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Monday, October 10, 2016

The Scapegoat Has Escaped: Preventing Tribal Massacres in South Sudan

Photo: Dhieu Dok Minyang.
Jieeng civilian attacked on
Yei-Juba road
Political blame-games are well-known scapegoats. But as one SPLA commander told Hilde John as she related it in her new book, South Sudan: The Untold Story, the ‘scapegoat has escaped.’ No more Arabs to blame! It’s therefore time for the leadership in South Sudan to face our despicable realities head-on. Sinister political maneuvers should be stopped. Replacing Riek with Taban isn’t a solution. Tribal tokenism as a purported appeasement for Non-Jieeng tribes is a sociopolitical insult. What’s required is a long-term solution to tribal differences. “One Nation, One People” and such like slogans that are meant to encourage government supporters to show the world an impression that the government is enjoying a broad-based support are inadequate. They come out as a bought-support, a coerced political agenda where citizens have no choice but to do as told. Civilians with no choice aren’t happy people. And people with no choice can’t be seen as supportive people!

On the other hand, the slogan that “Kiir Must Go” wouldn’t end these killings nor will it bring an end to suffering in South Sudan. I agree “Kiir Must Go” but that he must go through the barrel of the gun is one thing I wouldn’t agree with. The failure of President Kiir to leave power peacefully is actually the failure of all political leaders in South Sudan. From Riek Machar, Lam Akol, Pagan Amum, among others, their failure to use their wisdom to prevail on Kiir is their own leadership failure. Kiir has to leave power but he has to leave power in a manner that will not lead to more suffering and bloodshed!

People have been angry for a long time and it’s time the leadership gets its head out of the mud. South Sudanese civilians have turned against one another. Whether it’s thugs in the street, SPLM-IO in the bushes or the local Equatorian tribes that are killing civilians in angry retaliatory attacks, the murders have to be stopped. However, the death will not stop as long as Juba adheres to the scapegoating narratives. We know the problem! What’s now required is a solution! Enforceable solution models with measurable outcomes.

When you don’t allow a breathing political space, you encourage civilians to bottled-up their feelings. When you don’t give the civil population and the political opposition an avenue to criticize government functions then you are building a culture of mistrust and clandestine political plots. Civil populations that feel targeted by government security apparatuses have no means of airing out their views; but when they  find a way to do so, they are silenced. What do you expect frustrated civilians to do?

The Jieeng people are targeted when they aren’t benefiting from the parochial elitism that has become Juba. But local Equatorian tribes feel targeted by SPLA security forces;and these tribes don’t’ see a difference between SPLA and Jieeng. They see them as one and the same. However, instead of leadership coming up with feasible and functional modalities to end this mistrust and develop a cohesive national agenda, the official fall back on the scapegoat that has already escaped. Blaming SPLM-in-Opposition isn’t going to stop innocent Jieeng civilians’ death in Equatoria. The people of Equatoria need to feel that the government is their government. They need to understand that Jieeng civilians aren’t the government. But this isn’t going to be possible as long as SPLA target civilians in Equatoria. Killing of civilians and burning down villages of those assumed to be supporters of ‘rebels’, has been used by Khartoum starting with Al-Azhari in the mid-1950s.

Jieeng civilians are as much victims of Kiir’s government as some Equatorian civilians. Systemic failures have turned tribes against one another. The leadership needs to devise a strategy and send a multi-tribal leadership team to all 10 states (or the imaginary 28) in the process to encourage inter-tribal dialogue. But this is not a possibility as long as war is still on-going. The fallacious assumption that if there’s no fighting in Juba then South Sudan is peaceful, is dangerous. A comprehensive end to the war is the only solution to the senseless murders of innocent civilians. Every single warlord has to come to the peace table. Chest-thumbing will only make things worse. Peace among tribes is only possible if the war is ended comprehensively with no single warlord in the bush. And this comprehensive peace shouldn’t be brought about by lies, political games and using money to buy support. All parties have to understand and accept peace without coercion.

As long as the leadership in Juba sticks to blame games, our civilians will turn against one another in masses and that’s Rwanda in the making. There should be no more excuses possible here. The blame game should stop! 1991 and 2013 should not be used as an excuse to get away with incompetence! Civilians are dying. 2013 was an ethnic targeting of Nuer by government forces. This time, it’s the average civilians who have turned against one another! This should concern everyone.