South Sudan and the Young Nation’s Struggle

South Sudan and the Young Nation’s Struggle


Amidst conflicts raging in Syria and Ukraine, the international stage has little room to figure prominently a brutal conflict that has taken the lives of thousands and only threatens to worsen. South Sudan, a country that recently gained its independence from Sudan in 2011, currently suffers from an elite-level conflict that has degenerated into an ethnic fight to the death amongst the larger population of citizens. In December of last year, President Salva Kiir essentially fired his Vice President, Riek Machar. Kiir is from the Dinka tribe, while Machar has roots in the Nuer tribe. Unfortunately, conflict between the two ethnic groups is not the sole determinant of the brutality of the situation in South Sudan. So, too, have issues of human development such as hunger ravaged the population’s wellbeing. However, South Sudan is not an isolated island of ethnic conflict. In terms of foreign support, the international community needs to take a more proactive stance, for it has fallen disappointingly short of supporting the young country’s transition to a fully functioning, successful independent government.

Just a few weeks ago, in mid-April, a massacre took place in the city of Bentiu in South Sudan. Rife with oil reserves, an industry that composes 98% of South Sudan’s finances, South Sudan suffers from a lack of diversity in terms of economic resources. Further compounding the issue, the country is “hugely reliant on foreign aid,” according to an article in The Economist. Additionally, for a country whose ethnic conflict and violence is threatening the stability of that foreign assistance, the current situation does not bode well for an impoverished population that “is on the brink of widespread famine,” according to The Economist article.

Due to the violence, the United States has threatened to impose sanctions on key politicians and elite rulers that control the conflict at the highest levels, and the United Nations Security Council has followed suit in contemplating sanctions. Unfortunately, the rocky state of governance in South Sudan is a precarious situation that could have serious repercussions in a nation that already has a third of its population facing the ominous threat of starvation, according to an article in The New York Times.

In fact, the issue of hunger is so serious in South Sudan that The New York Times referenced the famine that took place in “the 1980s, when hundreds of thousands perished in Ethiopia,” noting that the starvation in South Sudan could degenerate to this level if further action is not taken. The issue of violence, though, complicates the issue of international action. The United States, initially supportive of independence for South Sudan, must take a harsher stance on promoting the wellbeing of the young country’s citizens—especially now that violence has escalated to such a high level. Freezing assets may not be enough for a country that is desperately impoverished, and thus an international response is warranted, beginning with the United Nations. Perhaps more aid or more peacekeeping forces combined with targeted sanctions against the ruling elite form part of a solution to the quickly degenerating situation. Whatever the answer, ethnic violence mixed with stark poverty in South Sudan provide a weak example of the prospects for nation-building on a poor continent. While there are conflicts around the world that have stolen much of the attention on the international stage, South Sudan must receive more international support to resolve the conflict. Is it possible for a poor country on a poor continent to experience peaceful nation-building in the modern era? Maybe not without more support from the international community.

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About author

Emily Stewart

Emily is a senior from Charlotte, NC double majoring in Political Science and Spanish.This summer, she worked at the Department of Justice in the Office of International Affairs. Additionally, she was the Undergraduate Research Fellow at the Latin American Public Opinion Project here at Vanderbilt. She is interested in international politics and American foreign policy. This year, she is serving as the Managing Editor for VPR.

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