South Sudan, which was born of a United Nations-supervised referendum for separation from Sudan in 2011, is the new problem child of the international body. A political rivalry among two leaders in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, which led South Sudan’s liberation, has turned into a conflagration that has claimed the lives of almost 10,000 people in little over a month and displaced millions even as UN peace-keepers oversee the nation. Initially, it was easy to see the rebellion of Riek Machar, the sacked vice-president of the country, as a coup against the incumbent president, Salva Kiir Mayardit. That is still how Mr Mayardit would want the international community to perceive the crisis. But Mr Mayardit’s political indiscretion, which had prompted him to sack his entire cabinet together with his rival last year, and now his witch-hunt against rebels and the spate of extra-judicial killings have put a question mark on the goings-on in South Sudan. The government forces, aided by troops from Uganda, have managed to wrest most of the major towns — unsurprisingly, many of them important to the oil industry. But the rural areas remain out of control, raising fears of a prolonged conflict. What is worse is that the military appears to be split along tribal lines. Mr Machar belongs to the Nuer tribe, and Mr Mayardit to the Dinka. Loyalties of neighbourhoods and army personnel are decided by tribal lineages, leading to an ethno-political strife whose management is far beyond the brief that the UN peace-keepers had assigned to themselves. The UN has been left managing millions of refugees while the political rivals slug it out. Its efforts to get reinforcements from neighbouring African nations such as Rwanda and Kenya are yet to bear fruit and the peace talks in Ethiopia seem to be going nowhere in the absence of Mr Machar, who has refused to join it.
The other thing complicating the situation is talk of UN ‘trusteeship’ for some time. Mr Mayardit has reacted virulently to the suggestion and has begun to question where the UN’s sympathies lie. For the international community, particularly the United States of America which remains invested in South Sudan through various aid structures, it is best to push more intensely for a regional peace initiative and internal political reconciliation rather than intensifying the lure or threat of foreign intervention.