South Sudan conflict could worsen amid rise of militia groups, army defections: experts
At least two new militia groups have been formed in South Sudan within two weeks, stoking fears their sudden rise would worsen the conflict in the country, analysts said Monday.
Augustino Ting Mayai, analyst with Juba-based think tank Sudd Institute, told Xinhua that the current proliferation of militia groups will exacerbate violence and humanitarian suffering as the country is faced with a man-made famine caused by fighting.
"The fact is more rebel groups amount to more violence and suffering. There is no coordinated strategy to resolution of the conflict," he said.
This came after the February defections of top military officers like Lt. General Thomas Cirilo, the former deputy head of logistics in the South Sudanese army (SPLA) who formed the National Salvation Front (NSF) to overthrow President Salva Kiir's regime.
And other peripheral rebel groups like the Cobra faction in the northeast Pibor area led by Khalid Boutros and South Sudan Democratic Forces rebels operating in Equatoria region have been co-opted into the NSF.
Mayai added that these defections have been driven by perception of ethnic domination by President Kiir's Dinka tribe at the expense of Machar's Nuer tribe and other 62 ethnic groups.
In May 2014, the Cobra faction agreed a peace accord with the government and most of its fighters were integrated into the SPLA, but again rebelled last year citing failure to implement the peace accord.
Festus Mogae, Chairperson of the Jointing Monitoring Evaluation Commission (JMEC) that monitors the peace deal revealed in early February that more militias driven by opportunism and criminal objective have sprung up since the renewed July clash in 2016.
"The whole argument of defections can be put on two things. Some of these people may not have been given opportunities. The second thing is some of them rebel to get money and power," said Jacob Dut Chol, a lecturer of politics at Juba University.
"It's kind of endless thing it might not end soon in South Sudan because when you rebel you have to be brought back and given a position. And then for somebody else who has seen you driving a big car, sleeping in a hotel, dating the best women will decide that actually it's his turn to rebel," he explained.
The government earlier downplayed these developments, saying they won't cause regime change as they are a work of disgruntled individuals driven by ethnic chauvinism.
But, also the rebels allied to former first vice President Riek Machar (SPLA-IO) have been hit with defections after some of their top military soldiers shifted allegiance to General Cirilo's NSF.
During the more than two decades of civil war of independence from Sudan, the then guerilla-cum-ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) managed to survive factionalism leading to splinter sections and finally won South Sudanese sovereignty from Sudan in 2011.
"This has been a lucrative business for South Sudanese politicians and therefore it is not ending soon. It's how we started our government. In 2006 the government started what we called the South-South dialogue. It was meant to bring all militias that were marauding in South Sudan and they were all absorbed into the SPLA," Chol revealed.
Meanwhile, James Alic Garang, a lecturer of Economics at Upper Nile University, told Xinhua that defections clearly indicate peace is yet to hold in the country.
"In principle, these defections carry with them high opportunity costs in terms of lost limbs, foregone earnings and induced macro-economic instability," he said.
"Of course, the peace agreement is still alive but much has to be done to resurrect it from collapsing. In other words, initiatives such as the recent call for the national dialogue by the president are the right thing to do. The only downside is the manner of doing it, more must be done to ensure that it is really inclusive, transparent and comprehensive," Garang added.
President Kiir initiated the national dialogue last December aimed at uniting and reconciling warring factions, but rebel leader Riek Machar has not warmed up to the dialogue.
"Someone rebels with lower rank, adorns them in the bush and returns with high ranks. As a condition for solidifying peace, they are absorbed into the army with their new ranks and that means higher economic opportunities. This has financially bled the country and yet enriched individual war merchants," Garang disclosed.
The lack of punishment and accountability for returnee militia leaders in the past has created a culture of impunity that encourages a cycle of defections, Chol explained.
"The consequences are that you cannot have development, peace, security and very stable country where people are working hard. Simply because rebellion is what the government keeps an eye on. Any small resource that comes in goes to security sector to make sure that people buy peace," he said.
It is actually rent-seeking behavior which is difficult, people must change from that and think of what they can do for their lives, he revealed.
"It is unlikely the rebels will succeed in toppling the Kiir regime, but what will happen is that there will be disturbances on the government of the day in terms of development," Chol said.