Uneasy calm shattered as soldiers, civilians die in Juba shootout

Saturday July 09 2016

First Vice President Riek Machar (L) delivers a speech to journalists next to South Sudan President Salva Kiir (C) and Vice President James Wani Igga (R) prior to the shooting outside the presidential palace in Juba on July 8, 2016. PHOTO | CHARLES ATIKI LOMODONG |

The uneasy peace that has been holding in South Sudan since April has finally broken after two forces allied to President Salva Kiir and his deputy Dr Riek Machar clashed in Juba.

Seven soldiers belonging to President Kiir were killed at a roadblock in Juba on Thursday night when forces loyal to Dr Machar refused to undergo a routine inspection resulting into an exchange of fire.

Renewed fighting broke out at the between President Kiir’s and Dr Machar’s security guards at the Presidential Palace in Juba on Friday at 5pm as the two leaders were holding a meeting inside.

READ: Five killed as Kiir, Machar camps clash in tense Juba

The Juba clashes occurred at Lou Clinic in Gudele district at about 8pm and both sides continue to blame each other for starting the fight.

Dr Machar’s Press Secretary, James Gatdet Dak, said that their Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement-in Opposition (SPLM-IO) soldiers, belonging to the protection unit, were attacked as they traveling in a vehicle on Gudele Road taking food to Dr Machar’s the night guards.


Five soldiers belonging to SPLA were killed on the spot and their weapons looted, while the number of civilians who were killed when their public transport bus was sprayed with bullets on the same spot, is still unknown.

The same evening at around 9 pm, unknown gunmen—presumed to be SPLA on rampage — sprayed bullets on a vehicle carrying seven US diplomats near the American Embassy at Kololo Road, but they were not harmed because the vehicle was armoured.

Mr Dak said that President Kiir and Dr Machar spoke on the phone at 8:50 pm shortly after the clashes and agreed to restrain their forces.

Tension has been building in the past two weeks after SPLM-IO complained that soldiers loyal to President Kiir have been systematically eliminating their soldiers and have so far killed five.

Earlier in the week, Second Vice-President James Wani Igga, warned that the country could become ungovernable if the security forces do not address the issue of the unknown gunmen that have been killing people in Juba. He gave the warning after the killing of two officers belonging to SPLM-IO.

READ: South Sudan peace faces new challenges

Lieutenant Colonel George Gismala, who served as militarily intelligence officer before he joined the SPLM-IO, was shot dead in Kator area on June 1 by unknown gunmen. 

Two days to the Juba clashes, SPLM-IO spokesperson Col William Gatjiath Deng said in a statement that there was an attempt on Dr Machar’s life aftergovernment soldiers shot at his car on Gudela road on June 16.

The peace in South Sudan has remained shaky since the agreement was signed in August 2015 in Addis Ababa.

President Kiir had delayed signing for nine days claiming he had reservation over the agreement which he believes was imposed on South Sudan by the international community.

Sources said there has been a buildup of mistrust between Dr Machar’s forces and those of President Kiir over time.

Sources said that an unusual number of foreigners were queueing at bus stations on Friday intending to leave the country by road to Uganda.

The sources said that most foreigners did not want to be caught unawares as was the case in December 2013 when the civil war broke out unexpectedly. Foreign diplomats in Juba were also seen leaving through the Juba International Airport in unusually large numbers on Friday.

For the first time, Juba residents were alarmed by the sight of an airforce white jetfighter overflying the capital Juba for several minutes. Roadblocks have been erected in all major roads in Juba following the Thursday clash.

While there is an uneasy calm, most foreign-owned businesses are scaling down as the economic crisis continues to bite. The South Sudan Pound hit an all-time low of 52 per dollar. The exchange rate at independence was 2.9 per dollar.

But South Sudan Charge de Affairs to Kenya, Jimmy Deng, said that although there is public panic and people are worried that the situation could escalate, the assurance given by the two leaders is enough to calm the situation.

An escalation of violence could destabilise the operations of the transitional government of national unity formed on April 29, but which has been struggling due to continued suspicions from the two sides and a freeze on donor funding.

Already, over 40 people have been killed and 10,000 displaced to UN compound in the ongoing fighting in Wau, Bahr-el-Ghazan State, between the Dinka pastoralists and local farmers that are feuding over land. 

Currently, the challenge oscillates around the fact that there are two armies with two commanders in chief and two chiefs of general staff as per the agreement that will continue for 18 months. 

The arrangement creates a problem of parallel command, with sources saying that SPLM-IO soldiers had refused to be inspected because they answer to a different command.

Tension is such that the chief of general staff, Gen Paul Malang, arrived in Uganda on Thursday night in what sources in Juba hinted was meant to ask Yoweri Museveni to be ready to help should the situation escalate.

However, sources at the South Sudan Embassy in Kampala said that Gen Malong had gone for a follow-up consultations after President Museveni and President Kiir discussed the situation in South Sudan at the sidelines of the recently held anti-terrorism conference in Entebbe.

Another full-scale fighting in South Sudan will have negative impact on the economies and security of the frontline states such as Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan. 

Besides the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, the four countries have been hosting thousands of South Sudan refugees since the war started in December 2013.

According the United Nations High Commission report released in June, with Ethiopia shouldering the biggest burden with 285,859 South Sudanese refugees, followed by Sudan with 231,581, Uganda 229, 006 and Kenya 104,173.

The instability in South Sudan continues to cost the economies of the region in terms of jobs and reduced exports to the landlocked country that depends on her neigbours for basic commodities and expertise.

It is also going to have an impact on the EAC given that South Sudan officially joined the regional trade bloc in April. 

South Sudan expected to pay $8 million to EAC as part of the total $48 million budget, but the country is currently undergoing an economic crisis due to the fall in the global oil prices and donors withholding budget support.