After Independence: The continued threat of the LRA to South Sudan
After two periods of extended civil war, stretching a total of 37 years and leaving over 2 million dead, this past Saturday, July 9th, the South Sudanese people won their fight for self-determination with formal recognition on the world stage as the independent Republic of South Sudan.
There is a clear recurring narrative in much of what has been written of the path to independence. While the moment is one to celebrate in honor of a people who sacrificed much in order to make it happen, there remain sobering challenges ahead for the new nation. A nation in which it was estimated in 2006 that of every 1000 children born, almost 200 would not see their fifth birthday. A nation the size of France in which less than 100 kilometers of its roads are paved. A nation threatened in its infancy not only by the Khartoum government’s shaky negotiations over Abyei and further violence in South Kordofan, but also by a failure of the international community to put an end the menace of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
Two weeks before independence, Resolve’s team member Paul Ronan returned to Kampala, Uganda from Western Equatoria State in South Sudan, the first leg of a four-month research mission to the region. Paul had the opportunity to interview many South Sudanese citizens, UN officials, and local militia leaders across the region, focusing on the impact of ongoing LRA attacks that have left tens of thousands displaced.
Paul found that the situation is at a dangerous point. The fragile new nation of South Sudan is seeking stability yet is unable to adequately protect local communities from LRA attacks. Both the UN peacekeeping force in South Sudan and the South Sudanese military itself face serious resource constraints, and have placed much greater importance on threats in other parts of the country. As a result, the communities impacted by the LRA are largely left to defend themselves through local militia groups, known as Arrow Boys, many of which are quickly becoming the most effective protection presence to counter LRA attacks.
Due to this vacuum of adequate protection, Resolve strongly is urging the U.S. and international community to take further action to protect the citizens of South Sudan from the LRA through all channels available. That particularly includes the strengthening of local cell networks and road infrastructure and increased commitment by UN peacekeepers to carrying out their protection mandate.
Along with the reminders of these challenges, there is a very real hope in this moment for the people of South Sudan. As advocates of those affected by the LRA in South Sudan, this is a key moment in which to renew our own commitment to seeing a lasting peace for citizens of the world’s newest nation.
Celebrations at the flag raising ceremony on July 9th at the South Sudan Embassy in Washington, D.C. Photo credit: Lisa Dougan