Since yesterday around 6:30pm (local time), a series of events have been unfolding in Juba, South Sudan that are being characterized as either a mutiny of certain elements of the SPLA or a coup attempt. It’s still unclear what exactly is going on, and the news media has not been the best source of breaking news, perhaps due in part to the media that flocked to South Africa to cover Nelson Mandela’s funeral. For the moment, the best coverage I’ve found is on Twitter using the hashtags #JubaCrisis, #SouthSudanCoupAttempt, and of course #SouthSudan and #Juba. Hundreds of civilians have taken refuge at the UNMISS compound near the airport, the airport has been closed and flights have been cancelled, and I saw reports that some of South Sudan’s land borders had also been closed. Meanwhile, former government officials Majak D’Agoot, Gier Chuang Aluong, Oyai Deng, and Cirino Iteng have been arrested for their alleged roles in the alleged coup attempt.
Political tensions had been on the rise since President Kiir sacked his entire cabinet in July, especially his VP Riek Machar, whose location at the moment, is unconfirmed. (I’m trying to get the #WhereIsRiek hashtag started, but sadly it hasn’t gained traction.) Salva was quick to point the finger at Riek to blame him for the recent unrest, but my initial sense is that Riek has spent years trying to rehabilitate his reputation from the 1991 Nasir coup attempt and would be more likely to exhaust his options in the political sphere before resorting to armed violence. The key issue to consider is who stands to gain from casting Riek in a negative light and reminding South Sudan, and the international community, of his past? The answer is, President Kiir, who needs to bolster his own image as South Sudan’s leader in light of the cabinet reshuffle, and in the run-up to elections in 2015. Notice how President Kiir has donned his military apparel, which he hasn’t worn in years for the press conference he gave on yesterday’s events instead of his trademark cowboy hat. Regardless, until we know exactly what’s going on in Juba and who’s involved, it will be difficult to ascertain whether this has been a mutiny or an actual coup attempt.