9 July 2014

South Sudan: Nothing to Celebrate

Three years ago South Sudan became an independent state. Despite civil war and humanitarian disaster, the government insists on celebrating. It's an affront to the people of South Sudan says Daniel Pelz.

Thousands of people dead, more than one and a half million displaced, a growing threat of famine. Celebrating a birthday in these circumstances is just cynical. If South Sudan's leaders have achieved anything in the last three years, it is that they have managed to take a country with huge potential and govern it into the ground. The population of South Sudan deserves better than President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar, who purport to be fighting for the good of their people, and in reality are only interested in power and the revenue the country's oil can bring them - regardless of the fact that hundreds of thousands of people could die in the process.

For anyone who witnessed South Sudan's emergence as an independent state, the current situation is heartbreaking. Three years ago, it seemed that anything was possible. After decades of civil war with the north, people dreamt of the things that many around the world consider a matter of course: a life without fearing for one's life every day, hospitals so that their children would no longer die of diarrhea or malaria, schools to give these children a better life. The country has the potential to make these things a reality - South Sudan is rich in oil, farmland, and other resources.

Calls for peace and reconciliation

But the government has invested nothing in the country. The revenue from the oil business? Used to pay the wages of the heavily inflated army and for shiny government cars. The development of a healthcare system? Left to foreign NGOs. Road construction? No chance.

In comparison, the population of South Sudan has achieved an impressive amount. After fleeing for decades, many people returned to their villages and tried, somehow, to survive. Many an exiled South Sudanese gave up a good job abroad, returning to help build up the new country - in vain. Many of them are now fleeing again. Others, drawn in by cheap promises from one of the two sides, are recruited to fight, fated to die as cannon fodder in a brutal power struggle.

It is heartbreaking, that although many in South Sudan are calling for peace and an end to the violence, neither Kiir nor Machar are listening. Behind the scenes, church officials are working constantly across denominational boundaries to bring a stop to the fighting between Machar's and Kiir's camps. The churches are one of the louder voices calling for a peaceful and democratic South Sudan. Through their intervention they have been able to bring an end to numerous conflicts between different ethnic groups in recent years. But in Machar's and Kiir's world view, conflicts are resolved through fighting. Neither of them seem to care how many people have to die because of their own thirst for power.

Moderate voices are silenced

The moderate powers in the governing SPLM party, who are opposed to the excessive corruption, the totalitarian style of leadership and the government's lack of willingness to compromise in recent years, have also been marginalized and silenced in the crisis. Many of them have left the party in frustration, or have been placed under house arrest. Machar and Kiir have not tolerated dissent for a long time. Both of them go by the simple rule: if you're not for me, you're against me.

The way the international community has abandoned those working in South Sudan is also heartbreaking. After the peace agreement with Sudan in 2005, international development organizations took over the country, building schools and hospitals. The international community wanted to prove that it could construct a functioning state. But it was rejected by the government. Those abroad turned a blind eye to the corruption and abuse of power, allowing for the consolidation of the power structures which now threaten to plunge South Sudan into ruin. International involvement now amounts to nothing more than helpless appeals to end the war. It seems that many of the world's governments do not value the lives of the people in South Sudan enough to bolster the barely coping UN peacekeeping forces with any of their own soldiers.

For the majority of the population, South Sudan's third birthday is about surviving, not celebrating. If the country's leaders had any decency at all, they would have cancelled the official festivities. At the moment, South Sudan has nothing to celebrate.

Date 09.07.2014

Author Daniel Pelz / lw

Editor Mark Caldwell


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