By Dr Remember Miamingi/South Sudan
My country is the youngest sibling of the established nations of East Africa. Its birth, like all births, was a joyous time. Yet South Sudan has been brought up so far in a broken home, with our leaders constantly battling for control. Our neighbours ask intermittently to keep the noise down but in reality, constantly sneak in the back door to pilfer what they can for themselves.
Every day of the fighting takes us closer to the point of no return when South Sudan becomes a truly broken home for my people. The humanitarian crisis disproportionately affects the most vulnerable in society: women, children and the elderly. Rape against women and girls is being used as a weapon of war. The violence is increasingly happening along ethnic lines.
On the last Friday before Christmas, a cessation of hostilities agreement was signed in Addis Ababa in an effort to finally quell the fighting that has caused the multiple, overlapping crises of war, hunger and economic ruin.
But the violence continues, not just between forces aligned with the ‘big men’ who were among those at the table in Addis, but also new rebel groups that are emerging, somehow expecting a reward for their ongoing domestic abuse.
Every conversation on South Sudan needs to involve the broader population, not just the ‘big men’. No backroom agreement to share power among elites will deliver a sustainable peace. That is why civil society representatives from South Sudan were in the negotiations, but they must not only be in the room – we must be listened to.
We must be listened to when we say no more impunity for atrocities. We must be listened to when we say violations of the cessation of hostilities agreement must be met with consequences. We must be listened to when the future of our country is being shaped. And it is not just our own leaders who must listen: it is those of the whole region.
South Sudan’s neighbours, especially Kenya and Uganda, have provided safe havens for my country’s leaders and warlords to stash the spoils of their abuse. As documented by the UN and others, any number of war millionaires is permitted to accumulate lives of luxury in Nairobi and Kampala off the backs of the torture and humiliation of their countrymen and woman back home and in the refugee camps outside the country. In the region, the actions of just a few individuals are being allowed to tarnish whole financial systems in the region and perpetuate the violence against South Sudanese.
This week (22nd – 27th January) the African Union meets for the annual summit and appropriately, under the theme, winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation. This is an opportunity to end the wholesale plunder of South Sudan, as well as the laundering of that money through Kenya and Uganda and to the wider world.
At the most basic level, political and diplomatic pressure must be ramped up on the warring parties by their regional counterparts, including the Presidents of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. The AU promised in September 2017 that it would consider sanctions on those who continue to deny peace and security to the people of South Sudan. Before the peace talks resume in February, the AU should make it clear: if they do not bring results, then the regional body will be true to its commitment. My country still feels far from peace, so the spoilers must feel the consequences that were promised.
We must also have a discussion about the need for African leadership beyond the region to live up to its responsibilities. If the IGAD regional bloc, tasked with delivering peace for many lost years already, proves again incapable or unwilling to deliver, they should make way for the AU or ultimately even the UN to step in and broker a new era for the country.
Finally, those responsible for atrocities must be held accountable. Justice is a prerequisite for peace. President Kiir and former first Vice President Machar signed up to a hybrid international and national court in the past, only to evade and block the pursuit of justice at every turn. To his immense credit, AU Chairperson Moussa Faki has continued to champion the establishment of this court. That would be a worthy cause for celebration at next week’s summit.
Every moment of delay accelerates the costs. The war in South Sudan has caused almost half the entire population to flee their homes in terror and the economy, one of the most resource-rich in Africa, lies in ruins.
South Sudan’s early years have been marked by stunted growth, emotional trauma, and violence. This is no way for a young country to enter the world. Unless a solution is found, beginning at the AU Summit this week, South Sudan will be irreparably damaged.