In 2013, during the 50th anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (now known as the African Union), African leaders solemnly declared their aim to “silence the guns” in Africa by the end of 2020. Consequently, silencing the guns—ending armed conflict—is the African Union’s theme for 2020, with high-level discussions on how to implement this goal throughout the year.
Violent clashes in the capital of South Sudan have soured the country’s fifth anniversary of independence. Hundreds of soldiers and civilians were killed in the four days after 7 July, including two Chinese peacekeepers. The confrontation threatens to destroy the fragile progress made toward implementing a 2015 peace agreement to end a two-year civil war. The deal had allowed some opposition soldiers back into the capital, Juba, and the clashes have been between them and units of the national army and presidential guard. The UN is protecting tens of thousands of civilians in its compounds around the city, one of which has been repeatedly hit.
In this Q&A, senior analyst for South Sudan, Casie Copeland, explains what is behind the fighting in Juba and what can help prevent the conflict spiralling out of control.
What triggered this recent spate of violence, and who is responsible?
The return to conflict was a growing danger, as Crisis Group noted in its 1 July statement on Preventing Renewed War in South Sudan. In the nine months that the ceasefire has been observed, forces have simply paused hostilities while remaining in close proximity: there has been no joint security oversight or move toward unification or demobilisation. This would have been an untenable status quo even if there had been political progress, which has not materialised.