In 2011, South Sudan became the newest nation on planet Earth, splitting from Sudan after years of brutal civil wars. Since it gained its independence, South Sudan has struggled to implement a strong and effective government, mainly due to the same problems that plague many African nations – inherent political corruption, lack of economic resources, and constant warfare.
Sunday, South Sudan faced its first official coup attempt in its fledgling existence as soldiers loyal to an opposition force started firing shots near Juba, the country’s capital. South Sudanese Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin stated that the insurrection began when soldiers raided the armory in barracks near the capital city’s center, leading to a gunfight between the dissenting forces and the South Sudanese military.
However, the exchange did not last long as the governmental forces were able to push the rebels out of the city: “Your government is in full control of the security situation in Juba. The attackers fled and your forces are pursuing them. I promise you justice will prevail,” President Salva Kiir stated in a television address to the Sudanese people on Monday.
To ensure the safety of its citizens, though, the government issued a curfew from 6 PM to 6AM.
— U.S. Mission in Juba (@USMissionJuba) December 16, 2013
This coup attempt comes after a year of internal power-struggles. Former Vice President Riek Machar, the supposed leader of the coup, and many other members of Kiir’s presidential cabinet were ousted in July of this year following reports of in-party conflicts. Since that time, Machar has stated that he would run for president in 2015 and has argued that Kiir’s reign is totalitarian, opining that South Sudan cannot exist “one man’s rule or it cannot tolerate dictatorship.”
The violence displayed Sunday night in Juba reflects tribal conflict which has existed in the Sudanese area since its inception. President Kiir comes from the majority Dinka tribe in South Sudan, while his rival Machar identifies with the Nuer tribe. These two tribes have been constantly warring throughout their existence, a feud which dates back to 1839 at the latest.
Thus far, reports indicate that 7 people have died and over 100 people have been injured as a result of the coup attempt. Due to the importance of ensuring that South Sudan’s beginnings are not as rocky and violent as its past, the UN has voiced deep concerns over the impending political crisis and issued a statement expressing their wishes for peace: “As the special representative of the secretary general, I urge all parties in the fighting to cease hostilities immediately and exercise restraint,” stated UN Special Representative Hilde Johnson.
Stability will be crucial for South Sudan as they attempt to move forward as a nation. Oil is the major export of the newly minted country, and it recently faced a 15 month cut-off due to conflict with Sudan. Because of having to sustain itself during a long drought of oil exportation, South Sudan now ranks as one of Africa’s poorest countries. In order to salvage its attempt at forming its own, independent nation, South Sudan needs to reach out to the UN and African Union to quickly regain a sense of peace, or it may just find itself entrenched in decades of civil war once again.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]