Since fighting erupted in Juba in July 2016 and a major rebel faction returned to war, rebel groups have proliferated though conflict is much reduced from its height in 2014. The government’s current strategy can secure Juba but cannot deliver sustainable nationwide peace. Of the millions experiencing hunger due to the conflict’s impact on civilians, the UN declared 100,000 in famine conditions for several months in 2017. Through field-based research and engagement with relevant national, regional and international actors, Crisis Group aims to support humanitarian access and build a new consensus around sustainable peace efforts that address the regionalised nature of the conflict as well as its localised dynamics.
In 2019, the African Union faces many challenges, with conflicts old and new simmering across the continent. To help resolve these crises – our annual survey lists seven particularly pressing ones – the regional organisation should also push ahead with institutional reforms.
Fighting between main parties reduced as they began to implement Sept 2018 peace deal, but clashes rose in south west between signatories on one side and non-signatory armed group on other, raising risk of escalation in Feb. Peace monitors reported reduction in violence between main signatories of Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan – govt forces and main rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) – including in former hotspots, Wau in north west and Bentiu in north. But monitors 22 Jan said they were still barred access to some areas including Luri training site near Yei in south west, where security forces detained and beat monitors in Dec; govt has not yet held anyone responsible. Amid delays in reaching Pre-Transitional Period security benchmarks, parties 13 Jan agreed to launch pilot project to canton and train 3,000-strong joint unit in Kajo-Keji county, Yei River state in south, but plan faces opposition from local authorities and parties did not agree on unit’s mandate or funding source. Fighting erupted 9 Jan between SPLA-IO and non-signatory armed group National Salvation Front (NAS) led by Thomas Cirillo in Kozi county, Maridi state in south west. Further clashes broke out between army and NAS near Yei 19-20 Jan, leaving three soldiers dead. NAS 21 Jan said it had lost control of positions in stronghold Mukaya, north of Yei. Ugandan forces briefly deployed to Yei 17 Jan in violation of UN Security Council arms embargo; Ugandan deployment appeared linked to govt offensives against NAS. Intercommunal violence and banditry continued: cattle raid in Padiek county, Bieh state in north east 7 Jan left one dead and 105 people reportedly killed in cattle raids in Tonj state, centre-west 14 Jan. Ambush in Jonglei state in centre 8 Jan left five people dead and another in Duachan area, Akobo state 19 Jan killed at least four people. In support of Sudan, govt 7 Jan ordered Al Watan newspaper to stop publishing articles on protests in Sudan.
In 2018, the African Union (AU) and its new Assembly Chairperson President Paul Kagame of Rwanda have the chance to push ahead with much-needed institutional reforms. But the AU must not lose focus on dire conflicts and defusing potential electoral violence.
Vigilante groups have been successful in providing local security. But subcontracting security functions to vigilante groups for counter-insurgency purposes is a dangerous option for fragile African states. African leaders should set clear objectives and mandates when enlisting vigilantes and invest in disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programs.
China, traditionally averse to intervening abroad, is testing the role of peacebuilder in South Sudan, where it has unique leverage. This could portend a growing global security role, but further Chinese engagement will likely be tempered by self-interest, capacity constraints and aversion to risk.
War in South Sudan led the UN to declare 100,000 people are suffering famine, with a further 5.5 million at risk. This special briefing urges the country to work harder to establish parameters for a ceasefire. At the same time, humanitarian corridors from Sudan should be kept open and donors must fully fund the UN aid appeal.
President Salva Kiir has played a weak hand well since his main rival was forced out of Juba in July. To avoid new flare-ups in South Sudan’s three-year-old civil war, Kiir and regional states should step up their work on a more inclusive transitional government and peace deals with local rebel groups.
The 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan reached a milestone with the formation of a transitional government in Juba in April. Yet fault lines like those in the Equatorias remain outstanding. A committed, inclusive political response is vital to stop low-level conflicts continuing indefinitely.
This is a critical moment for IGAD and the peace process. The response to these early violations will set the tone for the rest of the peace implementation.
Washington was never willing to take a hard line with Uganda on South Sudan. This was the biggest missed opportunity to halt the war early.
If talks do not progress in the coming days, the parties may feel less compelled to adhere to a ceasefire [in South Sudan]. There are command and control issues as well as many forces that are not aligned to the government or Machar’s group. Even an effective ceasefire would only reduce some of the violence.
[South Sudan's] government raised issues with the fact that the [cessation of hostilities] agreement wouldn’t have allowed them to re-arm for any other purposes, such as domestic law and order.
Rebel groups and most Western countries want the [South Sudan's] forum to be a new mediation. The goal for them is to create a new power-sharing arrangement.
[There is] a much more chaotic situation on the ground [of South Sudan] than, let's say, two years ago, when [there was] one government, one armed opposition.
Talks between President Salva Kiir and former First Vice President Riek Machar in the Sudanese capital Khartoum offer the only, albeit slim, hope of a breakthrough in South Sudan’s brutal civil war. African leaders should offer cautious support during the Nouakchott AU summit.
Five years into South Sudan’s civil war more than half of the population is either displace or starving. In this interview, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for the Horn of Africa Casie Copeland talks about the enormous humanitarian toll of the crisis.
A UN mission has largely succeeded in keeping the peace in Abyei, an oil-rich area claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan. But there has been less progress made on the mission's work in aiding political mechanisms to determine the final status of Abyei and demilitarise and demarcate the border. As the UN Security Council debates the mission's scope, these mechanisms deserve ongoing support.
China’s growing involvement in South Sudan’s civil war differs from its past approach to non-interference, though there is debate on the long-term implications as its role in African, and global, security affairs expands.
Originally published in South China Morning Post