South Sudan marked four years of independence Thursday. But for most citizens, there was little to celebrate. The country is suffering from a civil war and a deepening humanitarian crisis.
South Sudanese civilians have paid the greatest price for the war. The conflict began in December 2013. It resulted from a dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar. Their disagreement fueled ethnic violence.
Since then, tens of thousands of people have been killed across the country. The fighting has forced more than two million others from their homes. Millions more are facing food insecurity. They do not have enough to eat.
Nhial Tiitmamer is a policy expert with the Sudd Institute in Juba. He says there are understandably mixed feelings on the anniversary of its hard-fought independence from Sudan.
“You know, the people on the one hand are happy to mark the fourth independence anniversary of South Sudan. And then on the other hand, they are worried about tomorrow because of the ongoing conflict.”
Tough economic troubles
South Sudan’s economy is dependent on oil exports. The collapse of oil prices worldwide and the civil war have caused serious economic damage.
Nhial Tiitmamer says the weak economy has affected people in Juba, the capital.
In his words, “to import goods, you need to get hard currency, and this has made living standards really hard for the people because the price of major goods is skyrocketing.”
Both sides have been accused of rights violations during the conflict. They were also accused of sexually abusing children and forcing some to become soldiers.
About 150,000 people have sought shelter in United Nations camps across the country.
Hope 'in short supply'
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said “hope is in short supply” in South Sudan. He called on President Kiir and Mr. Machar to “prove their leadership by investing in a political solution.”
Susan Rice once served as the United States ambassador to the United Nations. She now works as the National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama.
Ms. Rice recorded a message to the South Sudanese people. She said that it breaks her heart to see what South Sudan has become. She placed the blame on the country’s leaders.
“President Kiir and Riek Machar and their cronies are personally responsible for this new war and self-inflicted disaster. And only leaders on both sides can end this violence.”
The two sides have been taking part in lengthy peace negotiations. The East African group IGAD is assisting with the talks. But they have failed to produce a lasting agreement.
The competing sides blame each other for delays in the negotiations. They have yet to agree about a proposed power-sharing agreement and reunification of the armed forces.
On Wednesday, President Kiir began a new three-year term in office after lawmakers voted to extend his rule.
I’m Caty Weaver.
VOA’s Gabe Joselow reported on this story from Nairobi, Kenya. George Grow wrote it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
ongoing – adj. continuing to exist or happen
currency – n. a system of money
standards – n. rules; a level of quality that is considered acceptable
skyrocketing – adj. going up or rising very quickly
cronies – n. close friends or assistants