The end of 2013 in East Africa region was marked by the crisis in South Soudan. By mid-December an armed conflict erupted between a faction loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar in Juba. More than a thousand people have lost their lives and properties were vandalized in fighting according to the UN report.
Many commentators have described the conflict along ethnic lines but both sides have denied the allegations. It is a shame how Africans common interests are always jeopardized by the lack of consensus between themselves. Should we allow our differences to continually undermine our common interests?
South Soudan gained its independence from Soudan in 2011 after decades of civil war that started in 1983. Led by the late Dr John Garang, South Sudanese mostly blacks, Christians and animists fought a brutal war against the government of Sudan led by Omar Bashir. The latter was under an Islamic law and controlled in majority by Arabs a situation that enraged many south Sudanese people.
Dr John Garang created the Sudan People’s Liberation Army SPLA in July 1983 that united south Sudanese people in one organization that fought the government of Sudan for more than twenty years. SPLA was opposed to military rule and Islamic dominance of the country.
Both Riek Machar who hail from Nuer and President Salva Kiir from Dinka communities were part of the struggle that led to the creation of South Sudan in 2011. President Salva Kiir Mayardit was one of the five founding members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement SPLA/M while Dr Riek Machar Teny was for many years the SPLA Zonal commander for Western upper Nile.
They both have a wealth of political and military experiences acquired during the liberation war. In case these two leaders are unable to settle their differences this conflict could tear apart South Sudan under ethnic lines. South Sudanese communities have always been divided by the policy of divide and rule instituted by the regime in Khartoum in order to maintain power over them.
According to the BBC, the country has more than 200 ethnic groups dominated by the Dinkas and the Nuers whereby each ethnic group has its own language and traditional beliefs alongside Christianity and Islam. This is a weakness that can be exploited by South Sudan’s enemies and tear it apart.
Many Africans countries went through wars after their independence and were mainly a result of the policy of divide and rule that was instituted by former colonizers. It is the same experience South Sudan is going through right now and the hope of many in East Africa and beyond is that this conflict is resolved sooner than later so that development projects can take place for the benefits of South Sudanese people and East Africa as a region.
The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an eight-country trading bloc in Eastern Africa is spearheading peace and reconciliation process in order to halt the civil war. The latter could undermine regional development projects such as Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor project that can boost oil supply infrastructure in East Africa. Apart from that regional countries have economic interests in the stability of Juba as the youngest country in the world gets most of its imports from the region.
South Sudan was set to join the East Africa community and could economically boost the community with its vast oil resources. This war has to be halted by all means so that the community as a whole can benefit as well as help the youngest country in its development. The country lacks human resources and has no infrastructure. South Sudan can get all these from the regions as countries such as Kenya and Uganda have a surplus of human resources that can work in its different sectors while helping to develop South Sudanese capacity.
East Africa cannot afford to have other failed states such as Somalia that have caused humanitarian crisis. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania have hosted a large number of refugees from South Sudan and Somalia a situation that has impoverished communities in those countries. This is one of the reasons why lots of effort has to be engaged to help South Sudan recover from this crisis. The country should be playing an economic role in the region instead of sending refugees and other problems that are a result of civil wars.
It is a hope of many in East Africa and beyond that the leaders in South Sudan will settle their differences and unite South Sudanese people for a common purpose which is development. President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Dr Riek Mashar has a big role to play in the destiny of their country and should quickly find a common ground upon which the world’s youngest state will be built.