WORLD

This Is What Five Years Of Independence In South Sudan Looks Like

It's a dangerous place to be a girl.

08/07/2016 2:36 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:56 PM AEST
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Plan International / Keira Dempsey

There were no celebrations for South Sudan's five-year anniversary of independence in the capital as renewed violent fighting broke out between rival factions in an already war-torn republic.

Reuters reported more than 270 people were killed in the capital Juba as government troops and opposing forces loyal to First Vice-President Riek Machar clashed while their leaders prepared to meet on Friday.

The streets reportedly remain empty, all shops are closed and one Machar spokesman described events as a turn "back to war".

ASSOCIATED PRESS
South Sudanese rebel soldiers loyal to First Vice President Riek Machar at a camp in June.

Australian Dave Husey was in South Sudan when independence was called in 2011, and later, operated as director of programs for child rights organisation Plan International.

He said it was heartbreaking to see the decline of a republic that was filled with such hope.

"There was a real heady sense of excitement in the capital to celebrate independence," Husy told HuffPost Australia.

"It was the birth of a new country that they'd fought for for 30 years. The city was awash with fighters but there was a sense of optimism and creating a national identity and a government which would support and reflect the community's needs.

"It's so disappointing to see this gradual slide over five years to the point of extended civil war."

Plan International / Allen Poni
Plan International and UNICEF jointly run a youth leadership and employment program.

Husy said the republic's conflict was often characterised around poverty and ethnic tensions but he believed it was more often sparked by power-hungry individuals and nearby nations.

"South Sudan is a multi-ethnic country with very strong traditions among groups but I think the major issue is what I call the African conflict complex," Husy said.

They're power brokers and war lords, exploiting the situation, drawing support from surrounding nations and ethnic bases and sewing the seeds of conflict at every opportunity.

"Every conflict in an African country always has numerous protagonists from surrounding countries with their own interests. Sudan has very antagonistic interests in South Sudan and has for a long time. Uganda has basically had their own troops on the ground waiting, Kenya is a bit more benign but certainly the surrounding countries have their own interests.

"Add to that individuals looking to expand their own power base. They're power brokers and war lords, exploiting the situation, drawing support from surrounding nations and ethnic bases and sewing the seeds of conflict at every opportunity.

"It's a combustible mix.

"Normally, a country would be able to draw on standing traditions or existing systems of governance but you've got to remember this is a country that only came into existence five years ago."

Plan International / Keira Dempsey
Children pump water from a borehole drilled by Plan International at Melijo camp.

Husy said the children of South Sudan would be affected by this conflict for their lifetimes.

"Children have largely borne the brunt of this conflict, especially girls," Husy said.

"Sexual violence is used as a weapon in conflict and Plan International is working to better identify and track perpetrators becasue we believe it is a war crime."

How The Republic of South Sudan Became Independent

A Sudanese civil war ended in 1972 with the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region being declared.

In 1983 the region fell into another civil war.

By 2005, the region was declared the Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan.

In 2011 South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan by way of a referendum.

Food shortages and displacement also affected South Sudanese children.

"Unless you can address the nutritional needs of children very quickly in crucial development stages, they will be disadvantaged for the rest of their lives," Husy said.

Andreea Campeanu / Reuters
A dancer celebrates the third anniversary of South Sudan's independence in 2014.

"That's the heartbreaking issue here. Even if the conflict somehow resolved in the next couple of years, these children will live with the trauma, and displacement and medical effects.

"Sometimes people say conflict runs through South Sudan but it doesn't. There are people working at great personal risk to create a national identity and lasting peace.

"It's a country that's alive with colour and vibrancy, and we need renewed attention and action from the international community.

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