Girl with South Sudan Flag
By Clay Moran Staff Writer January 20, 2014

Increased violence from an attempted coup d’état in South Sudan has further complicated an already tricky situation. Throughout December of last year, political disputes quickly evolved into armed conflicts between splintered military groups and Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Currently, these rebel groups control key parts of the country; peace talks are deadlocked. For the international community, the rate at which the violence has consumed South Sudan is alarming. As the South Sudanese government participates in peace talks with rebel groups, this article highlights the role that the Intergovernmental Authority of Development (IGAD), Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), and the international community can play in mitigating conflict during post-conflict reconstruction.

Between December 15, 2013 and January 9, 2014, an estimated 231,000 persons were displaced due a political crisis, which began when splinter groups of the SPLM attacked a military compound and opened fire on a SPLM meeting. The government denounced these actions as a coup d’état, and roughly 80,000 people fled to neighboring countries to escape the violence. This flood of refugees, as well as political instability in South Sudan, will impact the stability of neighboring countries. But at least equally as important to post-conflict outcomes is the issue of how quickly the SPLA, composed of individual militias, unraveled into political chaos. While the SPLA is still the official South Sudanese army, current rebels used to be in militias that composed parts of the SPLA, which then separated in early December 2012.

IGAD provides new perspectives for this crisis as an intergovernmental agency that operates among Eastern African nations. As a rule, conflict resolution is most successful when the process closely involves individuals that know first-hand the issues plaguing the region. IGAD officials are able to leverage regional knowledge when confronting crises and have shared experiences with affected populations; they also have the gratitude and support of the U.S. Department of State. However, IGAD is understaffed. In order to increase the likelihood that peace talks will be successful, the appropriate people must be present at the negotiating table. Due to IGAD limitations, humanitarian organizations should refine their agendas to align better with the IGAD agenda.

For South Sudan, security and stability are paramount in order to execute development projects, which will provide the framework for this young nation-state. Its current lack of national identity, which during the South Sudanese independence movement was temporarily bridged by its campaign against the North, alarms the international community. SPLM readily controls the domestic political scene, restricting new political party formation in order to maximize its power. Opening up space for political party operations would provide an outlet for forming a new national identity, strengthening the prospect for security and stability. Popular mobilization, or increased civilian participation in the democratic process, may lend some stability to the domestic political situation. But increased infighting among the SPLM regarding party leadership poses a risk to the already fragile political situation. Furthermore, no real political opposition party exists, whose presence would force the SPLM to resolve internal factions or fracture. Civilian participation can help exert pressure on party leadership to resolve its internal factions or to lend more civic space for new party formation. Either route could increase the quality of governance in South Sudan, since constituents would charge the SPLM with more accountability.

Regional and international actors occupy a potentially important role. Internal South Sudanese strife could easily spill over into Uganda, which could force the Ugandan government to support the SPLM. The United States also remains committed to the South Sudanese government by guaranteeing $318 million in humanitarian aid between 2013 and 2014, and providing Marines to assist internally displaced persons. Despite these pledges, the on-the-ground diplomatic presence has dwindled. American embassy personnel were recently evacuated due to increased violence. The security of diplomatic staff is important, but evacuation complicates the ability of U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan, Susan Page, to demonstrate the United States’ commitment to helping stabilize South Sudan.

The past month has revealed the delicacy of the South Sudanese crisis. Although its national army is currently fractured between loyal SPLA members and rebel factions, a key opportunity should be evident: given a common goal, the SPLA rebel factions are able to unite (as they once did in the struggle for liberation). Now that the liberation movement has ceased, SPLA members should be employed into a public works program to construct an infrastructure that South Sudan actually needs. This would help control the fracturing army, showcase government progress, and achieve international developmental goals.

Clay Moran is an M.A. candidate in International Affairs, with a concentration in Development Security, at the Elliott School of International Affairs. His research focuses on aspects of governance in developmental programs, and the role that public-private partnerships can play in facilitating development.