In 2017, shifting allegiances between the government and the opposition, and within each party, continue. Criticisms of government conducting ethnically targeted violence by both government and opposition officials underpin these shifting allegiances. Both the government and the opposition remain fragmented. Regular clashes continue in Central and Eastern Equatoria, while fighting has escalated in Upper Nile and Jonglei, and most recently in Western Bahr el Ghazal, as the government attempts to regain territory in rebel-held areas.
After having made the unilateral decision to restructure the country from 10 to 28 states in late 2015, President Kiir on 14 January 2017 created more new states, allegedly in response to popular demand. There are reports that between four and eight new states were created.?? The creation of more states enables the government to strengthen its control over oil resources, notably in Upper Nile. Creation of additional states was perceived by the opposition as a violation of the 2015 peace agreement.? Conflict of border demarcations triggered violence in parts of Upper Nile, Jonglei, Western Bahr el Ghazal and Central and Eastern Equatoria.
The national dialogue announced by President Kiir on 14 December 2016 officially started on 22 May, after the government declared a unilateral ceasefire.??Some members of the opposition refused to participate in the dialogue.??On 4 June, an SPLA-IO faction and the South Sudanese goverment agreed on a permanent ceasefire in Yei River state in Central Equatoria. However, top SPLA-IO officials do not recognise the deal.???
Since September 2016, there have been regular reports of government officials defecting to the opposition, opposition members defecting to the opposition aligned with the government, and opposition members defecting to other opposition armed groups.??Several ministers have resigned from the transitional government formed in April 2016.??President Kiir continues to ensure that he is surrounded by people loyal to him.??On 9 May, he removed and replaced the South Sudanese army's general chief of staff, Paul Malong, from his position.?Malong had been accused of leading ethnically targeted violence by some military officials who resigned in February. Although Malong returned to Juba and claimed that he would not try to overthrow the government, tensions are still high as of end of June, with reports that some people loyal to Malong were arrested or had their movement restricted by the South Sudanese government.?Other changes in the army structure followed.
New parties and armed factions are being created.??On 20 June, a former lawmaker defected from Taban Deng's government and announced the creation of the Popular Front for Democratic Reform and Pan-African National Guard.?New parties and disagreement within the opposition continue to undermine the dialogue of national unity.
Neighbouring countries have isolated Riek Machar, reducing their support to the SPLM-IO.?The split between former Vice President Riek Machar and current Vice President Taban Deng Gai is growing, with regular defections from one group to another.?On 2 June, two of Riek Machar's bodyguards defected to Vice President Taban Deng.?Machar has been replacing senior officials in the SPLM-IO, and despite a weakening position, his support base is growing as opposition to government action grows.???
There are allegations that the government has engaged in social re-engineering in Upper Nile since 2015.??In early 2015, long standing disputes between the Shilluk
and the Dinka over land on the east bank of the Nile River in southern Upper Nile state resulted in Shilluk evacuating after heavy fighting. Since then, reports suggest government forces, who are majority Dinka, have been preventing access to surrounding areas of Malakal and airlifting Dinkas from the Equatorias, notably Juba. The UN estimates that 2,000 people, mostly Dinka, were transported into Wau Shilluk town after fighting in February 2017.?The number of Dinkas moved there could be as high as 25,000.?It remains unclear if the airlifted Dinka originate from that area. Repopulation of vacated areas by Dinkas allegedly accelerated in 2016 and this is likely to remain a driving force behind government offensives countrywide.
The political scene is likely to remain highly divided in the absence of any true reconciliation and justice mechanisms. The dialogue of national unity, which as of early March has been far from creating consensus amongst the parties, is likely to fail without an inclusive approach to all stakeholders. As President Kiir's popular support base keeps eroding, he is likely to further sideline those he suspects could challenge his power, and keep replacing them by people loyal to him.?Polarisation of positions within the opposition is likely to increase, between those who seek a military solution and those promoting a political solution to the conflict.
On 22 May, President Kiir declared a unilateral ceasefire, although clashes continue.???Since former General Chief of Staff Paul Malong was replaced in May, his troops withdrew from the frontline in Northern Bahr el Ghazal, his area of origin.?However, anecdotal reports of internal divisions within the army are reported in other parts of the country, notably in Leer in Unity.?Tensions remain high after Malong was dismissed, and rumours of a potential coup remain.
Clashes regularly occur in Central and Eastern Equatoria, where conflict escalated since July 2016, and Western Bahr el Ghazal. Conflict escalated in April 2017, with the highest levels of violence recorded in the past three years.?Although oppposition armed groups remain disunified, have no stable source of arm supplies and no coordination, they are new signs that suggest that they might ally to overthrow the government.??Opposition groups use guerilla-like tactics such as ambushes of military convoys to maintain a hold on their territory, which are mainly of the Nuer ethnic group. In response, the government conducts heavy-handed operations against civilians suspected of supporting the opposition, which is often any non-Dinka civilian. Smaller-scale conflict has also developed among numerous unidentified armed groups across the country.?