African women must stand against the elite war in South Su­dan

The East African - - OPINION - Dr Oby Ezek­we­sili is a char­tered ac­coun­tant, for­mer Nige­rian Min­is­ter of Ed­u­ca­tion, a for­mer vice pres­i­dent of the World Bank, and. co con­venor of the ‘Bring back our girls cam­paign’

Iwas there. What a great priv­i­lege it was to be an eye­wit­ness to such a mem­o­rable day of his­tory. It was July 9, 2011, the day of South Su­dan’s joy­ous birth. I was in Juba, and I felt such pro­found pride for my South Su­danese brothers and sis­ters. As the World Bank’s vice pres­i­dent for Africa, I had been closely in­volved with the eco­nomic prepa­ra­tions for South Su­dan’s In­de­pen­dence.

I pledged the World Bank’s total com­mit­ment to the South Su­danese peo­ple to help them be­gin the ar­du­ous work of build­ing a peace­ful and vi­brant democ­racy, with an ac­count­able gov­ern­ment, and an em­pow­ered cit­i­zenry. I lis­tened with hope to Pres­i­dent Salva Kiir’s stir­ring speech, where he promised to lead his coun­try with in­tegrity, tackle of­fi­cial cor­rup­tion, and raise eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment for ev­ery­one.

But I must tell you now that I am so bruised by what has since be­come of South Su­dan, that it is dif­fi­cult for me to en­gage in any con­ver­sa­tion about this coun­try that has promised much but de­liv­ered so lit­tle for its ci­ti­zens.

The civil war in South Su­dan has gone on for far too long. Each day, more South Su­danese lives are dev­as­tated. The piti­ful out­come from last week’s peace talks – a recom­mit­ment to a cease­fire that has never known any com­mit­ment – showed that the coun­try’s lead­ers have no in­ter­est in an end to the fight­ing. It is time for African sol­i­dar­ity to get be­hind ev­ery in­stru­ment that can end this war.

The first thing that must be done is to iso­late the driv­ers of South Su­dan’s civil war – the peo­ple, the in­sti­tu­tions, the na­tions that keep the war go­ing for their own ben­e­fit. Those who profit from the suf­fer­ing need to be iden­ti­fied. Those who fa­cil­i­tate the war­mon­ger­ing need to be sin­gled out. Then ev­ery avail­able mea­sure – sanc­tions, reg­u­la­tions, ex­po­sure – at the global, re­gional, and na­tional lev­els must be ap­plied to stop these peo­ple bleed­ing the coun­try dry.

Se­cond, the African Union must hold ac­count­able and pun­ish South Su­danese lead­ers who have en­gi­neered the civil war. Am­ple ev­i­dence al­ready ex­ists, from nu­mer­ous United Na­tions in­ves­ti­ga­tions to the re­port of the African Union’s own Com­mis­sion of In­quiry, pub­lished in 2015. The African Union has long known who is re­spon­si­ble for South Su­dan’s de­struc­tion, yet it has not acted. Its cur­rent lead­ers must find and utilise the po­lit­i­cal and le­gal in­stru­ments to bring South Su­dan’s de­stroy­ers to jus­tice.

Third, we must max­i­mize the power of women across the African con­ti­nent to wage peace for South Su­dan. Imag­ine a sit­u­a­tion where a strong coali­tion of African women link their arms with South Su­dan’s women to stand up to the men who have ru­ined their coun­try, to de­mand an end to the war, and to cham­pion a com­pletely dif­fer­ent fu­ture for the coun­try. That idea be­came a real pos­si­bil­ity on May 25 at the Sawa South Su­dan sum­mit, chaired by Julie Gichuru and joined by in­spi­ra­tional women from across our con­ti­nent: I joined in this sum­mit and felt the en­ergy gen­er­ated when South Su­dan’s women connect with their al­lies from across the con­ti­nent. In sol­i­dar­ity, women of Africa can be a force for peace and for hope; a force for South Su­dan’s male lead­ers to reckon with.

All of this must stand on a foun­da­tion of sol­i­dar­ity with all South Su­dan’s ci­ti­zens. Their coun­try’s war has been an elite war, and the elites have been milk­ing the ig­no­rance of the peo­ple. This war of ex­ploita­tion must end, and it can, by en­gag­ing di­rectly and con­sis­tently with South Su­danese peo­ple. Across Africa, we can stand with South Su­dan’s peo­ple so they can con­front the lead­ers who have plun­dered their coun­try’s po­ten­tial.

As the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, of which I was a part, we too quickly as­sumed that South Su­dan was go­ing to build the necessary in­sti­tu­tions to lead and de­velop the coun­try af­ter its In­de­pen­dence. Theirs is the pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity, but we share a duty, too. Our great­est mis­take was as­sum­ing that a state could be built from the build­ing blocks of gov­ern­ment: Pub­lic fi­nan­cial sys­tems, agen­cies, and ministries. But gov­ern­ment is just one part; gov­er­nance also mat­ters. For that, a coun­try needs not only wise lead­er­ship but also strong out­side sup­port to en­able ci­ti­zens to rise as strong, ca­pa­ble, and vi­sion­ary lead­ers fully com­mited to their coun­try’s well­be­ing.

It is not too late for South Su­dan. Many lives have been lost; many op­por­tu­ni­ties have been missed. The coun­try’s prom­ise from 2011 has been wounded, but it is not lost. It is within the hearts of South Su­dan’s peo­ple. The most important thing we can do now is show by our ac­tions, not just our words, that we are on their side, so they can tell their gov­ern­ment how their coun­try must be led, and to lead the coun­try them­selves. There can be no durable peace un­til the right kind of lead­ers emerge from South Su­dan’s pop­u­la­tion.

The African Union has long known who is re­spon­si­ble for South Su­dan’s de­struc­tion, yet it has not acted.” OBY EZEK­WE­SILI

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