South Sudan Crisis Map and Analysis – Ethnicity IS Political

(Scroll down or click here for interactive South Sudan Crisis Maps of events so far in January)

The watch-phrase for international groups in South Sudan is “ethnic conflict,” something that is viewed as worse than a political conflict and something that both sides of the current conflict accuse each other of instigating. Unfortunately, the crisis that has unfolded in South Sudan since December 15 continues to provide reason for strong reminiscences about similar events 22 years ago, in which a “political conflict” degenerated into years of “ethnic conflict”. Can it be prevented? I think South Sudan needs the will to initiate something like the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation proceedings in South Africa or similar post-conflict measures in Rwanda. For now what we can do is to raise awareness of the issue, the dynamics, and what is at stake. Thus our continued effort map the 2013-2014 South Sudan crisis.

This week media highlighted reports of apparently ethnically motivated killings of Shilluk civilians in Malakal, and on top of that Human Rights Watch released a report about soldiers targeting Nuer in Juba during December. I re-read (for about the sixth time now) Peter Nyaba’s book about the events of the 1990s and saw an incredible number of parallels – on the side of the SPLM/A, the arrest and detention of numerous people who have criticized President Kiir or other politicians; on the side of the rebels, resort to ethnic mobilization and group fracturing after the initial rebellion. With the White Army mobilized, cattle raiding begins, and now it is a race to get as many cattle as they can before the wet season sets in again. Politics in South Sudan is ethnic – there is no way around it. If it had become less so since the early 2000’s, it has become more so again with the current conflict. It is up to South Sudanese politicians and citizens to move beyond ethnicity.

It would be naive to think that Riek Machar has total control over the forces that are constantly reported to be “loyal” to him, as evidenced by the recent ceasefire agreement that has failed to stop fighting across the country. This is a conflict over deep-seated divisions within the country, compounded by the apparent unwillingness of political figures on both sides of the divide to actually address the issues facing their country. It looks like President Kiir will run for election again in 2015. Technically, that is fine – he has only been president of his country since independence in 2011. Yet consider that after Kerubino Kuanyin Bol and William Nyuan Bany were killed (they were the original leaders of the defections from SAF in 1983), Salva Kiir became second-in-command of the SPLM/A and remained in that position until John Garang passed away in 2005.

Just to complicate matters more, the UN has had another falling out with the government over sheltering people in its compound near the Bor airport. The SPLA claims that the UN might be sheltering rebels. Well, they may be right since it is basically impossible to tell the difference between White Army members and civilians – anybody might take shelter at one moment and then pick up a gun the next. The problem here is the militarization of society that occurred during the 1980s and 1990s. How can the problem be resolved? Most international involvement to date has done fairly little to combat the deep-seated issues in South Sudan. Resources remain heavily concentrated in Juba, as Richard Grant and I explored in an article recently published in Local Economy. Politicians do business through relatives and then use the military to back up their personal interests, and when things don’t go well for them or their constituency, they blame it on the other ethnic group(s).

Click on incidents for descriptions and sources. Disclaimer: All events, descriptions, and locations reported below are based on media reports and other publicly available sources. This is not a comprehensive list and does not necessarily reflect every event that has occurred on the ground during the time frame. Events, descriptions, locations, and mapped boundaries do not reflect the views of or imply endorsement by, those who manage the site, or any of its affiliates.

South Sudan Crisis Map (reported incidents), January 14-20, 2014


Nation-building and true peacemaking is lacking. Peacebuilding groups focus on putting on a conference where they can take pictures of what they have done without really accomplishing what they claim to be doing. Redrawing state boundaries along ethnic lines (as in Warrap/Unity) has done virtually nothing. What is needed is equitable development that creates opportunities for the average South Sudanese citizen other than their current opportunities – which consist primarily in cattle raiding, military, or trying to run a business amid constant societal upheaval.

On that note, we continue to analyze the conflict and provide a visualization for those of you who are following the events of the current South Sudan crisis. These maps give an idea of the areas that we need to focus on. Ultimately, data will be used in a longer-term study of conflict dynamics, development and peacebuilding efforts.

What are your thoughts?