If reports from Juba are to be analyzed objectively, South Sudan, dubbed Africa’s youngest nation, may be on the verge of a fresh ethnic conflagration and possible economic collapse.
Though it is wrong at this time to compare what is taking place in the Eastern African nation to the situation in Rwanda in the 1990’s, the unrelenting schisms between the two largest tribes, the Dinka and the Nuer, reminds us of the tribal animosity that boiled over in the Central African country between the Tutsis and the Hutus.
The tiny South Sudan, which abuts the Nile River, broke away from Sudan to go it alone in 2011, and since 2013 it has never seen peace. President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and Riek Machar, a Nuer, have been fighting for three years for the control of the oil rich nation. Their pastoralist communities, on the other hand, have traditionally been enemies and have always squabbled over pasture and water resources, squabbles that have led to many deaths.
Thousands of people have been killed and tens of thousands are in refugee camps in neighboring countries. Some African leaders describe events in South Sudan as ‘large scale atrocities’. As a result of the violence, oil production is interrupted and supply has dipped by 40 percent.
Attempts at reconciliation by the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) have had limited success. Similarly, the small number of UN peacekeeping troops, in the country since 2011, has not been able to stabilize the country. Fresh proposals are on the table to deploy an additional 4,000 troops.
About ten days ago, Machar, who had arrived in Juba only weeks earlier following yet another peace agreement, was forced to flee after fresh fighting broke out around Juba. He crossed into the Democratic Republic of Congo where his troops were attacked by militias and Machar was wounded. He had to be evacuated by President Omar al Bashir‘s forces and is now receiving medical treatment in Khartoum.
For those who have been following the situation in South Sudan know that al Bashir has been arming the rebels. Captured arms caches have shown clear made-in-Sudan markings.
The Sudanese leader, who is also wanted by the International Criminal Court at the Hague for crimes against humanity, is once again engaging in hostile activities that could lead to mass killings in the new nation.
He is interfering in a sovereign country by fueling divisions. The fact that Sudan once controlled the area is neither here nor there. The country of 11 million people is now independent and should be left alone to chart its own course.
I should also mention that China too is involved in South Sudan and is assisting the government there with arms. It has invested heavily in infrastructure and feels it has the right to protect its interests. Also in the mix is Yoweri Museveni of Uganda who also is providing military support in the form of air assaults against the rebels.
Like many wars in Africa, the civil war in South Sudan is completely unnecessary and wasteful. For Kiir and Machar to use innocent people to advance their personal and political interests and those of their foreign masters is not only shameful but morally wrong.
Figures show half of the children in South Sudan have not set foot in a classroom. Oil revenues – which form 85 percent of the country’s budget – and which should be going to education, health, and other more urgent services, are being diverted to the war.
Most of the country has no electricity or running water and the infrastructure is in shambles. Basic commodities are in short supply and as a result the black market is thriving. And even as the country holds the biggest oil reserves in sub-Saharan Africa ahead of Nigeria and Angola, fuel shortages are common and motorists have to line up for days to fill up their cars.
Apart from flexing its military muscles, el Bashir’s Sudan is also a beneficiary of the South Sudan oil. Since Juba for now must channel its oil products through Sudan it has to pay heavily – 9.10 US dollar for every barrel including another fee of 15 US dollars per barrel – for the use of facilities in the Upper Nile region.
Early this week, South Sudan’s new Vice President, Taban Deng Gai, travelled to Khartoum at the head of a powerful delegation for talks believed to center on security matters. This undoubtedly proves Khartoum’s importance to South Sudan’s survival. But it can be surmised that on the agenda of their talks was Machar’s future. Already, the AU is asking Gai to quit and leave his position open for Machar to occupy when he returns to Juba. This could fuel further instability.
The fact that the US Secretary of State John Kerry was in Nairobi this week and was briefed about the situation in South Sudan gives hope that the world could be contemplating an alternative action to deal with the politics of that country. We have to wait and see.
In the meantime I can bet, John Garang de Mabior, the pioneer revolutionary who was killed in a mysterious air crash in southern Sudan in 2005, must be rolling in his grave seeing the way things are going in his country – a situation that has extinguished all dreams of a safe, strong, and independent South Sudan.
So, I tell President Omar al Bashir, the fugitive; Yoweri Museveni; and Xi Jinping: Please leave South Sudan alone!
Joe Khamisi is a former journalist, diplomat and Member of Parliament. He is also the Author of ‘Politics of Betrayal:Diary of a Kenyan Legislator‘, a political memoir about the situation in Kenya between 2001, when the ruling party of President Daniel Arap Moi, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), merged with Raila Odinga’s National Development Party.
The book also narrates cases of corruption in Parliament and in the Media and records Senator Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2006. As a friend of Barack Obama Senior, the author also remembers the times and tragedies of the American-educated economist.
Joe Khamisi’s second book, a biography, ‘Dash Before Dusk’ is also now on sale.
Joe’s latest book is ‘The Wretched Africans: A Study of Rabai and Freretown Slave Settlements‘ which has recently been published and is now available to purchase.