CELEBRATING BIRTH WITH BLOOD
By Vithusan Kuganathan
Corruption; it’s an issue that plagues parts of sub-Saharan Africa. South Sudan has been the centre of controversy and worry as people wonder whether it will be a repeat of Rwanda in 1984, where 800,000 people lost their lives, as a result of war mongers exploiting and abusing their power, to maintain what little shreds of it they truly have. Genocide – a very harsh accusation, yet South Sudan’s government has been accused of doing so. This, from a country that was only founded on the 9th of July in 2011. Despite being a new conflict, its impacts have been massive, displacing 3,000,000 people from their homes with 500,000 still in UN shelters. South Sudan is an image of despair, corruption and death – with the rest of the world idly sitting by, hoping shelters will solve this complex problem of ethnic divide.
South Sudan was essentially ‘born’ on the 9th of July in 2011. Born out of spite and difference between the North – an Arab and Muslim majority and the South – a culmination of different ethnicities with Christianity being the majority. During the end of British and Egyptian rule over the area, the South essentially accused them of backing Khartoum – based leadership which would impose an Arabic and Muslim based federal system, which would undermine the Christian majority in the South, who would be stripped of their culture in this decision. This sparked rebellion in the South – with the Anya Nya rebel movement which had the backing of the South Sudanese government. The interesting thing is the ‘culmination of different ethnicities’ put aside their differences to come together and fight for a common cause. This allowed for an unstable peace to reside over Sudan. Then fast forward roughly 20 years to 1972 the Addis Ababa agreement, which gave the South some autonomy from the North. Then in the 1980’s there was another pivotal moment, where the Sudanese government in Khartoum decided to revoke this autonomy it had granted the South, which sparked further outrage in the South of Sudan. The South Sudanese mobilised the Sudan people’s liberation army. This revolt ended up killing 1.5 million people in Sudan and this takes us up to 2005 when a comprehensive peace agreement provided Sudan with regional sovereignty and gave the citizens the right to choose whether they remain a part of Sudan under Northern rule or leave. 99% voted to leave showing the almost universal wanting to leave Sudan and become a single state, which takes us up to 2011, where things in South Sudan become even more shaky.
As aforementioned, South Sudan is home to an amalgamation of several different ethnic groups, roughly 60 altogether. The picture to the right shows the distribution of the main ethnic groups in South Sudan – the main ones being the Dinka and Nuer. Having gained independence the government established was led by Salva Kiir, who belonged to the Dinka, which was the largest ethnic group in South Sudan. As a form of appeasing the population that identified as a Nuer, he placed Riek Machar, a Nuer, as his vice. Although, being quite intelligent, this prompted discourse in the government, as Machar disagreed with many policies employed by Kiir and even threatened to run against him in the next election. In 2013, their conflict reached somewhat of a tipping point as troops loyal to Kiir clashed with troops loyal to Machar. It only really escalated from there, with Kiir and Machar using sectarian militias to use bigotry and divisive speeches to rally different ethnic groups to their cause. After the South Sudanese united to fight in their separatist movement, they began fighting against each other, as these lords scramble for power wherever possible. This has led to the two factions scrambling for resources where possible, for example oil, which is plentiful in South Sudan.
Peace falling to pieces
In 2015, a peace deal was signed between the two feuding parties, however conflict ensues throughout South Sudan. This was all exacerbated by the actions of Russia and Chinese firms. In both countries, munitions and arms manufacturers are selling weapons to the South Sudanese, which in and of itself causes more conflict. The US has suggested an arms embargo; however, China and Russia would never agree to it and would veto it in the UN, due to the profit they are making from the situation. But, let’s assume they allow the arms embargo to take place, it would simply trade with neighbouring countries like Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia, Central African Republic, etc, who would then in turn smuggle weapons into the country, due to vested interest in the conflict. However, the overall conflict is such a tricky situation that there is no way to solve the issue of arms entering the country without the surrounding African nations cooperating. So many different countries, with their own vested interest in conflict makes it so difficult to resolve.
Admittedly, I don’t do the most light-hearted topics, however I do think this needs to have more reporting with regards to tabloids and broadsheets, who would rather obsess over what Meghan Markle has had for breakfast than report on such a topic. However, in South Sudan there is a case being put forward that there is ethnical cleansing going on, which really isn’t that brash of an accusation considering the driving factors of this conflict and one of the main ones being the difference in ethnicity. The main area of tension was the Yei region, which had been peaceful – until the Summer of 2016, where South Sudanese soldiers ransacked villages, slaughtering men, women and children alike and burning villages. This caused the largest exodus of people since the Rwandan genocide of 1994, where roughly 1 million people attempted to leave South Sudan and seek refuge in Uganda – a neighbouring country. The South Sudanese government denies ethnic cleansing. The military have attacked US embassy vehicles, raided hotels, beating international citizens. gang-raped thousands of women, yet the US under the Obama administration had the unrealistic belief that the military in South Sudan was somehow able to be reformed. The US has mediated much of the conflict from its early days, but Obama wanted to seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict in South Sudan, however this was never going to work, as both sides are too far gone in their own personal agendas and at this point, international cooperation may be the only way to solve this conflict.
On top of genocide, the South Sudanese people are suffering from famine. The president, who was brought to power to represent and introduce reforms to the country in the best interest of his people. Yet Salva Kiir has prioritised arms instead of food and valuable resources. The denial of aid by Salva Kiir has led to food insecurity in much of the country, threatening the lives of millions. Catastrophic living conditions, armed militias and a corrupt government have all led to the country being susceptible to mass death from starvation. Roughly 5 million are at risk of dying from starvation due to the current famine. However, restrictions have let aid workers distribute essential needs to roughly 12000 people but this is nowhere near the number it needs to be in order to prevent further death from starvation.
Overall, the conflict is deep-rooted hatred due to ethnical difference, which is incredibly upsetting really. There is somewhat of a recurring motif in history. From the genocide in Myanmar, to the events in Charlottesville, where ethnic difference is feared, rather than celebrated. I believe the only way to move past this conflict is through international and decisive action to prevent further death in South Sudan for “profit”. An arms embargo to that portion of sub-Saharan Africa, although very controversial, may be the only way to reduce tensions in South Sudan.