South Sudan politicians should sink their differences in the interest of their long suffering people

Barely three months after the United Nations forced a delicate peace pact between first Vice-President Riek Manchar and President Salva Kiir, bullets have started flying again in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. And following a few days of fighting that broke out on July 8, 2016, over 300 persons were reported to have been killed even as the UN and world leaders have urged an immediate cessation of hostilities to pave way for a peaceful resolution of the violent conflict that dates back to December 2013. We believe that this is a hugely unfortunate development.

South Sudan earned its independence in July 2011 after 25 years of guerrilla warfare, breaking away from the Moslem-dominated northern part of Sudan. Now the south, which is essentially Christian that had complained about domination and marginalisation by its Moslem brothers from the north, has been unable to hold together for three of its five years of independence. Meanwhile, Sudan that it left has been in peace.

The descent to strife began in May 2013 following political conflicts within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. With President Kiir and the now replaced first Vice- President Manchar leading antagonistic sides of the divide, the political struggle for power soon took ethic dimensions. Kiir had dissolved his cabinet, effectively sacking Manchar. The tension generated by that action erupted into violence in December of that year when the president, of Dinka tribe, alleged a coup plot and proceeded to disarm and target soldiers of Nuer’s ethnic origin, forcing Manchar and his pre-independence forces to flee to the country side. From there, they waged war.

The civil war has deepened the misery of the people who had practically known no peace, following a 25-year war for independence most of which was fought on South Sudan soil with its attendant destruction of the minimal infrastructure that Khartoum grudgingly provided. This internal strife has also displaced about two million people with 720,000 of them forced to seek refuge outside the country. Tens of thousands have been killed and many more thousands risk death from famine.

Needless to say that the country’s economy has nose-dived with its national currency taking a severe bashing while prices of foods and goods have soared, completely out of the reach of many citizens. In three years, South Sudan has become a pathetic humanitarian disaster, with the UN seeking a whopping sum of $1.6 billion to assist 4.6 million people in need in 2015. But the effort was only 62 per cent funded.

Now a burden to the world, the international community brought pressure on Kiir to make peace with Manchar. The first pact in August, 2015 collapsed so was the second in January, 2016. Further pressures brought Manchar back to resume his position in Juba in April, paving the way for the peace deal signed in May in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. The deal smoothened the ground for a permanent ceasefire followed by the formation of a transitional government, the drafting of a new constitution and, eventually, fresh elections. This was the situation before the fresh outbreak of hostility on July 8, a day to the fifth anniversary of the country’s independence.

While the cause of the breakdown of the latest accord is still unclear, we can only urge South Sudan politicians to move away from the battle fields and return to the negotiating table for reasoned discussions on the way forward for their country in the interest of their long suffering people. It is obvious that the conflicts arose from politics and could only be resolved through politics. To achieve this, the African Union needs to do more to rein in the combatants and free the people of South Sudan from the pangs of sufferings, poverty and want that their political elites have forced on them.