Independent on July 9, 2011, South Sudan is the world’s and Africa’s newest state. The last time Africa had a new state was in 1993 when Eritrea split from Ethiopia. South Sudan was born after 22 years of civil war in Sudan, which left 1.5 million people dead and 4 million persons displaced. One would think that after so much blood shed and suffering, the new state of South Sudan would offer some calm and security to its citizens. However, whatever lights were on in July 2011 have begun to flicker, only about two and half years down the line. South Sudan’s story is adding to the sorry tale of the troubles that ‘new’ states in Africa are identified with.
Trouble started on December 15 last year when the country’s President, Salva Kiir accused former vice president Riek Machar of planning a coup. Salva Kiir had sacked Machar in July 2013. Following president’s claim, which Machar expectedly denied, violent clashes broke out between supporters of the president and the his former vice. Between December 15 and today, January 13, a space of about one month, about 10,000 people are estimated to have lost their lives, and 180,000 have been displaced. There are real fears that the conflict would become a civil war.
This conflict has all the marks peculiar to other violent African conflicts. The battle lines are drawn along ethnic divides. Salva Kiir’s Dinka tribe is pitched against Riek Machar’s Nuer tribe. The sitting president has ruled out sharing power with Machar. Riek Machar himself is asking the president to resign, while he is training armed groups in hiding.
As statesmen within the African Union framework, the European Union and the United Nations are running back and forth, trying to stop a looming humanitarian crisis, we could also spare some moments to think about what the problem really is with African states. Why is it that our domestic politics are usually heated and tend towards violence?
I hope you are not satisfied, as I am not, with the widespread suggestion that the trouble lies with the multiethnic make up of these African states. Apart from the obvious fact that there is a significant number of successful and developed multiethnic states in the West, saying that multiethnic composition is the trouble immediately lends voice to secessions. Secessions do not create ‘ethnic purity’. And there is hardly any state in the world that is comprised of just one ethnic group. Then, what works for those countries in the West, or why does theirs work and ours don’t?
While you think on the answers, I want to press home the point that picking up arms worsens the domestic situation rather than improve it. Hopefuly, the situation in the oil rich country would not worsen further and the violence would end. Then, the government would have close to 200,000 people urgently needing homes, jobs and essential amenities. And it would take a while to take care of such matters. We cannot pretend that there were no issues on ground before this conflict broke out. Valuable resources and time have also been wasted in the course of the struggle, and precious lives have been lost. No accord that the South Sudan government could reach would bring back those lost lives. I usually imagine. Do those who urge people to take up arms really think of these unacceptable costs? Are these costs really worth it? When someone walls down a busy street and blows himself up for any reason, killing tens of people, is it worth it? And what is ‘it’? These pains are spread further than African countries. While we are this, there is also Syria and others, all happening at once. These are things we ought to think on and share our thoughts on what works and how to go about it.
Campbell, J [Dec 26, 2013]. No Christmas for South Sudan. http://www.cfr.org/campbell/2013/12/26/no-christmas-for-south-sudan/
Campbell J. [Jan. 3, 2014]. Is South Sudan’s SPLA Breaking Up? http://www.cfr.org/campbell/2014/01/03/is-south-sudans-spla-breaking-up/