South Sudan: “Fragile” State Ravaged by Famine and War

South Sudan Refugee Camp

If you are looking for a country afflicted with every possible horror one can think of, South Sudan does a good job at coming first. Things have been going downhill ever since South Sudan came into being, and there are hardly any signs of anything changing for the better.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, also happens to be the most volatile and unstable. It is currently one small step away from total collapse — the Fragile States Index lists South Sudan as the country most likely to fail.

But how can things possibly be that bad in South Sudan? This question is not difficult to answer. 

Troubled Past

Back in 2011, United States and its allies brokered an agreement that led to South Sudanese independence from Sudan. This was hailed in the Western world as a triumph for liberty. In all practical terms, South Sudanese liberation struggle was viewed by many media verticals as a fight by Christian South against the ruling Muslim North in what was then undivided Sudan. Along came billions in aid from the USA, and everyone was happy to greet South Sudan as the youngest member of the global community.

But you cannot simply impose statehood upon regions that are not ready for it. Forced balkanization created a Christian-majority country, but South Sudan failed to live up to the hype. Before the freedom celebrations had ended, South Sudan was heading straight towards a civil war.

South Sudan Crisis: Background

Shortly after independence, tensions arose.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir sacked his deputy, Vice President Riek Machar. The reason given was that Machar was plotting a coup against Kiir’s government — an accusation that Machar’s allies have repeatedly denied.

It did not help that both Kiir and Machar had ethnic and tribal differences. President Salva Kiir comes from the Dinka tribe which happens to be the majority in South Sudan. On the other hand, Vice President Riek Machar is from Nuer, the second largest community in South Sudan.

Tensions escalated quickly and long before anyone could predict, full blown conflicts had started. Machar and his supporters broke away from the SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) government and formed their own SPLM-IO (SPLM in Opposition). With military-scale strife, regular skirmishes and multiple war-like clashes, this was not more a mere disagreement over power.

This civil war was viewed by many as just another hiccup in the long road towards independent existence. Things kept turning from bad to worse — millions were displaced, even more were abducted. Peacekeeping forces were called in, both by neighboring African states as well as the United Nations, but nothing really helped in the long run. Civilian casualties grew exponentially.

Displacement of Refugees in South Sudan (until March 2017)
Displacement of Refugees in South Sudan (until March 2017)
Image: Humanitarian Information Unit, US Department of State (Source)

In 2015, South Sudan decided to expel UN officials from its territory. The logic was simple: if there are no UN officials on your land, cases of human rights abuse will not be noticed. In response, the UN Security Council decided to impose travel bans and other sanctions.

The Present Day

Officially, the government of South Sudan has declared that the country can possibly be looking at a catastrophic famine. This is not the first time, though. Back in 2017, South Sudan had declared famine, but international aid was quick to arrive. This year, though, the story seems complicated. UN response plan has received only around 4% of its expected 2018 funding so far — there are chances that nearly half of South Sudan’s population might be facing hunger by May.

But that is not the only thing going wrong in South Sudan currently. Consider this:

  • More than half of South Sudan’s population is in desperate need of humanitarian aid — United Nations
  • Children were “forced to watch rape” in South Sudan, and South Sudan’s official spokesperson responded by saying “most of those types of reports are cut and paste” — BBC
  • The number of amputees is rising due to infections as even minor wounds are left untreated in the absence of proper medical care — Al Jazeera

To somehow check the ongoing war in South Sudan, an arms embargo is being considered as a viable option. However, on the downside, such an embargo might just encourage black marketing of weapons. South Sudan is a landlocked country bordering six different states. Weapon mafia will not have a hard time finding entry in an already volatile nation.

With impending famine, rampant genocide and war crimes as well as lack of basic medical care, South Sudan has a long way to recovery.


Recently, South Sudan appointed a new finance minister, Salvatore Garang Mabiodir. The erstwhile finance minister was sacked with no explanation. Economy, in general, has stagnated in every sense of the word. In 2013, one USD was equal to approx five South Sudan Pounds. Today, one USD is somewhere around 240 South Sudan Pounds.

South Sudan’s economy is heavily dependent on oil. Infrastructure has failed to develop due to the never-ending conflicts in the country. As such, this faltering state is desperately trying to make some rich friends. It is ironic that South Sudanese government is badly trying to make amends with the same “Arabs” it broke away from — the country has expressed interest in joining Arab League. The reason being cited is that Sudan is an Arabic-speaking country and this makes South Sudan one too — the fact that South Sudan broke away from Arabic-dominated Sudan is now being ignored. Times can change pretty fast.

What’s Next?

All said and done, the people and residents of South Sudan have suffered a lot. With human rights violations, child trafficking, rapes and murders being common in the country, millions have been killed or displaced.

Arms embargo is just one side of the coin. All the concerned bodies, be it USA, European Union or the African Union, must make rapid attempts to first control the human rights violations. Furthermore, it has now become obvious that neither Salva Kiir nor Riek Machar are in a position to possibly offer a solution to their people. It is high-time the international community stepped up to put an end to the violence. A new transitional government ought to be reconstituted in South Sudan with full support of the locals and neighboring states. Only then can peace prevail in this landlocked country.

Featured Image: Jill Craig (VOA)