The new nation of South Sudan has become embroiled in a civil war. While many have heard of the conflicts in the notorious Darfur region in the North, the post-independence conflict in the South has been less widely covered.
In an interview conducted in Cyprus in early June, Luciano Dojack, secretary for external relations of the Communist Party of South Sudan, spoke about the creation of the new state and the civil war.
South Sudan was founded in 2011 as a consequence of the division of Sudan between North and South.
Before the split, Sudan was the third largest country in Africa. Its communist party, the Communist Party of Sudan, has a storied history. Founded in 1946, it quickly became, along with the Iraqi Communist Party, one of the major communist parties in that part of the world. In the early 1970s, however, it suffered severe repression at the hands of Sudan’s military dictator Gaffar Nimeiry, viewed by many as an imperialist agent, and many of the party’s leaders were executed.
The Communist Party of Sudan initially did not support the secession of South Sudan, but divisive Islamism in the North and separatist moves in the South impeding efforts to maintain the unified state, in the end the party acceded to the creation of a separate state in the South. Its members there became the Communist Party of South Sudan, which works cooperatively with the Communist Party of Sudan.
Dojack said that, basically, the current civil war in South Sudan is between factions within the ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). This is the party that had originally championed the independence movement. The original leader of the SPLM was Dr. John Garang. Garang was very progressive, a Marxist, but he died in a plane crash in 2005. His vice president, Salva Kiir, took over and is now president.
Under Kiir the country has moved more and more to the right, Dojack said, and Kiir himself has become more and more dictatorial. In 2013, Kiir’s vice president, Dr. Riek Machar, announced that he would run in the 2015 election for president against Kiir. According to Dojack, Kiir became incensed, dismissed Machar and began to arrest Machar’s supporters, accusing them of planning a coup. These allegations, however, were “nothing but an excuse” to suppress the opposition, the Communist leader said.
The civil war has grown out of this, Dojack said, with the general population originally lining up behind either Kiir or Machar. Now there is a another grouping, he said: former detainees, people who had been arrested by Kiir but are now free. Although at one time they were considered to be Machar supporters these former detainees are now leading a third faction in the civil war.
The war has taken on ethnic dimensions. South Sudan, with a population of 8 million to 10 million, is made up of a number of ethnic groups. The two biggest are the Dinka, about 15 percent of the population, and the Nuer, about 10 percent. The regular army, primarily composed of Nuer people, is supporting Machar. The Republican Guard is made up of Nuer and Dinka people and has split, with the Nuer supporting Machar and the Dinka supporting Kiir. Kiir, however, has the support of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which was originally the military wing of the SPLM but has now become, essentially, a pro-Kiir militia and is accused of carrying out atrocities against Kiir’s opponents and the general population. A third important ethnic group, the Shilluk people, had been neutral but have been attacked by Kiir supporters who have perpetrated atrocities against them. Reports say both government and opposition forces have committed atrocities such as burning villages and killing civilians because of their ethnicity.
Dojack said that all parties to the conflict give lip service to reunifying the SPLM but this is likely futile at this point. The last talks between the sides were in March and, although it was agreed to continue talking, there have been no meetings since and no new talks are scheduled.
The Communist Party of South Sudan is calling for inclusive negotiations which bring together all parties, factions and groups affected by this civil war.
Photo: In this photo taken June 26, 2015, a family displaced by the civil war arrives at the United Nations base in Bentiu, South Sudan. | Jason Patinkin/AP