After decades of bloody civil war, people in the southern part of Sudan held a referendum in 2011, a vote that showed 99 percent of the people were in favor of seeking independence.
And the rest is history: the southern part of Sudan finally seceded from the rest of the country and became a sovereign state known as South Sudan. Since then, the new-born country has gradually stepped away from international spotlight.
However, you would be totally wrongly if you believe the story of South Sudan has had a happy ending and its people are much better off after they had gained their statehood.
The truth, unfortunately, is that what has been going on in South Sudan in recent years is exactly the opposite: just three years after independence, the country was once again engulfed by an even more brutal and ferocious civil war.
It is estimated that at least several hundred thousand South Sudanese have been killed in the war so far and millions more displaced.
Nevertheless, the rest of the world, particularly the West, has remained largely indifferent to the ongoing bloody conflict within South Sudan, not least because of the fact that many big western multinational companies have already got what they wanted by overturning their previous business agreements, predominantly over oil drilling rights, with North Sudan and concluding more favorable deals with the newly independent South.
As one of the world’s most impoverished and backward countries, South Sudan is deeply divided between its two largest native tribes: the Dinka and the Nuer. Tensions between the two tribes go way back into centuries, with the two often fiercely competing with each other for land and water sources.
After South Sudan gained independence in 2011, Salva Kiir, a Dinka leader who is often regarded as the founding father of the new nation, became president, while Riek Machar representing the Nuer people was named vice president.
However, just like many “founding fathers” in other newly independent African countries, Kiir began to establish his own personal dictatorship after he had consolidated his power.
And Kiir’s lust for power reached its peak in 2013 when he removed vice president Machar from office. The removal of Machar immediately sparked a nationwide backlash among the Nuer people, who quickly responded to Kiir’s authoritarian rule.
As a result, the political rivalry between Kiir and Machar soon escalated into an all-out ethnic war between the Dinka and the Nuer people, a battle that is still underway in full swing as of today.
Worse still, while South Sudan has already been devastated by civil war, the country also clashes constantly with North Sudan along their shared border. In fact, leaders of the both South and the North have been provoking border conflicts on purpose as a means to incite their people to ultra-nationalism.
The US, who was the mastermind behind South Sudan’s independence in 2011, is largely looking the other way over the country’s civil war. However, in contrast, it is China which has been working aggressively to mediate between the government controlled by the Dinka and the Nuer insurgents.
Beijing has all the motive to stop the fighting within South Sudan as soon as possible, since state-owned PetroChina is currently the largest foreign oil driller in the country. The conflict between the Dinka and the Nuer has taken a serious toll on the Chinese oil giant’s production in the African nation, with many of the company’s drilling facilities having been destroyed during the war.
Things have gone so bad that in 2016, PetroChina had to evacuate all of its workers from South Sudan.
Yet, despite China’s painstaking efforts at trying to bring peace to South Sudan, it is unlikely that the civil war is going to end anytime soon. It is because the conflict itself has already turned into a proxy war in which various foreign powers are pulling the strings behind the scenes, thereby rendering it almost impossible for any single party, i.e. China, to facilitate a cease-fire between the warring factions.
The ongoing civil war in South Sudan has proven to be as devastating and destructive as the country’s war of independence against the North.
Given that, the once prevailing notion among the international community that the South Sudanese would be better off after they gained independence has vanished into thin air as the bloody war continues.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 26
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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