South Sudan flag image courtesy of Nicholas Raymond via Flickr.

Quick Guide To Understanding The Conflict In South Sudan

With over 50,000 fatalities, another 1 million displaced since 2013, the South Sudanese civil war continues to be one of the bloodiest conflicts in the world.

Update 2/21/2014: Renewed fighting

Despite the ceasefire that went into effect Jan. 24, 2014, fighting between the government and the rebels has been renewed as the two sides clash over Malakal, the capital of the oil-rich Upper Nile region, according to Reuters.

South Sudan depends on oil for 99% of its revenue. More than 80% of that trade goes through China, which has considered pulling its investments in country if fighting doesn’t end, the LA Times reports.

Meanwhile, UN staff and more than 20,000 refugess have been trapped inside a Malakal compound because of the fighting, and evidence have surfaced that cluster bombs have been used in the conflict, either by the government or by intervening Ugandan forces.

Update 1/24/2014: Ceasefire?

The South Sudanese government has signed a ceasefire with the rebels that due to come into effect today, the BBC reports.

More than 250,000 are now internally displaced because of ethnic violence in the country, according to the latest number from the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR (the BBC reports 500,000, which UNHCR lists as the total amount of refugees including many from outside the country).

The opposition has already claimed that army troops have attacked rebel positions hours before the ceasefire went into effect, and the UN reported that more than 3,700 tons of food was stolen, according to Reuters. At the same time, many fear that even in the event of peace, opposition leaders will not be able to control militias such as the Nuer White Army.

So even as negotiations between the government and rebels continue, tensions remain high in South Sudan.

Who’s involved?

Fighting started in the capital city Juba on Dec. 15, 2013, after President Salva Kiir accused his former vice president Riek Machar of staging a coup. Machar denies that claim.

The two longtime rivals were in a loose coalition government together from July 2011 – when the nation split off from Sudan – until July 2013. At that point, Kiir sacked Machar and his cabinet following a power struggle, according to Al Jazeera.

Now, many worry that the conflict will escalate into a civil war along ethnic lines. President Kiir is from the Dinka tribe, while Machar and his supporters are from the Neur.

The following chart show the many ethnic divisions of South Sudan:


Image courtesy of Gulf2000 at Columbia University. Modified by Curiousmatic.

The country has previously seen ethnic conflict between two other tribes, where hundreds or possibly thousands of people were killed in retribution for cattle raiding.

What could happen?

After decades of civil war, South Sudan is “awash with small arms,” the BBC reports, and the rebels led by Machar are not just ragtag bands of fighters but also a whole division of the army that defected to the uprising.

This has led to intense army-versus-army battles, as well as fears that the rebels will march on Juba and overthrow the government.

Fighting has been centered in the oil-rich states of Unity and Upper Nile, according to the New York Times, disrupting oil production.

Much of the South’s oil production flows to northern Sudan, and the latter is now attempting to engage in peace talks, alongside the leaders of Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda.

The United States stated it supported the peace talks but is not directly involved.

Ole Skaar