The Ongoing Decline of South Sudan – Security and Travel Risks
21 Jul 2017
On 17 July 2017, the president announced the state of emergency through reading a decree on the state-run evening news. The action came in response to clashes in President Salva Kiir’s home state in the Bahr el Ghazal region. The states of Tonj, Wau, and Awiel East have also experienced heightened levels of unrest recently. Although no specific security measures were announced to be introduced, a broad sense of martial law will be imposed on the selected states. Security forces are likely to have their powers increased and curfews imposed in some areas. The state of emergency will last for three months, however this can be extended, dependant on whether some level of stability is achieved.
- A state of emergency was declared in four north western states of South Sudan on 17 July 2017.
- Clashes have been reported in Gogrial state, with unrest in parts of Tonj, Wau and Awiel East states.
- Critics have claimed the state of emergency is an attempt by President Salva Kiir to further repress the opposition.
Armed Conflict: On 17 July 2017, the president announced the state of emergency through reading a decree on the state-run evening news. The action came in response to clashes in President Salva Kiir’s home state in the Bahr el Ghazal region. The states of Tonj, Wau, and Awiel East have also experienced heightened levels of unrest recently. Although no specific security measures were announced to be introduced, a broad sense of martial law will be imposed on the selected states. Security forces are likely to have their powers increased and curfews imposed in some areas. The state of emergency will last for three months, however this can be extended, dependant on whether some level of stability is achieved.
SOLACE GLOBAL COMMENT
This is the second state of emergency announced in South Sudan since the start of the civil war in 2013. There were high hopes for South Sudan as a young democracy when it officially became independent in 2011. However, these expectations have been dimmed significantly due to repeated ethnic clashes and corrupt government leaders seeking personal gain. Celebrations for the sixth annual Independence Day on 9 July were cancelled due to security concerns. Such large-scale events would also prove a burden on a state which has an estimated 6 million people subjected to food insecurity, and 3.8 million people internally displaced due to the conflict. Continued conflict has significantly cut oil revenues and stunted agricultural growth; vital for the economic development of poor and fragile state.
How did it get to this point?
There is little doubt the outbreak of civil war in 2013 set back the political development of a young country by a significant margin. The roots of the initial outbreak of conflict were a result of infighting within factions of Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M). Since then, South Sudan has been subjected to a sustained humanitarian crisis; farmers have been unable to tend their fields and the state has been unable to exploit their natural oil resources due to ongoing violent clashes. The fight over resources by government leaders, President Salva Kiir and former Vice-President Riek Machar, only served to fuel the underlying ethnic tensions in the country. Both leaders represent different ethnic groups, leading to an ethnic element in violent clashes between parties. President Kiir is from the largest ethnic group in South Sudan, the Dinka. Whilst Mr Machar is from the Nuer group, the second largest ethnic group in the country. Playing on ethnicities has been useful in recruiting forces as well as justifying retribution attacks. An unpopular peace agreement, signed in August 2015, was essentially a power-sharing deal between Kiir and Machar. However, stability was temporary as violent clashes broke out countrywide after Machar was removed as vice-president in mid-2016.
What is the real emergency?
The official justification for the implementation of martial law in four states, is the outbreak of violence between Apuk and Aguok communities in Gogrial state. The governor of Tonj state has been appointed to lead the state of emergency, and visit each state’s governor to provide guidance on how to restore stability or dissolve unrest. The opposition have claimed however, the state of emergency is primarily an attempt to counter the unrest over the removal of the popular Army Chief of Staff, Paul Malong Awan. The action divided loyalties within the army once again, but was justified due to ongoing rumours of Awan’s loyalties. Awan’s popularity most likely proved to be the primary challenge to President Kiir. Awan currently remains under house arrest in Juba; however, the potential exists for him to escape and launch a new rebellion in South Sudan. A defining characteristic of the conflict in South Sudan is its fractured nature. Some estimates place the number of militia groups at forty, however in current circumstances this has likely increased.
Prospects for South Sudan?
The prospects for a resolution to the violent conflict in South Sudan are small at best, due to pervasive distrust between warring factions. At present, there is little incentive or will for productive talks to be held, or for the resolutions from the previous Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in August 2015, to be restored. In the short term, an increase in clashes will put the planting season at risk, thereby further aggravating the food crisis. A disruption to the food supply will increase the numbers of internally displaced persons, as well as increase the refugee burden in neighbouring Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Amongst the international community, emphasis has been placed on engagement with the UN, African Union and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), to achieve a ceasefire and provide an operational plan with the aim of improving stability. On 20 July 2017, Riek Machar stated he would not renounce violence or declare a unilateral ceasefire, despite being exiled to South Africa. Instead he stated new peace talks should be held outside of South Sudan. Once again, South Sudan stands on the brink of a return to widespread civil war. With the failure of the UN Security Council to adopt an arms embargo and increase sanctions against the state in December 2016, the potential for possible genocide still exists.
SECURITY ADVICEArmed ConflictHigh
The overall risk rating for South Sudan remains Severe. This is viewed as unlikely to change in the short to medium term. As armed conflict has not broken out on the same scale as previously, the risk remains high for the time being, but is able to change at short notice. Enhanced security precautions are recommended for travel throughout the country, but especially outside of the capital Juba. It is strongly recommended to reconsider the need to travel to South Sudan, and if essential, to ensure a comprehensive evacuation plan is in place in case of emergency.
Solace Global remains available to provide journey management services for travellers to South Sudan. Recommended security measures include end to end comprehensive journey management, close protection officers, as well as escort vehicles. 24-hour monitoring and assistance from the Solace response centre will ensure travellers will be informed of deteriorating in-country developments swiftly. At present, travel to outlying rural areas, and in particular border regions, should be reconsidered.
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