A week ago today the New York Times published a story about the ongoing ethnic fighting in South Sudan that began shortly after its independence last July. According to reports, the fighting moved from along the north-south border to affect the rest of the country after Murle fighters killed over 600 Nuer people in a village about a month after the official independence of South Sudan and has since escalated dramatically, culminating in a devastating New Years Eve massacre by Nuer fighters on Murle people. Perhaps most frustrating is both the government’s reluctance to intervene due to deep-seated ethnic divisions in government forces and the UN peacekeeper mission’s inability to intervene for lack of personnel.
So what should be done?
Well, unfortunately the answer to this question isn’t so clear. The problem at the root of the situation is the history of conflict between these ethnic groups that dates back to the well before the days of North and South Sudan, particularly its civil war in the 1990s. This means that many of the younger fighters have plausibly lived their entire lives in a state of war, and have grown up in an environment of total hatred for their fellow Sudanese. Those kind of divisions will not be overcome with a weak government and a limited UN peacekeeping force. Unfortunately again, strengthening both entities will not guarantee peace either.
So, again, what should be done?
Even though a stronger and stronger-willed government and more equipped UN mission won’t guarantee peace, they are certainly important precursors. What will need to immediately follow the end of the violence and what will be most crucial for a peaceful future for South Sudan, though, is a process repeated over and over in situations like these: truth and reconciliation. Progress for the new nation will only follow an extensive period of truth and reconciliation among ethnic groups.
Unfortunately (last time I use this word, I promise), the end of violence and the beginning of truth and reconciliation will only come when the will exists among the Southern Sudanese to truly become Southern Sudanese by transcending their Nuer, Murle, or any other ethnic identity. That is both the means and the end, and it appears to be regrettably absent from South Sudan presently.