Don't let chance to salvage South Sudan go to waste

President Uhuru Kenyatta meets South Sudan President Salva Kiir on the sidelines of the 19th Ordinary Summit of East African Community Heads of State in Munyonyo, Kampala, Uganda. [PSCU]
To the people of South Sudan, hope beckons. There is light at the end of the tunnel after years of a civil war that has brought Africa’s youngest nation to its knees; all because President Salva Kiir and his former Vice President Reik Machar have been unable to reconcile their ideological differences. However, diplomatic efforts appear to have paid off as Riek Machar is set to rejoin government in a move that aims to end hostilities that have dragged on since December 2013.

In particular, efforts by Kenya, whose special envoy Raila Odinga facilitated the latest round of talks that ended Mr Machar’s house arrest in South Africa, should be lauded. Kenya has taken special interest in the conflict in South Sudan because the conflict impacts negatively on regional economies.

In 2014, for instance, all foreign workers in the fields of banking, insurance, telecommunications, non-governmental organisations, hotels and lodges were ordered to leave South Sudan.

The hopes and aspirations of the people of South Sudan rode on the referendum that saw it secede from Sudan in 2011, but then, something went wrong barely two years later, and it has been agony ever since.

South Sudan’s bane, as indeed it is for most African countries, is the ogre of tribalism, nepotism, corruption and political parties rivalry; parties that are not anchored on identifiable ideologies, rather, parties that operate more on the whims of their leaders.

Tribalism and poor political stewardship have consigned this region to socio-political and economic backwardness. The true meaning of democracy has not been embraced and citizens hardly enjoy the benefits of self-rule. Simply put, nepotism, corruption and war pervade the region.

These factors sparked off the crisis in South Sudan in December 2013 following President Kiir’s dismissal of his then deputy Machar. This sparked off a crisis, precipitating a civil war that has, to date, claimed more than 10,000 lives and displaced more than two million people. The Dinka and the Nuer, South Sudan’s two major tribes, goaded on by their leaders, have been at each other’s throats ever since.

But while the ordinary people bear the brunt of the hostilities, the families of Machar and Kiir have continued to enjoy the opulence and tranquility that Nairobi offers them. Previous mediation efforts by the African Union (AU) and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) yielded nothing, not for want of trying, but because there was little goodwill between Machar and Kiir. Not even the threat of sanctions by the United Nations and the January 23, 2014 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and demand for respect of human rights could force the belligerents to observe a truce.

The people of South Sudan and the region as a whole have had enough of the debilitating situation and now say enough is enough. South Sudan must heal. It must be put back on the right track towards development. In particular, by exploiting its abundance of oil, South Sudan can positively turn around the fortunes of its people. They have endured hardship for far too long and crave surcease.

The upshot of this is that leaders and communities must learn to talk to each other to resolve whatever differences might arise between them. It does not help anybody’s cause to constantly find fault with each other and choosing the path of war. That choice only succeeds in consigning us to mediocrity. And not only that, it plays squarely into the West’s unflattering narrative of Africa, the dark continent.

To a greater extent, Africa's problems are self-made and we cannot keep running to the world for aid and assistance whenever our folly pushes us over the edge. With just a touch of sobriety and objectivity, we must realise most of the things that threaten our existence are simple things we can readily manage. The buck stops with national leaders, so Machar and  Kiir must demonstrate that this time round, they are committed to working together to lift the people of South Sudan from the ditches of poverty and misery they forced them into.

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