Internal Violence in South Sudan

Internal Violence in South Sudan

Protracted civil war in South Sudan stemming from political and ethnic divisions


Ten thousand people have been killed and more than 1.6 million have been internally displaced since civil war broke out in South Sudan in December 2013. Ignited by a political struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president Riek Machar, the conflict escalated into ethnic violence. President Kiir mobilized his Dinka ethnic group and Machar turned to his Nuer ethnic group for support. The Dinka and Nuer are the two largest ethnic groups in South Sudan.

The civil war has prevented farmers from planting or harvesting crops, causing food shortages nationwide. In July 2014, the UN Security Council declared South Sudan’s food crisis the worst in the world. It warned that some four million people—a third of South Sudan’s population—could be affected and up to fifty thousand children could die of hunger.

President Kiir’s claim that Machar orchestrated a coup attempt in December 2013 sparked widespread political and ethnic tensions that have been undercurrents in the country since its independence in July 2011. In late December 2013, the UN Security Council authorized a rapid deployment of about 6,000 security forces, in addition to 7,600 peacekeepers already in the country, to aid in nation building efforts. In May 2014, the Security Council voted to shift the peacekeeping mission’s mandate from nation building to civilian protection, authorizing UN troops to use force. After multiple failed attempts by the government and opposition forces to reach cease-fire agreements, Kiir and Machar agreed to stop fighting in August 2014 at talks mediated by the regional group, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). The warring sides failed to reach an agreement to form a unity government by the six month deadline under the deal, and after talks collapsed in March 2015 IGAD announced a new mechanism for negotiations and an extension of the deadline for the two sides to reach a power sharing agreement. In March 2015, South Sudanese lawmakers again postponed elections and extended President Kiir’s term; elections are now slated for 2018.

The United States was a lead actor in facilitating South Sudanese independence by providing diplomatic support and humanitarian aid. However, it has taken a back seat in peace talks as IGAD mediates between Kiir and Machar. The United States and Europe have imposed sanctions on commanders from both sides, but diplomats say real pressure for a deal needs to come from neighboring states.


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