By Deng Machol
Juba – Ten years after becoming East Africa’s youngest nation after fighting for 21 years in a civil was that left 2.5 million dead, South Sudan continues to be mired in instability and a deteriorating humanitarian crisis.
The country which gained independence on July 9, 2011 without a single debt, should now be boasting of massive sustained development across the divide but instead is carrying billions of dollars in debt and loans to its name, as well as bleeding from a greed induced conflict and endemic corruption promoted by the political elites.
Ten years ago, the people of South Sudan set out on a path of self – rule and independence with the promise of a better future, but many challenges ensued and progress towards nationhood was stifled because of recurring conflict and the incalculable loss of lives.
However, opportunities for a smooth transition to peace to enable the people of the world’s youngest nation to achieve their economic, social and political aspirations, to defy marginalization and build a fundamental basis for everlasting sustainable peace and security, were missed.
Hopes were high in 2011 when after decades of war with the north, the southern South voted overwhelmingly to secede. Salva Kiir, a former rebel leader, was sworn in as South Sudan’s first president, with Riek Machar, another rebel leader, as his deputy. Many South Sudanese who had fled, returned, while the international community poured millions of dollars into propping up the new government.
The hopes and dreams of the people were tumble-down by the conflict that broke at end of 2013.
The political greed was manifesting itself and things fell apart with the country awash with new bloodshed, a crisis that pitted brother against brother, father against son, and for six years threw South Sudan into a state of anarchy. The conflict has manufactured itself to national – conflict across the country.
The oil-rich country has been mired in fighting that killed nearly 400,000 people and uprooted four million people from their homes; suffocated social services and left towns and villages plundered and destroyed; engrained corruption and a deteriorating humanitarian crisis, while a fragile peace deal hangs by a thread.
“I have to admit that I have many regrets,” the country’s President, Salva Kiir, said in a televised interview on Kenya’s Citizen TV on Wednesday. “I cannot talk proudly to the people of South Sudan on achievements,” he said.
“I am not proud because we have been fighting and things that we have done were destroyed so we have to start again,” said Kiir.
And that simply sums up the country since independence, never growing beyond what it inherited from Sudan, and whatever it had has been destroyed by the very people who championed that independence.
“However, despite some lost opportunities, it is never too late to invigorate the peace process so that humanitarian assistance is more effective, and conditions are created where development activities can have broader and greater impact,” said Matthew Hollingworth, outgoing WFP representative.
“To realize that vision, both the politically manipulated and localized communal conflict that tears at the fabric of society itself, needs to stop. Preparations for peaceful, credible, and inclusive elections must begin in earnest; unified forces must be created; transitional justice mechanisms must be fully established; and key financial reforms need to happen as quickly as possible,” said Troika in the press statement on Thursday.
“Sky-high Levels of Needs”
Today, the country is in an unprecedented need of assistance with 8. 3 million people, more than three-quarters the 12 million, in need of multi-sector humanitarian assistance
Despite having one of the most fertile arable lands and natural resources in the region, South Sudan still has deficits in its food production. This year, 7.24 million of them are in need of food and the threat of famine is constantly stalking.
Natural disasters like floods, the locust invasion, global phenomena like the decline in crude oil prices and COVID-19, all contributed to the mirage of problems stunting South Sudan.
The health system is close to nonexistence and people die of diseases that are never life-threatening elsewhere in the world.
“A decade of providing humanitarian assistance the needy, the threatened and the displaced has saved countless lives in this nation,” said Arafat Jamal, incoming UNHCR Representative. “Now, the international community must look forward, to help stabilize South Sudan by supporting solutions and sustainable development, while maintaining a robust emergency response capacity.”
“It is a decade that has battered communities and families across the country with conflict and armed violence,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement this week.
The already fragile health-care system has been further weakened or destroyed by the violence and people die of preventable and treatable diseases, ICRC said.
“Only an estimated 40 percent health care centers in South Sudan remain functional,” the humanitarian organization said.
“Attacks against medical personnel and facilities, as well as limited number of health workers are some of the factors that contributed to this dramatic situation.”
South Sudan has just 195 kilometers of paved road infrastructure but has more V8 vehicles than other countries in the region, a sign its leader go for personal gains over development of the country.
Its crude oil has been plundered by corrupt officials who care less about development, leading to a crisis which shocked the world, and rated as Africa’s deadliest of the decade, rivaled only by the wars in Afghanistan and Syria and not far in similarities in atrocities on civilians from that of the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony, Africa’s most brutal warlord, in neighboring Uganda last decade.
A year after independence, $4 billion was stolen by government officials, and letters written by Kiir to 75 of them fell on deaf years.
To date, no one has been held accountable and sequences of corruption have gone on unabated in the world’s youngest country.
The jubilations and celebrations ten years ago were short-lived and millions of citizens are now impoverished made hopeless and reduced to extreme dependence on humanitarian assistance, said both the South Sudan Council of Churches and civil society.
“There is little to celebrate,” the religious group said in a statement adding that “conflict has become the context in which we are evolving with rampant proxy inter-communal violence increasing cases of sexual violence, revenge killings; land grabbing and child abduction,” said the South Sudan Council of Churches.
“These conflicts have rendered our first ten years of independence a ‘wasted decade.’ We are at a standstill in many ways,” Churches said.
“We must reflect on what went wrong in the first decade of independence, learn from those experiences and rise to the collective responsibility of this generation to deliver our country from its current predicaments,” the faith-based group further cited.
A 2018 peace agreement is being implemented in the country, bringing together several opposition groups in one government, tripling its predecessor, to be run for three years.
President Salva Kiir is being deputized by former rebel leader Riek Machar and four other Vice Presidents in the current unity government which has seen the parliament expanded to 550 members from 330.
Despite the formation of the executive arm, the peace process remains fragile as the nominees for the revitalized national legislature are yet to be sworn – in
However, the Troika said the great challenge now facing South Sudan is to recapture the sense of unity, strength, and hope that prevailed on this day ten years ago.
“With reconciliation through compromise and accelerated implementation of the peace agreement, South Sudan can become a peaceful, democratic country, where human rights and the rule of law are respected – a country where all people have food on their table, where businesses prosper, and where the Government truly serves its people,” said Troika.
The USA, Norway and British said they remains eager to work in close partnership with the transitional government to implement fully the revitalized peace agreement.
“We are committed to standing with the South Sudanese people as they work toward their aspirations of peace and prosperity. We urge the political leadership of South Sudan to take the actions needed to build the country the jubilant crowds of 2011 dreamed was possible,” Troika added.
“Children Not Spared”
A record 4.5 million children, about two out of three in South Sudan are in desperate need of humanitarian support, the United Nations Children’s Fund said this week.
“The recent peace agreement, which has only partially been implemented, has so far failed to bring about any remedy to the challenges facing the country’s children and young people, according to UNICEF as well.
To date, the child mortality rate is among the highest in the world, with 1 in 10 children not expected to reach their fifth birthday.
While about 1.4 million children are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year, the highest figure since 2013, more than 300,000 of them – the highest number ever in the country – are expected to suffer from the worst form of malnutrition and are at risk of dying if treatment is not provided.
Limited access to education and high drop-out rates have left 2.8 million children out of school – the highest proportion of out of school children in the world at more than 70 per cent of school-age children.
“The hope and optimism that children and families in South Sudan felt at the birth of their country in 2011 have slowly turned to desperation and hopelessness,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said.
Also, women and girls have been brutalized in the conflict in the country, faced inhumane acts including rape and other forms of sexual violence. They faced the horrors of seeing loved ones killed and separation from husbands and children.
They and their children have been forced to live in squalid conditions in internally displaced people’s camps or flee the country as refugees with neighbors, all because of a crisis they never understood.
Persistent Inter-Communal Conflicts
The inter-communal conflicts have persisted over the years across country with cattle being raided and people being targeted and killed with the States of Warrap, Lakes, Upper Nile and Jonglei the most affected.
Historically, such conflicts emanated from cattle raids and revenge killings, aggravated by a proliferation of guns in civilian hands.
Heavy battle guns like the PKM machine guns and rocket propelled grenades as well as sniper guns have been used in inter-communal fighting.
“Currently, there is no rule of law as community leaders support their clans while it shouldn’t be disputed that leaders in Juba are fueling conflicts in their respective states,” Guor Gabriel Manyang, a practicing lawyer and human rights activist said in an interview.
Ammunitions and guns are accessed from military soldiers who sell them in exchange for livestock.
Even if significant progress has been made since the signing of the peace deal in 2018, its implementation is slow, and peace remains fragile, the UN Mission in the country said.
Last month, South Sudan’s new United Nations chief, Nicholas Haysom, told the Security Council there was “pervasive insecurity” and that inter-communal violence was responsible for more than 80 percent of civilian casualties this year. Aid workers are being increasingly targeted, four humanitarians were killed and millions of dollars of supplies looted or destroyed, he said.
Haysom urged the government to “breathe fresh life into the peace process” and fully implement the agreement, which will eventually lead to elections, he said.
“The journey from war to peace has been a long and difficult one and there is still much to be done so that people can exercise the democratic right they earned a decade ago,” Haysom said
The first ten years of this young country’s history have seen much suffering, due to conflict related abuses, famine, flooding, and disease. Yet through it all, the South Sudanese people have shown resilience.
After all, South Sudan is rich. Its riches do not just reside in the oil beneath its land or the lumber in its forests. South Sudan is rich because of the diverse communities of people that make up this young country.
‘Give up hope’
Multiple citizens say it is too late for reform and regret the choice they made 10 years ago.
“After 10 years of independence, South Sudan’s population doesn’t have much to celebrate and rejoice,” said James Garang, resident of Juba.
Garang, like many others said those hopeful expectations of life in the new state have disappeared and only delivered for the country’s elite.
“We raised the flag but blighted with .continued suffering of citizens,” said Mary Juma, resident of Juba.
Attempts to end the conflict were futile, countless ceasefires and peace deal were broken and the first power-sharing agreement in 2015 between Kiir’s government and Machar’s opposition failed.
Machar was forced to flee the country on foot when renewed clashes erupted in the capital, Juba, in 2016, expanding the war to the south. A second peace deal signed in 2018 has largely held, with warring parties forming a coalition government last year – and Kiir and Machar trying for a third time to run the country.
But while large-scale conflict has subsided, intercommunal clashes continue and key parts of the peace deal have yet to be implemented, notably a unified national army combining opposition and government forces.
Thousands of soldiers languish in cantonment sites awaiting training or graduation across the country, while fractions have emerged within Kiir and Machar’s parties plus other political parties.
The current transitional government was also comprised of former political foes and militias who did not have a united vision for the country.
The process of integrating both politically and security fractions was fraught. State institutions and systems of accountability were already weak.”
Without clear progress, frustration, disappointment and lack of trust in the government will grow and another fuel violence, say Akot Garang, student’s activist.
With the 2018 revitalized peace deal, the polls are scheduled for 2023, but many fed-up South Sudanese have called for the two leaders to resign before that, according to a December report from the country’s National Dialogue Steering Committee, an initiative that gathered civilian views across the country.