A top general in the South Sudanese National Army has resigned with an explosive letter accusing President Salva Kiir of pursuing “ethnic cleansing, forceful displacement of people from their ancestral lands and ethnic domination”. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) responded by saying Lieutenant General Thomas Cirillo Swaka was guilty of “massive corruption”.
Christian South Sudan has been in crisis ever since splitting from the Muslim north in July 2011. Two years later President Kiir, who is an ethnic Dinka, sacked Vice-President Riek Machar (a Nuer), having suspected that he was launching a coup. A civil war ensued, pitting these two tribes against each other, though each side comprised multiple rebel groups. As many as 300,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the violence.
An agreement was tentatively signed in late 2015 but peace remains elusive. Radio Tamazuj, an independent news service, has reported atrocities committed by the SPLA and allied militia, including mass rapes and murder. General Cirillo argued that these groups are targeting non-Dinka tribes, but others allege that militias (which have emerged across the country) have attacked Dinkas.
South Sudan is on the brink of a “Rwanda-like genocide”, according to a recent UN report. In a country of only 12 million people, more than 3.5 million have been displaced; almost half of them have fled to neighbouring Uganda, Kenya and Sudan.
Speaking to The World Weekly, Mahmood Mamdani, a leading African scholar and member of the African Union’s Commission of Inquiry, blames the US, Britain and Norway for creating “the present militarised set-up”. In thinking that the greatest threat to peace in the south was the north, he wrote in the New York Times, the troika rushed through the transition to independence in an undemocratic manner.
President Kiir, never seen without a black stetson given by George W. Bush, is yet to proffer a solution beyond power sharing. Professor Mamdani believes the country needs external help to move towards a second transition, and with the UN “afraid to take responsibility” the African Union “has no choice” but to step up.