Tuesday January 7 2014

South Sudanese need freedom from the gun

By Hussein Lumumba Amin

South Sudan is a country in turmoil. The country is at war once again from a conflict that has caught many by surprise. Indeed, one would not have expected a fight between presidential guards to spark off a series of unfortunate events of this magnitude.

But for those who, like me, have been to both Sudan and South Sudan and worked there for several years during the initial nation-building process of the South, war was the one thing that nobody could rule out conclusively.

South Sudan is a new nation with a fragile security situation. Yet it is a country whose people have been traumatised by years of conflict. And when we say traumatised, it is far more complicated and devastating than say the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that we read about from American soldiers returning from Afghanistan or Iraq.

These people, whether civilians or soldiers, have seen and had to bear some of the worst raw atrocities one can imagine during the decades of conflict with Khartoum.

However, as the nation celebrated its independence from the north in 2011 and the steady oil revenue was flowing in the coffers, so did the problems of nation building.

First, we have the dominant class of those who fought for the liberation of South Sudan. This group, mainly formed of military generals and officers with tribal alliances, had somehow hijacked the nation since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. Their main argument has been that they fought for the peace everyone is enjoying.

They have made it seem as if the whole country owes them their existence and so they are entitled to whatever they want, whenever they want it. Of course, this mentality has led to gross human rights violations and abuse, particularly by SPLA officers.

What complicates matters even more is that the country is awash with light weapons, particularly the AK 47, hand guns and the RPG grenade launcher from decades days of war. People have kept these weapons for their own protection in the event that war broke out, but have used them against each other in minor civil conflicts to get revenge or get their way.

We are looking at a nation of mass illiteracy where the gun is all powerful. Under such circumstances, the administration of the government and upholding the rule of law are the first to suffer from this shortfall in skills and weapons proliferation. Whatever projects are decided upon, implementation encounters many hindrances.

It is disheartening to see several South Sudanese rush to the capitals of Uganda and Kenya to buy high-powered vehicles, houses and other niceties when most of the money used was most likely picked from the coffers of the different ministries and state governments without any form of accountability.

Look around in the capital Juba and you will be hard pressed to find any business owned by South Sudanese that is making all the dollars that we see them with in Kampala and Nairobi.

Corruption has become a normal way of living, so much so that President Salva Kiir recently had to sack his entire cabinet over the matter. One can only imagine to what extent the regional governments are infested by this epidemic if the situation is that bad at central government level.

Now that South Sudanese are wondering who is benefitting most from their current regime, tribalism is the first word on everyone’s mouth. The country has always been fractured along tribal lines and the different regions have increased an informal autonomy. What that means is that the central government doesn’t have total administrative control over the country and regularly has to contend with the state governors on even minor issues.

Some governors of the different states act like demi-gods in their respective territories. They clash regularly with the central government on anything from decision making rights, vehicles, funding, etc.

As efforts for peace continue, we must bear in mind the long term requirements for stability and prosperity. The future is always with the younger generation. And it is only when the new generation is increasingly included in the administration of the country that there will be hope for a better future.

A generation that is educated, able to discuss without necessarily drawing guns, one that respects and upholds free speech, human rights, the rights of women, equal opportunity for all and democracy. A generation that will build the institutions that fortify good governance and, therefore, allow South Sudan to become a respected pillar in its own right in the region and in the community of democratic nations.

A generation free from the shackles of militarism and conflict; free from remorse and anger of revenge on past enemies or tribal rivals; free from any debt except the one that they owe their own country.