Violence in South Sudan: Potential Explanations

When I write about violent clashes occurring in South Sudan, I feel like a broken record: typically I cite concerns that the clashes are a harbinger of renewed civil war, and then speculate about what effects this violence will have on the political transitions planned for the next two years, namely the 2010 elections and the 2011 referendum on Southern independence.

I’m going to try a slightly different approach in this piece and look at how different theories explain the violence.

To do that, it helps to get a sense of the chronology. Reuters has a timeline of major incidents of violence from March, when major violence began, through late September. To give a partial update, clashes between the Dinka and Shilluk tribes took place in Jonglei State on at least two occasions earlier in November, and this week Mundari fighters attacked Dinka villagers in Lakes State, with 47 casualties reported. Much of the violence has involved Lou Nuer and Murle groups, especially in Jonglei State, with some involvement by the Dinka and other groups.

It’s possible to explain the violence as tribal rivalry, but if you end the conversation there you miss other aspects of the situation. Here are some additional factors to consider:

What do you make of these explanations? To the extent that any of them are persuasive, they are more so in combination. Perhaps it makes sense to say that changing power balances created by peace and partial disarmament, combined with instability, poverty, lack of deep governance, and the continued availability of weapons, inflamed ethnic conflicts and competition for resources. I’m not ready to commit to that explanation yet, though. Any reader insights or additional information would be much appreciated.

In any case, I think looking at these factors adds depth to the oft-made but seldom-elaborated statement that these clashes are a precursor to a broader civil war. Thinking about the widespread problems in the region and about the fact that so many groups are heavily armed, and looking at areas on the North-South border where tensions run high, it’s easy to see how something that begin as ethic or tribal conflict could quickly, under certain political circumstances, draw the SPLA or the Northern army – or both – into the fray.

1 thought on “Violence in South Sudan: Potential Explanations

  1. Pingback: More Problems with Sudan’s Elections « Sahel Blog

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