It would be unfair to say that South Sudan’s dream run, which began with the 2011 referendum that made it the world’s newest State, is over. But it is faced with one of the worst road blocks it has encountered so far in a rebellion by the country’s former deputy president, Riek Machar. Mr Machar, one of the armed commanders of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement that spearheaded South Sudan’s liberation from its northern neighbour and now runs the government, has openly challenged Salva Kiir’s presidency. He believes that Mr Kiir has failed to be a proper leader to the country and the party. Dissent and disagreement are not unknown in a political party or in a democracy. However, the SPLM’s failure to resolve the question of leadership has led to the spiralling of political rivalry into an ethnic conflict that has displaced thousands of people and killed several, including United Nations peacekeepers. The government, which was initially heavy-handed in controlling the rebellion, has now admitted to losing control over several oil fields to forces loyal to Mr Machar. The rebels know, as does the government, that for a country entirely dependent on oil revenue, control over oil fields is crucial. The Kiir government has not lost political control entirely, but the clashes between the Dinkas and Nuers (the tribes to which Messrs Kiir and Machar belong to respectively) and the resultant instability have been disconcerting enough for several foreign missions, including the United States of America that has backed the Kiir government, to plan immediate evacuations. There is even talk of US intervention, although the US is trying its best to scotch such rumours.
For a poor, landlocked country, bereft of infrastructure and dependent entirely on the munificence of Sudan and foreign aid for its wherewithal, two years is too short a time to plant its feet on the ground. No government could have changed things overnight. Unfortunately, the continuing ethnic turbulence, the never-ending conflict with Sudan and the ensuing misery have made it easy for Mr Kiir to be painted as a fall guy. The Western powers may not ultimately intervene in South Sudan, unlike France in the case of Mali, but they should push the SPLM into resolving the leadership crisis immediately. In a country where tribal militias are yet to be disarmed, political chaos could automatically lead to murder and mayhem.