SOUTH SU­DAN FAMINE IS SELF-IN­FLICTED

The UN has crit­i­cised Juba of spend­ing its rev­enue on arms and war­fare in­stead of its peo­ple’s wel­fare

New Straits Times - - News - The writer views de­vel­op­ments in the na­tion, the re­gion and the wider world from his van­tage point in Kuch­ing, Sarawak

THE spec­tre of famine’s re­turn to the African con­ti­nent — in the lat­est case, to the world’s new­est in­de­pen­dent na­tion of South Su­dan — reeks far too much of global good­will gone all too rapidly to waste. South Su­danese are the lat­est in a long line of peo­ple all over the world on a jour­ney to hell, paved with so many good in­ten­tions.

South Su­dan was carved out of Su­dan only barely six years ago. A world long weary and leery of new states be­ing born out of se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal con­flicts was in al­most rare una­nim­ity when, in 2011, the United Na­tions agreed to be mid­wife to South Su­dan’s birth.

It was then ar­gued that po­lit­i­cal fric­tions be­tween Su­dan’s Arab north and its black African south were such that they were un­bridge­able, and the long-suf­fer­ing south de­served to be a sep­a­rate na­tion so it could bet­ter gov­ern it­self rather than from the Su­danese cap­i­tal of Khar­toum.

It was also con­ve­nient for out­siders — in par­tic­u­lar the ma­jor global pow­ers — that with its oil wealth, a newly-in­de­pen­dent South Su­dan would not be a UN ward (and thus, a drain on its re­sources) for an in­de­ter­mi­nate and ex­tended pe­riod. Or so, it was thought. How wrong in­ter­na­tional con­ven­tional wis­dom has proven to be.

All too soon, sup­pos­edly an Arab ver­sus black-African con­flict had turned into one be­tween ma­jor tribes within South Su­dan it­self. Whereas pre­vi­ously it was ar­gued that South Su­dan’s oil re­sources were ex­tracted and piped north while the south­ern­ers wal­lowed in ne­glect and poverty, now that all its wealth is re­tained lo­cally, the hap­less new coun­try is in­stead turn­ing on it­self.

The loom­ing South Su­dan famine is, there­fore, noth­ing if not wholly self-in­flicted. The UN has rightly crit­i­cised the gov­ern­ment in Juba, the South Su­danese cap­i­tal, of spend­ing the bulk of its rev­enues on arms and war­fare in­stead of its peo­ple’s wel­fare. The lethal com­bi­na­tion of a gov­ern­ment ne­glect­ing its most ba­sic re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to its own peo­ple and its ob­ses­sion with liq­ui­dat­ing its in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal foes in the bat­tle­field rather than ac­com­mo­dat­ing them within the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is prov­ing too much for in­no­cent or­di­nary peo­ple caught in the cross­fire.

South Su­dan is only the lat­est and most ex­treme case of good in­ten­tions gone se­ri­ously awry. Look at Iraq and the to­tally mis­guided at­tempt by the United States to “democra­tise” it by force of arms. What now en­sues is a highly dys­func­tional state that threat­ens in­stead to splin­ter into its sec­tar­ian and eth­nic com­po­nents.

What, too, to make of Syria, where once a hotch­potch of di­verse re­li­gions, sects and eth­nic­ity lived rel­a­tively peace­ably side by side when the bug of the “Arab Spring” caught on and brought in its wake noth­ing but death and de­struc­tion to this most an­cient of so­ci­eties?

Or closer to home, in Myan­mar, where the demo­cratic as­cent of an in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised hu­man-rights icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, only brought on afresh a cruel and deeply ab­hor­rent dec­i­ma­tion of the Mus­lim Ro­hingya, to near-uni­ver­sal ap­proval by the

FRI­DAY, MARCH 31, 2017 ma­jor­ity Bud­dhists in the coun­try and the clear dis­com­fort as well as ut­ter silence of its icon turned leader?

Then, there is the Philip­pines, where President Ro­drigo Duterte takes a very hard and un­for­giv­ing line against drug push­ers and even ad­dicts and em­ploys tac­tics to be rid of the men­ace, which touch raw nerves with the hu­man-rights sen­si­bil­i­ties of squea­mish Western gov­ern­ments and do­mes­tic elites. As streets be­come far safer and or­di­nary Filipinos con­tinue to give their president strato­spheric ap­proval rat­ings, the cho­rus of dis­ap­proval from sup­pos­edly so­phis­ti­cated folk con­tin­ues un­abated.

Much of the world has, for too long, been se­duced into un­ques­tion­ing faith in the “demo­cratic” way of gov­ern­ing our­selves and a stub­born be­lief that it should be an end in it­self. The se­ri­ous ques­tion­ing that now em­anates from the “demo­cratic” West about how their re­spec­tive so­ci­eties are be­ing neg­a­tively im­pacted by adopt­ing lib­eral democ­racy, not just as a way to or­gan­ise them­selves, but as an end in it­self, will serve greater hu­man­ity if it leads to more wide­spread and healthy ques­tions as to whether such democ­racy should be serv­ing a polity or the other way round.

For surely, it can­not be that most non-Western peo­ples do not seem ca­pa­ble of mak­ing lib­eral democ­racy work for them when the same is be­gin­ning to be­come all too ap­par­ent in ma­jor Western so­ci­eties?

The so-called il­lib­eral democ­racy that some of us in East Asia have re­fined to serve our re­spec­tive so­ci­eties fairly well may one day soon be re­garded as the global main­stream.

The com­bi­na­tion of a gov­ern­ment ne­glect­ing its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to its own peo­ple and its ob­ses­sion with liq­ui­dat­ing its in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal foes in the bat­tle­field rather than ac­com­mo­dat­ing them within the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is prov­ing too much for in­no­cent or­di­nary peo­ple.

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