South Sudan must overcome the militarized elites to stop this endless pursuit for bloodshed
“Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.” Gautama Buddha
The current shocking developments of the armed conflict in South Sudan were rather sudden though somewhat anticipated. Through the years, I have tried to remain optimistic about South Sudan. I am inspired by some South Sudanese people who kept trying so hard to rise above the quest of corruption, violence, greed and the pettiness of personal gains and citizen’s exclusion that dominated the political arena. They endured wisely the brokers exploiting their resources and wealth, hoping that down the road, they would be able to turn things around, yet they have continued to be let down by the militarized elites.
Most modern national African states are built on the foundation and legacy of the colonial era. While some mange to keep it together, others crumble. South Sudan had no share of the colonial state heritage since the country was closed and isolated from outsiders by the British colonial authority during the late 19th century until the end of the first half of the 20th century. The British justified this policy by claiming that South Sudan was not ready for exposure to the modern world. The ramification of this was the deprivation of South Sudanese of any investments in their country’s infrastructure as they were harshly kept in solitary deprived of opportunities to interact and explore for over half a century. On the other hand in 1955, the same British administration handed South Sudan to the emerging Sudan national state led by central Sudanese elites with their diverted Arab Islam orientation and negative history of engaging in South Sudan which was largely marked with slave trade and adventurous merchants (Jalaba). Consequently, South Sudan continued to be further excluded during the post colonial era.
In the mid 1950s a consentient resistance mainly militarized factions among South population emerged against their country’s integration into an independent Sudan state. For the years that followed, South Sudan was turned into a battle field between the Northern armies and Southern armed militias. In the mean time, South Sudanese continued to experience social and economic alienation and constant discrimination and loses of potential. The resentment of South Sudanese to the broader North was enlarged and legitimized by the deeply rooted institutional and social discrimination against the southerners. Crimes against civilians were committed since the first rebel movement was formed in South Sudan back in the 1955, all through the 1960s. This resulted into a deep rift of hatred and rivalry that was natured and became difficult to redeem between the two parts of the one country at the time.
The signing of the Addis Ababa agreement of 1972 had given some gleam of hope to institute regional authority for South Sudan yet maintain the unity of the country. However, the agreement eventually failed partly due to the ongoing conspiracies and games played by the corrupt Sudan regime seeking control of the oil fields of the South. The bankrupt Sudan dictator Gaafar Nimeiry utilized the growing influence of the political Islam trends led by the Sudan Muslim brotherhood who later became the National Islamic Front (NIF). The political Islamists fitted perfectly into Nimeiry’s agenda and they served a strong alliance resulting in major changes in the Sudanese legal system. There was a repeal of several existing laws; the whole country Muslim or non Muslim was forced to submit to political Islam ideology. By 1983, the temporary peace was broken and the country once again got into one of the longest cycles of war until the early 2000. By then, South Sudan had accumulated friends and allies who brought both parties to the table and for the first time, leading to the well known Sudan- South Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
It’s not about the North anymore; For generations, South Sudanese have come together and built their case and legitimate right to self autonomy based on the hostility and exclusion consistently demonstrated by the Sudan government and wider factions of the Sudan population. Despite the optimism and idealism of the New Sudan discourse constructed by the late Dr John Garang, the reality was far more complex. The internal structure of the SPLM remained tribal in terms of loyalties. Political ideology was always extremely narrow within the construct of the movement. In my view, the great legacy of Garang laid in his super pragmatism and capacity to rise above that structure, utilize it and balance it against an extremely complex internal, regional and international agenda in and around South Sudan especially when the oil became a central card in promoting the case of South Sudan.
However, the magician who somehow made things work is long gone. Would things have gone differently with him around, I don’t know. A distorted polarized and dysfunctional northern state had nothing to do but to let go. On July 9, 2011 South Sudan gained its independence and echoes of celebration were ringing high for the first time. Yet again, another mounting was waiting on the other side with the questions on; who are the South Sudanese and what do they have in common beyond the pain and long term exposure to violence and cycles of instability. The task of crafting a national identity and national discourse is yet to be explored. It is very unfortunate that through the years, the discourse around and in South Sudan was merely focusing on power, wealth and conflict. The issues of identity, citizenship, unity and constructing the social fabric of the country were never part of the conversation “sincerely”. Although it was called the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, it was anything but comprehensive since it was solely looking at the power distribution based on the political elite’s perspectives (only the ones with the guns). Civilian engagements and national dialogues were omitted while all were rushing through the hasty process paving the way for the militarized elites to dominate South Sudanese people.
The emerging of South Sudan in 2011 reflected the exact model of the 1950s and 60s Africa national states model. Though the rebirth of South Sudan happened under completely different conditions and times, there was no thoughtful effort into how to craft an emerged nation out of a century of war and isolation. It was like rewinding the time wheel and the Western world repeated the process of the post colonial era where the South Sudanese were handed to the militarized elites Dr. Peter Adok Nyaba (currently jailed in Juba) in his book “The Politics of Libration in South Sudan” has argued that Northern Sudan elites and some actors of the international community perceive South Sudanese as only able to trigger violence as a tool to address power struggle and challenges. Dr. Nyaba argues against these stereotypes as South Sudanese often were left with no option but to fight back. I partially agree with my former Ustaz (professor). South Sudanese civilians have suffered the most manipulation from both the northern and southern elites during armed conflicts, and were consistently victimized. In my view, they have so far maintained the current South Sudan structure through their persistence and endurance of the post independence circus that involves massive corruption and citizen’s exclusion. However, the current South Sudan generation of militarized elites cannot function within a civil sphere. They are deeply captivated by the psyche and practices of exclusion and elimination of others in order for them to exist. Hence, it’s worthwhile to reconsider the governor system model before drowning into the typical procedures that will only breed new cycles of violence.
It’s about time to introduce justice and accountability: One of the limitations of all past conversations and actions in and about South Sudan has been the issue of justice and accountability particularly in relation to the loss in human lives, property and livelihoods. A shocking yet persistent undermining of human lives has always been the case in South Sudan by both international actors and South Sudan elites. A proper documentation of past atrocities was nowhere to be found with the exception of the Baldo& Ushary book of 1987 “The Dehin Massacre” when the government of Al Sadiq Al Mahdi the Prime Minister of Sudan at the time recruited the pastoralist groups of South Darfur to fight against the South Sudan SPLM. The pastoralist tribes ended up committing one the worst atrocities against the civilian Dinka IDPs fleeing the conflict from Abyei. Although Al Mahdi has not been held accountable in a court of justice or tribunal, the book remains a living testimony of his regime crimes. Other than that, none of the long chains of war crimes by both South Sudanese and Sudanese on South Sudan civilians was ever documented as expected nor was it publically debated.
The hope for long lasting peace must be accompanied by accountability and justice measures. The secrecy and pretence approach and fear of talking about the price paid to construct South Sudan should be overcome. Considerable constituencies of South Sudanese who are very clear about the root causes of this situation are present and must not be ignored. Among them are activists, human rights defenders, regular peaceful citizens, youth men and women who have been silenced and alienated all through the past post independent era. They need to step in and assume civil leadership by reaching out to the broader communities and talk peace and justice with great transparency. It’s about time to initiate a civil dynamic inside South Sudan. International actors should commit to protect and to provide the space to South Sudanese civilians to debate and exercise democracy, and create their own tools to attain their peace.
 The Addis Ababa Agreement, also known as the Addis Ababa Accord, was a set of compromises within a 1972 treaty that ended the First Sudanese Civil War (1955–1972) fighting in Sudan. The Addis Ababa Agreement’s establishment of the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region gave a degree of autonomy. In 1983 President Gaafar Nimeiry president of Sudan at the time declared Sudan an Islamic state under Shari’a law, including the non-Islamic majority in the southern region. The Southern Sudan Autonomous Region was abolished on 5 June 1983, ending the Addis Ababa Agreement. This initiated the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983–2005).
1.The politics of libration in South Sudan by Peter Adwok Nyaba Winner of the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa 1998.