General Eisenhower didn’t have South Sudan in mind when he spoke these words. South Sudan’s fratricidal war has not only stolen people’s food and clothing, but it is also aborting the birth of a great nation. The situation is desperate.
In the last four months, during which the civil strife in South Sudan has blown up into a war, an estimated 10,000 innocent civilians have lost their lives.
South Sudan’s crisis is deepening. Too many nations seem to be watching, and too few are doing anything to prevent this looming disaster for the people and for the whole region.
James is a law student in Kenya. He was abducted and became a child soldier in a Sudanese rebel army at the age of nine. He escaped death narrowly after a failed guerrilla operation. He found his way into a refugee camp and he was later sponsored to do secondary school, which he cleared in two years. A kind-hearted man sponsored him to do law.
James is deeply aware of the crisis his country is going through. He prays for patience and time, perhaps the two most powerful warriors. Patience to study and time to finish law and return to his country before the country is no more.
He wants to fight, but not anymore with weapons. They are not enough; weapons will never resolve the conflict. This is possibly the greatest pitfall of President Salva Kiir, a former soldier advised by other soldiers.
Kiir sees force as the only way out. Kiir is wrong and time is running out.
A few days ago, a nasty ethnic instigated revenge-type massacre in the town of Bentiu left more than 200 unarmed civilians dead. Many of them were killed while seeking refuge inside a mosque, a hospital and a local church.
Bulldozers have buried victims in mass graves. Reports indicate that the number of people seeking protection at the United Nations camp in Bentiu has grown from 8,000 to more than 22,000 in a few days.
On April 17, an armed youth group attacked the compound of the United Nation Mission in South Sudan (UNIMISS) in Bor, the Jonglei State capital, massacred 145 Nuer civilians and peacekeepers and wounded 275 people.
This ugly incident in a government-controlled zone is seen by many as the cleansing of any type of opposition. It has triggered a rebel campaign dubbed Bor Rescue Mission.
Control of Bor is essential; it is a command centre on which Juba’s final fate may hang.
Kiir’s SPLM and Machar’s SPLM-IO (SPLM-In Opposition) were battling over the town of Renk, which is the main town north of the country’s important oilfields of Paloich, a target ready to fall.
The rebels want to control all the country’s oilfields to bring Kiir to his knees. Renk is an important step in this direction because it cuts food and military supplies to Malakal.
The rebels have already gained control of Unity State, almost three-quarters of Upper Nile State, and a sizeable portion of Jonglei State.
Kiir is between a rock and a hard place. What is worrying is that he is not reacting like a true statesman. His government in Juba is dominated by one tribe, the Dinka, and he has just sacked the last of the Nuer heavyweights, SPLA Chief of Staff General James Hoth Mai.
He was sacked together with the head of military intelligence, Major General Mac Paul Kuol.
A terrible mistake
Hoth and Kuol will be replaced by Awan and Jok, who were accused of having been the architects and masterminds of the Juba Massacre.
According to the rebel spokesperson, Brigadier General Lul Koang Ruai, this move by Kiir could mark the beginning of an “imminent bloodbath, escalation and regionalisation of the conflict”.
The situation is extremely delicate. Juba is sending the wrong signals, seemingly stuck in the use and manipulation of force. This is actually feeding the rebels’ cause, who at the start lacked support and sympathy in the eyes of the international community.
The international community, especially the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), needs to increase the pressure on the Juba government to sit at the negotiation table and be ready to compromise.
The longer this takes, the fewer the chances of success. The longer the conflict, the more the hatred and desire for blood and revenge.
Kiir should refrain from turning his government into a Dinka-only club. This is a terrible mistake. In fact, only openness and inclusion can save the situation.
South Sudan has a responsibility to protect its citizens from gross human rights violations. If it cannot guarantee protection, then the international Responsibility to Protect (R2P) comes into play.
Violations reach the ‘gross’ limit not by just the number of victims, but also the nature of the conflict. This requirement is a safeguard to ensure that the international community does not arbitrarily interfere in the internal affairs of a State.
The failure of Igad-negotiated ceasefire and the heightened assault against civilians should jolt the international community into action before the situation deteriorates any further.
The situation in South Sudan has crossed the thin line of ethnic cleansing and it is fast spiralling towards crimes against humanity. It will not determine who is right, only who is left.
Unless someone somewhere does something, we will soon be lamenting another Rwanda, then another and another.
Dr Franceschi is the Dean of Strathmore Law School. Lfranceschi@strathmore.edu