I know it’s late and it’s Friday, but I’ve been trying to write an update on South Sudan all week and just keep getting drawn into other things, so I’m doing it now. When last we checked in on the world’s newest country, in ealy July, the fragile peace that had interrupted its ~two year long civil war last August was in danger of collapsing. Forces loyal to South Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir, and his Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) were once again clashing with forces loyal to South Sudan’s First Vice President (at the time, anyway), Riek Machar, and his Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO). Initially Kiir and Machar jointly appealed for calm, but as the clashes continued Machar’s people in particular began to talk as though the civil war were back on.
Then Kiir instituted a unilateral ceasefire, and that seems to have tamped down the worst of the fighting, but it hasn’t brought the country back from the brink of renewed civil war. On July 13, Machar responded to Kiir’s ceasefire by leaving the capital, Juba, and taking his forces with him. And while you could see that as a move to try to deescalate the situation in Juba, it seems that Kiir is more inclined to see it as a repeat of the beginning of the civil war, back in 2013, since that conflict began with, well, Machar and his fighters withdrawing from Juba to go plan and carry out a rebellion. Worst. Time. Loop. Ever. Machar’s people insist that this time around, he’s definitely not planning any kind of armed insurrection, but I suppose it’s not unreasonable to harbor some doubts.
Last Thursday Kiir decided he’d had enough, and he issued an ultimatum for Machar, who remember is (or was; we’re getting to that) South Sudan’s Vice President (in fact his occupancy of that position is kind of key to the peace deal he and Kiir signed last year. Kiir demanded that Machar return to Juba and reoccupy his office, but Machar responded with a hearty “thanks but no thanks,” suggesting that Kiir wanted to lure him back to Juba to have him killed, or arrested, or something unkind. Kiir gave Machar until Saturday to come back and resume his job; when Machar didn’t show, whatever element of the SPLM-IO was still in Juba convened and named another top SPLM-IO official, Taban Deng Gai, as the country’s new First Vice President. Machar took the news about the way you’d expect: Continue reading