December 26, 2013 (SSNA) — What happened is that on the fateful night of December 15th, 2013, armed violent conflict erupted within the ranks and file of presidential guards unit in one of the main military headquarters in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan. The domino effect of this violence quickly spread like wildfire to half the number of the ten States in the land, resulting in senseless killing that targeted mostly our fellow compatriots from the civilian population across ethnic divide, according to the latest statement by the United Nations.
In the process, thousands of South Sudanese have lost their lives in just a matter of ten days according to Toby Lanzer, the highest UN humanitarian coordinator in South Sudan while speaking to BBC. "There are now people who are targeting others because of their tribal affiliation. It will only lead to one thing and that is to turn this new nation into chaos… it’s undeniable at this stage that there must have been thousands of people who have lost their lives. When I’ve looked at the hospitals in key towns and I’ve looked at the hospitals in the capital itself, the range of injuries, this is no longer a situation where we can merely say it’s hundreds of people who’ve lost their lives,” Mr. Lanzer detailed.
In addition to precious lives of our compatriots lost as a result of this violent insanity that is clearly embedded in unresolved political contradictions of the past, more than 80,000 people have been displaced from their homes and villages. In absence of safe and secure abode, half of our innocent civilians are left gasping for refuge in various UN bases across the conflict hotspots in the land. This displacement is accompanied by pillage and destruction of properties. "The estimated number of people displaced in the current crisis in South Sudan has risen to 81,000….Given the limited access to civilians outside population centres, the number is likely to be significantly higher," states the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in its latest situation report on the crisis in South Sudan.
The violent situation remains fluid and continues to rapidly change. Left on its own and at this rate and scope, many more death of innocent civilian population will ensue and further displacement, pillage and destruction of property will continue in what may potentially lead to a humanitarian disaster. As such the violence, indiscipline and lawlessness must end immediately.
As President Barack Obama has recently warned South Sudan is “on the precipice” and edging closer to a civil war. This is particularly true given the generally accepted definition of a civil war as an armed conflict where “the war has caused more than 1,000 deaths,” and it “involved the state as one of the principal combatants…” (Doyle and Sambanis, 2000; 2006). However, a window of opportunity to arrest this dangerous slide to a full-fledge civil war with a far-reaching repercussions if the situation remains on the loose and from which we will live to regret for generations to come is still open. But this window of opportunity must be seized immediately by the political leadership of South Sudan, before it closes.
What is Happening
As such, and in order to defuse and end the armed conflict, and find an amicable non-violent conflict resolution not only on the top political but also on all levels, including the middle and grassroots levels of the society, it is imperative to understand what is happening, namely the nature of the conflict. According to the narrative presented by the Government of South Sudan (GoSS), this is a political violence precipitated by a “foiled coup” attempt attributed to forces aligned to the former vice president Dr. Riek Machar and his eleven political allies now incarcerated by GoSS. Dr. Machar remains at large, and perhaps by existential intuition based on what unraveled in Juba. However, he now admits to commanding an armed opposition with a view to unseat President Salva Kiir from power by the use of force.
The use of force to gain or retain political power must be discouraged and power must change hands through non-violent democratic means in the ballot box. Yet, Dr. Machar also categorically denies that it was his intention to usurp political power from President Kiir by force as alleged. Instead he claims that the coup was staged by President Kiir and GoSS as a pretext to eliminate him and his comrades who are publically opposed to Kiir’s leadership both on the ruling party Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) level as well as on national governance level.
Dr. Machar reiterated this in his Tweeter account on Christmas day, December 25th, 2013, where he emphasized that he did not run away because he was involved in a “foiled coup.” Rather he pointed out that he fled because his life was on the line. He tweets, “what few individuals are failing to understand is that I was only running for my life when guards were ordered to kill or capture me. [N]o one in his right mind can stage a coup while sitting still in his house. [T]he dispute over the disarmament on one section of the guard was created to arrest me and my comrades so as to create an havoc.”
Whether or not there was a failed coup attempt or Machar and cohort were framed, is at this point irrelevant. As it is clear, while the conflict protagonist continue to look for justifications for the choices they made, unfortunately the armed violence across ethnicities that ensued will continue to escalate and proliferate. And the common South Sudanese man, women elders and children are the ones left to pay the high price with their lives or through displacement. While this is happening South Sudan, which itself was bought at a high price by the blood of our martyrs risks being consumed in the flames of violent mayhem and being reduced to ashes in a conflict that has clearly evolved into an identity one.
As such it is useless to persist on pointing fingers of blame to who started what, when, where and how. Equally pointless is to dwell on the question of who is the culprit who has cross the redline of power politics by reaching to the tribal card and throwing it into the mix, while knowing full well that South Sudan is indeed two years old when it comes to tribal vulnerability. As we all know the majority of our masses remain illiterate and therefore their human agency to make their own informed political, economic and social decision is rudimentary and easily exploitable by the ruling elites.
It is, therefore not fair to our masses, nor is it morally right for our politicians to seek to ply their trade by abusing the tribal weakness of our people in order to gain or retain political power. This practice must desist from South Sudan’s politics if a peaceful, just and prosperous nation is to be built. It is here that it must be EMPHASIZED that the violence in South Sudan is no longer about political power but has taken a turn to the worst across ethnicities. Therefore political power must no longer remain the primary priority going forward.
What Must Happen
What must happen going forward and assuming our leaders and politicians really care about our people is for them to muster their courage, overcome their egos and pride and immediately seek a political settlement. The only venue for this to happen is the negotiation table, which they must go to it without posing any preconditions or conditions to preconditions.
In his Christmas message, President Kiir has urged for clam and discipline in order to restore order and security in Juba as well as the rest of South Sudan. He also promised that “unruly and undisciplined” and those “who randomly bent to killing innocent people are criminals and will not escape the long arm of justice….” This is commendable.
On his part, Dr. Machar has appealed for calm as early as December 18th, 2013. Four days later, he followed that statement by reassuring the public that it is not in his desire to drag this country back to a civil war. On each occasion he tweeted “I urge the general public and SPLA army to stay calm and avoid attacking innocent civilians. Don’t take our country back to square one,” and again “I don’t wish for civil war to happen again in South Sudan. Salva Kiir must leave and this will bring democracy and freedom to South Sudanese. The issue is not between tribes. And the notion that there was a coup was fabrication by the president to eliminate democracy.”
If security and order were to be restored as the president is striving for, and if this country must avert a civil war and being dragged to square one as Machar wishes, then both Kiir and Machar must make swallow their egos and make major concessions to move this conflict to its rightful place—the negotiation table. As noted it is no longer politics of power that is unraveling but innocent ordinary human beings and fellow tribesmen, women and children who are dying.
Therefore a mutual unequivocal declaration of ceasefire is overdue. The longer we wait the more our compatriots are dying and the chances of arresting this violence are evaporating. The path to peaceful settlement of the conflict must begin immediately through mutual declaration of cessation of hostilities followed by the release of political prisoners from Kiir’s side, while Machar must demonstrate willingness to come to the negotiation table without dictating the agenda, including the precondition on Kiir’s departure from the first office.
Only when both parties demonstrate political will and ability to truly seek to find peaceful solution to violence this political-violence turned tribal, can this country be spared from a return to square one and a civil war to ensure the restoration of security and order for the rule of law to take its course in the cases of the innocent murders. All other agenda’s and contentious issues of democratization and inclusion of other key stakeholders in the making of South Sudan’s future, including on issues pertaining to national reconciliation, the role of women, youth and the civil society in state-building, nationbuilding and peacebuilding will be discussed and mediated on the negotiation table.
As the renowned transitional justice expert, Priscilla B. Hayner admonishes, “common wisdom holds that the future depends on the past: one must confront the legacy of the past horrors or there will be no foundation on which to build a new society.
Bury your sins, and they will reemerge later. Stuff skeletons in the closet, and they will fall back out of the closet at the most inauspicious times. Try to quiet the ghosts of the past, and they will haunt you forever—at the risk of opening society to cycles of violence, anger, pain, and revenge. By directly confronting the conflicts…, it is surmised, these conflicts will be less likely to explode into severe violence or political conflict in the future,” (Hayner, 2001).
Kiir and Machar remove the skeletons from the closet in South Sudan through immediate open and sincere political dialogue in a negotiation table, to resolve your political differences and save this country from the self-destruction of identity clash across ethnicities.
Merry Christmas and may the year 2014 be a year of peace, justice, equality and prosperity to South Sudan and bring the best out of us all.
Tongun Lo Loyuong is reachable at [email protected]; and can be followed on twitter @TongunLoLoyuong. Numerous other food for thought and intellectual exercise on South Sudan’s issues can be found at: http://tloloyuong.wordpress.com/