South Sudan: A Country Being Destroyed By Its Leaders

Published on 25th July 2016

South Sudanese have suffered enough. The recent outbreak of gun violence between forces loyal to the President Salva Kiir and that of the First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar in Juba on 8th July 2016 adds to the numerous problems the young country is facing. Whatever the exact cause may be, this recent fighting exemplified that both sides are walking on eggshells with a high level of suspicion for each other.

The world’s youngest country has been squeezed and juggled to its core by problems created or allowed by its leaders who are clearly struggling to find the way forward to help stabilize the situation and focus on improving the lives of their impoverished people. The current unstoppable inflation is largely due to the inherent economic incompetence in the country’s financial system, and the consequences of ongoing internal conflicts which scared away potential investors. The metastasized insecurity across the country which prevents farmers from cultivating have led to the lack of vital food commodities in the country’s market.

The increasing interstate attacks on civilians and commercial vehicles, targeting people from particular tribal backgrounds, points to a deep-seated ethnic hatred which must be addressed by properly responding to the exact causes. The government had accused SPLM-IO in the past for supporting armed militias perpetuating such attacks as some militias pledged allegiance to SPLM-IO.

Juba, the capital city of South Sudan is also becoming unsafe for its residents as the mysterious unknown gunmen are on the loose as they continue to take away many lives on numerous accounts. This  points to the panic in the ranks of the armed authorities and unruly criminals. Additionally, the continuous radicalization of communities along tribal lines is a result of the greed for power monopoly.

Unfortunately, these incidences are signs of a country that is falling apart while its citizens watch in dismay. Unknown numbers of innocent civilians, mostly children, women and the elderlies have lost their lives at a time when they shouldn’t have after having endured 21 years of Civil War. The two leaders, however, are at loggerheads and they do not trust each other to work together on getting the country back on track.

Both President Kiir and Dr. Machar are, too, seen by their vast loyal tribal supporters as the saviors of the nation. Their supporters range from close cycle to menageries of online supporters. Yet, one thing is dangerously inherent in their leadership. They have a tendency to ignore conventional negotiation methodology to resolve their disputes and instead seek recourse in their respective tribes.

The deep-seated mistrust between President Kiir and Dr. Machar is historic. It dates back to the days of liberation struggle when the SPLM/A waged a guerilla war against the government of Sudan. In 1991, Dr. Machar, declared a failed coup attempt to oust Dr. John Garang from the leadership of SPLM/A. Along with Dr. Lam Akol, Dr. Machar faction became the SPLM/A Nasir whereas Dr. Garang and Mr. Kiir’s faction became the SPLM/A Torit. Several military officials defected to both sides of the SPLM/A factions for fear of being killed or in solidarity with their tribesmen.

In the aftermath of the 1991 failed coup, Dr. Machar negotiated an impromptus peace with the Sudan government and became an assistant to President Omar El Bashir. This alliance was seen as a clear betrayal of the liberation movement given the on-the-ground situation at the time in which the SPLM/A was at the verge of victory at Juba frontline. As a result, the SPLM/A Torit faction became almost defeated by the Khartoum government and had to seek more recruits from internally displaced South Sudanese youth in refugee camps to raise their dwindled troop numbers.

Undoubtedly, the recent eruption of violence in Juba, which has it source in the mid-December 2013 conflict, aroused past angers and enmities on both sides. Additionally, the hate speeches through the modern mass media including the social media frequently exacerbate the conflict and lead to war being waged unabatedly.  As in 1991, the 2013 conflict led to hundreds of troops and generals changing sides along tribal lines. Again, it was the civilians who suffered the most; thousands of people lost their lives and uncountable number of properties were looted and others were obliterated.

President Kiir and Dr. Machar have all shown their best and worst. To their best, they both midwifed the birth of the Republic of South Sudan. To their worst, they both, instantly, strangled the newborn child at birth. There is nothing more left for them to show to the South Sudanese people apart from war, starvation, corruption and continual blame games.

President Kiir, being a career soldier since the first Sudanese Civil War following Anyanya I rebellion in 1955, has not utilized his experience to defeat rivalling militaries since the creation of South Sudan. Contrarily, Dr. Machar, being a PhD holder and an American trained soldier, has not utilised his intellectuality for the betterment of the South Sudanese people. President Kiir and his loyalists blame Dr. Machar and his followers as obstacle to progress. Similarly, Dr. Machar and his loyalists blame President Kiir and his followers as obstacle to progress.

In this seemingly political ping pong, the young country and its people continue to suffer the most. With the current political tides, dangerously to the observation of every one, the circus of war is likely to continue given the unwavering powerbase of the two leaders.  President Kiir’s Dinka, the largest tribe in the country would not tolerate Dr. Machar’s influence in the country. Dr. Machar’s Nuer, the second largest tribe would not tolerate anything other than Dr. Machar being at the centre of the South Sudan’s political theatre.

While South Sudan experienced a troubled childhood from the onset, the vast majority of its citizens have shown absolute resilience, patience and love for their country despite being in the face of adversity. Reading through social media and internet news outlets, most South Sudanese in and outside the country have not lost hope. They keep longing for a speedy resolution to the ongoing conflict that is crippling their young nation.

The international community, no doubt, have a role to play in aiding the resolution to the South Sudan’s conflict. However, the international community, particularly the US and NATO should never think of applying military intervention to South Sudan. Africa, particularly the Eastern Africa does not need another Somalia. The world’s “mighty powers” should have learned by now that conflicts that involve religious and tribal groups are much multifaceted and solving such conflicts by force is and has been counterproductive. This is exactly what happened in Afghanistan, Iraq and recently in Libya.

The following recommendations may help in bringing about a peaceful resolution to salvage the volatile situation if they are embraced wholeheartedly by both President Kiir’s and Dr. Machar’s camps. These recommendations would work if they are delivered in a sincere and patriotic manner, with regard to the sorrow caused by the numerous wars meted out to the people of South Sudan.

President Kiir and Dr. Machar must put aside their differences as well as interests and work together for the interest of their nation and their people. This means doing whatever is necessary including implementing the ARCISS agreement in letter and spirit without going astray from the text of the agreement, unless mutually agreed by the parties to the agreement.

We endorse demilitarization of the capital Juba; consistent with the August 2015 Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (The ARCISS). A joint integrated police force should take control of enforcing law and order in the capital to ensure safety for its residents.

In order to prevent accidental clashes, a neutral force have to be created to provide a buffer zone between President Kiir and Dr. Machar’s forces and body guards who have been at the centre of the 2013 and July 8th conflicts in the capital. President Kiir and Dr. Machar can agree on whether the UN or the ARCISS’ custodians should provide such neutral force.

Establishing a body that will coordinate and relay accurate information about the movements of President Kiir and Dr. Machar within the capital and around the country. This body will liaise with the forces and body guards on both sides which will reduce direct confrontation.

Under the 1945 UN Convention, no independent country should be placed under the UN Trusteeship. Thus, if the two leaders fail to implement the ARCISS in letter and spirit, the ARCISS’ custodians (IGAD and AU) must decide the way forward for the country in consultation with all the stakeholders including the people of the Republic of South Sudan.

Both President Kiir and Dr. Machar must refrain or be banned from running for presidency in the 2018 general elections and beyond. There is higher chance that a fresh and clean individual can provide the country with a new start to peace, harmony and prosperity.

The Liberian civil war, for example, came to an end in 2003 after Charles Taylor resigned from being a president and opted to stay apolitical in exile, until he was later convicted of aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2012. Similarly, President Kiir and Dr. Machar must step aside and stay apolitical for the rest of their lives to allow others to have a go at taking the country forward.

While the political situation in South Sudan is fluid, and tainted with tribal cleavage, it is far better for the two leaders to cease power as soon as practicable in order for the country to survive. In an alarmist language, South Sudan is in an intensive care unit and the cure cannot be found in its current leaders.

By Kuol Mayiir and Andrew Gai, Victoria

Kuol Mayiir is a Research Student at La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia. Andrew Gai recently graduated with Master of Public Policy from RMIT University, Victoria, Australia. Both authors work in Community Services System in Victoria, Australia. Both authors are South Sudanese born and they long for peace in their home country and for a day when South Sudanese will see themselves as one people regardless of their tribal backgrounds. Contacts: Kuol: [email protected]; Andrew: [email protected]

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