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Crisis looms in South Sudan

12 January 2014, 16:50

Juba - The world's youngest nation was born with such high hopes, but four weeks since political rivalry spiralled into violence, little stands between impoverished South Sudan and all-out civil war.

"When it is over we will all be losers in this war," said Mabior Garang, son of South Sudan's late founding president, and now a member of the rebel delegation at peace talks in Addis Ababa.

Even for the most careful watchers of the complex power struggles of South Sudan, the conflict - and its shockingly brutal nature with neighbour turning on neighbour - spread very fast.

Jok Madut Jok, a former senior government official and academic now running the Sudd Institute think tank, speaks of a "near total unravelling" that has left South Sudanese in deep shock.

War-ravaged South Sudan is oil-rich, but for once, such resources played little direct role.

Instead, the violence appears rooted in decades-old grievances between former rebels turned political leaders, combined with unhealed wounds left over from the two-decades long civil war that preceded South Sudan's independence from Khartoum.

"This conflict escalated so fast partly due to the history of the liberation wars, in which South Sudanese committed atrocities against one another," wrote Jok in a recent report.

"No accountability for these atrocities was established when those wars ended, leaving gaping wounds in the hearts and minds of so many citizens."

Political opposition to President Salva Kiir had been brewing openly, with his recently sacked deputy and long-time arch-rival Riek Machar accusing him of "dictatorial" behaviour in early December.

Machar infamously fought on both sides during the civil war, a conflict that paved the way for South Sudan to choose independence less than three years ago, in July 2011.

Billions of dollars worth of international aid, advice and development help were poured into the fledgling nation - often having to build government institutions from scratch - alongside enormous and often more effective private investment.

But many had still feared that a conflict on this scale was all too possible, amid repeated warnings of rampant corruption - including the brazen theft of billions of petro-dollars - and security forces accused of gross abuses of power.



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