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Biff Boffington: South Sudan humanitarian crisis poses need for immediate action

14:15 | 22.01.2016 | Analytic

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22 January 2016. PenzaNews. The government of South Sudan, which remains plagued by the ethnic armed conflict since December 2013, must seek solution to the internal humanitarian crisis as soon as possible with active participation of the international community, writes observer and business consultant Biff Boffington in his article “The fate of South Sudan: Power struggles from within” published in the foreign media.

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He points out that the violent conflict between the Dinka people with the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir on the one side, and the Nuer people represented by the former vice-president Riek Machar on the other side, led to a severe shortage of food and essential goods that affects over 4 million people.

“The world’s newly formed state is at danger of plunging into complete conflict once again. The peace arrangement reached between the South Sudanese administration and the largest armed opposition group in August after a serious African-led intervention is on the periphery of failure. In the meantime, autonomous armed rebels outside the agreement are increasing. South Sudan ought to be a country filled with optimism four years after gaining freedom; however, it is now in the command of an immense humanitarian disaster,” the author writes.

According to him, tens of thousands of people lost their lives, more than 2.4 million were displaced, and over 770,000 people became refugees since the beginning of the fighting in 2013.

The observer also cites the report by the African Union on the South Sudan situation released in October 2015, which contains information on mass killings, rapes and cannibalism by the government forces and the rebels over the two years of the civil war.

“According to International Crisis Group, there are 24 known armed groups aligned with neither the government nor the main opposition forces. Thus, the possibility of conflict reoccurring in 2016 is highly likely and possesses a real threat to the fragile state of South Sudan,” Biff Boffington states.

Describing the economy background of the humanitarian crisis, he quotes the World Bank statistics that say the country lost up to 15% of its GDP in 2014, while an increase in military expenditure led to cuts in funding for social services and construction of vital infrastructure.

The analyst also points out that the oil extraction industry – the main source of income for South Sudan – experienced a series of big shocks over the past two years. Due to the civil war, oil production dropped by 20% to 165,000 barrels per day, with oil prices decreasing much below the $50 level.

“Succeeding this problem was the announcement by the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning David Deng Athorbei that the fixed official exchange rate to the US dollar was abandoned to a floating market-driven exchange rate. This means that inflation in the coming weeks and months will develop into a major difficulty and will place immense burden upon everyday people, especially those living in the rural parts of the country with limited access,” the business consultant thinks.

In his opinion, the aforementioned issues practically nullify and chances for economic growth in South Sudan, while a new wave of violence provoked by public despair is only a matter of time.

Moreover, the author also highlights some of the peculiar features of South Sudanese politics that prevent the ethnic conflict from being resolved.

“As [prominent Sudan expert] Alex DeWaal has highlighted, the country politics have historically been defined by a routine of endless negotiations over the smallest details. Seeking delays to the resolution of difficult topics has long been the norm, to the point where the art of strategic delay often determines who ultimately wins,” Biff Boffington stresses.

He also points out that the animosity between the authorities and the opposition increased greatly after the Presidential decree of 24 December 2015 that reformed the administrative structure of South Sudan and created 18 new states in addition to the 10 already existing ones.

According to the analyst, this move was greatly condemned by the opposition and the foreign community as they see it undermining the peace agreement signed in August.

Among other things, Biff Boffington writes, the new state borders were defined without an agreement with all concerned parties and an approval by the national Parliament, which makes it unconstitutional, while some of the new states even lack the necessary infrastructure to allow actual self-government institutes to function.

“A country that has been culturally and ethnically divided since its formation will need great healing and reconciliation. [...] Such political maneuvering, designed to win the presidential re-election if an election does take place in the near future, will only aggravate the political stability,” the author thinks.

He reminds that the peace agreement between the authorities and the opposition was possible only through international participation, including by Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, members of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

“However, as implementation faltered in the face of predictable foot-dragging from the parties, IGAD heads of state did not meet in November [2015] as planned and there has been no synchronized strategy to date,” the analyst states.

However, he stresses that the efforts of the UNSC Mission to South Sudan, the directive of which had been extended to July 2016 on December 15, did not have the desired effect as they were not adapted to the country’s political and social reality.

According to Biff Boffington, a weapon currently remains the only way of resolving deep-rooted issues in South Sudan. Because of that, he adds, the government must hurry to secure a monopoly over violence and follow the previous agreements with the opposition.

Moreover, the observer thinks that the international community must actively participate in resolving the crisis in South Sudan, and be ready to consider sanctions against the South Sudanese government from the UNSC and the International Criminal Court.

“Members of IGAD, which mediated the original peace agreement and international powers, including China, Norway, the United States, and the United Kingdom, need to be more firm and press South Sudan’s leaders,” the author thinks.

South Sudan gained independence on 9 July 2011, after a January 9-15 referendum that was held in accordance with the 2005 Naivasha agreement between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the government to end the civil war in the country.

During the referendum, over 3,700,000 Southern Sudanese, or almost 99% of the voters with the turnout of almost 98%, spoke in favor of separation and creation of a new African state.

Until that, the country that had gained independence most recently was Eritrea that broke off from Ethiopia in 1993.

However, the tensions between Sudan and South Sudan were not completely eliminated, as the Abyei Area in the oil-rich border territory between the two states remains a point of dispute. On 20 June 2011, the parties reached a deal to transform the area into a DMZ with a United Nations Interim Security Force stationed there.

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