East Africa: Obbo - South Sudanese Brothers and Sisters, Where Are You?

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As the 2020 train leaves the station, we need to spare a moment to be in solidarity with our South Sudanese brothers and sisters.

Seems we were negligent, and forgot to send South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his one-time deputy, now rival, Riek Machar, New Year presents.

They are very grumpy. Machar's Sudan People's Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO), just condemned the recent attacks by a government-allied militia on its positions in the northern oil-rich Adar state.

It is also alleged Kiir's government troops attacked them last Sunday.

The attacks, SPLM-IO said, threaten the revitalised peace deal the warring parties signed in September 2018 in Ethiopia.

South Sudan fell over the cliff into hell in December 2013, after Kiir sacked Machar. Their forces have since laid waste to several parts of the country, killing an estimated 400,000 people in some of the most savage wars Africa has seen in decades.

Over 4.2 million people have been forced to flee their homes; 1.8 million are internally displaced and there are 2.4 million refugees scattered in the region.

The conflict continued to be one of the bloats in the region last year, and among the most shameful failures we carried into 2020.

Unlike Kiir, the South Sudanese elite and political class, though, didn't wait in Juba for their presents. They came to get them.

Driving along some of Kenya's and Uganda's highways over the holiday season, the numerous South Sudanese cars were unmissable. They were often the poshest, or biggest four-wheel drives on the road.

Hopefully, the relative peace they came to enjoy in Kenya and Uganda will inspire them to put their house in order, and they will not learn all our bad manners.

On the flip side, one of the brighter stories of last year, also had to do with South Sudanese refugees -- or rather their Ugandan hosts. This year, it's projected that Uganda will host 1.07 million South Sudanese refugees.

Uganda is the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa, and has one of the most enlightened policies in that regard. Refugees are allowed to work, and long-term traditional tented camps are discouraged.

The South Sudan's crisis, however, has also made several folks in northeastern and northern Uganda rich, as the troubled nation is heavily dependent on those regions for food, and a range of consumer commodities.

Also, the money South Sudan's corrupt have stolen and didn't end up in Nairobi or Kampala, is all in northern Uganda. One needs to see it, to believe its impact.

One of my most memorable moments about South Sudan, came in December of 2013 after the madness broke out. I watched a TV news story on Christmas shopping, and a shop owner in downtown Kampala was offering his insights on holiday business.

The trader mourned the loss of his South Sudanese clients. He said they were serious chaps, and that a South Sudanese polygamist would walk into a shop with his six wives and 30 children and clean it out; no bargaining.

That year, he said, he had to contend with only Ugandan shoppers. "These Ugandans are hopeless," he said.

"The fellow comes in with his one wife, two children, and starts bargaining. Then he buys four items.

"I really miss my South Sudanese," he cried.

May we see that old South Sudan again in 2020.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is curator of the "Wall of Great Africans" and publisher of explainer site Roguechiefs.com.

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