHA reported that the humanitarian situation was worsening in several areas, in large part due to conflict, economic decline and the erosion of coping capacities. Food insecurity and malnutrition rose to new highs, disease raged and poverty increased in urban areas.

The causes of the conflicts are mainly to be found in the unfair distribution of positions of power and resources in South Sudan, which has evolved over time and is based on geographical and ethnic aspects. In the ethnically and culturally highly differentiated society of South Sudan, the Dinka have so far dominated at the expense of the approximately 64 other ethnic groups. [1] Some analysts believe that the conflict is primarily about the control of oil production and related revenues.

Dinka representatives also dominated the regional government of South Sudan, which had enjoyed relative autonomy since the 1970s. Secession efforts were the result. "Kokora!" shouted South Sudanese intellectuals in 1973. Kokora means "separation" in the language of the Bari ethnic groups. The movement aimed to split off marginalized ethnic areas.

The ethnopolitical power struggles also affected the liberation army SPLA. Of the five permanent members of the Politico-Military High Command (PMHC), four belonged to the Dinka and only one to the Nuer. Ethnic minority groups were excluded from leadership positions and pushed into subordinate areas (e.g. as arms bearers or similar). These ethnic inequalities continue to run through South Sudanese politics to this day and are also reflected in the composition of the new government under President Kiir. The Politburo of the ruling Sudanese Liberation Movement party (SPLM / A) also includes only Dinka members.

Processing and solution approaches

It is thanks to international pressure and an initiative of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) [2], a regional organization of states in Northeast Africa based in Djibouti, that the conflicting parties agreed on a peace treaty in 2016. On April 29, 2016, a Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) met for the first time in the capital Juba, which had previously been controlled by Riek Machar's troops. Machar was sworn in again as First Vice President. Its fighters should be integrated into the national army. The government should ensure a new constitution, national elections, administrative reform, humanitarian aid and reconstruction.

But it did not succeed in ending the violence. Another sad climax was the Juba crisis in July 2016. It is said that the crisis broke out when an officer from Machar was killed on July 3, 2016 by government security forces. Machar soldiers and bodyguards attacked government personnel. As a result, the heavy fighting spread across the three equatorial regions, which had previously been relatively stable, to all regions of the country.

After a visit to South Sudan in October 2016, the UN Special Representative for the Prevention of Genocide warned that the ethnic conflicts could lead to genocide in the following months and called on the Security Council to impose an arms embargo on the country . Under pressure from the international community, President Kiir announced a national dialogue on December 14, 2016. But he was not prepared to let Machar personally participate in the negotiations. He then criticized the dialogue as mere political propaganda. Kiir was also accused of wanting to undermine the 2015 peace treaty with the new dialogue.

On June 12, 2017, the heads of state of the member countries of the IGAD decided to create the High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF). The forum started its efforts in 2018 with the support of the USA, Great Britain, Norway and the European Union to "revive" the peace agreement they negotiated in 2015 (Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan, ARCSS). In parallel, the UN Human Rights Council renewed and strengthened the mandate of the Human Rights Commission in South Sudan, mandating it to collect evidence and investigate legal violations in order to bring those responsible for human rights violations to justice. [3]

The US imposed sanctions on three South Sudanese government officials: the former chief of staff, the army deputy chief of staff and the minister of information. The US also sanctioned three companies owned or controlled by former Vice President Machar. Canada joined US sanctions in November 2018.

The European Parliament passed a resolution on South Sudan condemning violations such as sexual violence and the use of child soldiers (European Parliament 2013). The resolution also called for those responsible for war crimes and human rights crimes to be held accountable and for a court to be established to prosecute and punish the crimes. The European Parliament called on the EU to strive for an international arms embargo. UN sanctions and a UN arms embargo against the warring parties in South Sudan did not materialize, however, because of the negative stance of Russia and China. Other members of the Security Council, including African states, also spoke out against it.

Ethnic groups and food insecurity in South Sudan
Here you can find the map as a high-resolution PDF file. License: cc by-nc-nd / 3.0 / de / (mr-kartographie)

History of the conflict

Today's conflicts in South Sudan can only be understood against the historical background of the two civil wars in Sudan, which was still a unit at the time. The first lasted from 1955 to 1972. In it, rebel groups mainly settled in the south fought the Sudanese central government in Khartoum. The cause was the structural oppression and marginalization of the non-Muslim population. The war ended in 1972 with the Addis Ababa Accords, which gave the regional government of South Sudan significant autonomy in internal affairs.

In 1983 the second civil war began. The trigger was the announcement by then President Numairi that he would introduce Sharia legislation. Between 1988 and 1989 negotiations took place between the government and the various Sudanese and South Sudanese liberation movements. However, the negotiations were broken off after General Omar al-Bashir came to power in a military coup against Numairi in 1989.

The struggle for resources, the question of self-determination in the South and the role of religion in the state are the problem areas around which the conflict has revolved for over 20 years. Two and a half million people died in both wars. Four million people have been displaced. The South Sudanese state was burdened with this legacy after international mediators, supported by IGAD and the USA, coordinated the peace negotiations between the government and the SPLA / M.

In January 2005 the ruling party of Sudan, the NCP (National Congress Party), and the South Sudanese liberation movement SPLM / A signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The agreement stipulated a six-year transition period. During this time, South Sudan enjoyed extensive autonomy within the entire state. At the end of this period, on January 9, 2011, 98.8% of the South Sudanese population voted in a referendum for the independence of the new state.


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