Machar’s Return Only the First Step in Bringing South Sudan Back Together

Machar’s Return Only the First Step in Bringing South Sudan Back Together
South Sudanese First Vice President Riek Machar, left, and President Salva Kiir after the first meeting of a new transitional government, Juba, South Sudan, April 29, 2016 (AP photo by Jason Patinkin).

South Sudan’s original political odd couple is back together again. In late April, President Salva Kiir watched over the swearing in of his very recent rival and enemy, Riek Machar, as first vice president before declaring that the ceremony marked “the end of the war and the return of peace and stability to South Sudan.”

Is Kiir right? While the homecoming for Machar, the vice president-turned-rebel leader, is a crucial initial step in returning peace to South Sudan, it is only that. And it would be dangerous to reduce the peace process to simply the state of the relationship between the two leaders.

South Sudan’s civil conflict began in December 2013, when a firefight broke out in a military barracks outside the capital, Juba, between rival forces aligned with Kiir and Machar. This came just months after Kiir removed Machar from the vice presidency. In the days that followed the clash, as troops from Machar’s ethnic group, the Nuer, fled the city, forces loyal to Kiir began what the United Nations Mission in South Sudan described as “targeted killings of civilians of Nuer origin following house-to-house searches.” Within days, the fighting had spread to the country’s northeast, and Machar had declared himself officially in rebellion.

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