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Five year-old South Sudan coming apart as inter-ethnic divisions worsen

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Women and children at a camp for internally displaced people in Wau, South Sudan. PHOTO | FILE

Women and children at a camp for internally displaced people in Wau, South Sudan. The turmoil in South Sudan has seen an increase in the number of refugees fleeing the country. PHOTO | FILE 

By FRED OLUOCH

Posted  Monday, March 13   2017 at  10:34

In Summary

  • With more than 10 militia groups, observers say that the country — which is only five years old — could be divided into the three regions.
  • A failed peace agreement, lack of institutions of governance, economic collapse, lack of donor support due to embedded official corruption and increased ethnic cleansing are driving the disintegration. 
  • A United Nations report says that South Sudan is experiencing ethnic cleansing and edging closer to genocide.

South Sudan is heading towards disintegration as various ethnic groups form militias to defend themselves against what they call Dinka hegemony and persecution.

With more than 10 militia groups, observers say that the country — which is only five years old — could be divided into the three regions that formed the South under the larger Sudan: Equatoria, Upper Nile and Bahr-el-Ghazal.

A failed peace agreement, lack of institutions of governance, economic collapse, lack of donor support due to embedded official corruption and increased ethnic cleansing are driving the disintegration. 

What started as a political disagreement within the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) between President Salva Kiir and former vice-president Riek Machar has now metamorphosed into an inter-ethnic battle for survival, with the majority Dinka perceived as the common enemy by the 64 other ethnic groups. Most of the militias are emerging in the former greater Equatoria to defend their lands from Dinka invasion.

A United Nations report says that South Sudan is experiencing ethnic cleansing and edging closer to genocide.

Complicated network of rebel groups

In a recent interview with The EastAfrican, former president of Botswana Festus Mogae, who leads the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), said these new rebel groups that did not exist before are emerging and threatening the country’s unity.

“Some of the groups are driven by revenge along ethnic lines, others feel marginalised and excluded by the peace deal, which largely brought together President Kiir’s Dinkas and Dr Machar’s Nuers,” said Mr Mogae, adding that a complicated network of rebel groups with different agendas are joining the conflict.

Besides Dr Machar’s SPLM-IO that is largely based in Upper Nile, the formerly peaceful three Equatorias are now producing various militia groups to defend themselves against government atrocities, which have seen more refugees fleeing to Uganda to escape systematic killings, rape and burning of houses.

General Thomas Cirillo Swaka, the former deputy-general chief of staff for logistics, who resigned in February, has formed the National Salvation Front (NSF) movement to oust President Kiir from power, claiming that the military was dominated by Dinkas. They blamed the government for orchestrating the violations of the August 2015 peace agreement.

Gen Swaka, an ethnic Bare who hails from Rajaf in Central Equatoria — just six kilometres from the capital Juba — is  gaining support from various militia groups that have emerged since renewed fighting started in Juba in July last year.

The Cobra Squad, led by Lieutenant General Khalid Botrus Bora and based in Pibor near the border with Ethiopia, dissolved itself last week to merge with Gen Swaka’s NSF with the target of toppling President Kiir.

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