Taban Abel Aguek
South Sudan is a country that emerged to be an independent State from a wave of turbulent eras of uncertainties. Its history is largely an account of a series of protracted conflicts. In fact, South Sudanese people have, for the past centuries, invested more in wars than any other thing.
The history of the struggle of the black people of Sudan and South Sudan goes back to as early as prehistoric time. According to some recorded materials, the black people of the ‘Sudans’ were continually pushed way beyond Egypt until they found themselves in the present day Sudan and South Sudan before and after the 14th Century, following the collapse of the Christian Nubian Kingdoms of Makuria and Alodia.
Then the South Sudanese continued to wage bitter wars later against the Anglo-Egyptian colonization and then again against successive Arab Islamic regimes in Khartoum. And for all the wars the South Sudanese fought both in the ancient days down to most recent ones, there was one chief cause among all other things: Identity.
Generations, one after the other, lived in an environment of war. So basically, South Sudanese have lived with a culture of war of identity to an extent that war itself has almost evolved into a habit of settling their issues.
On January 9, 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Government of Sudan led by its ruling party, National Congress Party (NCP). Finally, a brutal conflict that started in 1983 (and cost millions of lives) was brought to an end. Peace was just a general thing but out of all the protocols in the agreement, there was only one clause that actually meant peace; and that was the ‘South Sudan Referendum’. For the first time in history of the struggle of South Sudanese, they would get a chance to choose to either remain in a united Sudan or secede and become an Independent State. In that, the referendum presented a choice of Identity (for which South Sudanese had fought for so long) or remain in an Arab dominated United Sudan and continue to live as second class citizens. South Sudanese, on 9th January, 2011, voted 98.83% in favor of separation and passing over the 60% turn-out threshold for the Independent South Sudan. On July 9, 2011, the flag of the world’s youngest nation was hoisted to the wild jubilation of South Sudanese of all ages and of all creed.
But two years after Independence, the new country descended into another terrible conflict, this time against itself. Anyone who saw the exultance of the crowds in the streets of all major cities in the country could not believe their eyes. A dreadful conflict has just broken out. What began like a simple game of politics had swayed from the peripheries of talks to the barrel of guns just in a very short time. Major towns were raced down, hundreds of thousands of people displaced and lives lost in huge numbers.
South Sudan, as an independent state, had come along with a plethora of problems. The old problems have coupled with new ones, and the burden is sure heavy. From independence it started from scratch. There is very little or no infrastructural development at all. Poverty is wide spread. Its healthcare is one of the worst in the world. Illiteracy is so high and so many things are just at an infant stage. The region of Upper Nile and some parts of Equatoria have been left devastated by rampant insecurity. Targeted killings of people of certain ethnicities continue unabated. Tribalism has heightened and the economy is all but in tatters. This has not only left South Sudanese disillusioned but also very much forlorn.
With these facts, it is hard to deny that we are in problems. Yes, South Sudan is a country in deep problems but we are also a country with so much hope too. Pessimism is a disease that possess the same effects as war itself. As a result, south Sudanese should not give up faith in themselves and in their beloved country. South Sudan has so many problems, but people fail to realize that her hopes greatly outweigh her problems.
People should be mindful that we are not the only people fighting on earth. The problems in our country are the same problems associated with every new African country. Chinua Achebe once said that there is nothing difficult than telling people that have been fighting for freedom for so long that you are now free; they will not know where they will begin.
Moreover, we still have the destiny of our country in our hands. We have not squandered all our chances. One only has to look at Syria, Somalia, Iraq or Libya to see the difference.
Much as our people suffered and continue to suffer today, not all is lost. Many times in the past, our revolutionary movement used to be written off, but we defied all odds until we reached to the ultimate goal. Just like the SPLM/A under Dr. John Garang de Mabior struggled through thick and thin for over two decades and survived, South Sudan will make it.
We are where we are (as an Independent Country) because of things we did right; but there are things that we did not do well, and I believe we have time to right all the wrongs. One of the key battles we lost from the word go is the fight against corruption. Secondly, we never made the right policies or properly implemented the policies that existed. This, I believe, is because of the confusion of amalgamation of political ideologies and work forces that had been of distant methodologies, competences and experiences. After the signing of the CPA, South Sudanese choices for vital public offices came from various people who did not have any agenda for the country. The convergence of different SPLM chapters from SPLM-Bush, SPLM-Khartoum, SPLM-Diaspora and SPLM-Former Militias culminated into one unit that was good at theft, and not formulating a strong ideology for the country. The worse then is; these people were recycled over and over again as they climbed the ladder to point of the Biblical Tower of Babel, where they finally disagreed.
However, much as the country was terribly failed by the members of various groups, we must acknowledge that we exist and we are not totally off the mark. We have not lost it all. The situation South Sudan is facing has happened before and is still happening today in other countries that were established long, long ago. As reported last week by CNN, Brazil and Greece, for instance, are suffering the economic problems just like South Sudan. Government workers in Nigeria go for months without salaries just like in South Sudan. War in Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq are worse than the current unrest in our country. Meanwhile, there’s no government in Somalia, South Sudan has a fully functioning government. Meanwhile we suffer fuel shortage in the country, people in Zimbabwe, according to one witness testimony aired by BB, experience severe water shortage for drinking and bathing.
Nothing is too late for South Sudan. We may be down but having fell down is not the problem. The problem is if we fail to rise against each fall. We have the potential to turn things over. Our people are among the world’s strongest people. Our land is large and fertile. We have enough annual rainfall. Our natural resources are largely untapped. No situation is permanent. We shall not depend on imports for all our entire existence.
Generally, our identity project is not a failed endeavor. One of the strongest hopes South Sudanese have is their ability to reconcile. We have done it in the past and we can do it again.
One more time we need to stand strong and prove our skeptics wrong. With that we can surmount the challenges we face and one day we will build a nation that we aspire for. What we need now is to shun tribalism, foster unity, work hard in our different capacities to stitch together a working solution for the problems of our country.
The initiative by President Salva Kiir Mayardit for National Dialogue provides the chance to reinvigorate our combined efforts make peace and reconcile our people. People of South Sudan need to embrace this initiative, give their full support, enrich it and own it. We must put our hopes above the feeling of despair; for we have more hopes than problems in this country.
Taban Abel Aguek (MP) is the Government Chief Whip of Eastern Lakes State. His views do not represent the position of the Government of Eastern Lakes State. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org