On The Surface
South Sudan was formed almost three years ago by a nationally held referendum that saw 98.8% of the population living within what is now South Sudanese territory vote in favor of secession. Although the bid for independence is often glamorized as an oppressed people breaking free from a tyrannical government, often overlooked is the brutal amount of violence that took place between ethnic groups.
The Dinka and the Nuer are the two main ethnic groups in Sudan. While these two factions originally coexisted peacefully along the Blue Nile delta, they were later starkly divided.
The root of this division was brought on by corrupt officials in Khartoum and Uganda who supported one of the two ethnic groups with the intention of having their dependent seize power when South Sudan was formed. However, the resulting armament of the Nuer and Dinka led to major bloodshed, killing and displacing hundreds of thousands. Although they were set against one another by their respective proponents, both the Nuer and the Dinka were fighting to achieve the same goal– an independent South Sudan.
Current Issues: A Presidential Crisis
President Salva Kiir, ethnically Dinka, is accused of taking power away from Nuer Vice President Riek Machar. The dismissal of Machar appears to Nuer across the country as Pres. Kiir’s attempt to establish Dinka dominance.
The situation escalated when Dinka soldiers attempted to disarm the predominantly Nuer Presidential Guard. The idea of a predominantly Nuer Presidential Guard for a Dinka president was conceived as a power sharing method on an ethnic and tribal level that had been working for South Sudan.
This has two main implications: First, Pres. Kiir now lacks legitimacy among half the populace; second, Nuer and Dinka military forces are now at odds, which means that other ethnic groups will be forced to pick sides in this conflict.
It’s rather unclear how this will all unfold, but one thing is for certain. The South Sudanese leadership is being presented with a tremendous opportunity to reconstruct the governing establishment of the country and to foster prosperity; however, in order to do so, it must bridge the ethnic divide that, if unchecked, will tear the country apart.