x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

South Sudan is facing a test of its resilience

Bloodshed in South Sudan this week cost up to 500 lives, but predictions of the implosion of the world's newest nation are still premature.

With the latest news of violence from what seems to be a failed coup in South Sudan, some analysts were quickly predicting the end for the world’s newest country. The capital, Juba, saw up to 500 people killed in street battles between rival factions of the nation’s army. South Sudan is, however, used to gloomy prognostications, having been the subject of a series of premature obituaries since even before it was created in July 2011.

Certainly, the nation faces profound challenges, not least as the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement attempts to evolve from the guerrilla force that won independence into a governing party capable of meeting the needs of the people in one of the most impoverished parts of Africa. Add into that mix the difficulty of exploiting the nation’s oil reserves, which it cannot export without going through Sudan.

One reason for the pessimism about South Sudan’s prospects is because events in the nation feature elements that are depressingly familiar in Africa: accusations of dictatorial conduct, attempted armed coups and clashes based along tribal loyalties. The bloodshed this week is thought to have stemmed from rivalry between the founding president, Salva Kiir, of the Dinka tribe, and his sacked vice president, Riek Machar, a Nuer tribal member and Mr Kiir’s former brother in arms. The street battles were between Dinka and Nuer members in the Presidential Guard, previously a symbol of South Sudan’s tribal harmony.

However, this seems to be more related to power than pure tribalism. The schism between the Dinka and the Nuer appears so far to be restricted to Presidential Guard members rather than existing in the general populace. That suggests that rather than signalling the end for South Sudan, this might be just another speed bump on the road towards democracy – Mr Kiir has said there will be presidential elections in 2015, at which Mr Machar has indicated his intention to be a candidate.

One hopes that this will become another example of the remarkable resilience that South Sudan has shown as it attempts to evolve into a nation capable of exploiting its natural resources to meet the needs of its people.

Whether it achieves its potential or deteriorates into another African dictatorship rests squarely in the hands of this young nation’s leaders.