Does Dr. Samantha Power’s Appointment as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Provide a Glimmer of Hope for South Sudan?

By Tongun Lo Loyuong

July 20, 2013 (SSNA) — For the clueless in our midst, Dr. Samantha Power was a senior director of multilateral affairs in the Obama administration, more specifically on Sudan issues. Within the White House premises, it was professor Power who presided over the complete implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). She unwaveringly breathed down Khartoum’s neck throughout the interim period, to ensure a peaceful transition in the Sudan leading to the partition of the South into a sovereign and independent state. In her own words based on a meeting we had at the White House back in December 2010, “the U.S. has left no stone unturned” when it comes to Sudan, and “concentrated diplomacy is unprecedented for the Obama administration” to ensure a timely, credible and transparent conduct of the Southern self-determination referendum. To say the least, professor Power can be regarded as one of the anonymous soldiers or the midwives who contributed immensely to the peaceful birth of this newest country. She is not only a friend of South Sudan, but indeed a godmother for this nascent state.

Most importantly, however, she is also President Obama’s current nominee to replace Susan Elizabeth Rice as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Dr. Power is better known for her unyielding defense and protection of universal human rights law and ethos. Her energetic human rights activism is complemented by her seminal academic contributions to human rights law and policy, particularly during her time as a human rights professor and executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

She has authored and co-authored several books and academic articles, including her prolific awards-winning and forcefully articulated book, “‘A Problem from Hell:’ America and the Age of Genocide,” in which she drew considerable attention to the failure of governments and the international community to prevent recurrent human rights violation and perpetration of genocides around the world. Previously, Dr. Power worked as a field journalist covering the Yugoslav Wars for U.S. media outlets, reporting on human rights abuses and mass atrocities, and giving voice to the voiceless victims of the wars or their surviving relatives.

In brief, she has passionately dedicated her entire life to date to the cause of the oppressed, and is a friend of the suffering poor wherever they may be found. Given her Irish descent, her devout commitment to the protection of human rights and her closeness to those on the receiving end of human rights violation come at no surprise at all. Perhaps, she may have drunk from the same cup or had a feel for suffering from her own childhood past in Ireland, before she migrated to the United States during the “Troubles,” the period of political turmoil that prevailed for almost three decades in Northern Ireland, from 1968 until the signing of “the Good Friday” peace accord in 1998.

Either way, Professor Power heads to the United Nations a determined woman with a clear vision and direction of wanting to see reforms in the Security Council of this global institution, as they relate to the protection of human rights and impartial enforcement of international law. Plainly, if one is informed about Dr. Power’s strong stance on human rights issues, it is clear that she is on a mission and a crusade aimed at overcoming the inexplicable pervasive culture of global impunity and apathy in the face of increasing egregious human rights and humanitarian law violation in various places across the globe. During her recent confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate, Dr. Power rightly appeared dejected by the hurting stalemate that characterizes the Syrian situation, and forcefully stressed that the failure of the Security Council to intervene and halt the continued rampant innocent killing in Syria is “a disgrace that history will judge harshly.”

Perhaps some of our compatriots are by now beginning to impatiently wonder about the so what question, which is to say what is in it for us? What is the catch for South Sudan? And why would a poor South Sudanese like myself stranded in some Nordic glacier be gleeful about the appointment of a far away American Ambassador to the United Nations?

The truth of the matter is that I am just a South Sudanese, who is desperately gasping for a glimmer of hope in a sea of despair and serious concerns about the current governance failure in our beloved homeland South Sudan. I am in despair because South Sudan has failed to live up to the expectations of most South Sudanese and our well-wishers worldwide, including those who tirelessly huffed and puffed like Dr. Power to ensure we are freed from Khartoum’s cultural domination, subjugation and social and economic marginalization.

I am concerned because the “friends of South Sudan,” have spoken and are equally concerned “about the increasingly perilous fate of South Sudan.” I am in despair because our friends have reached the conclusion that “without significant changes and reform,” which seems remote, our “country may slide toward instability, conflict and protracted governance crisis.” I fear for South Sudan. “Government security forces,” as the friends made clear “have engaged in a campaign of violence against civilians simply because they belonged to a different ethnic group or they are viewed as opponents of the current government.” Human Rights Watch have equally confirmed this assertion, and concluded that our government is part of the problem rather than the solution. As Sudan Tribune reports “this [government ] failure, together with a spate of serious abuses by soldiers in the area [Pibor County], only reinforces the perception that South Sudan’s leaders are taking sides in this ethnic conflict.” The current surge in violence in Jonglei State is therefore, chilling and the heinous human rights abuses—the rape, killing, pillage and many more mostly reported to be committed by government forces, as our friends can testify, are appalling.

Moreover, you know there is a serious cause for concern when a former rebel commander turned head of state helplessly expresses in a national speech that he is concerned; in fact that he is “extremely concerned about the continuing attacks and senseless killing of innocent civilians…in Jonglei State, and specifically in Pibor County.” This is particularly weary when a President dare I say, who has spent almost his entire adult life surrounded by corpses of dead enemies and comrades airs extreme concern about insecurity in the land. As we all recall from the liberation struggle days, the SPLA rarely accepts defeat or admits to losing a battle, even if the reality on the ground is on the contrary. Accepting defeat back in the day was seen as an invitation to weakness, demoralizing for other rebel command units and for public relations considerations, more generally.

What I am saying rather bluntly here is that, most of those who have spent prolonged period in the bush have naturally developed an innate coping mechanism that assist them in adapting to living among the dead, and therefore they are bent on denying the existence of dire humanitarian conditions. As such, for any of them to express a concern for lives lost, must indeed be taken seriously. Therefore, I am concerned about insecurity and human rights abuses in South Sudan.

In a stark contrast to the President, and perhaps even justifying to my concern, the Speaker of the Parliament, Honorable Wani Igga, himself a bush veteran, who in response to our newly earned failed state status, categorically downplayed insecurity in the land as “pockets” which should not be used as yardstick to measure South Sudan statehood as failure. Mr. Speaker in a mind-boggling statement is cited on Gurtong website as saying that “the fact that there are pockets of insecurity does not mean failure,” and that “the insecurity is only in one of the country’s 78 counties of Pibor in Jonglei State.”

In my opinion this is one of the poorest statements yet to have emerged from the mouth of the honorable speaker. How a national figure of Igga’s status waters down the abject suffering and unspeakable indiscriminate slaughtering of real human beings mostly women, children, and the elderly in cold blood in Pibor County as “pockets” of insecurity with no bearing on the failure of the state is outrageous and completely batters me to the ground.

Mr. Speaker, what happened to the moral principle of responsibility to protect (P2P), or the state’s primary responsibility to protect its citizens, particularly the vulnerable ones among them? Or assuming we let the state be since we are only “two years old,” how about our cultural values on the sanctity of the human life, are these values also two years old? Imagine the people who are currently being subjected to these inhumane conditions in Jonglei State and elsewhere in the country are your mothers, fathers and children, would you have also dismissed these as “pockets” of insecurity that do not amount to nothing, and therefore it is justifiable to bear its brunt? Ah uncle nyo longa? What will the people of Jonglei or more specifically Pibor County feel about such sentiments, that they are not humans and their lives not worthwhile? Or that they have been downgraded to third class citizenship to save the face of your government’s failure? How would one expect David Yau Yau to throw down his weapons and come back home with this kind of mindset?

Oh I am concerned alright. I am concerned with our tendency or rather the tendency of our supposedly elders, particularly those who came back from the bush most of whom are now ruling the country and their quick recourse to indulge in ostrichism, namely the tendency to bury the head in the sand. Sometimes I wonder who exactly is the elder in South Sudan? Presently, the roles seem to have been reversed, where the elders seem to increasingly behave irresponsibly like youth, and the youth particularly the educated ones seem to be more foreseeing and vocal about the dangers facing the future of this country.

Living in denial is our current status added to being a failed state. Guess who is the biggest ostrich of all? No, it is not the government’s spokesperson and his proverbial comical dismissal of every credibly researched report as faulty. He is just doing his job. In fact he reminds me of the Saddam Hussein’s spokesperson—a certain man by the name of Sahaf, who remained loyal to his boss until literally God did them apart, when the Americans took over Baghdad in 2003. But the biggest ostrich that I have in mind here is some fellow along the Jay Johnsons brand, apparently an educate fellow who recently staked a nonsense claim on Sudan Tribune that the criteria and software that determined South Sudan’s failure as a state was confused and failed to distinguish between South Sudan and Sudan. He wound up blaming all our troubles on Khartoum. What a load of nonsense! Yes Bashir’s Khartoum is scheming day and night to see South Sudan fall apart to give one back to the international community. But most of our domestic problems are created for us and by us.

I am in despair and concerned about our country, concerned about the rule of law, where the President is the supreme law of the land as opposed to the transitional constitution that not only unnecessarily bestowed him the excessive power that he wields, but that he also violates at will. I am concerned that rule of law institutions in the land are biased, politicized and selective in their application of law. I am concerned about a Vice-President who presents himself as angel amongst demons, when he has been part of the same failed government setup all along for almost a decade only to bite the hands that fed him. I am in despair that all constructive nation-building agendas from the fight against corruption to the insight on reconciliation are flawed and politicized.

So what is in it for us? Does Dr. Samantha Power’s appointment as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations provide a glimmer of hope for South Sudan? Only time will tell. But as a midwife and a friend of South Sudan and the oppressed and downtrodden people of the world, Dr. Power’s appointment makes me leap in joy, because I know she will not turn a blind eye to our plight. As a result all options must be on the table, including upgrading the mandate of UNMISS to real chapter VII of a fully armed, fully equipped peace enforcement force of blue helmets in South Sudan. We all know the current mandate of UNMISS is chapter VI or at best chapter VI ½, but certainly not chapter VII. If South Sudan must be raised up into a healthy child and member of the world community, we must consider providing a healthy environment for this baby state to be raised up in, including giving it to a foster family until it is old enough to be independent.

In this context, even global law enforcement institutions like the International Criminal Court must be seriously contemplated, especially in light of the egregious human rights violations and massacres that are currently being committed in South Sudan. Somebody must be held to account, enough with impunity already, and enough with empty sentiments of “African Solutions to African Problems.” Dr. Power, South Sudan is living in the “Troubles,” that will ultimately undermine not only American interest in the region, but also destabilize international peace and security. Left unattended and treated like an adult sovereign state, which it is not, we will disgracefully live to see history judging us harshly in light of the current reality in South Sudan. This is certainly not the country we wanted and helped created. Enough is enough.

The author can be reached at [email protected]

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