By Savo Heleta
September 21, 2010 (SSNA) — The notion of South Sudanese airplanes bombing Khartoum could make the regime of Omar al Bashir think twice before sending forces and planes to destroy the south and its population in the aftermath of the 2011 referendum on self-determination.
For decades, the people in South Sudan have suffered cruel attacks and ruthless terror at the hands of their northern countrymen. During this time, the world ignored Khartoum’s numerous genocidal campaigns and unthinkable discrimination and brutality. No one ever came to the rescue of the southerners.
While the southerners were busy negotiating the latest peace agreement with Khartoum, the conflict in Darfur exploded in 2003. Many southerners were perplexed that the Islamist regime was seriously talking about peace and unity with them while viciously killing and displacing civilians in this western part of Sudan.
The world also watched this new orgy of murder, rape and looting in Darfur. At first, the world ignored it. Somehow, however, the Darfur conflict became popular and important in the Western world and we heard many politicians and celebrities calling for serious action to stop the suffering of the millions.
When things finally started moving and some AU/UN troops arrived to Darfur, the majority of the killings, destruction and displacement were already over. Even with thousands of AU/UN troops present on the ground and around the refugee camps, the Darfurians have hardly experienced any peace and security and still cannot see the end of their misery.
Who will provide protection?
The people in South Sudan are approaching the most important moment in their history, when they will decide if they want to remain in a united Sudan or form an independent country. In the case they vote for independence, can the southerners count on any outside power for their protection, safety and security in case they are attacked by the Khartoum Islamist forces and their proxies aiming to take control of oil-rich territories in the south, a notion widely expected by many?
Can South Sudan count on a swift and serious action by the United Nations? Or the African Union? Perhaps the NATO forces? Or even individual countries, like Britain, United States, Russia, China or South Africa? Will anyone give them concrete and public guarantees and protect them the way NATO forces and the European Union guarantee peace in Bosnia and Kosovo?
The answer to all the above is no! Apart from the usual calls for calm, strong diplomatic language, toothless UN and AU resolutions and economic sanctions, and even a small peacekeeping force with a dubious mandate, nothing else will come from any of the above organizations and countries.
The people and leadership in South Sudan have known this from their own painful experiences since 1955. No one ever cared enough about their suffering to offer any serious support. If they needed any more convincing, they could remember the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, when the international community watched and did nothing while almost one million people were brutally slaughtered in only three months.
There is no need to go that far and consider the first and second north-south wars or the Rwandan genocide; the southerners can consider the case of Darfur. They have seen the activists and millions of ordinary people all over the world mobilize to stop the carnage and protect the suffering civilians in this western Sudanese province; they have also seen how the decision-makers in powerful countries kept ignoring these calls and the suffering of Darfurians.
Like many around the world, the southerners could watch in disbelief the inability of the international community to even find a few helicopters to be used in Darfur by the AU/UN troops to protect the survivors, refugees and displaced, let alone do something more meaningful in the past few years.
Balance of power
Because of all the above, the leadership in South Sudan was left with only one choice: prepare to defend the people and territory in case of an attack or suffer another genocide while the world watches and does nothing. They know there is no alternative to this and that their security is in their own hands.
Since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, the Government of South Sudan (GOSS) has spent a large amount of resources on modernization of its armed forces and purchase of military equipment. Of course, many, including this author, will argue that this is very bad for reconstruction and development in South Sudan. Billions of US dollars that were spent on the army and purchase of new military equipment could have been used to build roads, schools, hospitals and factories.
But is there any other option for the GOSS? Can they sit and watch as the Khartoum regime replenishes its arsenal with the latest Chinese long-range attack missiles and other arms? Or should they compete in the arms race and try to keep some form of balance on the ground?
It is very likely that the GOSS leadership is hoping that the Khartoum regime will take notice of their purchase of hundreds of tanks, artillery and new helicopters and fighter jets, coupled with years of extensive training for the South Sudanese armed forces and air force pilots in many countries around the world. While in the previous two north-south wars the southerners had no aerial capability and could hardly mount any serious attacks on the northern forces outside South Sudan, this time they will be able to strike right in the middle of the Sudanese capital.
Perhaps the notion of southern bombs falling all over Khartoum and other northern cities as a reaction to an attack on the south will make the regime of Omar al Bashir think twice before sending forces and planes to destroy South Sudan and its population yet again.
This author hopes that reason and peace will prevail and the northern and southern politicians will be able to deal with all outstanding post-referendum issues at the negotiating table and not on the battleground.
However, sometimes the balance of power on the ground is the only way to protect the peace between the adversaries.
Savo Heleta is a PhD candidate in Development Studies at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. He is the author of "Not My Turn to Die: Memoirs of a Broken Childhood in Bosnia" (AMACOM Books, New York, March 2008). Savo Heleta writes this article in his personal capacity. He can be reached at [email protected]