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The South Sudanese Inter-Ethnic Conflicts Case Study


South Sudan is a new state that is unfortunately facing civil conflict. After attaining independence in 2011, the country has been suffering from inter-ethnic clashes. Being a new state, it seems to be lacking precise laws to safeguard the interest of citizens such as property rights among others. It also seems to be lacking proper conflict prevention and resolution mechanisms. Since the inter-ethnic conflict sprung in December 2013 after a rising political apprehension among the main leaders, namely Silva Kiir and Riek Machar, the country has lost about 1.2 million of citizens whilst millions of others have been forced to become refugees in neighboring countries such as Uganda. Effective mitigation strategies must be adopted to rescue South Sudan from the same agony that some African countries such as Rwanda suffered because of inter-ethnic disagreements. This paper examines the South Sudanese inter-ethnic conflicts. Besides, it suggests the application of the liberal peace theory in the peace building process.

Presentation of the Question

Using wrong techniques to resolve a conflict will often exacerbate the dispute. Whether leaders in South Sudan and international agencies have been using erroneous means or not to liberate South Sudanese people from the ongoing conflict is a matter that needs to be considered. Bacal observes that war erupts often from poor communication and that most conflicts can be avoided or resolved through open communication without any form of marginalization (50). The liberal peace theory provides a contemporary approach to resolving conflicts. Liberal peace theory considers egalitarianism, security, and progress the core of international liberal governance.

Peace building should be a process that incorporates both domestic and foreign agencies. Furthermore, parties that are involved in the peace building process should concentrate on the culture, political, economic, security, and judicial norms of that particular society or country. South Sudanese government has not established an all-inclusive regime. Rather, it allows a broader ambit for welfare services through the governments socio-economic and political policies. Nonetheless, the practical steps for restoring peace among civilians through liberal peace theory that ensures the setting of lasting peace have remained vague.

South Sudan has had a number of peace agreements such as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005. However, these peace agreements have just been theoretical since inter-communal conflict has persisted. It appears that the peace building process has received a hostile reception from the citizens based on the witnessed absence of consistent participatory governance and/or continuous reversion of brutal disputes.

Even after signing a peace deal to ceasefire, Riek Machar has expressed doubts in the ability of President Salva Kiir to honor his part of the deal. With such preeminence of mistrust, the peace agreements are destined to fail. If any policy or agreement was to be sanctioned, it must not marginalize any community. It is the time for South Sudan citizens to realize that tribal affiliations should not define the national agenda.

Scholars have confirmed that leaders must be ready to face issues bluntly for a conflict to be solved. The liberal peace building process in South Sudan has failed to tackle the internal certainties. Hence, it has been promoting instability in the state. The provision of quality health and education plays a major role in sustaining a peaceful coexistence among the disputing communities who are among the internal realities that are affecting citizens. Proper education helps in sharing mutual values, good norms, and characteristics that can eventually unite a divided nation (Bacal 24).

In countries that are healing from a season of conflict, a properly organized education system may help in reconciling survivors and victims who may be out to avenge the bad experience they have had during the war. Formal education has the power of purging thoughts of sanctioning structural violence. Nevertheless, education also has the power of triggering rebellious perception among citizens and hence the need to focus on educative topics that can impart positive social networking, multiethnic cooperation, and social development.

Democratic peace theory seeks to ensure that citizens are in a position to view the state as their personal property. Thus, they are not tempted to use any force with the intention of promoting their individual or folks’ power. Furthermore, it ensures that accountability and checks by the government such that the administration is in a position to make coherent inferences and subsequently assist a state from engaging in conflicts. Despite applying the liberal peace theory, South Sudan has failed in its efforts to maintain peace among its citizens.

Nonetheless, most scholars agree that using the democratic approach in resolving disputes is the most successful way of attaining a lasting civil peace. This paper confirms how the efforts to resolve the ongoing conflict have ignored the local realities in resolving the conflict (Chiba, Machain, and Reed 991). The paper identifies and infers that liberal peace theory is still the best resolution to the ongoing conflict if applied effectively. Formal education is one of the means that can be useful in averting the war. Moreover, the establishment of democratic institutions on conformists’ approaches to restoring peace fails to address the cause of the violence and its persistence. Hence, the core questions that dominate this study include:

  1. How does the peace building process fail to address the local realities that are affecting the citizens?
  2. How can the liberal peace theory be applied to establish sustainable civil peace in South Sudan?
  3. To what extent is formal education relevant in the peace building process?

By addressing the questions, this study will suggest new strategies that local, regional, and international peace building institutions should adopt to terminate the trouble of restoring harmony in South Sudan.

Theoretical Framework and Literature Review

Peace building entails the process of creating structures and policies that can help in eliminating a conflict or preventing scenarios that might perpetuate the eruption or persistence of a dispute. In countries that witness an emerging civil dispute, peace building plays the role of creating mechanisms that can sustain peaceful coexistence. In essence, peace building has a broad ambit that incorporates agreements before and after a dispute. Moreover, it implies that peace building involves changing of perceptions that cause conflicts at socio-economic, political, mental, and military stages.

Furthermore, this observation implies that local players and/or their needs must given adequate attention if perceptions of conflict are to be changed within the South Sudan. A hybrid political and social process that handles the causes of a dispute whilst providing a long-term solution to the conflict is vital for an effective peace building process. As a concept of peace building, the liberal peace theory seeks to promote the creation of democratic organizations whilst eliminating social marginalization that has been witnessed in South Sudan. Such social marginalization has stretched to market economies. If conflict resolution agencies focus on the implementation of this strategy, peace can be attained (Bagshaw and Falconer 66).

Peace in this context is obscure and widespread because most political or social institutions attest to peace in disparate but close perception such as the lack of dispute, social fairness, or liberation from the desire to want or need anything. As an international notion, it is referred to as the lack of conflict. Liberal peace theory depicts two main ways, namely negative harmony or positive serenity, through which the cooperation of international and local agencies can work in unity to attain peace. Negative tranquility refers to the restoration of peace through encouraging rival parties to negotiate, form peace agreements, uphold arbitrations to induce parties to ceasefire, and/or send peacekeeping team to ensure that civilians are protected.

Conversely, positive tranquility refers to the maintenance of peace through promoting changes in the norms and institutions in state to ensure that they are comprehensive, fair, and just. Questions have normally risen concerning the techniques to apply and the most effective plan in a given war. It is evident that the application of negative peace in South Sudan is more theoretical than practical. The very detailed peace agreements have materialized to a lasting peace in the country. Leaders of the opposing parties continue to show mistrust publicly even after signing the agreements. With such attitudes, peace-building efforts have become ineffective. Positive approach is the way to go in South Sudan. Institutions must be reformed to be accountable, transparent, and broad (Bacal, 44).

Liberal peace building is also achieved through four main theoretical ways, namely agitated-follower, conventional person, mainstream, and emancipatory techniques. Hyper-conformist and conformist approaches entail using armed forces to impose end of hostilities or adjudication. Peace is achieved through forceful means.

The main actors in this scenario are often state officials or armed forces. In the case of mainstream technique, focus is given to the constitutional and organizational governance where relevant changes are made to ensure that they promote democratic politics in countries that are healing from war such as South Sudan (Giovanni 25). Conversely, emancipatory approach presumes that the main cause of dispute is structural issues, for instance trade problems, poor communication, or under-development. Hence, peace can be achieved through social justice and/or encouraging cooperative communication among opponents (Johnson and Keddy 36).

The application of these different theoretical approaches will always be based on the actual causes of the conflict. Therefore, it is important for conflict resolution agencies to strive to restore peace in South Sudan. They must give special attention to the causes of the violence and hence apply the most effective form of liberal peace building. Previous efforts to resolve peace using the theory have failed because of ignoring the actual issues. Such agencies have to apply the most pertinent technique (Patey 1).

A Case Background of the Conflict

The current conflict in South Sudan has brought the new country to its knees. Nevertheless, this nation is not new to such tribulations. It had previously gone through a conflict with Sudan between 1983 and 2005. This war claimed about 2 million lives and had left around 4 million homeless. The war was brought to a conclusion by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party and the armed southern movement. IGAD fueled this agreement. The CPA included the setting of a referendum, which happened in 2011, leading to the formation of the new state of South Sudan (Melin and Grigorescu 1106).

The newly found peace in South Sudan gave an avenue for the reconstruction of new facilities such as schools and health clinics. This accomplishment made it a land of prospective success for investors such as China, which invested heavily in oil production in South Sudan (Smith 171). Many people from the neighboring states such as Kenya and Ethiopia had migrated to South Sudan in the recent years in search for business opportunities.

These expectations have been downplayed by the state of affairs that have unfolded in the recent times (Johnson and Keddy 36). As it is witnessed in most developing nations, issues have arisen in relation to the country’s governance. The main issues have touched on problems such as internally displaced persons, food insecurity, and ethnic violence, which are apparent in Jonglei. Corruption among the top government officials and the stoppage of oil production are also among the witnessed problems (Chiba, Machain, and Reed 997).

The main problem in South Sudan has been political instability, which can be traced back to the previous 1983-2005 conflict and the CPA. The agreement was between NCP and SPLM. It did not include other opposition movements, although pressure groups from the southern region were later absorbed into the SPLM. Within this movement, there lacked a platform for representing diverse membership. The divide that had occurred before within the movement in 1991 was also not addressed during the CPA (Patey 1).

After independence, discontent erupted within the movement, leading to divisions. Lack of stable leadership of the movement is also evident, despite its politicization. The oncoming 2015 general elections have also fueled tension within in the movement, owing to the impression that ethnic cards are being played for some people to solidify their political bases. Ethnic communities have also aligned themselves with the various armed movements (Bacal 24).

At the close of 2013, a civil war broke out in South Sudan. It was after a meeting where violence had broken out between two rival groups of Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). This war followed the announcement by President Salva Kiir that the vice president, Riek Machar, had attempted a coup. Machar denied these allegations. This case was followed by the detainment of high profile government officials who were put on trial for subversion. Later on, Machar came forward as the leader of the armed rebel group that branded itself as SPLM in opposition (Toh and Kasturi 212).

The government and this group have varying accounts of what actually happened. This situation has made it intricate for them to come to an amicable solution. Actually, the opposition group claims that President Salva Kiir became increasingly dictatorial. He used the violence as a justification to flush out rivals from an already Dinka-dominated government. He allowed Dinka people in the government to commit carnage against the Nuer in Juba (Bagshaw and Falconer 47).

The SPLM then moved to take control of the regions in Jonglei, Unity States, and Upper Nile. The fighting spread fast to other states. Currently, more than 1,000,000 people have been displaced. Besides, more than 10,000 others have lost their lives. Ethnic animosity, especially between the Nuer and Dinka people has culminated. Other ethnic groups have been involved in the civil war (Smith 172). The aligning of communities with the various armed movements has also given the crisis an ethno-military twist, which is dangerous for a multiethnic society. There have been peace talks organized by the international community. Agreements have been signed, although the war continues. The international community holds that the crisis is a political problem in a need of a political solution (Giovanni 27).

Besides, the UN Mission (UNMISS) is hosting more than 70,000 people who have been afflicted by the war. However, even in their camps, security is not any better. The militia has attacked their bases as it was witnessed in Jonglei where thousands of armed militia outgunned and outnumbered peacekeepers. According to UNMISS reports, most of the people they host are Nuer and that most atrocities are committed by Dinka security forces.

As a result, an ethnic fall out has resulted, especially after the rape, killings, and cattle raids, which have been committed on ethnic grounds (Melin and Grigorescu 1095). The economy of South Sudan has also suffered majorly. 98-percent of South Sudan’s economy depends on oil production. This situation has been disrupted by the ongoing civil war. The war has also strained the relationship between South Sudan and investors such as China. Violence, deliberate theft, and destruction of property belonging to foreign nationals have led to the swarming out by investors.

Analysis of Argument

The causes of conflict in South Sudan appear obstinate. Nonetheless, the main problems seem to be based on the marginalization of ethnic groups. The implication is that state building strategies that sought to change the political system may help in resolving the conflict. Giving a high priority to state building has derailed the lasting peace in South Sudan (Spears 42). International agencies that are striving to restore peace in South Sudan have adopted the orthodoxy approach as method of liberal peace building that entails imposing political mannerisms that consist of international governance principles to enhance accountability, separation of powers, and rule of law.

Nonetheless, observers cite that for the ideas to become more effective, services that can improve human life should be offered sufficiently to fortify peace in the state (Bagshaw and Falconer 56; Spears 42). Whilst multilateral agencies have been focusing in peace building through transforming justice and security organs, promoting good governance, and establishing a norm of justice, truth, and reconciliation, the needs of the locals must also be addressed. Maintaining peace becomes intricate in a state where the government has economic policies that exacerbate citizens’ living standards instead of satisfying their demands. Once people distrust the government based on its clear marginalization of people, conflict is doomed to erupt.


Lasting peace in South Sudan can be attained if peace builders merge orthodox and emancipatory approaches. Citizens should be included in the decision process such that the government is able to know the actual needs of citizens. Hence, long-lasting peace will be attained in South Sudan if the susceptible communities will be granted their needs. One of those needs is formal education. Formal education fosters peace and reconciliation among citizens who are victims or survivors. Sudanese people have expressed a need for formal education so that they participate in the governance of the state. Refusing to grant citizens proper education will be met with resentment, thus making liberal peace hard in the country. Efforts that have been made by UNICEF to provide peace education can result in sustainable peace in the country. Nonetheless, the peace building process should begin early so that children are taught positive attitudes.

Works Cited

Bacal, Robert. Conflict Prevention in the Workplace: Using Cooperative Communication. Winnipeg: Bacal & Associates, 1998. Print.

Bagshaw, Mike, and Heather Falconer. Irs Managing Conflicts in the Workplace. London: LexisNexis, 2004. Print.

Chiba, Daina, Carla Machain, and William Reed. “Major Powers and Militarized Conflict.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 58.6(2014): 976-1002. Print.

Giovanni, Janine. “South Sudan: Waiting for Death to Arrive.” Newsweek Global 162.2(2014): 21-32. Print.

Johnson, Clive, and Jackie Keddy. Managing Conflict at Work: Understanding and Resolving Conflict for Productive Working Relationships. London: Kogan Page, 2010. Print.

Melin, Molly, and Alexandru Grigorescu. “Connecting the Dots: Dispute Resolution and Escalation in a World of Entangled Territorial Claims.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 58.3 (2014): 1085-1109. Print.

Patey, Luke. “South Sudan conflict could cripple oil industry for decades.” Petroleum Economist 22 Jan. 2014: par. 1. Factiva. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.

Smith, Stephen. “Sudan: In a Procrustean bed with Crisis.” International Negotiation 16.1(2011): 169-189. Print.

Spears, Ian. “Africa’s Informal Power-Sharing and the Prospects for Peace.” Civil Wars 15.1(2013): 37-53. Print.

Toh, Kiertisak, and Prahlad Kasturi. “Foreign Aid in Post-Conflict Countries: The Case of South Sudan.” Journal of Third World Studies, 29.2(2012): 201-220. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'The South Sudanese Inter-Ethnic Conflicts'. 23 June.

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