When Sudan’s southern region voted in February in favor of creating a separate, independent state, it was hoped that the move would finally end the long and brutal conflict that has plagued the country for decades. In some ways it has been a success, with relationships between South Sudan and Sudan is strained but improving. However, the prospect of independence in South Sudan has sparked a new wave of violence there, this time between different factions within the fledgling state.
Since the referendum on independence was passed, at least seven militia groups have been formed to battle the South Sudanese government. Fighting between South Sudan’s army and one rebel commander, Peter Gadet, killed at least 165 people last week. Furthermore, thousands of civilians have fled the fighting, exacerbating an already tenuous humanitarian situation in the region. Gadet claims to be fighting for the overthrown of the South Sudanese government, accusing them of corruption and of ignoring minority and rural communities.
While the new civil violence in South Sudan is troubling, it is far from unexpected. New governments often lack political legitimacy, creating a political power vacuum in the state. To their political opponents, new regimes look like easy targets, without the popular support or institutions to defend against armed revolutions. This is why international support for new regimes is so important, it helps to dissuade would be rebels from taking up arms, instead encouraging them to push for change through political processes. There is some hopeful evidence that this is happening in South Sudan. On Sunday, rebel militia leader Gabriel Tang and 1,300 of his soldiers surrendered peacefully to South Sudan’s army. Tang had been fighting the government of South Sudan since the referendum. Previously, Tang had operated a pro-Khartoum militia during the country’s twenty-two year civil war. Let’s hope the other militias decide to pursue a similarly peaceful path.