Feature: Is South Sudan on the right track 11 years on?

Today marks eleven years since South Sudan became independent. However, since then, the country has been in turmoil. On this Independence Day, Radio Tamazuj spoke to South Sudanese on the current situation and their expectations. Many are hopeless, others regret voting for secession while others are hopeful things will get better.

Barely two years into its independence, the country descended into civil war in December 2013, robbing it of an opportunity to lay down its foundations. A peace deal was brokered in 2015, the year the country was scheduled to hold its first elections. That deal collapsed and the country descended into further civil conflict in 2016.

A new peace deal was signed in 2018 between the country’s warring parties raising hopes for stability and sustainable peace. However, implementing the agreement has been painstakingly slow with very little achieved, causing worries of another collapse.

According to the UN, nearly 400,000 people have lost their lives in the country’s civil wars and millions displaced within and to neighboring countries. Hundreds continue to die due to sectional conflicts, hunger, disease, and floods that have plagued the nation. For example, about 440 people were killed in violence between warring parties in the South Sudanese county of Tambura between June and September 2021, according to UN reports. That is just one example.

The UN further says that this year, some 6.8 million of the most vulnerable people in South Sudan will need urgent life-saving assistance and protection.

Key critical aspects of the agreement that are yet to be achieved, and are crucial to moving the country to elections include, the adoption of a permanent constitution, the registration of political parties, reforms in the security and legal institutions, the establishment of justice mechanisms, and the graduation of the unified forces.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit on Thursday promised to implement the peace agreement and never take the country back to war.

11 years on, what do South Sudanese think, can the leaders keep to their promises, is there hope for lasting peace? We engage different stakeholders on their take.

A civil society activist’s perspective

Betty Sunday, the Executive Director of the Women Action for And With Society, and a key civil society player in the peace agreement, told Radio Tamazuj that the expectations of the citizens have not been met in the 11 years of self rule, as the country continues to face communual conflicts, insecurity and challenges in the implementation of the peace agreement.

She says the only solution would be for the leaders to dialogue and forge a clear roadmap for the implementation of the remaining tasks within the revitalized peace deal.

“The only thing we need to have is a road map to guide us on when we would conduct census when we would identify our constituencies, and who are our observers, we would like to do everything in an organized way so that we end the suffering of our people. Blood has been shed and enough is enough!” she exclaimed.

Betty also called on the country’s leadership to apologize to the people of South Sudan for the suffering they inflicted on them and then unite and work together for a better country.

“I would like to tell our leaders who are working under the umbrella of the peace agreement that their unity is so important. They owe the people of South Sudan a sincere apology. They need to apologize to the people for their wrongdoing. And as we celebrate the 11th independence, they need to promise us that they would work together,” she urged.

The activist says many South Sudanese are afraid of the expected elections because they fear another civil war would break out. Therefore, she says it is the role of the leadership to assure citizens that the elections will be peaceful.

“On this independence day, all leaders and people of South Sudan need to confess our sins so that God works in us and our hearts for the unity of South Sudan. We are tired of war and we need to live in peace. It’s not fair, we the mothers, we were born in war, we got married in war and we gave birth in war and now our children are growing up in war,” she noted.

A religious perspective

The Bishop Emeritus of Torit Catholic Diocese, 80-year-old Bishop Paride Taban, speaking to Radio Tamazuj said he is happy that despite incidents of insecurity, the leaders can sit at a table and dialogue.

“At least there is no war. There is one thing when there is no war, then you can talk, people can reach those fighting because war always makes it difficult to sit down to reconcile and to dialogue,” he said.

As for the frequent communal violence and insecurity, Bishop Paride, also a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Bishop, mostly known for the Holy Trinity Peace Village which he founded in Kuron, South Sudan, in 2005, said the people of South Sudan should be patient and hopeful for sustainable peace.

“I have been waiting for the Independence of South Sudan for 40 years and it came,” he said. “So we know that people can still sit together and talk, there is always hope for a way and solution.”

He noted that the church has been at the forefront of reconciling the country’s leaders, but they can only advise and pray that their advice is heeded. He adds that the church will not tire, the church will always be available.

The retired bishop believes that South Sudan has great potential and patriotic citizens who are willing to come back and develop the nation once there is peace.

Bishop Paride said a lot still needs to be done before the elections including the return of refugees to participate in elections as required by the peace agreement.

About independence, he said: “The flag is there, but we cannot look only at the flag. The flag is surrounded by people. People should look at themselves, we should look at ourselves and that’s how we build people to reconcile. When you look at me, you are there and I am here.”

A political perspective

Professor Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba, popularly known as PLO Lumumba, a Kenyan lawyer, and advocate of the Kenyan and Tanzanian High Courts, says South Sudanese leaders should fully implement the peace agreement, thereby giving hope of lasting peace to the nascent country.

Albeit slow, PLO acknowledges that something is being done.

“The pace should and could be faster so that the people can be spared the pains of conflict and we pray and hope that the two leading individuals in that country, namely President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar will ensure that the process is catalyzed so that peace is realized in advance of the elections,” PLO said as he congratulated South Sudanese on the 11 independence anniversary.

On elections, the regional lawyer says as South Sudan’s neighbors they can only hope that the election processes are completed and that South Sudanese are given a chance to experience a peaceful and transparent process.

Cognisant that there are fears of a return to war, PLO urged the political leaders to recommit to peaceful resolution of political differences, as a reassurance that the peace agreement will bring lasting peace.

“In an environment such as this, selfishness is the essence of the game. If the leaders could ensure that the country is given pride of peace rather than short-term political interest then sustainable peace can be realized,” he added.

PLO Lumumba says the dividends of independence have not been realized yet the country is rich and has great potential to develop fast. He admits this has made many countries reluctant to aid South Sudan as it wallows in its disputes. “In the region, there is a sense in which there is no profound commitment. Every other country is interested in her domestic arena.”

But despite all, PLO is optimistic that South Sudan will overcome its challenges and the citizens will enjoy stability and lasting peace.

“I want to tell the people of South Sudan that however dark it appears to be there will ultimately be light at the end of the tunnel. I believe many mistakes have been made but we should not be weighed down by those mistakes,” he said. “We cannot afford the luxury of giving up the fight to have political stability, to have sustained peace and economic stability. It is not the one that is won in one day it is an inter-generational struggle, so they must not despair ultimately it will be well. If it will not be well with the current generation, it will be well with the next generation.”

Citizens’ perspective

Citizens who spoke to Radio Tamazuj expressed disappointment as well as hopes for a better South Sudan.

Jal Chany lives in the Bentiu Protection of Civilian Site after he was displaced from his home by conflict.

“I do not have much to say about independence because it is good to be a free and independent nation. But now South Sudan needs peace, legacy and that is why citizens urge the government to implement the peace agreement,” Chany said.

He adds, “This is not the country we the citizens dreamt about. We dreamt of a peaceful, joyful, no war. We want a peaceful country and that’s a country we dream of.”

Ipuro Alice, a resident of Torit County says she is disappointed and said she has not known peace since independence.

“This is not the country I dreamt of. I thought there will be peace and everything good. Since we gained independence we have been displaced and are constantly running to camps in Kenya and Uganda. We are tired. Living in the camps is very challenging with limited food, water, and firewood,” she lamented.

Amaring Ikalwa Rose is equally frustrated. After independence, she hoped that the people of South Sudan would unite and develop the nation, instead, she says conflicts have ravaged the population.

“After 2011, we did not even achieve something. Conflict broke out in 2013 and many people are now living as refugees. Many people now are regretting voting for independence because people are killing each other. Again another war in 2016 and people were displaced. I don’t see any benefit of this independence because we are fighting among ourselves,” Rose complained.

But, Odiongo Sebit is a happy and hopeful man.

“This is our country. In the past, we were living in the hands of our oppressors, but now am happy that we got our country and we can stand by on our own,” he exclaimed.

Source: Radio Tamazuj