Happy Independence Day? A Year Later, But Not Better for South Sudan
A year ago, on South Sudan’s Independence Day, a group of analysts at the Satellite Sentinel Project started poring over imagery that would corroborate eyewitness accounts of mass atrocities in South Kordofan, Sudan. While the world saluted South Sudan for achieving independence, they traced the outlines of alleged mass graves. Those who escaped may still be in the mountains, or struggling to survive in refugee camps.
As South Sudan just marked its first anniversary as the world’s newest nation, it’s debatable whether there’s much to celebrate. It hasn’t engaged in full resumption of armed conflict with Sudan – although it has come very close, and been directly reprimanded by the international community for armed incursions into the contested Heglig oilfields. The Yida refugee camp, which has grown to over 60,000 despite UN efforts to relocate refugees further south (and away from air strikes by Sudanese Armed Forces), is the subject of constant calls for more aid and medical support. Malnutrition is widespread among refugees from South Kordofan, where farms and villages have been routinely bombarded by the Sudan Armed Forces and civilians forced to flee their homes.
In the north, Sudan’s government has been contending with rising tensions, including protests at universities across the country and in the capital, Khartoum. The protests, which have received little attention in the US except among dedicated Sudan watchers, reflect years of organizing by groups like Girifna (@girifna) and political instability due to economic austerity. While a host of issues confront Bashir’s government, the ongoing standoff with South Sudan over oil revenues has destabilized the National Congress Party’s (NCP) uncertain grasp on power. The distance between the over-stretched Sudan Armed Forces and the NCP, which has tried to avoid allowing the army to form an alternative power base, continues to spawn rumors of a possible coup.
In short, South Sudan is stuck. The international community’s efforts at negotiations have yielded little, especially when either side returns to the battlefield to gain more territorial leverage. The UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2046 on 2 May 2012, setting new timelines and guidelines for negotiation, but compliance and monitoring remains compromised at best. And although South Sudan’s independence has been a hallmark of the Obama Administration’s successes, the U.S.’s role has appeared less focused on mass atrocity prevention than on counterbalancing China’s African aspirations and gaining counterterrorism intelligence from Khartoum.
A year later, South Sudan appears to have moved forward little – and Sudan appears even more unstable, threatening even more of its citizens. Both could move forward, if they fully embraced the promise of peace. But every day is the anniversary of a killing, displacement, occupation, or uprising – and those are the days that are hard to forget.
Caitlin Howarth is a Truman Partner.