South Sudan’s Civil War: The Role of its Diaspora in Making Peace


By, Dr. Jane Kani Edward
Fordham University

South Sudan gained its political independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, when South Sudanese voted overwhelmingly for separation in an internationally monitored referendum. The independence of South Sudan came after more than three decades (1955-72 and 1983-2005) of armed struggles against political, economic, and cultural marginalization. Undoubtedly, the declaration of independence was received by the people of South Sudan with great joy and expectations. However, their excitement soon turned into a nightmare when an internal civil war broke out in Juba, the capital city, on December 15, 2013 between soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir Mayardit, and his former Vice President Dr. Riek Machar Teny. This armed conflict sooner has engulfed other parts of the country, and has been raging for more than three years.

In August 2015, A compromise Peace Agreement on the Resolutions of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS) was signed between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)-In Government, and the main opposition group SPLM-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) led by Kiir and Machar respectively. Despite the signing of the peace agreement, and the subsequent formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) on April 28, 2016, armed conflicts and insecurity continued with alarming levels of mass atrocities across the country. The newly formed government collapsed in July 2016, when armed conflict broke out again at the Presidential Palace between the bodyguards of President Kiir and his First Vice President Machar. Mass displacement, targeted ethnic killings, rampant insecurity, rape, and human rights abuses, are widespread particularly in Equatoria and Western Bahr el-Ghazal regions.

The armed conflict has devastating impact on the civilian population in particular. According to the United Nations, nearly 50,000 people have been killed. A total of 202, 700 people are internally displaced, majority of whom are sheltering in United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Protection of Civilians sites (PoCs) across the country; and 1.2 million sought refuge in the neighboring countries of Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, and Ethiopia.

An African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS) report published in October 2014 documented gruesome atrocities, including rape, killings, abduction, forceful displacement, etc., committed by the two warring parties. Forceful recruitment of children to fight the war by the warring parties was also documented. Of course, the most affected are women, children, and the elderly. As the bulk of the national budget is used to persecute the war, economic hardships, food shortage and looming famine further threaten people’s livelihood.

The war has far-reaching consequences not only on those who reside inside the country, but also on those in the diaspora as well; majority of whom are refugees of the 21-year Sudan’s civil war (1983-2005). Consequently, news about civilian deaths, destruction of cities, villages, livelihoods, and displacement, often bringing tremendous emotional and psychological anguish for those who live in the diaspora. Further, the growing economic crisis and the worsening living conditions for majority of civilians in the country exert more pressure on South Sudanese living abroad to help family members left behind financially. As a result, many South Sudanese in America, for instance, work multiple jobs or long hours to fulfil their financial obligations toward their extended families. Similarly, for many South Sudanese abroad, the eruption of violent conflict in December 2013, continuous insecurity, political instability, and the horrendous atrocities committed against civilians, unearthed unhappy and painful memories about the earlier civil wars with the north, which had forced millions into exile.

Socially, the war has further polarized and deeply fragmented South Sudanese in the diaspora along ethnic, regional, and political lines. This division is clearly reflected in their discussion on social media outlets such as Facebook, commentaries in various on-line news websites, and on-line discussion forums or List-Serves created and managed by South Sudanese. While South Sudanese in diaspora were able to mobilize as a united front during the 21-year civil war, they have not been able to work together across their different ethnic or regional identifications for a common cause. Thus, South Sudanese in the diaspora need to transcend their ethnic, regional, and political differences in a way that enables them to engage in constructive dialogue, collective mobilization, and advocacy to restore unity instead of division. This calls for relinquishing incitement of violence through divisive and inflammatory language and rhetoric circulated on social media. Overall, South Sudanese in the diaspora need to organize themselves, and lobby government’s officials and citizens of their host societies to take actions in support of resolving the on-going conflict in South Sudan.

1.Jane kani Edward, is Clinical Assistant Professor, and Director of African Immigration Research, Department of African and African American Studies, Fordham University, Rose Hill Campus, Bronx, New York. She is the author of Sudanese Women Refugees: Transformations and Future Imaginings, Palgrave, Macmillan, 2007, and several book chapters, journal and opinion articles. She can be reached at:
2.See United Nations, “U.N. Official Says At Least 50,000 Dead in South Sudan War,” March 2, 2016, Reuters, last accessed on December 18, 2016.
3.See USAID, “South Sudan Crisis Fact Sheet,” October 28, 2016, last accessed on December 18, 2016.
4.See AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan, Final Report of the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan” Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 15, 2014, last accessed, December 18, 2016.

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