South Sudan remains on the brink of civil war

The World
south sudan

What started as a political dispute has brought South Sudan to the brink of civil war. 

President Salva Kiir is pitted against his former vice president, Riek Machar. The dispute has turned deadly. South Sudan has seen three weeks of violence bordering on ethnic war. Tribe versus tribe. It's not good. 

But the BBC's James Copnal cautions against using the term "ethnic cleansing." He says that's one for the lawyers to decide later.

"This crisis is essentially a political crisis that has since taken on, in part, an ethnic dimension," he says. "And that's because the politicians have ethnic power bases."

The Nuer people support Machar. The Dinka people support Kiir.

Copnal just returned from Juba, the city where fighting started. He says it's relatively calm now, but you still hear pretty terrifying stories. Camps have been set up around United Nations bases, with roughly 20,000 people seeking refuge from the fighting.

With all the brutality going on, it's hard to think that peace might be possible. But it is, says Copnal, who points out that before South Sudan became independent in 2011, there were two long-running civil wars.

"More than 2 million people died in those conflicts," he says. "But what that history shows is not only the division and the fighting, but also that, in the end, peace deals are possible."

International powers are calling on South Sudan to end the fighting immediately. But it will take both sides to reach any agreement and Copnal says both have entrenched positions.

"And both will be looking toward the military balance on the field," he says. "And as that switches, so, too, does the strength of the relative negotiating positions."

And until the sides reach a deal, he expects the fighting will continue.

Will you support The World?

There is no paywall on the story you just read because a community of dedicated listeners and readers have contributed to keep the global news you rely on free and accessible for all. Will you join the 314 donors who’ve stepped up to support The World? From now until Dec. 31, your gift will help us unlock a $67,000 match. Donate today to double your impact and keep The World free and accessible.