3 January 2014

South Sudan: Has South Sudan Passed the Tipping Point?

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Though South Sudanese have been expressing disappointment in the way their young state has been run ever since independence was declared in 2011, they have been more recently appalled by news that has bombarded them about government failures, fiscal misdeeds, unclear policies, uncertainties of what the future holds for them in terms of security, development, livelihoods, basic freedoms, the constitution, reconciliation, census, elections and the balance of powers. More concerning is the fact that the legislative assembly is at the mercy of the president instead of carrying out its constitutional mandate that oversees the actions of the executive. Another subject of heated discussions is the fate of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) the liberation movement turned ruling party, whose structures the president recently dissolved, rendering the party nearly paralyzed. In short, the noose seems to tighten ever more around the neck of the entire nation. (Sudd Institute, Issue of December 3, 2013)

More recently Jok made a key claim to the Wall Street Journal about the misguided nature of so much of the politics of South Sudan (December 29, 2013):

Mr. Jok argued that the country's backers had spent too much time and money on building political institutions and infrastructure, and not enough on helping factions that had fought each other for years to forge a new national identity.

And indeed this remains the critical task for any Government of South Sudan, if it is to become truly a unified country.

Not all would agree with all elements of this broad assessment, but it certainly represents a view that is widely held in many different quarters of the political world in Juba and elsewhere in South Sudan. Certainly tensions between President Salva Kiir and leading members of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement have been a constant for many months now. Assigning blame or responsibility will be the task of those writing the history of the troubled three years since the self-determination referendum; it will not be easy, for there are many who are guilty of corruption, malfeasance, and ruthless self-interest--and others who have indulged in rank mendacity. But my task here remains to speak to the issue that governs whether or not there will be a South Sudan, in any meaningful sense, a year from now. And that issue, that urgent necessity, is how to halt the violence and fighting.

Even before Salva's offer of an "immediate cease-fire" (December 27, 2013), and its rejection by Riek (unless following time-consuming negotiations and preparations), Jok saw with terrible prescience the danger that has largely come to pass, particularly with the alliance between three men:

But Jok says that he is thought to have headed that way, and that an alliance between the two men and the former governor of Unity state, who is also missing, could be catastrophic. "If the SPLA engages [Peter] Gadet and possibly Riek and [former Unity State governor] Taban [Deng], then we have an all-out civil war in South Sudan, a mere two years after independence, and making good all the predictions by outsiders that South Sudanese will have limited capacity to build a peaceful nation." (Al Jazeera, December 19, 2013) (emphases have been added in all quotes)

He is also quite frank about how appalled he was by the targeting of Nuer in Juba following the events of December 15:

[Jok] warned that the violence could "escalate into tragic acts of ethnic cleansing." "Some really heart-wrenching acts have already occurred where Nuer soldiers have been attacked and killed, Nuer government officials, even those serving in the offices of Nuer ministers, and ordinary citizens suspected of having participated in the fight against the government," he said.

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