By Dr. Gatluak Ter Thach*
February 23, 2017 (SSNA) — The international media and regional media outlets are silent of seriously informing the world about manmade catastrophes in South Sudan. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with South Sudanese regime in Juba, have announced that a graved famine hit South Sudan, especially Unity States and surrounding regions in the nation. This news did not surprise anyone since most civilians in South Sudan depend heavily on agricultural services while the disastrous civil war displaced them from their destroyed homes and they did not cultivate.
A new UNHCR report published recently disclosed unbelievable statistics of South Sudanese who left their homes. The report stated that hundreds of thousands of people who are displaced from their homes suffered inside the country, “with many facing threats of kidnappings, rapes, armed attacks and “acute food shortages.”
South Sudan refugees who reached Uganda are over 698,000 with more arrive every single day. Ethiopia ranks second, according to the UNHCR report with 342,000, while more than 305,000 are in Sudan. Kenya and Democratic Republic of Congo are other countries that host significant number of South Sudanese refugees. About 1.5 million South Sudanese had left the country for refuge in the neighboring nations. This stat of refugee displacements places South Sudan on top of any refugee country in the continent Africa and third in the world behind Afghanistan and Syria respectively. More than 60 percent of South Sudanese refugees are children, many arriving with alarming levels of malnutrition and traumas. Thousands of women and girls have been raped; their homes were burned with all their properties destroyed.
The economy of South Sudan crushed since the inflation rate reaches highest and is more than 800 percent; it is alarming percentage in the moment, which makes it difficult to import goods from other countries; subsequently, the new nation does not produce its own goods. It is a problematic for everyone, including the heavily weights, to place food and feed families, let alone the average poor. The UNHCR report indicates that “opposition to a UN and AU transitional administration could be mitigated through a combination of politics and force—by working with important South Sudanese constituencies frustrated with [South Sudanese] President Salva Kiir, former First Vice President [and current IO leader] Dr. Riek Machar, and their cronies; and then deploying a lean and agile peace intervention force to combat and deter the remaining spoilers once they have been politically isolated.” I think this suggestion will exacerbate the situation. My humble recommendation is to deal with both Pres. Kirr and Dr. Riek to bring a real peace instead of sidelining any of them.
However, it is frank South Sudan has the largest-scaled displaced refugees in Africa, and with addition to recent famine announced, lives of more than 5 million people are at risk. Yet, the young nation is not in radars of any incredible source in order to generate awareness to bail the lives of vulnerable people out of this manmade calamity. Haft of the population’s lives are at risks now! This is more than critical. It is dangerous, and it needs to be dealt sooner than later. People who went to camps, especially to Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, are having food shortages and many of them are dying or looking for ways out of the camps. The chronic levels of underfunding these camps, which relates to insufficiencies of supporting refugee programs and/or lacking of care for the people in need, is rarely heard, and this means the problem in South Sudan needs an urgent solution to save the lives.
What really went wrong in South Sudan?
Personally, I struggle to point solely on one tangible rejoinder to this query because no logic seems to make sense, and whenever one states the facts, others take the evidences differently since inventors’ aims are to frustrate and ensure people remain incomprehensibly abstruse. In my attempt to share what I know, I can piece this question into three categories. First and foremost, South Sudan historically got its independent in 2011 from Sudan, but its founding leader died few weeks before he assumed his role. The successor lacked the capacity to carry on the tasks he had in hands to drive the nation forward. Though the successor, Pres. Kiir, had initially made a fair decision to bring onboard Dr. Riek as his deputy, but due to fears for unknown, as well as pressures from within his closed circles, relationship between the two leaders (Pres. Kiir and Dr. Riek) did not go as expected, and with no diligent working relationship and collaboration among the leaders, fruits of a political production could not easily be engendered as what people wish.
The second point is vision. The President did not have a vision for the country. This is not my opinion alone on him. There were number of discussions made about his vision. One was when Pres. Kiir made with Former US President Bush junior, and he was asked to articulate his vision for the country. However, Pres. Kiir relied on his subordinates to share what they thought was the vision for the country. Contrary to how anyone who leads anything, leave alone a country can do. Vision is critically important for a leader. In the Big Book, it says with no vision nothing is possible, just to paraphrase the quote. A real leader must have a vision to unify and develop a country which’s why I think the lack of vision continues to contribute to an ongoing crisis in the country. Sudan and South Sudan agreed to implement peace deal signed in August 2005 between the warring factions. Southern Sudanese voted almost unanimously for secession in January 2011, and in July 2011, South Sudan became the newest independent state in the global community. The citizens of the new nation contented, thrilled and finally arrived to what their forefathers dreamed for years. The celebrations were all over the world which also came with huge expectations of what it meant to have a country, but how to move a diverse country like South Sudan forward requires a visionary leadership which is not Pres. Kiir.
The third aspect is corruption. According to analysts, corruption in South Sudan went behind human imaginations. Pres. Kiir himself had one point produced a list of several government officials of whom he accused of eating 4 billion dollars from government pots. Even though there were disputes to his accusation as some officials of the accused individuals came forward to clear their good names, evidences are there to display indeed some leaders, including Kiir himself, robbed the scarcely resources deemed to serve and develop the nation. Number of arm generals who recently resigned from regime in Juba encompassed corruption in the lists of their frustrated points, but Pres. Kiir and his closed allies did not care or see corruption as one of major challenges facing the country. As General Kamila Otwari Aleardo Paul put it in his letter of resignation to President Salva Kiir and I quote, “Sir, with your partiality, favoritism and bias policies, you have dumped the country into chaos making it an incessant conflict zone.” Gen. Kamila hails from Lotuko tribe in South Sudan. He accused Pres. Kiir who hails from Dinka tribe and his regime of squandering public funds to equip and serve his Dinka tribe only. A sentiment shares by many minority tribes in South Sudan.
Number of resigned and defected generals in addition to other members from different ethnic groups blamed Pres. Kiir for practicing tribalism and nepotism as political self-empowerments to continue state quo in order to remain in power. Pres. Kiir’s administration is similarly accused of mismanagement and bias policies, as well as killings of other ethnic groups. In December 2013, over 20,000 ethnic Nuer were murdered in less than a week by new trained tribal militias recruited and armed by Pres. Kiir’s Chief of Gen. Staff, Paul Malong Awan, a close friend to Pres. Kiir and a member of his tribal arm. The same killings happen all over South Sudan at the moment, and both (Pres. Kiir and Gen. Awan) are respondents of the continuing of the current conflict in South Sudan. The SPLA army Pres. Kiir leads is mainly responsible for committed atrocities on civilian population, along with deterring relief agencies to deliver relief assistance to people in need. The army also confiscated properties without accountability.
What could be done to save the remaining lives?
The world must realize people of South Sudan are dying on daily basis in alarming rate now. According to UN agency’s announcement, more than 5 million people are at risks of vanishing if nothing is done at the moment to bar their lives. A conservative reliable estimation of more than 150,000 have already died as result of the current civil war started in December 15, 2013. The earlier UN agencies placed an estimate of deaths to over 50,000 before July 8, 2016. The guesstimate did not account what happened after July 2016, when civil war reoccurred again in the country. The starvation, gang rape and burning of villages have aggravated and accelerated the risks of human lives, especially those with limited access to food and protection sites while the war is going on.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which was established in 1996 on purpose of regional peace and development among countries, such as: Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya, tried to mitigate the problem in South Sudan with assistance from troika countries, (USA, UK and Norway) that paid the bills for the peace talks in Addis Ababa in 2016. The group is preoccupied now with their internal issues and they seem to pay no attention of the ongoing crises in South Sudan. Some have already chosen sides to lengthen the sufferings. However, the IGAD-PLUS managed to pull a peace deal last year, which was signed in August 2015 by both leaders of South Sudan after the regional countries overcame their individual interests and differences to focus on a biggest figure of saving the lives of people of South Sudan. If that peace was honestly implemented as it was produced, people lives could have been saved because the August peace deal addressed ways for rebuilding trusts through honest reconciliation, forgiveness and healing among people of South Sudan.
The Peace and Security Council of the African Union (PSCAU), at its 411th meeting held at the level of Heads of State and Government, in Banjul, Gambia, on December 30, 2013, mandated the establishment of the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS), which was headed by H.E. Olusegun Obasanjo, Former President of the Republic of Nigeria. The Chairperson of the Commission, in consultation with the Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and other relevant African Union (AU) structures, urgently established a Commission to investigate the human rights violations and other abuses committed during the armed conflict in South Sudan and made recommendations on the best ways and means to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all South Sudanese communities. The Commission was requested to submit its report to Council within a maximum period of three months though it went longer than that IGAD-PLUS took the commission report for further implementation. As part of its response to the crisis in South Sudan, the Commission adopted the Terms of Reference (ToR) detailed in the Concept Note Relating to the Establishment to:
- Establish the immediate and remote causes of the conflict;
- Investigate human rights violations and other abuses during the conflict by all parties from December 15, 2013;
- Establish facts and circumstances that may have led to and that amount to such violations and of any crimes that may have been perpetrated;
- Compile information based on these investigations and in so doing assist in identifying perpetrators of such violations and abuses with a view to ensuring accountability for those responsible;
The Commission interpreted its mandate to consist of four focal areas: healing, reconciliation, accountability and institutional reforms. The Commission approached its mandate in a holistic manner, which was to emphasizing the interrelatedness of the mandate areas. The commission recommendations were enshrined as tools to pave ways for better forward to bring a lasting peace in the country.
The peace could bring permanent harmony in the country had it been executed as drafted. The article 4.1 of the agreement stated, “Upon entry into force of the Permanent Ceasefire, the existing IGAD “Monitoring Verification Mechanism (MVM) shall transition to become the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM)”, which charged to be responsible for reporting on the progress of the implementation of the Permanent Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements (PCTSA) that did not happen. The CTSAMM was supposed to be responsible for monitoring compliance and reporting directly to the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) of Pres. Festus Mogae, Former President Botswana, on the progress of the implementation of the PCTSA and should last for the duration of the Transitional Period. However, there is neither peace nor ceasefire in the country now. There is already a steady process of ethnic cleansing taking place in several areas of South Sudan. Yet, Pres. Kiir is preaching for an exclusive national dialogue. How could he conduct honest national dialogue when there is no ceasefire, leave alone a peace in the country? Why not brings peace first before a dialogue as it was purposed in the August 2015 Peace Agreement?
For the lives to be saved in South Sudan, the world must seriously declare an end to this manmade crisis by tackling situation differently this time than it has been. Pres. Kiir must be told to either accept the previous peace deal, implementing it with his former foe, Dr. Riek and not with friend, or else accept to step aside and allow his party to choose a person deems suitable to represent IG party in a meaningful unified government. He has no choice nor a mandate in the peace deal to hand-picked whomever he wants from other parties despite the objection of parties’ members as it was the case for Gen. Taban Deng Gai, who claimed a fake representation of IO forces and sympathized members. The international community, especially the United States of America, which has spent more than 2 billion USD in humanitarian assistances already in South Sudan, whereas the regime in Juba has spent twice as much on purchasing modernized military hardwires to murdering its own people, as well as mortgaging the national resources of the country to prolong the war and save no lives, must redouble their efforts to pressure Pres. Kiir to do what’s right for his people and country in order to spare innocent lives, in addition to bringing a lasting hope to South Sudan.
This is a call on people of goodwill to standup and spare lives of South Sudanese people. I believe it will take all of us to bring an end suffering of South Sudanese civilians from their leaders whose intentions are to erase population from their original land for personal enrichments. The world must prioritize peace by giving an ultimatum to the leaders, especially Pres. Kiir, to either join hands with his opponents and bring lasting peace or vacant the power for people of South Sudan to choose a leader who would unify their diverse ethnic groups. The agreement signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in August 2015, provided a roadmap for a real peace to be realized, but it is dead now because Pres. Kiir did not want to implement it. The world has also failed to lift up to its obligations, including pressure and making sure Pres. Kiir is accountable instead of opting to isolate another signatory, Dr. Riek, who has so far committed everything he had, included his life, to join Pres. Kiir in his unfriend territory, where he barely made it out after assassination attempt on July 8, 2016 on his life, which resulted to the collapsed of the peace agreement. Where is the logic? However though, I still believe this peace signed in August 2015 can still be resuscitate by bring the two signatories (Pres. Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar) plus others back together for implementation, and as a result, some South Sudanese lives could be saved!
Dr. Gatluak Thach lives and works in Nashville, TN. Author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; He is on Facebook, blog and tweet @gatthach.