Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Sovereignty as Responsibility


Sovereignty as responsibility

"My house is still under water. There are a lot of snakes and reptiles. The place is still a river; it's no longer a home. So how can I go back." Nyawal Makuei speaking to Aljazeera.

This, as you may have noticed from Nyawal's recollection about her state of despair, is about state responsibility to its citizens. 

In 1996, Dr. Francis Mading Deng, who was the United Nations Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide between May 29th, 2007 and July 17, 2012, published a book, Sovereignty as Responsibility: Conflict Management in Africa, with Sadikiel Kimaro, Terrence Lyons, Donald Rothchild, and I. William Zartman through The Brookings Institution. 

So, what is sovereignty as responsibility? Here is Dr. Francis Mading Deng explaining what sovereignty as responsibility is.

Dr. Francis Mading Deng. 
Photo: Sudan Tribune

Dr. Francis Mading Deng: 

"The idea was to tell governments,  I realize this is an internal matter; it falls under your sovereignty. I'm respectful of your sovereignty, but I don't see sovereignty as a negative concept. I see it as a positive concept of a state responsibility for its people. If needs be with the help of the international community." 

So, what does this mean in the context of the South Sudanese state and its responsibility to its citizens? Did the South Sudanese government and its leaders consider sovereignty as responsibility, or have they rationalized it as power to intimidate civilians, enrich themselves with state resources, and terrorize critics however factually accurate these critics are regarding the situation.

To answer this question, let’s go back July 2011. What did South Sudanese leaders think and what did citizens feel? Here’s a glimpse. 

Aljazeera Report: 

"A nation is born, a symbol of sovereignty and identity flies for the first time. It's seen in South Sudan as nothing less than electric. Hundred of thousands of people converge in Juba, the world's newest capital city. They celebrated their long-waited independence marked by two civil wars over five decades, and countless lives lost."

The people were, understandably, ecstatic!  For the leaders, at the time, understood the challenge they face. But they promised to lead, provide for the citizens and prove South Sudanese, distractors, according to President Kiir, wrong. 

South Sudan's President, Salva Kiir Mayardit.

Here is President Kiir on July 9
th, 2011.

“My Dear compatriots South Sudanese, the eyes of the world are on us.

Our well-wishers including those who are now sharing with us the joy of this tremendous event will be watching closely to see if our very first steps in nationhood are steady and confident. They will surely want to see us as a worthwhile member of the international community by shunning policies that may draw us into confrontation with others.

They will be happy to see us succeed economically and want us to enjoy political stability. What this means is that the responsibilities of South Sudan will now be accentuated more than ever before, requiring that we rise to the challenge accordingly. It is my ardent belief that you are aware that our detractors have already written us off, even before the proclamation of our independence. They say we will slip into civil war as soon as our flag is hoisted. They justify that by arguing we are incapable of resolving our problems through dialogue. They charge that we are quick to revert to violence. They claim that our concept of democracy and freedom is faulty. It is incumbent upon us to prove them all wrong!”

What happened two years later is something for which I’m not going to remind you by way of explanation. Sovereignty became a quest for power rather than a responsibility to citizens.

Aljazeera's Report: 

"This used to be a road until it disappeared under water mid-last year. Now, the only way to get around in this part of South Sudan is by boats and canoes. It's the worst flood this region has seen in sixty years. In this areas, every home is abandoned. Families had no choice but to leave."  

Flood is obviously a naturally phenomenon. South Sudanese leaders did not cause it. But they have a responsibility to support civilians that have been displaced by the flood. They have failed. But that is not all. 

Here is John Kuok suffering from what President Kiir said would not happen. It seems like the distractors, sadly, have been proven right.

John Kuok, an internally displaced person, speaking to Aljazeera:

"It was no only 2013 where out colleagues and my brother were killed. Even during the struggle [against Khartoum] my brothers were also killed. So, when it repeated itself, it was horrible."

Ccontrary to President Kiir’s assurance on Independence Day: South Sudanese were “quick to revert to violence.”

However, Crises are everywhere. The main problem is their inability to solve problems, and their penchant for the abdication of state responsibility.

Here is South Sudan’s minister of information and the government spokesperson, Michael Makuei, about the challenges facing South Sudan’s peace partners regarding the integration of government and the opposition armies as stipulated in the revitalized agreement for the resolution of conflict in South Sudan.

Michael Makuei to VOA: 

"I said this agreement was never to be implemented, because, I said, the international community that supported us and gave us he assurances that. 'you sign this agreement; we will stand with you, and we will implement it with you. Just immediately after the signature, they sad back, and began to tell us, 'you implement it. You must be seen to be moving.' We asked them as said by my colleague, Stephen...we asked them to come for our support. Only very few friendly countries managed to do something for us." 

But here is Francis Mading, reminding governments about their responsibility to citizens.

"[Sovereignty as responsibility] also meant the responsibility had to be apportioned or reapportioned. Instead of depending on the supper powers, the states had to assume their responsibility for managing their situation. If they need help to call on the international community to help; and only in extreme cases where there is large suffering, massive amount of suffering and death.

There is no doubt that South Sudan still faces enormous challenges 12 years after independence. My advice to South Sudanese leaders is to prioritize the interest of citizens and regard sovereignty as responsibility bestowed on them by (1) the referendum votes; (2) the suffering of our people by fifty years of the liberation struggle, and (3) by the blood of those who died in the liberation struggle.


Kuir ë Garang


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