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Anarchy Returning to South Sudan: Is another Civil War Brewing?

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A woman UN peacekeeper attends a training exercise in Malakal, South Sudan. UNMISS\Janet Adongo

Clashes are nothing new or extraordinary in South Sudan. The world’s youngest nation has already spent the better part of its existence simmering amidst a chaotic civil war. In fact, the surging violence and fuelling dissent was one of the cornerstones that aided its foundation in the first place. However, the world has changed and so has the objective of the revolt. What hasn’t changed is the butting fabric of the country that has never allowed instability to subside. And while the fighting today seems reminiscent of the blazing catastrophe that razed the region a few years ago, the complexity has jumped up a notch or two. A solution, thus, would need to resolve the festering divide instead of just patching the problem. Sounds simple, yet, the resolution should route a creative and lasting impact if the country intends to subdue the conflict before it gains momentum.

The history of the nascent country, primarily the events leading up to its independence, puts an array of aspects into perspective. Sudan existed as a single country up until a decade ago. Years and years, decades even, of repressive rule emboldened the autonomous factions within Sudan, specifically the southern states. The decades-long span of civil war between the warring states of Sudan was one of the most debilitating eras witnessed by the African continent after the period of colonization. And while the objective was to fight off the oppressive ruling class to achieve an equitable distribution of power, the struggle didn’t bore its fruit until 2005 when the Sudanese regime reluctantly allowed autonomy to the southern part of Sudan – comprising ten diverse states. The civil war culminated with an agreement that elevated Salva Kiir Mayardit – Leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) – as the President of this autonomous region.

Mr. Kiir went on to win another election in 2010 despite an ideological conflict within the ranks of the independence movement. However, the power consolidation was hardly threatened as it glimmered as a hope for the aspirations of a separate state. Infighting would have endangered the common objective. However, the struggle renditioned its cause just six years after the accord as South Sudan seceded from Sudan as an independent state in 2011.

Now as the nation sobered up from the jubilation of independence, it was particularly awakening to realize a stark reality. There was no common objective for the conflicting groups to tolerate each other. Thus, the road ahead proved to be a bumpy ride and not exactly a smooth sail as once envisioned. In reality, the very diversity of South Sudan that once weighted the cause of a liberal state, now made it vulnerable to a difference of opinion and, by extension, more prone to conflicts. The gradual build-up of frustration and irateness reached its apex just two years after independence. A dissent between two of the majority ethnic groups of South Sudan sowed the premise of another civil war – this time between the ranks of South Sudan itself.

President Kiir, stemming from the Dinka ethnic group, accused Vice President Riek Machar, belonging to the rivaling Nuer ethnic group, of plotting a failed coup against his government. Mr. Kiir sacked his entire cabinet along with Mr. Machar, leading to the eruption of violence between the two groups that once jointly campaigned for independence just a few years in retrospect.

The spreading violence soon engulfed much of the Unity states and even the upper Nile as the presidential guards along with the armed forces, both loyal to the Dinka ethnic group, joined the revolt against the rebelling groups. Mr. Machar was forced into exile while the civilians were killed, looted, raped, and pillaged along the ethnic lines. Sexual violence peaked as entire communities were incinerated to the ground, forcing a huge flux of refugees to neighboring Ethiopia and Uganda. After multiple international efforts, threats of a collage of sanctions, and numerous attempts by the United Nations, the war eventually folded in 2018. As the accords were mediated, a ceasefire soon followed along with a power-sharing agreement which eventually brought Mr. Machar back to South Sudan; reinstated as the Vice President under a fragile peace agreement.

The war lasted for five years: taking up 50% of the entire narrative of the existence of South Sudan on the pages of history. More than 400,000 people were massacred while the culprits were spared scot-free. A peace deal was signed yet no retribution was served to the culprits of the civil war. More than 2 million people were displaced yet no constitutional reform came into existence to resolve the conflict that could re-erupt in the future. Instead, the same leaders resumed where they left off while the population bore the burden of chaos. A decade later and South Sudan is no better than its parent country. In fact, rampant corruption, a crumbling economy and, fraying institutions have all rendered the country in the worst possible shape one could have ever imagined.

Now as 8 million out of an 11 million populace is desperately in need of humanitarian aid, anarchy is making its return. The rival forces in the echelons of Vice President Machar have revolted against his leadership: appointing Lt General Simon Gatwech Dual as his interim replacement. Renewed calls have been made to displace even the President himself. These developments are already fuelling the pent-up resentment as almost two dozen fighters have already been slain in multiple skirmishes over the last weekend. And while the calls of replacement and revolt are neither unorthodox nor surprising to either of the duo, the concern is regarding a gradual revolve of an ethnic divide that was unfortunately not addressed after the civil war. Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IAD), a major regional bloc, projected its fears earlier that even a spark could easily destabilize the entire South Sudan again. And even if it’s a false alarm, a bulging humanitarian crisis along with an unraveling economic disparity doesn’t exactly pose a prosperous future for the country that ironically parted ways from Sudan for peace and an equitable standard of living.

The author is an active current affairs writer primarily analyzing the global affairs and their political, economic and social consequences. He also holds a Bachelor’s degree from Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi, Pakistan.

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Africa

The Transitioning Democracy of Sudan

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Sudan has been the focus of conflict for much of its six decades as an independent nation. Despite being an anomaly in a region crippled with totalitarian populism and escalating violence, the country hasn’t witnessed much economic or political stability in years. While the civic-military coalition, leading a democratic transition towards elections, has managed to subside the fragments of civil war, growing hostility in the peripheries has begun threatening the modest reforms made in the past two years. The recent coup attempt is a befitting example of the plans that are budding within the echelons of the Sudanese military to drag the country back into the closet. And while the attempt got thwarted, it is not a success to boast. But it is a warning that the transition would not be as smooth a ride as one might have hoped.

The problems today are only a reflection of Sudan’s issues in the past: especially which led to the revolution. The civil unrest began in Sudan back in December 2018. Sudan’s long-serving ruler, Omer al-Bashir, had turned Sudan into an international outcast during his 30-year rule of tyranny and economic isolation. Naturally, Sudan perished as an economic pariah: especially after the independence of South Sudan. With the loss of oil revenues and almost 95% of its exports, Sudan inched on the brink of collapse. In response, Bashir’s regime resorted to impose draconian austerity measures instead of reforming the economy and inviting investment. The cuts in domestic subsidies over fuel and food items led to steep price hikes: eventually sparking protests across the east and spreading like wildfire to the capital, Khartoum.

In April 2019, after months of persistent protests, the army ousted Bashir’s government; established a council of generals, also known as the ‘Transitional Military Council.’ The power-sharing agreement between the civilian and military forces established an interim government for a period of 39 months. Subsequently, the pro-democracy movement nominated Mr. Abdalla Hamdok as the Prime Minister: responsible for orchestrating the general elections at the end of the transitional period. The agreement coalesced the civilian and military powers to expunge rebellious factions from society and establish a stable economy for the successive government. However, the aspirations overlooked ground realities.

Sudan currently stands in the third year of the transitional arrangement that hailed as a victory. However, the regime is now most vulnerable when the defiance is stronger than ever. Despite achieving respite through peace agreements with the rebels in Sudan, the proliferation of arms and artillery never abated. In reality, the armed attacks have spiraled over the past two years after a brief hiatus achieved by the peace accords. The conflict stems from the share of resources between different societal fractions around Darfur, Kordofan, and the Blue Nile. According to UN estimates, the surging violence has displaced more than 410,000 people across Sub-Saharan Africa in 2021. The expulsion is six times the rate of displacement recorded last year. According to the retreating UN peacekeeping mission, the authorities have all but failed to calm the rampant banditry and violence: partially manifested by the coup attempt that managed to breach the government’s order.

The regional instability is only half the story. Since the displacement of Bashir’s regime, Sudan has rarely witnessed stability, let alone surplus dividends to celebrate. Despite thawing relations with Israel and joining the IMF program, Sudan has felt little relief in return. The sharp price hikes and gripping unemployment which triggered the coup back in 2019 never receded: galloped instead. Currently, inflation runs rampant above 400%, while the Sudanese Pound has massively devalued under conditions dictated by the IMF. And despite bagging some success in negotiating International debt relief, the Hamdok regime has struggled to invite foreign investment and create jobs: majorly due to endemic conflicts that still run skin-deep in the fabric of the Sudanese society.

While the coup attempt failed, it is still not a sigh of relief for the fragile government. The deep-rooted analysis of the coup attempt reveals a stark reality: the military factions – at least some – are no longer sated in being equal-footed with a civilian regime. Moreover, the perpetrators tried to leverage the widening disquiet within the country by blocking roads and attempting to sabotage state-run media: hoping to gain public support. The population is indeed frustrated by the economic desperation; the failure of the coup attempt means that people have still not given up hope in a democratic government and a free-and-fair election. Nonetheless, it is not the first tranche of the army to rebel, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only way to salvage democracy is to stabilize Sudan’s economy and resolve inter-communal violence before leading the county towards elections. Otherwise, it is apparent that Bashir’s political apparatus is so deeply entrenched in Sudan’s ruling network that even if the transitional government survives multiple coups, an elected government would ultimately wither.

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Money seized from Equatorial Guinea VP Goes into Vaccine

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As a classic precedence, the Justice Department of the United States has decided that $26.6m (£20m) seized from Equatorial Guinea’s Vice-President Teodorin Nguema Obiang Mangue be used on purchasing COVID-19 vaccines and other essential medical programmes in Equitorial Guinea, located on the west coast of central Africa.

“Wherever possible, kleptocrats will not be allowed to retain the benefits of corruption,” an official said in a statement, and reported by British Broadcasting Corporation.

Obiang was forced to sell a mansion in Malibu, California, a Ferrari and various Michael Jackson memorabilia as part of a settlement he reached with the US authorities in 2014 after being accused of corruption and money-laundering. He denied the charges.

The agreement stated that $10.3m of the money from the sale would be forfeited to the US and the rest would be distributed to a charity or other organisation for the benefit of the people of Equatorial Guinea, the Justice Department said.

The UN is to receive $19.25m to purchase and administer COVID-19 vaccines to at least 600,000 people in Equatorial Guinea, while a US-based charity is to get $6.35m for other medical programmes in Equatorial Guinea.

Teodorin Nguema has been working in position as Vice-President since 2012, before that he held numerous government positions, including Minister of Agriculture and Forestry. Known for his unquestionable lavish lifestyle, he has been the subject of a number of international criminal charges and sanctions for alleged embezzlement and corruption. He has a fleet of branded cars and a number of houses, and two houses alone in South Africa,

Teodorin Nguema has often drawn criticisms in the international media for lavish spending, while majority of the estimated 1.5 million population wallows in abject poverty. Subsistence farming predominates, with shabby infrastructure in the country. Equatorial Guinea consists of two parts, an insular and a mainland region. Equatorial Guinea is the third-largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa.

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African Union’s Inaction on Ethiopia Deplorable – Open Letter

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The crisis in northern Ethiopia has resulted in millions of people in need of emergency assistance and protection. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

A group of African intellectuals says in an open letter that it is appalled and dismayed by the steadily deteriorating situation in Ethiopia. The letter, signed by 58 people, says the African Union’s lack of effective engagement in the crisis is deplorable. The letter calls on regional bloc IGAD and the AU to “proactively take up their mandates with respect to providing mediation for the protagonists to this conflict”.

The letter also asks for “all possible political support” for the AU’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose appointment was announced on August 26, 2021. A United Nations Security Council meeting on the same day welcomed the former Nigerian president’s appointment.

Earlier in August 2021, UN  chief Antonio Guterres appealed for a ceasefire, unrestricted aid access and an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. He told the council these steps were essential to preserve Ethiopia’s unity and the stability of the region and to ease the humanitarian crisis. He said that he had been in close contact with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and had received a letter from the leader of the Tigray region in response to his appeal. “The UN is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue,” he said.

August 26, 2021 was only the second time during the conflict that the council held a public meeting to discuss the situation. Britain, Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway and the United States requested the session.

Fighting between the national government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front broke out in November 2020, leaving millions facing emergency or crisis levels of food insecurity, according to the United Nations. Both sides have been accused of atrocities.

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