News / Africa

S. Sudan Unrest Brings Ethnic Chasm to Forefront

Children of displaced families are seen camped inside Tomping U.N. base near Juba international airport, Dec. 24, 2013.
Children of displaced families are seen camped inside Tomping U.N. base near Juba international airport, Dec. 24, 2013.
Hannah McNeish
As the United Nations moves to deploy more peacekeepers to South Sudan, witnesses say the country is slipping toward civil war. The political conflict between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president has laid bare ethnic tensions that could potentially tear apart the world's newest country.
The chaos in South Sudan is evident at the airport in the capital, Juba, where it is standing room only as people push and shove, trying to secure a seat on a plane that will take them out of the country.
Out on the streets, it is quiet, but a few hundred meters away at a United Nations peacekeeping base, 10,000 people are hiding from violence that only started 10 days ago but has spread across the nation like a cancer.
For Bang Teny, what started as a political struggle in the world's newest country has turned into another internal war, in a country that raised its own flag only two years ago after fighting Sudan for decades.

  • Members of the South Sudan rebel delegation attend the opening ceremony of South Sudan's peace negotiations, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 4, 2014.
  • Taban Deng Gai, left, head of the rebel delegation and South Sudan's leader of the government delegation, Nhial Deng Nhial, attend the opening ceremony of South Sudan's peace negotiations, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 4, 2014.
  • Unidentified members of the delegation from the South Sudan government and western observers meet at the Sheraton Hotel, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 4, 2014.
  • A displaced mother and her baby, one of the few to have a mosquito net, wake up at a refugee camp, Awerial, South Sudan, Jan. 2, 2014.
  • A young displaced girl carries a bucket of water back to her makeshift shelter at a United Nations compound. The compound has become home to thousands of people displaced by the recent fighting, Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 31, 2013.
  • Displaced people gather inside a mosquito net tent as they flee from the fighting between the South Sudanese army and rebels in Bor town, in Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 30, 2013.
  • A displaced woman hangs up laundry on the plastic sheeting wall of a latrine at a United Nations compound, Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 31, 2013.
  • Yared, 2, is held by his mother, Madhn, who fled from the town of Bor a few days ago. She receives medicine for her child at a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) medical tent, at a United Nations compound, Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 31, 2013.
  • A young displaced boy rests on the wheel arch of a water truck while others fill containers from it, at a United Nations compound, Juba, South Africa, Dec. 31, 2013.
  • A family makes tea outside their makeshift shelter at a United Nations compound, Juba, South Sudan, Dec. 31, 2013.
  • A general view of a camp for displaced people set up in a United Nations compound in Bor, South Sudan, Dec. 25, 2013.
  • South Sudan army soldiers hold their weapons as they ride on a truck in Bor, Dec. 25, 2013.

The core of the struggle is the rivalry between the country's two main ethnic groups -- the Dinka and Nuer.  The violence spread from the presidential guard to many divisions of the army.  In short order, gunmen began to target civilians along tribal lines.
Bang was among those seeking refuge at the U.N. compound.
“There was an incident that we all know of, and for whatever reason, it did not extend from the political parties, it extends to who you are, based on your tribe.  I came to this U.N. compound two hours ago, fearing for my life.  I know a lot of friends who were picked up based on their tribe, and once you are picked up, you will never be seen again,” said Bang.
Bang is half Dinka and half Nuer, but says that the Nuer ceremonial scarring on his forehead - four deep lines carving out a boy's transition to manhood - mean that he and many others have been targeted by Dinka forces in the capital Juba.
“When you have a mark like myself, they will pick you up.  It doesn't matter whether it's day or night, but usually most of the lynching is done at night, they will pick you up and your family will never see you again,” said Teny.
Only traces of life
In abandoned neighborhoods across the city, the only traces of life are half-eaten meals, broken chairs, and pairs of shoes lying outside mud houses and tin shops that have been burgled and vandalized.
The capital's residents say that men with guns come during the night, followed by trucks to pick up the dead bodies.
Sprawled on a mattress in the dirt, a man by the name of Simon said that he and some 250 others were picked up one evening at 8 p.m. local time. He said that they were taken to a police building in a busy suburb, and over the course of two days, shot at through the windows by policemen and soldiers.
Simon said he is one of 12 survivors rescued by national intelligence services.  He kept silent despite suffering from four gunshot wounds and being surrounded by decaying corpses.
"I had a bad feeling,” he said. “To survive you had to cover yourself with the bodies. During the two days, the bodies of the killed people were smelling too bad. I can't talk too much about it,” said Simon.
In another part of the U.N. base, a man named Gatchuak is nursing three bullet wounds and has one arm in a sling. He said he was another survivor of the same incident.
“This is one bullet, this one a bullet and this one a bullet, and my left hand side is broken,” he said pointing to parts of his body.  “I'm a civilian. We were captured in Gudele one, with the number of around 275 people, we remain 12 people.  The rest were all killed.”
Nuer offensive

Last week, ethnic militias belonging to a Nuer sub-clan stormed a U.N. base in Jonglei state, killing two U.N. peacekeepers, wounding another and killing at least 11 Dinka civilians.
Nuer armies fighting under defected commanders or renegade political leaders are on the offensive, having seized two state capitals over the past week, and sending hundreds of thousands of people fleeing to the bush.

United Nations agencies are struggling to provide aid and protection, said the U.N.'s local humanitarian chief, Toby Lanzer.
“I think that some people might not have realized so far is that this really does go across all of the communities.  All communities are being affected at the moment, and everyone has a part to play in making sure that people are safe,” said Lanzer.
The U.N. Security Council vote on Tuesday will boost the peacekeeping force in South Sudan  to nearly 14,000.  But unless a political deal is reached and leaders call for calm among communities, the country could soon find itself split along ethnic lines.

You May Like

Photogallery Belgian Security Measures Foreshadow New Normal for Europe

Rising threat of terrorism, disaffected Muslim populations and open borders, along with refugee, migrant crisis, are creating perfect storm for Europe, which some analysts fear continent is ill-suited to weather

Competing Claims of Responsibility for Mali Hotel Attack

Malian authorities ask public for help in identifying gunmen killed in attack, amid conflicting claims of responsibility from multiple jihadist groups active in the country

Debt-ridden Refugees Await Onslaught of Lebanese Winter

Aid agencies are attempting to reduce potentially devastating consequences of freezing conditions and snowstorms that killed eight last year, including three Syrian refugees

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs