Turning dreams of freedom into tragic nightmare
With its descent into an unconscionably self-destructive civil war, South Sudan lost its innocence, shattering the newly found hopes and aspirations of its people; a people that endured so much brutality for far too long. Little wonder that South Sudanese received the independence of their country with so much celebration and euphoria. For independence, as the ultimate embodiment of the struggle for freedom, was a promise for peace and stability, dignity and improved standard of living. After long and bitter struggle and huge scarifies paid in lives and limbs, independence was the opportunity to sustain the end of the war and the misery and trauma it inflicted on South Sudanese.
Unfortunately, the excitement and hope of independence did not last long. South Sudan is in war again and this time against itself.
War is cruel. It turned the dreams of freedom into a tragic nightmare. Suffering, death, displacement and destruction has ones again become commonplace. As the civil war spread from Juba into other parts of South Sudan and continues to rage on, more than ten thousand people needlessly lost their lives. Over a million others fled from their homes. In the territories affected by the civil war, the little infrastructure that existed was destroyed and the economy collapsed. According to the UN, South Sudan is now on the brink of famine.
From an example of success into disappointment
No other country received so much international good will in so huge a scale. Look at the level of international presence and the amount of support channelled into South Sudan.
No other country has squandered so much good will in such a short period of time either. With this war, South Sudan became more than a disappointment. It also turned out to be a major policy disaster both for the region and significantly for the wider international community including the UN.
Surely, descending into civil war is not unique to South Sudan. Many were in similar conditions. It is not inevitable that countries in civil war need and will remain in civil war for an extended period of time. A number of countries rose from the ashes of war and achieved incredible transformation.
What chances for South Sudan to rise from the destructions of the on-going war?
But coming out of war is no easy exercise and achieving sustainable peace is even more difficult. This is particularly so for South Sudan.
The level of destruction is so huge. Not only in terms of the scale of killings but also on account of the damage inflicted on the physical and socio-economic infrastructure of the sights of the conflict including major cities such as Bor and Malakal. The division sowed is also so deep. The conflict is not confined to armed elements but came down to the community level pitting the members of the two major communities, the Dinka and the Nuer, against each other. The disappointment and disillusionment South Sudanese and their friends is likewise so intense. Many understandably wonder about the chances of nursing South Sudan back to sustainable peace.
Without the presence of the conditions that enable it to come out of this bloody civil war and stand on an irreversible path of national healing, reconciliation, peace and socio-economic reconstruction, South Sudan stands little chance of coming out of this senseless war anytime soon.
To begin with, it is of particular significance to recognize and feel the pains of those affected by the violence. The chance of ending war and making sustainable peace is between little to none where the suffering of the war-affected communities does not count.
On this account, South Sudan fares miserably bad. The utter lack of regard that the warring factions currently show to the death, mayhem and destruction that the war has caused and continues to cause offers very little hope of ending the war anytime soon. If anything, the on-going mobilization of arms and fighters by both the government and the rebel group(s) promises more rather than less war in South Sudan.
Sometimes success depends on recognition and admission of failure. The search for peace, as in this particular case, is not any different. For South Sudan to overcome its current violent conflict, admitting the utter failure of leadership by the elites of the country is key. Such admission should include the personalization of decision-making, the corruption and lack of accountability, the lack of transformation of the army and the inability of government to deliver basic services.
Similarly, there is a need to acknowledge that the conflict manifests major gaps in the rules and processes of decision-making within the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A).
Thus far South Sudan is no-where close to acceptance of responsibility by its elites. They continue to blame each other and trade accusations.
Additionally, ending a war requires unflinching desire of the leaders and constituents of the conflicting parties to end the conflict and make peace. Currently and from the peace-making effort that has been underway since December, the warring factions show very little desire to end the war soon.
Even the cessation of hostilities agreement of 23 January 2014 was signed more due to the pressure regional and international powers put on the parties than on account of the conviction of the parties for ending hostilities and their devotion to peace. Both sides breached the cessation of hostilities agreement so many times starting from the day after it’s signing.
On this account as well, there is little prospect of the civil war ending soon.
Another important element is the possibility of the political elite standing above its narrow personal and partisan interests. The conflict is a product of the prioritization of narrow personal interests over the national interest. Since the outbreak of the war, the national interest of the country has remained subservient to the self-serving interests of elites.
As long as such transient interests continue to dictate the decisions and actions of South Sudanese leaders, no outcome that will serve the national interest of South Sudan can be expected. As the well-known South Sudan’s amnesty and accommodation of rebel militias attest, whatever peace that may be built on such (narrow interests of elites) basis would only sow the seeds of another conflict.
Another key factor is the existence of an organized national constituency that is strong enough to incentivise political actors into making the choice of ending the conflict rather than continuing it. Unfortunately, with civil society actors being largely weak, no national constituency is currently in a position to induce the conflicting parties into accepting peace.
If the foregoing assessment is anything to go by, the internal factors that are key for ending the violence through negotiation are lacking in South Sudan. This makes the prospect of nursing South Sudan back to peace in the short term depressingly bleak.
In this context, the question of how much the external environment can be counted to bring South Sudan back to peace becomes a particularly critical one.