The situation in South Sudan seems to be going from bad to worse as a proper civil war seems to be in the offing in the world’s newest country. The FT:
Humanitarians have reported mass graves, ethnic killings and war crimes since Mr Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group, accused his sacked vice-president and long-time adversary Riek Machar, a Nuer, of plotting a coup against him. While Mr Machar denies attempting a coup he has since become the de facto head of a loose and fractured rebellion that has rapidly brought the country to the brink of civil war, reducing oil output and threatening regional spillover.
General James Hoth Mai, chief of the general staff, told the Financial Times his army had retaken Bor town, capital of Jonglei state, at 5pm on Tuesday following a prolonged fight. He said he was not yet able to give casualty figures.
These problems of ethnic identity are not unique to South Sudan. Significant chunks of Africa and the Middle East today are being ripped apart by identity wars—sometimes religious, sometimes ethnic, sometimes a mix. While international peacekeepers can sometimes play a constructive role in stabilizing the situation, the so-called ‘international community’ lacks both the will and the capacity to intervene effectively in the dozens of such conflicts capable of flaring up at any time.
We rightly venerate leaders like Nelson Mandela (and George Washington for that matter) who are able not only to win independence but to build states that don’t rest on identity politics. Statesmen of this caliber are, however, rare, and societies with the social capital to transcend such differences are even rarer. The 21st century looks set to see its share of identity wars and mass killings.