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Weekly Review: The Proliferating Rebellion in South Sudan: Its Explanations and Implications

South Sudan
The Sudd Institute
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Just a few years following independence, South Sudan struggles to form as a state. While the economy rapidly sinks, politically motivated insurrections and ethnic feuds seem to be on the rise countrywide. Since the outbreak of the 2013 war, poverty, as well as street banditry, have become increasingly prevalent, especially in major towns and along the highways. Some observers and South Sudanese alike suggest the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS) that was reached between the government and the major rebel group, the SPLM-IO, in August 2015, and which was hoped to alleviate these circumstances, has collapsed. The July State House violence, which forced Dr. Riek Machar out of Juba and his replacement with Gen. Taban Deng Gai as First Vice President of the Republic, for example, are readily referenced as significant impediments to the agreement.

And the future looks depressing. Upon resurfacing in Khartoum, Dr. Machar and the Political Bureau members of his IO faction resolved to violently oust the Juba regime, accusing President Salva Kiir of being a burden to reconciliation and peace in the country. Other militant voices against the government have since heightened. Dr. Lam Akol, former chairman of the Democratic Change Party, which has members in the recently reconstituted Transitional National Legislative Assembly (TNLA) and who seems to have once commanded some respect for pursuing reforms nonviolently, recently unveiled a plan to militarily contest Juba’s top seat using a newly formed revolutionary front: the National Democratic Movement (NDM). The NDM’s manifesto is premised on engendering sustainable democracy through radical social and political transformations in South Sudan. Similarly, Gen. Khalid Boutros of the Murle’s Cobra armed group, a constituent of the South Sudan Democratic Movement/Army, has declared war against the government, as he alleges the Kiir’s administration lacks interest in measured peace.

Indeed, a more recent surge in or proliferation of insurgent undertakings against the government renders peace elusive in an-already distraught nation. For nearly a decade now, several armed groups have emerged all over the country, with some of them sometimes signing agreements with the government that last only a very short time. What normally follows, as historically evident, is a cycle of rebellions and sojourning political settlements, with rebel leaders shuttling between Juba and the trenches. This cycle between insurrection and peace incredibly threatens long-term stability in South Sudan, with innocent civilians made vulnerable to all kinds of negative consequences. But why has rebellion become so entrenched an instrument of airing political grievances in the nation? Several explanations readily come to mind and which this review endeavors to highlight. Such explanations include narrowed political settlements, increasingly tightening political space (for dissent), and apathy towards fundamental reforms.