By Daniel Juol Nhomngek, Kampala, Uganda
April 21, 2017 (SSB) — South Sudan gained its independent State on 9 July 2011, following a referendum that passed with 98.83% of the vote. After the independence, it became a United Nations member state, a member state of the African Union, of the East African Community, and of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.
Geographically, it is bordered by Sudan to the north, Ethiopia to the east, Kenya to the southeast, Uganda to the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the southwest, and the Central African Republic to the west. It includes the vast swamp region of the Sudd, formed by the White Nile and known locally as the Bahr al Jabal.
The territories of modern South Sudan and the Republic of the Sudan were occupied by Egypt under the Muhammad Ali Dynasty, and later governed as an Anglo-Egyptian condominium until Sudanese independence was achieved in 1956. Following the First Sudanese Civil War, the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region was formed in 1972 and lasted until 1983.
Due to the failure to implement 1972 Agreement, the second civil war broke out in 1983 and ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 that later led to the independence of South Sudan as already mentioned. In 2005 southern autonomy that was done away with in 1983 was restored with the creation of the Autonomous Government of Southern Sudan.
After three (3) years into the formation of Southern Sudan Government, 2008 Census was conducted this proved that South Sudan had eight (8) million population of South Sudan during the time of independence. Hence, there was a hope from all citizens who comprised the said population that after independence the country is going to be built as based on their wishes. This is because South Sudan came as a result of the struggle and agreement among people themselves and with their government as provided for under the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan, 2011.
In fact, if South Sudan was run based on the will of the people, it would have been one of the best countries as it has more economic resources compared to other countries. In term of economic resources, for instance, South Sudan is blessed with the abundance of natural resources which are: River Nile whose many tributaries have sources in the country and many natural resources such as petroleum, iron ore, copper, chromium ore, zinc, tungsten, mica, silver, gold, and hydropower are found there.
In term of the agricultural and its produce, South Sudan produces cotton, groundnuts (peanuts), sorghum, millet, wheat, gum Arabic, sugarcane, cassava (tapioca), mangos, papaya, bananas, sweet potatoes, and sesame at limited scale of which if developed, it cannot only become a bread basket of Africa but the whole world. This is because it is rich in agricultural land and has one of the largest populations of pastoralists in the world.
As discussed above, if South Sudan were built based on people’s interest or if the authorities of South Sudan had understood that South Sudan as a country neither means land, resources nor power but means people of South Sudan, it would have developed now because twelve (12) years, that is, from 2005 to 2017 is a long time. In addition, conflict had not broken out as leaders would have perceived themselves as more of servants than kings.
Nevertheless, as soon as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed the leaders began competing for power and national resources leaving citizens in a gap where hunger, poverty and diseases filled up that gap. Consequently, the war was inevitable as power and resources become the centre of governance and because of the people become shield and protectors of private wealth.
Thus, December 2013 a political power struggle that broke out between President Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar, as the president accused Machar and ten others of attempting a coup d’état was nothing but mechanism for power and resources protection and struggle to either obtain power or retain power. Such struggle for and against ignited the South Sudanese Civil War.
In order to end the war and sufferings of the people of South Sudan, a peace agreement was signed in Ethiopia under threat of United Nations sanctions for both sides in August 2015. Due to that Peace Agreement, Machar returned to Juba in 2016 and was appointed first vice president.
However, because the war was about power not people, it re-broke out in Juba in July 2016. That war again caused immense sufferings which spread like a wild fire in different parts of South Sudan. At the same time to see that war was not about people, Machar was replaced as vice-president by General Taban Deng who became a proxy of the Government in form of the SPLM-IO leader in Juba.
As it is clear, the reason General Taban Deng Gai was appointed in place of Riek Machar was to kill the SPLM/A-IO and their demand for reform was finally characterized as criminal activities of the outlawed groups. The implication of such an action has had a far reaching implication on the country as war broke out in various parts of South Sudan and many people were killed and are still being killed today.
The reason for the simultaneous outbreak of political unrests in different parts of South Sudan after the July 2016 fighting and defeat of Riek Machar was due to the fact that people have seen their aspirations dying a natural death with the destruction of 2015 Compromised Peace Agreement. This is because the people had banked their hope for change for the better on that Agreement.
The failure of the Agreement, which was marked by the outbreak of war, owed its roots to the fact that Agreement was not people’s centre. If the Peace Agreement of 2015 were people’s centre, it would have stood the frictions or disagreements among the leaders of South Sudan.
Because the war is about power, resources and land, it has now killed many South Sudanese. As things stand today, it is estimated that up to three hundred (300,000) thousand people have been killed in the war, including notable atrocities such as the 2014 Bentiu massacre. It is further estimated that about two (2) million people who are internally displaced and about one (1) million have fled to neighboring countries, especially Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda.
In summary, the war in South Sudan will never end unless the leaders realize that the country isn’t about power, land and resources but about people. Where people are put at the centre of power in which power becomes the tool for improving the people’s welfare, then people’s welfare becomes the supreme law of the country.
However, in a country where citizens become protectors of power, their resources will be looted; poverty becomes rampant accompanied by famine and death. Hence, the leaders of South Sudan must learn that power isn’t about resources, land but about people and how to protect their interests, which is the interest of the country.
NB// the author is human rights lawyer and can be reached through: email@example.com
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