Anatomy of South Sudan crisis (News Analysis by Kennedy Abwao, PANA Correspondent)

Nairobi, Kenya (PANA) - The widening split between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, which led to the current political and military crisis in the world’s youngest state, has been caused by deep divisions over the handling of relations between the South and North Sudan.

Machar, who rebelled severally with the former guerilla movement, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLAM/A), is believed to favour building a South Sudanese state with closer working ties with the government in Khartoum, which the South needs for oil export.

But Kiir and most of his key political allies within the SPLM favour distant relations with Khartoum, instead accusing Machar of working for his own interests against the interests of the Southerners.

Former President John Garang, who died in a 2005 plane crash soon after South Sudan’s secured a semi-autonomous status under a 2005 peace deal with the government in Khartoum, believed in a united Sudan and opposed talk of separation, despite opposition from senior
SPLA cadres.

While Garang fought against what he and his allies called the Islamisation of the state, where the gap between religion and the state was blurred, senior SPLA cadres plotted for an independent state.

Machar, a British-educated engineer, joined the fight against Khartoum in 1983, but quit to form an SPLA splinter group, the SPLM-Nasir, in 1991.

The splinter group rapidly engaged the SPLA army units in tough battles, leading to huge military losses. It is said that SPLA cadres are still bitter at Machar’s past deeds.

President Kiir ousted Machar from the ruling party when he dissolved the government, firing Machar and the party’s Secretary-General Pagan Amum. Amum was the lead negotiator at talks with Sudan.

Machar had earlier vowed to challenge Kiir for the party’s Presidential ticket in the 2015 elections. There are fears, however, that the incumbent is not interested in creating space for such challenge.

Analysts say the President of the young state is fast descending into dictatorship.

In the latest fighting, Presidential guards targeted the Nuer tribe in Juba, the capital, after an overnight exchange of gunfire at a party convention in Juba.

The President immediately called it a coup attempt, but opponents alleged President Kiir used the word coup to seek the arrest of his main rival, Machar.

Forces loyal to Machar, a Nuer tribesman, engaged the units of the SPLA, claiming seizure of several key towns, including Bor.

Those evacuated from South Sudan since the fighting started paint a picture of a power struggle within the ruling party.

Witnesses said forced disarmaments have taken place between the Nuer soldiers on one side and the Dinka soldiers on the other, at various military barracks, including in Torit, once the epicenter of Garang’s 21-year battle against Khartoum. The soldiers were physically separated.

Forces loyal to Machar said on Sunday they have captured the oil producing Unity State, putting huge chunk of territory in the hands of the forces loyal to Machar. A military offensive to retake the town of Bor in Jonglei state had not yet succeeded.

Machar insists on peace talks only upon the release of his main political allies, including Amum and former Sudanese foreign minister Deng Alor, who have been detained as a result of the latest power struggle.

There are speculations that Machar will team up with a rebel leader in Jonglei state, named David Yau Yau, to pile further military pressure on Kiir's government. However, the SPLA military spokesman has denied reports of a possible working relationship between Machar and Yau Yau.

The emergence of new rebel leaders in various states in South Sudan has been described by analysts as a reflection of the greater political problems facing the country.

Machar, at the centre of the current crisis, insists the problems are caused by the absence of political parties and the problems of transforming a Guerilla movement into a viable government.

The political problems have been worsened by the tribal divisions. In Juba, the Dinka, the dominant tribe in the capital, are fighting internal displacements by the Nuer, whose economic power is growing, thanks to a more educated population.

South Sudanese blogger and peace activist Tongun Lo Loyuong, writing on the crisis, has criticised its growing militarisation.

Amid reports of the Ugandan military presence there, Loyuong said the decision by the state to invite the Ugandan army into South Sudan was an error of judgment, and that the move would attract the anger of more soldiers intent on mutiny in the country.

Even if the current diplomatic efforts, spearheaded by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), to resolve the crisis, succeeds, South Sudan, which is treading the thin line between peace and war, faces a tough future, marred by deepening tribal rivalries.
-0- PANA AO/SEG 23Dec2013

23 december 2013 09:31:55

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