South Sudan: will Africa ever learn?

The Genesis:
It has been reported that almost all the buildings in town were destroyed during the 1983-2005 north-south civil war. The fighting obliterated what little (yes, little!) infrastructure there was in South Sudan, and made development all but impossible. At independence, South Sudan was left very weak and extremely fragile. South Sudan was the world’s newest country and maybe even the poorest. The new country had gone through decades of conflicts with Khartoum.

These leads to the fundamental questions; why go to war in the first place? Why not employ other means to freedom aside violence, killings and a massacre? Why not the non-violent resistance? Why not employ civil disobedience? At least, the non-violence resistance worked in India under the able leadership of Gandhi enroute gaining the 1950 independence from the British. The same non-violent resistance/disobedience worked during the black revolution in USA, under the tutelage of Martin Luther King jr. Why does violence seem to be peculiar to Africa? Almost all African countries went through violent means to settle their differences in their pre & post independence periods! From Uganda, Kenya, Libya, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Rwanda, Angola, Egypt, South Africa, Sudan, Guinea, Tunisia, the list goes on. Up till today, military juntas and acts of civil terrorism are stil perpetrated in nations like Nigeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Central African Republic etc.

It would be difficult to hope wars will ever be eradicated wholly throughout the world as long as there is existence of mankind. Reason is that some useless elements and unscrupulous political class benefit enormously from wars. For instance, the manufacturers of ammunitions and war arsenals would never pray a war ever ends! This is where they make their filthy lucre, through bloodshed of fellow men. Also, for some politicians who see ethnic nepotism and tribal supremacy as virtues, they wouldn’t mind a massacre of any other tribe that stands in the way of their personal interest. These are major reasons why wars may continue in the world, especially in African nations where people are yet to embrace national unity over a minimal communal love.

Ethnic nepotism v. Political foundation:
In Africa as of today, there is a war going on somewhere or almost everywhere. If a white journalist or writer had written this write-up, I probably would have said he has rascist intentions but I’m African, I know what I know. In my own country, Nigeria, which is supposed to be the ‘Giant of Africa’, we still have the Niger-Delta militants in the south and the Boko haram menace in the north. I personally wrote about the Boko Haram menace about 4 yrs ago when the menace first broke out, the article was published by the Daily Sun newspapers then. Today, the sect seems to only grow stronger by the day and government still are yet to overcome them. Thousands of life has gone, several lives ended abruptly due to the northern uprising alone & university students are now scared of being posted to any northern state (not even the few peaceful ones) for the 1 year mandatory national service(NYSC).

Many people are still of the opinion that the little peace now known in the south due to the militants’ acceptance of the amnesty programme is solely because President Goodluck Jonathan is from the region. It is widely believed that should a northern man be president come 2015, we should expect more militancy from the southern youths. That’s the situation in my country too. Now, how will these things not happen when africans are still yet to embrace national peace and unity. When many africans still don’t appreciate brotherhood and togetherness. When africans still judge each other’s actions through the eye of tribal peculiarity, skin color & tongue, but not through the content of character and love. The bitter truth is we’re still not united yet. Nigeria, as a part of Africa, has been described by the political icon & sage, Obafemi Awolowo as a “mere geographical expression.” We’re all more or less like being forced to marry each other.

Once or twice, I’ve witnessed my mum instruct my two elder sisters not to marry anyone aside our tribe, so as not to ‘get lost’. That was the reason, staying together forever with your own kind. But that’s selfish and short-sighted, it lacked vision! I was too young then to question my mum. We are from the yoruba tribe in Nigeria & the country is home to about 200 other tribes aside the four major ones; hausa, igbo, yoruba & fulani. All these uprisings Nigeria witnesses today is as a result of the fact that people still don’t see each other as one! We want to only be with our kinds, shame! These are fundamental issues that I don’t know if man can solve them by himself without God. I’ve chatted with a few intellectual friends who believe ethnic nepotism and tribal supremacy battle is in the nature of man. There is a place in the Bible( book of Exodus)where a part of Israel were claiming a right belonging to their kind. Everyone believes his clan or tribe is better. That was what led to the slave trade! I’m of the opinion that if africans developed ahead of the whites, we actually could have been slave masters ourselves and took whites into slavery because all men are vain & proud like that! That’s for another day & write-up.

At the time of South Sudan’s independence in July of 2011, just free from Sudan and recovering from decades of civil war, hopes were high. I as an African, was happy for South Sudan and thought I could see the progression of a new country, right before my own eyes. As of December 15, several mass graves had been discovered, several thousands dead and tens of thousands have been displaced in South Sudan as a recent outbreak of inter-ethnic violence has Africa’s newest nation on the brink of civil war and possibly genocide. This same scenario was witnessed in another African country, Rwanda, in 1994. I was just 2 yrs old then and I’ve known what I know about the Rwandan genocide through learning history, research, documentaries etc. and I know the sight wasn’t great! But when will Africa learn from her own mistakes? Must every African country butcher their own people before coming to an agreement? This is pure madness!

I’m grown now and Rwanda is still battling with wounds from the genocide. Yet, another african nation, the newest in the world, with all the examples in front of them, take the same step. It’s such a shame. The whole world looks like Africa now like a set of confused people, those who are unable to govern themselves, like beasts of the field who know nothing that brutish life & fierceness. As tensions rise between the South Sudan’s two largest ethnic groups, the Dinka and Nuer communities, one cannot help but make hasty comparisons to the events of Rwanda 1994 between the hutus and the tutsis.

In the 100 days since the start of the conflict in South Sudan, the number of displaced people has soared to 700,000, including 380,000 children. Many young people, separated from their parents, have been forced to seek refuge in dangerous places. About 865,000 people have been displaced since violence erupted on 15 December in Juba – 740,000 within South Sudan and more than 123,000 in neighbouring Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda, according to estimates by Ocha and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Donors have pledged approximately $246m so far at a time when crises in Syria, the Philippines and the Central African Republic also require significant support.

Agencies reported that thousands of people have been wounded or killed in the conflict and, despite the ceasefire agreement signed 23 January, there is little sign of people returning home. In towns such as Juba, Bentiu, Bor and Malakal, where the conflict has been intense, displaced people have gathered in UN peacekeeping bases (an estimated 80,000), but many more have sought refuge in community spaces such as churches, hospitals or schools in areas less monitored by international media and agencies. In Awerial county in Lakes state for example, about 84,000 people are reportedly congregating in open areas.

The politics and eventual war:
South Sudan leaders are all formers rebels who together had once fought the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. These former brothers started wars together when in July 2013, President Salva Kiir sacked his cabinet, including Riek Machar who was the Vice. Meanwhile, Machar is from the Nuer tribe while President Kiir is from the Dinka tribe, making the cabinet reshuffle turn into an ethnic war. Riek Machar had split from the main rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) since 1991.

There is so much corruption and selfish interest in the political class. They have failed the people of South Sudan. A government that fresh from decades of war against her parent country needed a moral and politically sound leader in the frame of Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Nnamdi Azikwe, Obafemi Awolowo, MLK jr and others, not corrupt politicians who want nothing but life-presidency! The South Sudanese leaders inherited an awful situation, and have certainly brought about some positive change. Unfortunately, there are signs that they are repeating some of the errors made by the Sudanese leaders against whom they fought so fiercely.

Just as the bulk of Sudan’s resources were concentrated in and around Khartoum, Juba has developed at a rapid pace. In itself, Juba’s growth is no bad thing. “It is beautiful to see!” says Bishop Paride Taban. There has been some growth in the state capitals, too, albeit from a very low base. However, as in the Sudanese model, South Sudan’s 10 states are almost entirely dependent on Juba. The weakness of the governments in South Sudan’s states is structural, and replicates that of the federal government: just as the latter’s revenue comes almost entirely from oil, the states’ come from a transfer of funds from Juba. In any given state capital, the state government tends to hold tight to the money it receives, leaving the other areas under its control with next to nothing. This is another loophole, as the centre is so strong while the subordinate parts of the country are very weak. Any rebel that captures the capital city could as well rule the country automatically.

Conclusion and way forward:
President Kiir says he was trying to ward off a coup in the December 15 incident, but his critics and political analyst beg to differ. I personally think it was a massacre attempt. Each corner was trying to wipe out the other tribe out of frustration and selfish interest. Mr Machar has led rebel forces to capture key towns such as Bor and Bentiu, including oilfields. Meanwhile, peace talks are on-going in Addis Ababa. But we must remember that time is not on our side. The implication of this war on the over 300,000 children affected in this war is enormous.

We left all our property – our home, our goats and chickens. I ran out and this is all that I have,” Nyakuom Tongyik says, pointing to the floral dress and pink scarf she is wearing. The 22-year-old is one of more than 70,000 refugees who have crossed the border into Ethiopia, fleeing fighting and devastation in South Sudan. The war has ruined many families forever already. What would be the meaning of life now for people like Nyakuom Tongyik who has lost almost everything to the war? She deserves better than this! Her husband and father were killed when clashes erupted in their home town of Malakal, she says, sitting in her cramped, hot white tent at Leitchor refugee camp in Gambella, western Ethiopia. She escaped with two of her children, but was separated from the third amid the chaos. During the 20-day walk to the Akobo border, Tongyik’s daughter fell sick. “She died on the way,” she says. “There was no way to get her to the hospital.”

Something drastic needs to be done. The political fractures and conflicts must first be resolved. If possible, the two warring parties should sit on a round-table and reac some form of understanding. The political elites must wake up now! This is not a time to be lethargic but to be strong and proactive. Ideas are needed to move the young nation forward, not firearms to cause more chaos. South Sudan and Africa in general must now see that military battles are not the solution to political issues. If possible, a national reconciliation be arranged to appeal to any angle where there might be discontentment. African need to put their national interest above any ethnic interest, that’s the only way to guarantee lasting peace. Africa must take back its position as leaders in world civilization. We need to wake up from our slumber! Africa, arise!

All Photographs & some comments sourced from:

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