It appeared in late August that the end was nigh for the South Sudanese Civil War.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir signed the latest in a long line ceasefires that have attempted to quell the 21-month long conflict in the world’s newest state. However, like the ceasefires that preceded this most recent one, neither the government nor the rebel groups currently fighting Kiir’s government, named the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – In Opposition (SPLM-IO), are adequately respecting the terms of the ceasefire.
Fighting between government forces and the SPLM-IO continues in South Sudan’s Unity State, located along the border with Sudan, where much of the fighting has been concentrated throughout the civil war. In a recent Foreign Policy article, author Antony Loewenstein argued that the main impediments to finding lasting peace in the world’s newest country are the leaders of the government: Kiir, the SPLM-IO, and former Vice President Riek Machar.
Both Kiir and Machar led the charge for South Sudan’s independence from the Sudan in 2011. They were therefore natural candidates to lead the new country. Kiir, who belongs to the Dinka ethnic group, accepted Machar, of the Nuer ethnicity, as his Vice President for the sole purpose of easing any potential ethnic tensions in the new country. The Dinka and Nuer are the two largest ethnic groups in South Sudan.
Unfortunately, Machar was sacked in July 2013 by Kiir, who accused Machar of attempting a coup. The reality of the coup is still questioned as Machar denies Kiir’s accusations and some believe that Kiir fired Machar in an attempt to consolidate power.
In spite of denying Kiir’s claims, Machar quickly amassed and now commands an armed rebellion that seeks to remove Kiir from power.
Despite successive failed ceasefires which have been signed by both Kiir and Machar, the international community continues to recognize Kiir and Machar as the only men who can establish lasting peace.
But these two men are the main impediments to finding peace in South Sudan. The two historically have no intention of respecting the conditions of any ceasefire they sign and have discredited themselves as vehicles for peace.
Therefore the only way to find substantive, lasting peace in South Sudan is to get rid of the main impediments: Kiir and Machar. However, the international community has shown that it is powerless to stop the violence in South Sudan, making it extremely difficult to imagine that it would have any ability to remove either Kiir or Machar from power.
Unless the international community desires continued violence in South Sudan, as many South Sudanese elites who are profiting from the violence do, it must acknowledge that peace will never be achieved via Kiir and Machar, and it must look for new avenues of peace.