In South Sudan, the only thing worse than a warlord in government is a warlord out of government. This week, the political party of the Nuer, the country’s second-largest ethnic group, just ditched its longtime leader and wartime military commander, Riek Machar, for Taban Deng. Deng, a relatively obscure figure best known for serving as the Nuer rebels’ lead negotiator in South Sudan’s 2013-2015 civil war, was sworn in today as Machar’s replacement in the vice presidential office.
Nyarji Roman, a Machar spokesman who is also in hiding, said the replacement of Mr. Machar is a conspiracy to overthrow him and that Mr. Machar fired Mr. Deng on Friday for holding unilateral negotiations with Mr. Kiir.
It’s hard to imagine that Machar’s the kind of commander who will just go and rest under his vine and fig tree now that some of his old supporters don’t want him in charge anymore. Conflict entrepreneurship is how Machar makes his living. He’s been leading militias in the region since the 1980s.What’s more likely to come next is this: Deng and Kiir agree to deescalate the tensions between their Nuer and Dinka militias, while Machar leads a rump faction of the Nuer in open rebellion. In other words, an immediate return to civil war is looking more likely than it was a few weeks ago.And is the world prepared to respond to another round of civil war in South Sudan?Not at all. We saw a test run of how the AU, UN, and US would respond to another outbreak of hostilities in South Sudan when the gruesome clashes broke out two weeks ago—and it’s clear none of those actors are prepared to bolster the tenuous UN peacekeeping operation, let alone mount some kind of intervention. The BBC:
When the fighting started, UN peacekeepers were blocked from getting more than 500m from their bases by government checkpoints.Thousands of people rushed into the already crowded protection of civilian camp known as UN House in Juba.Its numbers swelled to more than 35,000 as heavy fighting took place nearby.Water trucks were not able to deliver the 150 loads required every day, and a shell hit an armoured UN vehicle inside the base. Two peacekeepers were killed and others injured.Close by to UN House, international aid workers were attacked by soldiers – some were raped and badly beaten. The UN was unable to reach them to help.A World Food Programme warehouse containing enough food for 220,000 people for a month was completely looted – even the fabric of the building was taken.
A week ago, the African Union pledged to send troops to bolster the peacekeeping mission, but President Kiir’s supporters vehemently oppose any intervention (presumably because their group, the Dinka, is presently in power and they haven’t been the victims of recent clashes).