Juba can’t do a Rwanda, so it better get serious on peace

By: CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO, The East African, JAN/24/2018, SSN;

In Summary: If the South Sudanese refugees become a huge population, they can seize power the way the Rwandan refugees did in 1994 in a return-to-the-homeland rebellion.

The South Sudan warriors have been doing what they do best — violating ceasefires and peace agreements.

When in December the Salva Kiir government and its rebel opponents signed a peace agreement, there was an online conversation, where one of the people asked if there was anyone out there who was willing to bet that it would hold. Not a single person did.

And, indeed, a few hours later, there were reports of violations.

With the conflict still going on, it will be a long while before the nearly 2.6 million South Sudanese who have fled to neighbouring countries in the past four years can dream of going back home.

The thing about that number, 2.6 million, is that they are nearly a quarter of the country’s 12.5 million population.

South Sudan is not alone.

East Africa, Central Africa and the Horn each has at least one country where between 10 per cent and 25 per cent of the population has been displaced by conflict.

Central African Republic, a country of 4.5 million people, has some 600,000 – or 13 per cent – as refugees.

For nearly 25 of the past year 27 years, Somalis have been scattered all over the world. At the height of the conflict in Somalia, one got the impression that the country would empty, as famine added to the toll of war.

Three years ago, it looked like Burundi would go the same way after President Pierre Nkurunziza, inspired by some of his peers, decided to grab a third term, and the country erupted in violence again.

If all these crises were to get worse, to use the politically incorrect expression, the region would soon have a couple of countries where there are more chiefs than Indians.

You would have more politicians, ruling party officials, soldiers and militias in these conflict nations than citizens for them to rule over and prey on.

The flip side of this is that the countries that host the most refugees in Africa are also in the region, topped by Uganda, then Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Sudan.

What does a country and its government do when most of their citizens are across borders, leaving them with no subjects? Is the power with them, or in refugee camps across the borders?

If the majority of South Sudanese were to flee to Uganda and Ethiopia in escalating violence, would it make Yoweri Museveni and Hailemariam Desalegn co-presidents of South Sudan, or would Salva Kiir still pretend that he is The Man?

A not too dissimilar situation played out after the 1994 Rwanda genocide, in which the Interahamwe moved with most of the people and set up a menacing mini-state across the border in DRC. It ended very badly.

Rwanda intervened to dismantle the camps, and the series of events that followed led to the ouster of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in Congo in 1997.

Juba is in no position to do a Rwanda on Kampala or Addis Ababa. But if the South Sudanese refugees become a huge population, they can seize power the way the Rwandan refugees did in 1994 in a return-to-the-homeland rebellion.

Juba can’t say it was not forewarned. It better get serious about peace.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. Twitter@cobbo3

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