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Global attention to the crisis that broke out in South Sudan nearly a year ago has almost entirely disappeared. But difficult negotiations are ongoing, despite periodic outbreaks of fighting. To find lasting solutions, the stakeholders need to appreciate the complex realities leading up to the crisis

Civil society situation analysis on the socio-political turmoil in South Sudan


Following the latest eruption of violence in the South Sudanese capital of Juba on 15 December 2013, civil society activists there held a series of consultations in an effort to identify the causes and triggers of the current conflict. This was done with an intention to generate an objective analysis of the situation and develop a roadmap for restoring peace and stability in the country. On 4 January, South Sudanese civil society actors in Nairobi, Kampala and Juba held a meeting in three different locations to analyze the current socio-political turmoil spreading across the nation. The meetings analyzed the context in which the conflict is taking place, the possible underlying root causes and the role and influence of various stakeholders in the process. This document is a summary of the analysis. It discusses the following:

1. The historical context of the situation in South Sudan, including unresolved issues that were not addressed during the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) negotiations and the militarization of the polity during the CPA period and immediately thereafter
2. The security architecture that was adopted in South Sudan right after the 2005 CPA which developed over time until December 2013
3. The 2010 Sudan General Elections and the emergence of armed political rebellion
4. The immediate pre-independency period and the development of legal frameworks in the immediate post-independency period
5. Resource management in the young nation
6. The buildup to the conflict


The 2005 CPA brought to an end the more than two-decade civil war in Greater Sudan. However, it is instructive to note that while the issues were broader and included several areas internal to the South, the negotiations that led to the CPA put great emphasis on ending the protracted conflict between North and South Sudan. It therefore focused primarily on securing agreements between the then major warring parties—Sudan’s People Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the National Congress Party (NCP) of Sudan.

Fault line ONE

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), while lauded for its achievement in ending the conflict between the North and South, was principally an arrangement designed to bring the civil war in Sudan to an end. It fell short of defining concrete reform processes and clear implementation modalities for many of the principles agreed upon, most of which were internal to South Sudanese society. As such, issues relating to peace building and state building were not adequately addressed, nor was a clear timetable drawn for these issues to be resolved.

The CPA primarily achieved the following:

1. Permanent cessation of hostilities between the SPLM/A and NCP
2. Creation of opportunities for Southern Sudan to operate as a semi-autonomous state and participate in the national government for a period of six years
3. Accord the citizens of Southern Sudan the opportunity for self-determination

But the CPA also had some major flaws, most of which have led to the current political stalemate.

First, the CPA did not take into consideration internal political settlements with other political parties in South or North Sudan. Although it provided for the right to self-determination for the people of South Sudan, the CPA was not clear on how post-CPA issues such border demarcation between the two countries would be done after the independency of South Sudan. Therefore, even today South Sudan and Sudan have boarder tensions and porous boarders that contribute to further instability in the country.

However, this did not have a clear neutral political implementation strategy. As a result, even the solution to the three contested areas of Southern Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan and Abyei remains unresolved, and the fate of these three contested areas is still unclear.

Second, in the opinion of many actors the 2005 CPA was a cease-fire agreement and a framework or roadmap for eventual peace (Ashworth 2009). It was not a governance blueprint, nor was it structured to be a bridge through which a new political, economic and social dispensation was to be nurtured as many expected. Most importantly, it moved the conflict from a military and rebel conflict to the political sphere, while failing to address the root issues concerning the separation of the military and political issues.

Third, the CPA did not have any strategy to ensure civilian oversight of the highly militarized security architecture in South Sudan. Consequently, the CPA implementation process consolidated the political influence of the SPLA and legitimized its hold on political power.


Many people do not know that the security architecture for South Sudan is expired. The CPA broadly provided for assimilation of militia groups into the SPLM/A. However, the agreement was not clear on the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DRR) mechanism, more specifically on mechanisms for integrating all the personnel from multiple militia groups into the regular forces and demobilizing those who needed to be demobilized, including a comprehensive demobilization programme. Consequently, one of the challenges of implementing the CPA document has been the integration and professionalization of the SPLA and other security sector reforms. This process has seen forces loyal to various commanders co-opted into the national army with no clarity of roles of hierarchy of command.

In some instances, this lack of clarity has led to proliferation of military factions seeking to be integrated into the army. For the most part of the past seven years, military faction leaders have been incorporated into top governmental leadership positions mainly based on the number of militia at their command and their military strength. Over the years, this has provided a fertile ground for the proliferation of different militia groups in the young nation.

Fault line TWO

Lack of a clear Security Sector Reform Strategy has led to a militarized government and an army that still has multiple allegiances and interests.

This situation has intensified the militarization of the politic to the extent that ascension to political power has, for the most part, been based not on political capacity and capability, but on military prowess. There is still no distinction between the military and political leadership.

Within society, the SPLM/A has enjoyed a cordial relationship with and an upper hand in the political spheres of the country. From a very early stage, the SPLA has presented itself not as a national army but rather the military wing of the ruling party, SPLM. While this has given the party political power in the eyes of society, the lack of distinction between SPLA the army and SPLM the party has caused considerable confusion on who exactly is ruling the country—the military or the party. This was not made any better by the fact that the leadership of both the army and the party is a product of presidential decree. The president is also the chair of the party.

It is under these conditions in which South Sudan will go into the general elections in 2015.
It is instructive to note that while these issues were known to the international community, there was a clear conspiracy of silence, with a focus being placed on the referendum and later the elections.

After the elections, there was no attempt at all, not even under the ongoing International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, to go back to the unresolved issues of the post-CPA agreements and the securitization of the government and ruling party.

The result was that South Sudan continued to face several challenges as it moved toward independence, and long after. The consolidation of peace and the guarantee of security in the militarized political environment remains unfulfilled, facing the challenges of a high proliferation of small arms and light weapons brought on by a gun culture that continues to be exploited by the political elite from various factions.

Previous to independence, the then semi-autonomous region was highly dependent on article 39 (3) of the Interim Constitution of Southern Sudan, which states that ‘the security and welfare of the people of Southern Sudan shall be the primary duty of all levels of government in Southern Sudan’. Indeed, some progress was made, reflected in the few DDR efforts seen in the region before independency in 2011. Other efforts were also made towards the provisioning of security. These include the following:

• Re-organization of the SPLA forces
• Reorganization of the police
• Professionalization of the police

However, several challenges have yet to be addressed after attaining independency. There is an over-emphasis on internal cessation of conflict with no effort made to develop a strategic engagement on a state building agenda. On the other hand, there has been little effort in strengthening the relations between the state and various sections of society.

At the governmental state building level, not much attention has been given to policy formulation, legislation, constitution making and national reconciliation, meaning that all that which was achieved in the security sector reform process and other peace building efforts were not legally underpinned.

Although there have been processes of disarmament, they have suffered from perception problems, with sections of society seeing it as selective and targeted towards communities thought to be enemies of those in power. This has led to sporadic acts of violence, leading to the death of hundreds of civilians and members of government forces. Further, even though the government has made considerable progress in putting in place mechanisms to control misuse of guns by its organized forces, cases of terror by the army and police are still reported on a regular basis.


The 2010 Sudan General Elections were successful in many ways, including as:
• an achievement of one of the key milestones in the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
• an opportunity for many South Sudanese to elect their leaders.
• a first step towards the democratization process in South Sudan.

As an achievement of one of the key milestones in the implementation of 2005 CPA

The 2010 Sudan General Elections were provided for in the 2005 CPA as one of the milestones to be achieved upon implementation of the agreement. The 2010 Sudan General Election was also a test of the possibility for peaceful coexistence amongst South and North Sudanese. It also gave an opportunity for South Sudan to field candidates for the presidency of the country.

As an opportunity for many South Sudanese to elect their leaders

The 2010 Sudan General Elections saw the participation of the people in electing their leaders. This came after a long period of war in the country, and many people have never participated in a national election. This brought a feeling of belonging and was intended to bring citizens close to their government.

As a first step towards the democratization process in South Sudan

The 2010 elections were perceived to be a step towards democratization in the country. Since the country had been in war with itself due to marginalization and oppression, this was a perfect opportunity to launch the process of democratization in South Sudan and prepare the country for participation in the referendum process. Indeed, it gave citizens and the government an experience that was useful for the successful carrying out of the Referendum on Southern Sudan Self-Determination.

But the elections were also a reflection of the tendency by the international community to address electoral democracy, placing focus on elections and electoral processes instead of a democratic agenda that is based on equity, competitive politics that takes into consideration the dynamics and composition of the society, and a strong state-society engagement governance agenda.

In the case of South Sudan, it was clear that the SPLM/A commanded a strong political dominance in the country based on their role as the liberation movement. But this did not mean that they should have been allowed to monopolize the political process leading up to and after the elections. Yet this is exactly what happened.

Many smaller and emerging political parties could not compete with SPLM, as they were either less known by the electorate or manipulatively branded by the dominant party as collaborators with the Khartoum government. An example of such manipulation is the Sudan People's Liberation Movement for Democratic Change Party (SPLM-DC) of Lam Akol, which was branded an instrument of Khartoum aiming to cause confusion during the elections. As a result, they had a presence in only few states. Yet at the moment they are the only official opposition in the parliament, with four representatives out of the over 300 members of parliament’s two houses, the National Legislative Assembly and the Council of States.

Vast swaths of the electorate supported the SPLM party because it was considered to be the liberating agency and the institution expected to deliver the referendum. But it is important to note that while the SPLM is seen and known as a political party, it has never been organized this way.

There is still little distinction between the SPLM party and the SPLA, which is supposed to be the national army. The party has never had a general assembly of members since the elections in 2010 and most of its major decisions are made through presidential orders, further weakening internal party structures and reducing democratic space within the party.


Because this was the first time the people of South Sudan participated in electing their leaders, the elections saw all kinds of people elected not because they can represent the electorate, but rather because they were SPLM candidates and most of the electorate new nothing apart from SPLM being the only party. This gave rise to the current weakness of the National Legislative Assembly.

The 2010 Sudan General Elections were also the first time for SPLM internal disputes to be brought to light in front of the public. Due to dissatisfaction of some SPLM members with internal party processes, this saw some SPLM members contest as independent candidates and others to claim the elections as fraudulent.

Security and security systems

After the 2010 Sudan general elections, the security situation in South Sudan remained delicate. One key concern was how to deal with the organized armed militia groups that were either a remnant of the civil war or initiated by disgruntled military elites who claimed that they were rigged out of political leadership in the polls. Both David Yau Yau and the late George Athor were are among the actors who continued to wage war against the government from the forests of Jonglei State, protesting what they saw as a lack of political space to engage in the election and the subsequent government. Many armed militia have since sprang up, fighting battles with government forces and resulting in continued loss of lives and the destruction of property in Jonglei State and elsewhere.

Challenges of competing development and political interests

While the government has made considerable progress in several areas, the key challenge has been in balancing political power building and state building. Certainly one would be too ambitious to expect the leadership of a party such as the SPLM to govern through consensus and dialogue or a democratic process.

Further, it would have been prudent for the government to balance its commitment to political leadership with a state building agenda focused on strengthening the institutions of the state and the government, including the judiciary, the legislative arm and the executive branch.

Legal Reforms

The unanimous vote for the secession of Southern Sudan in the landmark 2011 Referendum on Southern Sudan Self-Determination and the consequent declaration of independence was expected to mark the beginning of a new constitutional order. This was seen in the drafting of a Transitional Constitution of South Sudan. Yet little progress has been made in this area.
The shift brought on by the vote and the resulting constitution did not change the security or political architecture in the country. Hence, there is still no civilian/citizen oversight of the security sector or a political framework to enable civilian decision making on governance issues. The country has not had a consistent law reform process; as a result, both good and progressive laws as well as retrogressive laws still are in operation in South Sudan, two and a half years after independence.

A case in point is the powers of the presidency, found in Article 101 of the Transitional Constitution. Of particular interest is sub article (h), which has been the most contentious piece of legislation. It states that the President can ‘remove a state governor and/or dissolve a state Legislative Assembly in the event of a crisis in the state that threatens national security and territorial integrity’. But it did not define the limits of this dissolution in the manner that countries such as Kenya have done.

The same section gives the president powers to give unilateral decrees and make absolute national decisions.

While this is the case in many countries emerging out of conflict, what were needed were checks that ensured these powers were not excessively applied, especially to democratically elected legislative representatives who represent the voice of society.

The same article 101, sub article (g) provides that the President shall ‘convene, summon, adjourn or prorogue the National Legislature in consultation with the Speaker’.
But there are some positive aspects, such as Transitional Constitution of South Sudan Article 24 (1), which provides for freedom of expression and media, stating that ‘every citizen shall have the right to freedom of expression, reception and dissemination of information, publication, and access to the press without prejudice to public order, safety or morals as prescribed by law’.

The lack of adequate constitutional provisions on elections is also noteworthy. Due to what many consider to be deliberate delays in the constitution-making process, it is very likely that the forthcoming general elections will be held under the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan, which unfortunately does not have an express provision on elections. This means that the only legal provision under which the elections is to be conducted is the Electoral Act. The concern in this case is that the Transitional Constitution neither provides for an effective processes nor for institutions to prevent, manage or resolve security-related electoral issues that have certainly presented themselves in the present conflict as part of the early election fervor.

Resource Management and Distribution

South Sudan is endowed with various natural resources, among which oil the most exploited. It contributes to about 98% of the total national revenue. The South Sudan oil industry is dependent on the infrastructure developed by Sudan, and transfers its outgoing resources through Sudan to the high seas. For this reason, the two countries both have interest in the oil revenues. This creates a challenge in managing these transactions in a transparent manner, where citizens have knowledge and a say regarding the use of revenues.

Politicization of ethnicity

South Sudan faces challenges in how to cultivate unity in diversity. The country has over 65 ethnic communities living in the country, and in most cases this has been politicized and sometimes seen as source of or fuel for conflict. It has been evident that in a competitive election environment, politicians are likely to portray communities to be against one another’s potential access to power and resources. But these ethnic communities themselves are able to come together and peacefully coexist, as witnessed during the Referendum on Self-Determination of Southern Sudan.

Corruption and basic service delivery

With the existence of weak institutions and lack of proper systems, corruption is likely to creep in, and will certainly lead to inadequate service delivery and the slowing of development projects. There has been a perception that oil revenues came as free money that did not require accountability. As a result, those who were entrusted with these funds took the opportunity to enrich themselves, while those who had limited or no access to the proceeds were disadvantaged, creating dissatisfaction among South Sudanese citizens.
Immediately following the signing of the CPA in 2005 there have been high levels of corruption in almost all sectors of the South Sudan Society, specifically among government officials, generating much dissatisfaction among the ordinary citizens. Due to pressure from citizens and the international community, the president responded by carrying out several drastic measures, starting with an abrupt retirement of several top army commanders. This action was followed by his writing of a letter to the 75 suspected corrupt incumbent and former government ministers, the controversial removal of former Vice President Dr. Riek Machar and the dissolution of the entire cabinet in July 2013.

Many analysts perceive these three events as ill advised. The dissolution of the cabinet saw many political parties embarked in political patronage, as they considered the space created by the cabinet dissolution an opportunity to join the government. Political parties thus sent names of their proposed ministers to the president for consideration. Instead, the president only considered people whom he felt were overtly loyal and would support him, mostly from among his military comrades, depicting him as someone practicing politics of exclusiveness, encouraging the militarization of the executive arm of the government and demonstrating a lack of tolerance of differing opinion.

Buildup to Conflict

The analysis by civil society indicates that the present turmoil is the result of a combination of several factors that culminated into development of election fervors, leading to tensions within the SPLM leadership. Some of the key contributing factors to the socio-political turmoil in South Sudan is summarized below, though it is not a comprehensive list.

Weak institutions of governance and structures of decision making

According to the perspective of the civil society team doing analysis of the situation, particularly weak institutions of governance and structures of decision making are two of the contributing factors to the current crisis in South Sudan. This is coupled with a weak constitution, lack constitutionalism and nonadherence to the rule of law. The weakness is seen in all the three arms of the government and within ruling party.

Sweeping Presidential Powers

The political structures within South Sudan gave the president sweeping powers, including the powers to dismiss elected officials, appoint key officials of national institutions and dissolve executives, as inexplicably seen July 2013. In a nut shell, the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan has a number of loopholes that a dictatorial president can invoke, potentially leading to bad decisions, entrenched corruption and unfair competition for services and resources, leading to rivalries and leadership struggles.

Leadership vacuum

After the signing of the CPA, the people of South Sudan had hope. This came to them after a very long struggle and bloody civil war, and amid a situation where people of South Sudan had to face the reality of losing a leader who had been leading the struggle. The transition from being a movement to a nation came with great challenge, including facing a leadership vacuum. These struggles have resulted in lack of a national identity and a lack of nationalism and patriotism—all of which adds up to an increase in corruption, rent seeking and untruthfulness, culminating into fears and anxieties that easily propelled rebellion. The SPLM party had been stifled to the extent that dialogue was no longer possible. This also created acrimony within the party, greatly limiting internal party democracy and other democratic processes.


• Any resolutions to the conflict should consider more than just the short-term issues that lead to the events of 1 December 2013 and after.

• The negotiations should not just depend on the agenda of the two parties, but should ensure as much inclusivity as possible.

• Any reform agenda should not include a call for elections and constitutional reform to take place in less than one and a half years.

• Any dialogue should include all parties and neutral international partners.

We call for:

• Immediate demilitarization of government.
• Immediate demilitarization of the parties.
• A very clear state-building agenda, complete with a timeframe, to strengthen institutions of the state and society.
• Specific constitutional amendments to provide equity and equal representation in the government.
• Autonomy and independence for all three arms of the government.
• The delinking of security from the government.
• An immediate process for building state-society dialogue as part of the reconciliation.

We ask for:

• A clear timetable as part of the negotiation for each of the above.
• A framework that will ensure immediate national reconciliation with a clear timetable.
• A clear and complete programme for DDR, with a specific timeframe indicating Who, How and When.
• Clear laws on key reform agendas pending electoral and constitutional reform. Only then should the agenda be put on table for referendum—with a clear timeframe.
• Equity in resource distribution.
• Immediate security sector reforms.

* Peter Lasu Ladu is Director of Erada, a South Sudanese NGO.

End note:

Ashworth, John (2009) CPA Alert: The state of Sudan's Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Alert No. 1, Utrecht, IKV Pax Christi



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