South Sudan—Another failed experiment in self-rule?

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Monday, December 23, 2013

Folks, by now, you must have heard of the turmoil in South Sudan, the world’s newest country and Africa’s 55th.

It all began sometime before July this year when in-fighting within the ranks of the SPLM government exploded with President Salva Kiir dismissing his Vice (Riek Machar) and the entire Cabinet in the hope that his authority as the head of state would stay intact. Nothing seemed to have happened immediately thereafter to endanger his government, the country, and the citizens, even though the under-current was strongly being felt that the country was sitting on a time-bomb.

Already, the tension arising from disputes with Al-Bashir’s Sudan over many critical issues, especially the petroleum industry, had strained nerves and sparked off some skirmishes.

Just when the relations with Sudan were being smoothed, BOOOOOOOOM!! Trouble in South Sudan as fighting broke out last week in the national capital city (Juba), which President Kiir quickly blamed on his former Vice, accusing him of attempting a coup.

Since then, the situation has assumed ugly dimensions, not only deteriorating but also shifting very fast to the possibility of a civil war.

The country is fast tearing apart and likely to be engulfed by a civil war as the two ethnic groups—the Dinka and Nuer—whose members constitute the government (or whatever is left of it) pit their strengths against each other and dig in.

President Kiir, a member of the majority Dinka ethnic group, sacked Mr. Machar, who is from the Nuer community, in July.

The violence which broke out in Juba last weekend has since spread, pitting gangs of Nuer and Dinka against each other, according to the BBC.

What began as a dissident action (two versions coming from the government and its opponents, respectively) is now a major national catastrophe that will likely engulf the entire region.

Here is the frightening scenario that is emerging:

“I was buying some things for my children in the market on Tuesday when I saw two people dressed in normal civilian clothes shot dead in front of me by people in military clothing.

“I don’t know if they were the army or rebels. I didn’t wait to see”—Mogga Lado, a resident of Juba, told the BBC).

As the UN Humanitarian Coordinator (Toby Lanzer) has put it, there is definitely an atmosphere of fear and desperation as violence escalates.

He told the BBC about summary executions in Bor, in the restive state of Jonglei that has fallen to rebels. In addition to Jonglei, the rebels now control Bentiu, the capital of oil-rich Unity State. South Sudan’s economy depends on oil production in Bentiu, with 95% of its total revenue coming from there.

So, folks, right in front of our eyes, South Sudan is collapsing, not because it cannot stand on its own as an independent country, but because those entrusted with management of affairs are fighting for power.

We note the long and tortuous history behind this new country and the bitter struggle waged by Col. John Garang and his Sudanese people’s Liberation Army (SPLA) before his own death and the circumstances leading to the Moslem-dominated Sudan’s agreeing to grant independence to the mostly animist and Christian south.

Regardless of the negative impact of Sudan’s grips on that part of the country, the reality is that the fighting going on now could have been prevented had the main characters acted properly to put nation above personal whims and capricious desire for power. It is not as if that power will be used to benefit the people. It hasn’t been so in Africa all these years!

So, now, the international community is looking on as South Sudan cracks. The US has already taken the first step to evacuate its citizens from there. China has also moved to ensure its citizens’ safety and security. All others that have interests in the area are taking prompt action to secure them.

Two Indian soldiers have died in the crisis while four US service personnel on the evacuation mission were injured by gun fire from sources not yet confirmed as rebels or pro-government.

On Sunday, the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) said it had begun relocating staff from the capital Juba to the Ugandan city of Entebbe. Its precincts had already been sheltering thousands of citizens fleeing from the escalating violence. Even then, there are reports of some of the refugees being killed there.

Now, here is the catch. In less than two years of becoming an independent country, South Sudan is already unstable. With Machar’s forces rampaging and doing all they can to assert the rebels’ crave for power and the government forces’ determination to crack down on them, will we have peace and stability there soon?

Mediation efforts are in progress but there seems to be no common ground. Mr. Machar told the BBC on Saturday that he was prepared to negotiate with the government if politicians arrested this week were released and transferred to a neutral country such as Ethiopia. Mr. Kiir had also agreed to negotiations after meeting African mediators on Friday.

Or will we have the country broken into two to give us South Sudan and South-South Sudan? It is regrettable that the country should be falling to its knees so soon. No doubt, another failed African experiment in self-governance.

The mediation going on will achieve very little because it will be exceedingly difficult for the bitter enemies to sink their differences and agree to work as a team. Will President Kiir restore Mr. Machar and the dismissed Cabinet members to their former status? With what consequences?

And now that Mr. Machar is assured of his forces’ ability to over-run the government forces, will he rein them in? With what implications for his own political ambitions?

Definitely, the stage is set for a damaging implosion that will further worsen the plight of the millions of citizens who have stood by destitute and hopeless while their country’s resources become the bone of contention between greedy, hard-hearted, and politically ambitious marauding gangsters abusing their trust to achieve the self-aggrandizement that politics in Africa offers them.

I shall return…

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