By Jane Kani Edward
March 1, 2014 - Since its political independence on July 9, 2011, South Sudan assumed the famous name of the “newest nation” in Africa. The leadership of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/ Army (SPLM/A), the ruling party, presented South Sudan to the outside world and South Sudanese as ‘weak,’ ‘traumatized,’ and ‘incapable’ “child” in need of help and care. Given that South Sudanese cultures and traditions strongly value children, one expects the political leadership of the new born “child” to be extra vigilant in handing its affairs. South Sudanese expected their political leaders to ensure that the ‘infant’ grows up healthy and strong by caring for the ‘child’s’ basic needs. They also thought that their political leaders would pursue non-violent means such as dialogue, negotiations, and reconciliation to resolve their political disputes to maintain balance and harmony within the new family.
Unfortunately, despite the availability of the human and natural resources, coupled with generous financial and technical supports from friends of South Sudan, the leaders of (SPLM/A) - the ‘parents’, of the ‘infant’ nation have neglected its basic needs. Instead the ‘parents’ enriched themselves – living comfortable life, travelling abroad for vacations and medical treatments, and driving luxury cars, etc. On the contrary, the majority of ordinary South Sudanese are left with poor schools, appalling health care facilities, unsafe drinking water, and poor physical infrastructure, among others. The political leaders, however, have become more interested in competing over who should be the decision maker of the new country. Rather than putting their narrow personal and ethnic interests aside for the sake of national cohesion, development, and peace, the political leadership of the ‘infant’ nation has resorted to violent means to settle their political disagreements. Sadly, the ongoing violent confrontations between the two warring factions, SPLM and SPLM in Opposition, over political power in South Sudan led to the death of thousands and the displacement of nearly one million of civilians who had been neglected by their political leaders in the first place.
The ongoing deadly violent events that began in Juba, the capital, and spread to other states of South Sudan are weakening the social fabric of and gradually fragmenting the ‘infant’ nation. It is heartbreaking to read reports and watch images of dead bodies, people drowning in the Nile, cities being razed, hospital patients executed in their beds, displaced peoples taking shelter in the United Nations Mission compounds, and people hiding in bushes to avoid carnage, etc. Indeed, women, children, and the elderly and the sick, who have nothing to do with the internal fighting of the SPLM party, are mostly affected by the violent. Currently, many South Sudanese depend on the United Nations and other aid agencies for food, shelter, health, and safety. Ironically, South Sudanese citizens become refugees in their own country after two years of gaining their political independence. Others sought refuge in neighboring countries where they and/or their parents had taken refuge during the 21-year civil war. Unfortunately, the fighters on both sides of the senseless war are young men. Those young men who are currently fighting in the war-fronts are not the children of those who ignited the war. They are the children of ordinary South Sudanese most of whom are excluded from the benefit of the peace dividends. The children of those political leaders who ignited the war are living abroad. They are living comfortably and safely in neighboring countries of Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, and Ethiopia; or in Western countries – such as the United States of America, Canada, Australia, Britain, etc.
It is important, therefore, to note that South Sudan came into existence as an independent nation through decades of painful struggles and exertions of all South Sudanese. As a result, all South Sudanese who belong to more than sixty ethnic groups whether they are currently living in the homeland or the Diaspora should not be excluded from shaping the future of South Sudan. They have to speak up and campaign for peace through non-violent means. They must have a say in the ongoing peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for they have the right to decide how South Sudan should be governed and who should govern it. Hence, it is incumbent upon all South Sudanese irrespective of their different ethnicities, regions, religions, economic, social, and political backgrounds to transcend their political and ethnic differences, and seriously embark on soul searching and self-reflectivity. South Sudanese need to ask themselves and reflect on the following vital questions. Why people in South Sudan often resort to violent confrontations rather than embracing dialogue and non-violent means to resolve political disputes? Why South Sudanese are killing each other after splitting from the rest of Sudan? And how can the ongoing conflict be brought to a peaceful resolution? It is only through such collective endeavor and serious self-reflectivity that genuine reform, healing, justice and reconciliation can be achieved. South Sudan does not need more misery. It deserves caring and credible political leadership.
Dr. Jane Kani Edward is Clinical Assistant Professor of African and African American Studies and Director of African Immigration Research in the Bronx, Fordham University. She is the Author of Sudanese Women Refugees: Transformation and Future Imagining, 2007 and several book chapters and articles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org