By Dr. Gatluak Ter Thach* FEB/25/2017, SSN;
The international and regional media outlets are silent of seriously informing the world about man-made catastrophes in South Sudan. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with South Sudanese regime in Juba, have announced that a grave famine hit South Sudan, especially Unity State and other regions in the nation.
This news did not surprise anyone since most civilians in South Sudan depend heavily on agricultural productive 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, [killings] and “acute food shortages.”
South Sudan refugees who reached Uganda are over 698,000 with more arriving 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 statistics 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 ranks highest and is more than 800 percent; it is alarming percentage in the moment, which makes it difficult to import goods from other countries since the new nation does not produce its own goods.
It is also 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 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 SPLA-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 anyone of them.
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 in South Sudan, and whenever one states the facts, others take the evidence differently since inventors’ aims are to frustrate and ensure people remain incomprehensibly abstruse.
In my humble attempt to share what I know, I can piece this question into three categories. First and foremost, South Sudan historically got its independence in 2011 from Sudan, but its founding leader died few weeks before he assumed his role. The successor (Pres. Kiir) lacked the capacity to carry on the tasks he had in hands to drive the nation forward.
Though the successor had initially made a fair decision to bring on-board Dr. Riek as his deputy, but due to fear of 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 Pres. Kiir did not have a vision for the country. This is not my opinion alone on him. There were numbers of discussions made about his vision. One was when Pres. Kiir himself made with former US President Bush, Jr, 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 and how to move a diverse country like South Sudan forward requires a visionary leadership which Pres. Kiir does not have, and the country is where it is because of that.
The third aspect is corruption. According to local and international analysts, corruption in South Sudan went above human imaginations. Pres. Kiir himself had at 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 country with scarce resources deemed to serve and develop the nation.
A number of army generals who recently resigned from Pres. Kiir regime in Juba encompassed corruption in the lists of their frustration points, but Pres. Kiir and his closed allies did not care or grasp corruption as one of the major challenges facing the country.
As General Kamila Otwari Aleardo Paul put it in his letter of resignation to Pres. 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 shared by many minority tribes in South Sudan at the moment.
Number of resigned and defected generals in addition to civilian members from different ethnic groups blame Pres. Kiir for practicing tribalism and nepotism as political self-empowerment to continue status 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 Army Chief of Staff, Paul Malong Awan, a close friend and ally to Pres. Kiir and a member of his tribe.
The same killings are happening all over South Sudan currently, and both (Pres. Kiir and Gen. Awan) are responsibles of the continuing of the present 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 aid assistance to people in needs. The SPLA army continues to confiscate 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 at the moment, and it has to be stopped with an immediate action. According to UN agency, more than 5 million people are at risk of vanishing if nothing is done now 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 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, immediately 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 also requested to submit its report to Council within a maximum period of three months though it went longer than that, the IGAD-PLUS took the commission report and recommendations 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 after identifying perpetrators. The Commission approached its mandate in a holistic manner, which was to emphasize 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. These recommendations were incorporated in the peace deal signed by the leaders, and this is the only way to bring a lasting peace in South Sudan. With no peace and accountability, how do people reconcile?
The peace could also bring permanent harmony in the country had it been executed as drafted and signed. However, there is no peace nor ceasefire in the country now. There is already a steady process of ethnic cleansing taking place in several areas of South Sudan that causes the current famine.
Yet, Pres. Kiir still preaches 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 he bring peace first before a dialogue as it was purposed in the August 2015 Peace Agreement if he is serious?
For the lives to be saved in South Sudan, the world must earnestly declare an end to this man-made 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.
Pres. Kiir 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 claims 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 assistance already in South Sudan, whereas the regime in Juba has spent twice as much on purchasing modernized military hardware to murdering its own people, as well as mortgaging the national resources 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 stand up and help save lives of innocent South Sudanese civilians. I believe it will take all of us to bring an end the suffering of South Sudanese private citizens from their brutal leaders whose objectives are for erasing population from their original land and confiscating their properties for personal enrichment.
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 will unify their diverse ethnic groups. The agreement signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in August 2015, provided a roadmap for a genuine peace to be realized, but it is a dead deal now because Pres. Kiir did not want to implement it.
The world has also failed to lift up to its obligations, including making Pres. Kiir accountable instead of opting to isolate another signatory, Dr. Riek, who has so far committed everything he had, including his life, to join Pres. Kiir in his unfriendly territory, where Dr. Riek and his few bodyguards barely made it out after assassination attempt on his good life on July 8, 2016, which resulted in the collapse of the peace agreement.
However, I still believe that the peace deal could still be resuscitated and saved by urging the two signatories (Pres. Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar) plus others to sit back together on a table for the full 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.