On 9th July, 2011, under the glare of the sub-Saharan sun, the world warmly welcomed The Republic of South Sudan into its fold. The flag went up before tens of thousands of elated citizens and dignitaries; and there was cheering, drumming and ululation for the world’s youngest nation. After more than 50 years of conflict and underdevelopment, the secession of South Sudan from Sudan was seen as an opportunity for the people to build a brighter and better future. Even amidst calls to resolve outstanding border issues, world leaders and the international community extended congratulatory messages and their recognition of the new state.
Four years down the line, civil war engulfs the nation, there is a deplorable humanitarian crisis, a looming famine, an ever-fragile security environment and growing tension that threatens to plunge the country into renewed cycles of violence. According to UN statistics, more than four million of the country’s population of 12 million is in need of aid. One hundred thousand civilians are staying at UN Internally Displaced Peoples camps ringed with barbed wire, for fear of being killed if they leave. The UN further estimates that; 2.5 million people are in a state of emergency and at the brink of famine and an additional 1 million others have been displaced throughout the country while about 500,000 are seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
Admittedly, the task of establishing the basic foundations of a new state and building a nation is not an easy one. South Sudan came into existence amidst great challenges. In the years running up to independence: education, health, water, and sanitation were poor due to decade-long, systematic underdevelopment by Khartoum and the 50+ years of civil conflict between Khartoum and the south. This was however, supposed to be corrected by the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which aimed at the redistribution of the country’s wealth with particular focus on natural resources in the interim period of 2005-2011. Yet even after separation, there is a clear imbalance between those who have access to the resources of the state, and those who do not. Most of the money has been benefiting mainly Juba and the politically connected and high prevalence of corruption remains a principal reason for the persistent poverty levels that characterise so much of South Sudan.
The conflict has made many victims. The children of South Sudan have been exposed to incomprehensible levels of violence. They have been reduced to the tools for the aspirations of warring factions. In 2014 alone, 12,000 children were used as soldiers by armed forces and groups across South Sudan. Armed groups have occupied more than 91 schools and recruited thousands of children into their ranks. Most recently, 89 children were abducted when armed groups raided schools and went door to door taking children under 12.
As much as it has been said before, the consolidation of peace and security is the first pre-condition on the road to development in South Sudan. The IGAD-led negotiation process has been prolonged and protracted but no good will come out of it until globally and regionally enforced sanctions and punitive measures are imposed on individuals who have been obstructing the peace process. In a move that was long overdue, the UN Security Council, in a unanimous resolution, agreed to impose limited sanctions on South Sudan. The sanctions effected an arms embargo and indicated that ‘leaders of any entity’ could be targeted for an asset freeze and travel ban. The peace process must be had with genuine compromise and political goodwill for there to be progress. Issues around transparency, accountability, and corruption must also be addressed in parallel.
Continued fighting and repeated violation of the cessation-of hostilities agreement has led to the subsequent weakening of the peace process. Ceasefire deals have been signed but the bloodshed continues. It comes as no surprise that the March 5th deadline for a decisive peace deal between government and rebels was missed thus extending the deadline for peace talks. In the period leading to the deadline, Ivan Simonovic, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, warned the council “both sides seem to be rearming and preparing for a new military campaign.” No side is willing to compromise yet it has become rather obvious that the war in South Sudan will not be won by the gun.
Salva Kiir and Riek Machar have been slow to strike a tone that promises the advent of peace in South Sudan. The nature of their divisive politics is only retrogressing the country further. Both leaders should realise that the country represents more than their political ambitions and job security in government. For South Sudan’s narrative to change, they should be the first to embrace true democracy and reform. This attitude change should start with them and maybe then, their camps will learn how to compromise for peace. In the same breath, South Sudan is saturated with weapons and the peace process needs to be anchored in the continuous disarmament of armed youth and militias who have a huge potential for further destabilizing the country. At the end of the day, the onus remains on the people of South Sudan to cast aside allegiances to tribe and marshal towards a legitimate peace process and irreversible peace. For this to happen, individuals in all parts of the country should be actively involved in the peace process as opposed to having ‘either or’ negotiations centred on the two leading warring parties.
In clear flouting of international law, thousands of civilians have been murdered even in places of presumed sanctuary such as hospitals, schools, and places of worship. Local NGO workers have been targeted and killed based on their ethnicity, UN helicopters have been shot down, and women have been gang raped. The African Union Peace and Security Council needs to urgently follow up on the findings of the AU Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights abuses in South Sudan report. Failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice remains one of the principal causes of the perpetuation and encouragement of human rights violations. The report is therefore a fundamental step in stopping the warring factions from taking advantage of the flawed system in South Sudan to commit more atrocities. High Contracting Parties to the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention further need to fulfil their obligations under common Article 3 (1), and their obligation under Article 146 to prosecute persons alleged to commit grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
There shall be no sizeable development in South Sudan if the largest proportion of government spending is dedicated to the defence and military security apparatus. Fifty-six percent of the 2013-14 budget was dedicated to security and law enforcement. An educated guess is that this has been a major hindrance to government programmes that provide valuable public goods such as education and infrastructure. Spending on war undermines economic growth, fuels the negative macroeconomic consequences of increased deficits and debt used to finance the wars and risks the creation of a dangerous war economy. Where is the time and finances to design and implement pro-growth policies and programmes when the policy makers are still fighting?
The people of South Sudan watched their dreams of self-determination and governance come true on 9th July 2011. But that is all that was realised; independence. For majority of the citizens, the basic necessities of water, food, education, and health care are yet to be met. The irony is that the South Sudanese elites have allowed their people to be thirsty in the midst of rivers, hungry in the midst of fertile soil and needy amidst bountiful resources. There is no moral justification for the ongoing violence. The Republic of South Sudan deserves to be more than 2,100 kilometres of man-made crisis: if for nothing else than the preservation of human life and dignity.
Written by N. Wayua and published on 27-March-2015