South Sudan Conflict Analysis: Levels, Actors, Interests and Solutions

What started as a minor mutiny in South Sudan is slowly turning into a civil war. A conference is being held in Addis Ababa to try and resolve the situation before it escalates further. The talks are between the Salva Kiir (President of South Sudan) and Riek Machar (former vice president of South Sudan) factions of the conflict divide. It appears that the talks are, so far, not yielding fruits that will end the conflict as the fighting on the ground continues unabated. Much has been said about the cause of the conflict, mainly centered on ethnic rivalry and personal ambition, typifying how simplistically conflicts in Africa are viewed. However, a more insightful analysis is needed to better understand the dynamics.

This post will employ a modified Kenneth Waltz’s levels of analysis model suitable for civil war context. The levels of analysis as envisioned in Waltz Man, the State and War, are the individual, the state and the international system. These levels were devised as a way of identifying sources of conflict or foreign policy objectives. They were meant to analyse the international system and not so much focused on civil conflict. Therefore this post seeks to modify this tool in a way that is better suited to analyse the South Sudan conflict.

In analyzing the South Sudan conflict, this post focuses on four areas: individuals concerned, the political system of the state, dyadic interactions with Sudan and the regional/international levels. The aim here it to examine the various actors at the different levels and interrogate the various interests at stake that will either compel peace or exacerbate the conflict further.

At the individual level are the two protagonists, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar. The latter’s interest appear to be aimed at effecting some form of political change that would allow him a stab at the highest office in the land. Since his dismissal from the vice presidential position, he has committed his energies to unseat Kiir in elections but because of how the system is (political system level) he found out that it was nearly impossible.The former, however, as the incumbent is clinging on to power by whatever means necessary. These two protagonists each have a strong ambition; one to become president and the other to remain as president which in the view of this post are personal and have no linkage to their vision for the state through they use it as a smoke screen to hide their real intention: power.

In the short term the solution might be sharing power until a free and fair election is held. This solution has a big problem in that no government can ever negotiate power sharing if it perceives that it has an upper hand in the field. In this case the results on the battle field directly affect political negotiations on the table. Success on the field in terms of acquisition of strategic military/economic positions translates into leverage on the negotiating table. Therefore the protagonists will not be willing to come to the table if they feel that they can achieve their goals in the field.

At political system level the main issue is how political competition is regulated. Too much power is centered at the presidential level and generally political pluralism is not encouraged. This could be the reason why some of the rebels took up arms against the government as there is no other peaceful political recourse through which they can express their wishes. Thus the civil conflict may be a symptom of the underlying lack of political pluralism and strongman politics that has plagued many liberation movements in Africa.

The solution for this is more long term as it will involve lengthy political reconstruction. This would be necessary especially in terms of elections, how they are conducted and by whom. The idea here is not only to provide a political system that adheres to pluralistic principles but also to inspire confidence in those  who would use the system to determine their leadership as justice must not only be done it must be seen to be done.

At the dyadic level there is the relationship between Sudan and South Sudan which, the author thinks, should be construed through oil money. South Sudan has ambitious plans to transfer oil refinery points from Sudan to Kenya under the LAPSET project. If this happens Sudan would lose the revenue it attracts from the lucrative oil business which is bad. Therefore, they are not entirely altruistic in the ‘help’ they are giving South Sudan. Consider this, that even as civilians die, the only thing they rushed to protect were the oil fields.

Moreover, the author does not put it beyond their capacity to foment strife in order to achieve the goal of getting to the oil. It may very well be that the conflict has this dyadic angle which will affect how it is going to be solved. On this, the options of a solution are nothing sort of finding an economic solution to the gap that would be left if and when South Sudan completes the transfer of oil refineries.

However, the solution may come from the regional and international levels. This may come as either economic pressure and use of intervention forces should the conflict escalate further. China is set to lose big if South Sudan slips into civil anarchy and therefore should play a big role in the resolution of the conflict. Kenya too stands to lose as much as South Sudan is an unalienable partner in the LAPSET project as well as fertile ground for investment opportunities. Uganda’s security is on the line as well owing to the close proximity of its borders to the theater of war. The last thing Museveni, in light of rebels groups marauding in the north, wants is to have lawlessness on two sides of Uganda’s borders: South Sudan and DRC.

In conclusion, as the talks continue in Addis Ababa there should be an evaluation of all the interest that can be derail the path to sustainable peace. If this is not taken into consideration then there would be recurrence of conflict and we may have another DRC on our hands. There is hope for the best, the author thinks.