Three years have passed since South Sudan became an independent state following the civil war that had continued in Sudan since 1983. The government of President Salva Kiir marked the anniversary with a ceremony on Wednesday in the capital of Juba.
However, the youngest country on the African continent has experienced internal conflict since December, when fighting broke out between government forces and the opposition that supports former Vice President Riek Machar. The international community, especially the United States and China — the major importers of oil from South Sudan — should help the country achieve a national reconciliation to prevent it from falling into the quagmire of full-blown civil war.
Thousands of people are estimated to have been killed since the fighting erupted in December. The conflict is deepening between the Dinka people, the country’s largest ethnic group of whom many are in the government’s forces, and the Nuer people, many of whom belong to the opposition camp.
According to the United Nations, some 1.1 million people, or about 10 percent of the country’s population, have become displaced, and about 97,000 of them are under protection inside bases of the U.N. Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS). South Sudan is said to have become one of the world’s most unstable countries. Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force is taking part in the UNMISS to improve roads and other components of the country’s infrastructure, but the internal conflict has seriously hampered such work.
A civil war between Muslims, who controlled the Sudanese government, and Christians, the majority population in southern Sudan, raged for more than 20 years since 1983, causing some 2 million deaths. South Sudan gained independence on July 9, 2011, following referendum in January.
Since the start of the Iraq War in 2003, both the U.S. and China have sharply increased oil imports from Africa. Behind the peace agreement and the independence of South Sudan were the wishes of the two major powers to separate oil producing areas in Sudan from the control of Islamic fundamentalists and increase the region’s stability.
What constituted the whole Sudanese territory up to 2011 has the oil-producing capacity of 500,000 barrels a day, three quarters of which concentrated in today’s South Sudan. A pipeline that goes through the neighbor to the north and reaches the Red Sea is used to export oil from South Sudan.
When South Sudan became independent, there were hopes that, blessed with its rich oil resources, the new state would play an important role in bringing stability to the region. What has since happened in the country has betrayed expectations.
The current ethnic strife started when the country’s oil production, which had fallen to 30,000 barrels a day, was on a path of recovery. The fighting is mainly taking place in Unity province in the northern part of the country, where oil wells are concentrated. In mid-April, several hundred residents in the area were killed. The conflict is continuing despite a cease-fire agreement signed in early May.
A country in which the government ceases to function properly due to civil war can become a hotbed of terrorism, which can be exported to other nations in the region. To help contain the spread of terrorism in Africa, the international community must do its best to facilitate national reconciliation and peace-building in South Sudan.