April 4, 2014 (SSNA) — On the 15th December 2013 gun fire flared up in the headquarters of the presidential guards (Al Qiyada) and within hours it spread across the capital of Juba. Precisely in two days, fighting had engulfed the length and breadth of Greater Upper Nile Region.
The uninformed in the world must have been wondering what on earth was happening in South Sudan with people who have just restored peace to their country after destructive wars and much bloodshed. Concerned South Sudanese must have also been wondering to where all this was leading.
For South Sudanese to turn the guns viciously against each other as people of one destiny was totally unacceptable. History may judge the people of South Sudan harshly.
In view of the massive destruction of resources and lives in such a short time that seems to be already polarizing people along ethnic or regional lines, the appropriate approach is reconciliation for a peaceful co-existence of the people of South Sudan.
The world is watching and will judge whether the people of South Sudan are mature and fit to govern themselves in contrast to the people of Somalia in the Horn of Africa. However, South Sudanese should be confident that they can govern themselves. What is important, though, is to rise above ethnic and political differences in order to focus on nation building for prosperity for all.
Reconciliation and peaceful co-existence
There is unlikely to be short cut to peace in South Sudan without the process of reconciliation. For peace to take roots reconciliation should be based on the concept of equitable distribution of power and wealth, and observance of the rule of law. A prosperous nation cannot be built on the basis of discriminatory practices whether knowingly or unknowingly.
South Sudanese must accept each other from the bottom of their hearts as citizens of one country. The crude scramble for power and economic domination will not be helpful in fostering the spirit of togetherness and national unity. Here a federal system of government may offer a solution.
For a way forward South Sudanese may need to be sensitive about the world around them in contrast to ethno-centricism where one ethnic group dominates the affairs of the nation as though other ethnic groups do not exist. People should treat each other with humility as of one destiny.
Unless people rise above ethno-centricism as, for example, a Dinka protects a defenseless Nuer and a Nuer does vice versa, people are in for a very long bumpy ride to nationhood. Although the present conflict has unfortunately taken ethnic overtones as Dinka versus Nuer, reconciliation efforts should be conducted among South Sudanese of different ethnicities to address grudges and undersurface bitterness against each other.
Self-examination for a way forward
People may need to understand that mistakes have been made either knowingly or unknowingly. A way forward is for people to self-examine themselves and accept that mistakes have been made and to be acknowledged publicly.
For example, land grabbing has been perpetuated by the illiterate, semi-literate and the literate simply because of the seemingly misguided assumption that with their kinsmen in power the rule of law does not apply. This seems to be confirmed when land grabbers are neither condemned nor persecuted often, a license to grab more lands of others.
Another scenario is where people claim they are internally displaced persons (IDPs) and then occupy the land of others. Sometimes the IPDs are armed and terrorise the locals. In such a situation IDPs are nothing but mean occupiers and oppressors. Now how can such behaviors as land grabbing and forceful occupation of land of others promote national cohesion and unity? Only the naïve can think so.
Some shameless land grabbers will even go to court without legal papers of land ownership in an attempt to justify their grabbing of land from legitimate owners. It is not difficult to understand why land grabbing is persisting. This is simply because land grabbers erroneously assume that as their kinsmen are dominant in the system, they are protected against the unprotected land owners. With this type of crude behavior that is unfortunately being condoned, how can a prosperous, strong and united country be built?
Peaceful co-existence for unity
Reconciliation and peace can be realized in South Sudan when people rise above ethnic divide. The first few days of the fighting that sparked off in Juba on 15 December 2013 took an ethnic dimension.
According to the South Sudan Human Rights Commission (SSHRC) Interim Report on South Sudan Internal Conflict December 15, 2013 – Marc h 15, 2014, there were accusations and counter-accusations that the Dinka massacred Nuer in Juba and more precisely in Munuki 107 residential area and that the Dinka were massacred in Bor, Akobo, Bentiu and Malakal. The conflict has produced two opposing parties, the SPLM in Government and the SPLM in Opposition.
The Report of 6 March 2014 of the Secretary General of the United Nations on South Sudan asserts that, “Both parties to the conflict have been responsible for ethnically targeted attacks on civilians and have failed to comply with international humanitarian and human rights law (p.7)”.
The UN Secretary General’s Report suggests that massive human rights violations might have been committed against innocent civilians because of their ethnicities. This clearly indicates the urgency of reconciliation to restore peace in South Sudan.
The talk of inclusive or interim government before any reconciliation with commitment to put things right may hardly produce the desired result. Reconciliation for peaceful co-existence must go concurrently with an agreement on governance.
Reconciliation is of paramount importance to create peace in South Sudan. Without reconciliation and a comprehensive peace agreement the alternative is likely to be a prolonged conflict that may lead to the disintegration of the country. What will stop any of the Greater Regions of South Sudan to declare independence and then strenuously defend and protect it at any cost?
Arguably South Sudanese are not one people but are people of one destiny as evidenced by the overwhelming vote for independence in January 2011. The solid unity displayed in the referendum was a collective expressed fear of being second class citizen under the known discriminatory system of Arab Islamic Sudan. As it were, the people of South Sudan vowed never to be marginalized again in their life time hence the vote for independence. Now how can one in their right minds turn a blind eye to marginalization of others in independent South Sudan?
In conclusion, the basis of reconciliation in South Sudan should be the strong desire for a system that does not marginalize others through ethnic or regional hegemony. This is in order for people to live in harmony. There are more than 60 ethnic groups and three Greater Regions in South Sudan. All should therefore be treated with sensitivity in promoting national unity.
The author can be reached at [email protected].