Exactly three years ago on January 9, the 10.8 million people of South Sudan voted 99% in favor of independence from Sudan. Today, the country finds itself in violent, political turmoil.
According to the United Nations, as of Thursday, rapidly spreading violence in the world’s newest country has killed over 1,000 and displaced approximately 270,000 since the fighting began on December 15.
“One of the most fragile democracies is in danger of shattering,” said Department of State official Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing Thursday.
What started as a political rift between President Salva Kiir Mayardit, a member of the rebel force Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, and Reik Machar, former vice president who planned to run for presidential seat in 2015 and has support from the national army, has awakened deeply seeded ethnic tensions in the country. According to Thomas-Greenfield, the fight has caught civilians in the crossfire and led to widespread human rights abuses.
The international community has been asked to continue aiding South Sudanese people. In addition to the $318 million sent to the region for 2013-2014, the UN granted 50 million more to help humanitarian efforts on January 3. UN aid has reached an estimated 167,000 South Sudanese people.
Among several testimonies at the hearing, Princeton Lyman, a prominent figure in helping South Sudan achieve independence and former Special Envoy for Sudan, echoed the pressing need to negotiate an end to the violence before rebuilding a new and stronger political structure within the country.
According to USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa Kate Almquist Knopf, the US plays a particularly important role because of its history helping South Sudan achieve autonomy in 2005 and full independence in 2011.
“It is an exercise in building a new nation and state from the ground up,” said Knopf. “It takes decades.”