The Republic of South Sudan’s declaration of independence in July of last year gave rise to serious questions regarding the country’s security, economic viability, and capacity to address its numerous development challenges. In the last six months, the government of the Republic of South Sudan, or RSS, has successfully addressed a number of critical issues, such as issuing a new currency despite fears that confidence in the new nation’s banking and financial systems would plummet following independence. However, not surprisingly, along with these successes have come setbacks and challenges, many of which are the result of decades of war and neglect.
Most recently, inter-communal violence in Jonglei state has underscored, among other things, the weaknesses in South Sudan’s security and policing sectors. It has also brought to the fore underlying issues of a lack of accountability and political inclusion, as well as the breakdown of traditional authority structures, which collectively threaten to erode the fragile social and political stability of the new nation. The potential for internal violence in South Sudan is, sadly, not new. During Sudan’s second civil war, south-onsouth violence, perpetrated largely along ethnic and communal lines and fueled primarily by the Khartoum government and its proxies in the South as well as the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army, cost a great many lives. The tip of the iceberg is the resurgence of conflict between the Lou-Nuer and Murle communities of Jonglei state, but below the surface, other potential inter-communal crises exist throughout South Sudan.
Inter-communal violence in Jonglei and throughout South Sudan, while traditionally cyclical in nature, is not inevitable. The causes of this violence go beyond the retaliatory nature of cattle raiding and touch upon broader issues of accountability, reconciliation, political inclusion, state effectiveness, development, and the proliferation of arms among the civilian population. Actors outside of the immediate conflict, including, for decades, the government of Sudan, and now politicians in South Sudan and militia groups with linkages to Khartoum, have also exacerbated the violence. The effort to build the new nation’s political, legal, and social systems and the recently initiated process to draft a permanent constitution offer a unique opportunity for the RSS, supported by the international community, to find solutions to the more systemic causes of this and other such instances of inter-communal violence throughout the new nation.
Urgent and intensified efforts are needed to deescalate the crisis in Jonglei and address the immediate needs of local populations. As well, robust action on the part of the government in Juba, supported by the international community, to address the systemic causes of the violence could foster a sustainable peace between Jonglei’s communities and prevent further attacks on civilians. In addition, leaders and politicians from the Lou-Nuer and Murle communities, as well as other RSS officials, have a responsibility to actively deter future violence and not to exploit the current chaos for political gains.