A man-made disas­ter of epic pro­por­tions

CityPress - - Voices - Peter Biar Ajak voices@ city­press. co. za

Six years ago, South Su­dan gained in­de­pen­dence in a joy­ous oc­ca­sion that marked a dramatic end to the in­ter­gen­er­a­tion strug­gle of its peo­ple.

Af­ter fight­ing two wars against Su­dan, in which mil­lions were killed, the peo­ple of South Su­dan were hope­ful that a new era of peace and pros­per­ity had dawned.

Two years later, one night in De­cem­ber, the high hopes of in­de­pen­dence were shat­tered when a power strug­gle be­tween Pres­i­dent Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, his for­mer deputy, plunged the coun­try into a civil war.

Since then, the coun­try and its hopes have be­come un­recog­nis­able. The power strug­gle be­tween South Su­dan’s lead­ers has brought the coun­try to a state of near to­tal an­ar­chy.

Nearly 2 mil­lion peo­ple, mostly women and chil­dren, have sought refuge in other coun­tries. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple do not have any­thing to eat. If the war con­tin­ues at its cur­rent in­ten­sity, half of the pop­u­la­tion will have starved to death or fled the coun­try by the end of this year.

Added to this, 72% of women liv­ing in UN dis­place­ment camps in Juba in Jubek State have re­ported be­ing raped or sex­u­ally as­saulted dur­ing the war.

The econ­omy has been de­stroyed. In­fla­tion is the high­est in the world. Fer­tile land has been left fal­low be­cause the fear of a vi­o­lent death has kept farm­ers from till­ing their soil. Food is so scarce and food prices are so high that onions are cut into quar­ters for sale in mar­kets in the city of Yei.

These statis­tics should shock any leader into ac­tion. Not in South Su­dan, it seems, where po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have squan­dered every op­por­tu­nity to end the war and save the lives of their peo­ple.

There is no doubt that South Su­dan is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a man-made disas­ter of epic pro­por­tions. The po­lit­i­cal lead­ers of South Su­dan from the war­ring fac­tions are the pri­mary con­straint to peace. They have con­sis­tently failed to dis­charge the bur­den of lead­er­ship in the ser­vice of their peo­ple. For the past four years, South Su­danese cit­i­zens, as well as re­gional and in­ter­na­tional lead­ers have been call­ing on the lead­ers of South Su­dan to soften their hearts and pri­ori­tise the lives of their peo­ple. Trag­i­cally, these calls have fallen on deaf ears.

At this crit­i­cal junc­ture in our his­tory, be­fore South Su­dan goes be­yond the point of no re­turn and into the abyss, the coun­try is in des­per­ate need of lead­er­ship that will sal­vage it from a bit­ter power strug­gle and re­spond to the as­pi­ra­tions of the com­mon South Su­danese for peace, sta­bil­ity and pros­per­ity.

There is a des­per­ate yearn­ing for a lead­er­ship that will bridge the deep his­tor­i­cal cleav­ages be­tween its peo­ples and em­bark on the pro­ject of na­tion­build­ing. We ur­gently need a lead­er­ship that will en­ter into and up­hold a so­cial con­tract with the peo­ple rather than rule over them.

This is the strong and sub­stan­tive mes­sage that a group of 13 del­e­gates from the South Su­dan Youth Lead­ers’ Fo­rum, which I am a part of, will be tak­ing to the re­gion’s lead­ers, South Su­danese politi­cians and the peo­ple of South Su­dan.

It is for this rea­son that we are re­peat­ing the same mes­sage to the lead­er­ship and pol­icy fra­ter­nity of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia to share our views on what is needed to stop the war, and place the na­tion on a path to­wards peace and sta­bil­ity.

These young lead­ers I am trav­el­ling with are drawn from a di­verse range of eth­nic and po­lit­i­cal back­grounds. Among us are aca­demics, church lead­ers, pol­icy ex­perts, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials and civil so­ci­ety lead­ers at the fore­front of peace-build­ing, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, and na­tion-build­ing ef­forts in South Su­dan.

The long and drawn-out peace process in South Su­dan has left the re­gion and the en­tire world feel­ing bereft and tired. The peace process is des­per­ately in need of new en­ergy and ideas if it is to achieve its pur­pose.

This so­journ by the South Su­dan Youth Lead­ers’ Fo­rum aims to catal­yse the type of re­spon­si­ble lead­er­ship that has eluded South Su­dan for so many years.

We can only suc­ceed in this ef­fort if other South Su­danese and re­gional lead­ers are will­ing to talk with, sup­port and join us in our call.

Un­de­ni­ably, the sit­u­a­tion in South Su­dan has never be­fore been more ur­gent. We may be forced to watch the sun set on a gen­er­a­tion that has achieved in­de­pen­dence for our peo­ple, but trag­i­cally mis­man­aged it for their own nar­row in­ter­ests. This is the time to cor­rect that dark his­tory.

It is time for the sun to rise on a new gen­er­a­tion of South Su­danese, who can fo­cus on lead­ing – not rul­ing.

The fu­ture of South Su­dan is in the hands of its youth. We will not squan­der it, but humbly seize this op­por­tu­nity with all the en­ergy we have to make it right. This is our only chance.

Ajak is a co-founder and co­or­di­na­tor of the

South Su­dan Young Lead­ers’ Fo­rum

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