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Ban Ki-moon in S. Sudan

Eunice WanjiruFebruary 26, 2016

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is in South Sudan where he will try and revive a fragile peace deal to end a civil war. Both government and rebels are under pressure to settle their differences.

Ban Ki-moon in South Sudan
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) with South Sudan's President Salva Kiir in JubaImage: Reuters/J. Solomon

DW asked Douglas Johnson, an Oxford-based South Sudan expert, about the significance of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's visit to the war-torn East African country and whether it would make any difference.

It is significant in this respect: the UN mission to South Sudan has been given the mandate to protect civilians and recently this has been extremely difficult. There was fighting in Malakal, there's been fighting in Pibor, there are continued clashes between forces of the government and the opposition as well as other opportunistic fighting of groups that have armed themselves. So the UN has a mandate, but it doesn't have the resources or the ability to protect civilians, or to monitor a proper cessation of hostilities that would enable the government and the opposition to begin to form a government of transition, a transitional government of national unity. So Ban Ki-moon's visit must be dealing with these challenges to the UN mission in South Sudan and whether he can make any movement in that regard - especially in regard to the threat of sanctions on both parties if they fail to live up to their agreement. He might be able to make some progress as far as that is concerned.

Both sides have begun to express a willingness to work together. Could this have been inspired by the fall in oil prices?

I am sure that the collapse of South Sudan's economy is one of the reasons why they are beginning to make rather more positive statements about what they will do. One has to see that the fighting, the war itself, has gone beyond control of the leaders and it is going to be a massive problem for the leadership on both sides to rein in the conflict, to rein in the fighting, so that there can be some reconstruction and reconciliation throughout South Sudan, not just in the provision of offices and positions for political leaders and their followers.

There is still lingering violence in the country and some camps have recently been attacked. What does this tell us about the future of the country and the restoration of peace?

What it tells us is that the restoration of peace is going to be very difficult and will need the commitment of the leaders of the country and of the opposition to really get down to thinking how they can rein in the violence, how they can cooperate with international agencies, such as the UN mission, the medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and various other agencies that have been dealing with the civilian population, the civilian casualties of this fighting. It is going to have be a very concentrated national effort of behalf of the South Sudanese, but in collaboration and cooperation with international agencies.

Could you describe for us the current humanitarian situation in the country?

It is difficult to say. One has to remember that there are parts of the country that have not been directly affected by the fighting, or have not been affected very much by the fighting, and where everyday life does continue, where you do have continuing sporting engagements, you do have trade, etc. The areas that have been affected the most are the areas that are known as Greater Upper Nile, the areas where, for instance, the oil reserves are found and those are the areas that are going to require the greatest reconstruction. Unfortunately, fighting has begun to break out in other parts of South Sudan, in the area of Western Equatoria, which had not been engaged in the original fighting between the government and the SPLM (Sudan People's Liberation Movement) in opposition.

What are the ordinary people of South Sudan saying? Do they still have hope in their country?

The most vocal people from South Sudan right now are the people in the diaspora who are the ones who have access to social media. It is difficult to say whether people in South Sudan have given up all hope. I think they probably have not given up all hope. They have lived through this sort of thing before and certainly their hopes for a peaceful future have been dashed. I doubt that South Sudanese have given up all hope, but they know they are going to need a great deal of help from outside as well as from within their own country if peace is to be restored.

Douglas Johnson is the author of "The root causes of Sudan's civil wars."