Katherine Muhvich  

Josef Korbel School of International Studies — University of Denver

Uduk Hope Inc., Graduate Research Assistant                                                                                                                                                   




Since December 2013, when fighting broke out in one of the most deadly civil conflicts of the new century, an estimated 3.5 million South Sudanese have been killed. In addition, 1.7 million have fled their own country and 1.9 million have been internally displaced and forced to leave their homes. The United Nation’s peacekeeping mission in country (UNMISS) reported on a recent incident in the city of Wau, in northwestern South Sudan. As of April 10, 2017 16 civilians were killed. Wau is a territory that has been separately controlled by government troops (supporters of President Salva Kiir of the Dinka majority group), and rebels (supporters of Riek Machar of the Nuer group, Kiir’s former deputy) at different points in recent history. In the latest attacks on civilians in Wau, 3,000 people, mostly women and children, were able to seek shelter in a Catholic church, and 84 were able to shelter themselves at a UNMISS ‘Protection of Civilians’ site. The civilians targeted in this case were randomly slaughtered and most were from Jur and Balanda ethnic groups.

There are opposing stories of how this specific violent episode started. William Gatjiath Deng, spokesman for rebels, states that the violence was started by an ambush outside Wau that killed 35 government soldiers. Then the surviving troops killed 50 civilians in “house-to-house” raids. Army spokesman Colonel Santo Domic Chol said the killings were completed by members of ethnic groups who are not part of the larger violence, as a way to retaliate against other groups. Neither story has been able to be verified. In addition to physical violence, the war has caused a man-made famine where some have largely blamed Kiir’s actions.

Video: Aid workers killed in South Sudan ambush http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/south-sudan-civilians-killed-wau-fighting-170410182833372.html

Comment supplemented from:

Rolandsen, &., & Daly, M. (2016). A history of South Sudan : From slavery to independence.

            Often neglected in reporting recent conflicts (assuming mostly due to time and space constraints) are the centuries-old power dynamics and oppressive practices that caused disenchantment for various groups of people. For example, in the 1800’s, the Turco-Egyptian regime of Sudan exported slaves and exploited ethnic rivalries in ivory trade (p.15). “Southern policies” of the British, present from 1930-1946 in the south, used government-by-patrol through indirect rule, which largely and adversely affected education among other aspects of culture (p.51).  The events happening today can be traced back to previous events; it may be important that they are remembered so that the future can be different and people may heal and forgive.