Africa: Politics and Societies South of the Sahara

South Sudan: Horror and Morsels

Posted in African Politics, Global Africa, South Sudan by ruben eberlein on March 18, 2016

Africa-South-Sudan-Clinton-Kiir-Oil-Pipeline-deal-08062012A new UN report details the brutality and the sexualised violence against women and children by factions in South Sudan’s civil war. In the meantime, the Women body of the United Nations invites the spouses of President Salva Kiir and his rival, Riek Machar, to New York to speak about “the role of women in the peace process”. Here is my report.


It is a document of terror and absolute disinhibition of a brutal soldateska: On Friday last week, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) submitted its report on the crimes of warring parties during the civil war in South Sudan. Mass rapes, arbitrary murders and a scorched earth-policy were common during 2015, the period under review. In shocking detail, the account depicts the cruel behaviour especially of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the militias allied. It is put on record that mass rapes are “an acceptable practice among the soldiers of the SPLA and the militias”.

“The quantity of rapes and gang-rapes decribed in the report must only be a snapshot of the real total”, said Zeid Ra`ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the occasion of its release. “This is one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world, with massive use of rape as an instrument of terror and weapon of war – yet is has been more or less of the international radar.” The facts contained in the report were researched between October 2015 and January 2016 on the spot and provide a detailed picture especially of the situation in Unity and Upper Nile states as well as Western and Central Equatoria which experienced particular bursts of violence.

Since the dismissal of Vice President Riek Machar in December 2013 by President Salva Kiir, South Sudan is at war. The country gained independence from the North two years before. This conflict that caused the displacement of millions of people and the death of at least 50.000 South Sudanese – most of them civilians – is about the privatisation and distribution of the income from oil business and development aid. Nothing has been invested, since 2011, in the building of institutions, infrastructure or a public administration. Thus, South Sudan today is a country without a state where military entrepreneurs rule and recruit their followers within their own family or clan.

The crimes committed in South Sudan perplex even long-time observers of the country. Alex de Waal, currently Director of the World Peace Foundation and Professor at the Fletcher School of Tufts University, Massachusetts, who works in the region as an academic and mediator since 30 years, comments vis-à-vis Jungle World: “There’s no good explanation for the sheer level of cruelty exhibited by the belligerents in South Sudan: it goes beyond what can be explained by any social science.” He realises, however, a strategy behind the extreme level of violence. Because the political fractions and armed groups are not in a position to pay their followers, they regulate the political competition through violence. “This means reducing the value of their competitors by destroying their social bases. And they reward their own followers not with wages but with license to plunder and rape.”

In August 2015, a peace accord was signed after much international pressure from the West and the regional body Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). The understandings entailed in this accord were, however, never implemented. This concerns demobilisation, the demilitarisation of the capital Juba and the reinstatement of Vice President Machar. “The peace agreement in South Sudan is a share-out of rents, modelled, broadly speaking, on the 2005 CPA. That kind of agreement is workable only when there is an increase in resources to share out. In South Sudan today that is not the case. Unfortunately the agreement is therefore doomed to fail. The international community has no overall strategy for this”, says de Waal.

While brutal violence especially towards women and children continue to be a daily occurrence, snacks and morsels are offered at the invitation of the United Nations. As it has been reported by the New York Times, the wifes of the rivals Salva Kiir and Riek Machar were announced to speak at a discussion organised by UN Women, a sub-organisation of the UN, this week. At the International Peace Institute which organises events for the UN on a regular basis, the wife of Kiir, Mary Ayen Mayardit, and the spouse of Machar, Angelina Teny debated “key lessons learned from the peace process in South Sudan”, according to the international body. “The panelists will share their goals for the continued rebuilding of South Sudan and how they envision women taking a greater role in South Sudanese government and society in the future”, announced the UN. “By doing so, they will provide greater insight into how women can better engage with future peace processes.” Both ladies are well-integrated in the clientelistic regime of the country.

Since several generations, the inhabitants of South Sudan know not much more than war and displacement, murders and rapes. The high hopes for a better future after the split from the Islamist North vanished into thin air within record time. The so-called international community, too, takes its part of responsibility for this situation. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of South Sudanese desired independence, but the state builders within the global organisations permitted the establishment of a out-and-out corrupt and murderous clique at the top of the state. The demands it has to satisfy are enormous: Hundreds of thousand former fighters are on the payroll of the government, but due to tumbling oil prices and the ongoing war the exchequer is bankrupt. One has to expect – not least because of the international indifference – a continuation of the terror against civilians without any prospect of a long-lasting peace.


This text was published first by Jungle World titled „Horror und Häppchen“. You can download a page containing the article (pdf) here or go to the website of Jungle World.

 Photo: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) meets with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir at the Presidential Office Building in Juba August 3, 2012.

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