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Return to war in South Sudan

Gunnar M. Sørbø, 2 April 2014

While the crisis in South Sudan that started in December 2013 was triggered by a power struggle in the ruling party (SPLM), the causes for the rapid breakdown of peace run deep. Over time, several rebel groups were integrated into the army (SPLA) without resolving the causes of their rebellions. The army therefore became a coalition of ethnic militias loyal to their commanders, and when the shooting started in Juba, the country blew apart along these fault lines. However, the idea that there are two discernible camps – i.e. a Dinka-dominated government and a Nuer-dominated opposition – is grossly inaccurate. South Sudan has been at odds with itself for a long time. A weak but centralised government, scarce resources, patronage politics, the legacy of war, and a lack of peace dividends have provided a recipe for crisis and collapse for years. While Uganda’s military involvement has given the conflict a dangerous regional dynamic, the greater challenge will be to move beyond striking a narrow peace deal between the main belligerents that will likely only restore the status quo. In order to reach a sustainable political solution a comprehensive rethink of South Sudan’s national project is required that will address the root causes of the conflict.

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