South Sudan, apart from being the youngest member of the UN, is a vast country with prominent ethnic fault lines and largely marked by roadless countryside. Many thought that South Sudan rose as a country against the backdrop of the centuries of exploitation and slave-raiding by the Arab North against the African South, and subsequently fell into the imperialist meddling of Great Britain and Egypt. They thought that it may never be able to come out of the “ghost” of endemic war. Nevertheless, with religion, race, colonialism, economic exploitation, lopsided development and ethnic divide prevalent, it is making all the more difficult to explain the saga of current crisis in the impoverished nation.
On 7th July, just two days before celebrating the fifth birth anniversary of the nation, a checkpoint shootout between the two rival factions, representing President Salva Kiir and the first Vice-President Riek Machar, ended in the death of five soldiers who were loyal to the President. On the very next day, a fierce gun battle took place on the presidential premise, when both the President and the Vice-President were engaged in a talk. This was just the beginning and it simply came to hit the capital city of Juba with the killing of innocent civilians along with the soldiers loyal to both the leaders.
It is heartening to know that UN Peacekeeping Mission is badly failing to protect ordinary civilians across the nation. Today around 12,000 UN peacekeeping troops are deployed in South Sudan, but more and more civilians are looking for their own uniformed security men for a better guarantee of their life and liberty. Why is it so? First of all, the UN displacement camps largely reflect ethnic divisions that played the major role in the current civil war. Mostly tens of thousands of people have been looking for shelter in these camps are members of the Nuer ethnic group (represented by Machar) who are easy targets for Government forces in Juba since the day South Sudan’s civil strife began in 2013.
Secondly, since then the UN Peacekeeping Mission has drawn its worst-ever criticisms for failing to protect the refugees in one of its camps in the city of Malakal in February this year. It so happened that Dinka men supplied Kalashnikovs inside the Malakal camp and encouraged its own community men to kill either Nuers or the Shilluk people in one of the most inhuman attacks ever in a UN refugee base. Two investigations conducted by the UN recorded that some peacekeepers had retreated from their posts and the rest of the troops awaited orders from their respective headquarters. Both the instances led to the violation of the mandate already well laid out by the UN Security Council to protect the civilians, by using even deadly force, if required.