East Africa

Tragedy overlooked: South Sudan deserves better


The plight of the world’s newest country – South Sudan gained independence in 2011 – is easy to overlook amid the fallout from the Panama Papers, Donald Trump’s quest for the Republican presidential nomination, and the saga of the Syria Civil War and the refugees fleeing that violence.

But in many ways, South Sudan is a test case for the international community.

Around 98% of its citizens voted for independence, suggesting they are politically engaged. The country is incredibly fertile, so it can feed itself and thrive as the breadbasket of a continent that has struggled with food security for years. The national language is English. The country possesses oil, too.

It has all the ingredients for success.

Yet around 6 million South Sudanese people – half the country’s population — arehungry, the United Nations said this week. Around 2.8 million of those unlucky souls are on the brink of famine.

The problem is threefold, according to the U.N. War has led many farmers to abandon their fields. Others who are trying to cultivate are now struggling amid a drought. Lastly, those who have crops to bring to market encounter roadblocks and tolls set up by the various armed groups that control the countryside. The same roadblocks have also stymied humanitarian aid.

It didn’t have to be this way.

In August 2015, after almost two years of civil war, President Salva Kiir signed a peace agreement with Riek Machar, his former vice president. Kiir is a Dinka, South Sudan’s largest ethnic group. Machar is a Nuer, the second-largest ethnicity.

Under the peace accord, Machar became vice president again. But he has yet to come to the capital of Juba to assume his position, citing “security concerns.” Kiir, meanwhile, enraged his rival when he redrew the map of South Sudan, creating new governorships and appointing local leader who can be expected to answer to him as he and Machar attempt to govern together.

Foreign Affairs described the posturing between Kiir and Machar’s as “political games.

These games are deadly serious, however. Last month, human rights groups accused government forces technically under Machar’s control of suffocating 60 men and boys in a shipping container. That was only the latest atrocity in a conflict which has seen widespread mass killings and rape.

Still, the former president of Botswana who has been monitoring South Sudan’s peace process, Festus Mogae, recently told the U.N. Security Council that the two sides were making “notable progress” despite numerous ceasefire violations.

Let’s hope Mogae is right. Let the games end.

USA Today.

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