The civil war taking place in South Sudan has now spread to almost all the newly-created nation’s provinces. It would be easy to dismiss the violence as yet another intra-African ethnic conflict, one of the dozens that plague the continent.
However, there are other larger considerations at play. This is evident in the United Nations’ Security Council’s decision to send over 12,000 more peacekeeping troops to the country, pulling troops out of other blue helmet operations across the world.
India has obvious interests in South Sudan. Over a 1,000 Indian peacekeepers are deployed there. Two of them have already been killed protecting refugees from being killed by rival tribal members. India has a share in the country’s considerable oil and gas assets.
It is also less known that a dozen of the largest Indian companies ranging from telecom to vehicles are well-established in the country.
However, the primary reason for concern about South Sudan’s future is that it lies along several geopolitical faultlines.
It was carved out of Sudan after a bloody civil war because it helped weaken the Islamist and Arab-speaking regime in Khartoum. An independent South Sudan helped create a stable constellation of local powers that constrained roguish states like Sudan and Eritrea — a development that was backed by India.
South Sudan was always going to be a difficult case of nation-building. Years of neglect by Khartoum meant it had almost no infrastructure when it became independent — a mere 70 kilometres of paved road existed in a country of the size of France. Combined with the legacy of the civil war and the lack of a historical memory of nationhood, this was always going to be a challenge.
The specific causes of the conflict between President Salva Kiir and his dominant Dinka people and his vice president, Riek Machar, of the minority Nuers are unclear, but they signal that the guerrilla movement that fought for South Sudan’s independence can no longer serve as the basis for unity.
The obvious solution is for the movement’s factions to evolve into political parties — a difficult process that could prove impossible if the present violence is not brought under control.