Almost the whole of South Sudan is flooded with ‘communal’ violence. This started after the wake of the peace agreement signed in 2018. These conflicts and elite dynamics are changing in response to the current affairs in the country, which is pushing elite ambitions away from the capital and back into home areas.
This elite order, dominated by military and security factions amid escalating public discontent requires serious reevaluation. Conflict and insecurity in South Sudan are once again at levels which would typically be associated with civil war. And it would indicate that a total collapse in state authority is underway. In fact, the state authorities have actually minute power if any.
Yet the government in Juba strode on. And the political bargain holding together the various military, security, and rebel factions since 2018 has mostly been held during this surge in violence. What then explains this soaring violence, and what does this tells us about the strategies the government and ruling elites use to survive in such conditions?
Most of the conflict is not straightforwardly connected to the recent civil war (2013-2018). The states of Warrap, Lakes, Upper Nile, and Jonglei in the central belt of the country have been the most severely affected initially. But the violence has now entered in the Greater Equatoria region – especially in Eastern Equatoria, and Central Equatoria. Abyei Administrative Area and Unity states are also engulfed in it.
Much of this unrest has been cast as ‘communal’ and ‘inter-ethnic’ in nature by South Sudan’s elite, while targeted killings linked to these events continue to be attributed to seemingly ubiquitous ‘unknown gunmen.’ Although such violence is presented as being chaotic or random in nature, the frequency and intensity of these conflicts has tended to increase during times of increased competition and discordance among South Sudan’s elites.
Over the past years, these conflicts have evolved into a “mutant breed of traditional forms of raiding and extensions of political rivalries at the national level.
Each of these ‘communal’ conflicts are complex in their own right, and in some instances have a complicated relationship to the political developments among South Sudan’s contending elite factions. For the sake of the desperate civilians, let the elite plant seeds of reconciliation, peace and harmony so that they (South Sudanese) can live together and enjoy the dividends of peace.