Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Memo to Macahar

Gamal Nkrumah writes that a better way than war for former South Sudan vice president Reik Machar to reward
his supporters is by pursuing peace

Al-Ahram Weekly

Behaviours based on memories of slavery and internecine tribal infighting run deep. And there is no sign of a move to discard the abominable habits of the past. Forces opposed to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and loyal to former vice president Reik Machar seized Bentiu, while ethnic Dinka residents of Bor town in Jonglei state attacked a United Nations compound and administrative office last Thursday where about 5,000 people — mostly ethnic Nuer — were sheltering and proceeded to mercilessly butcher them.

In retaliation, Nuer paramilitary troops hunted down Dinka refugees seeking refuge in churches and mosques in the economically vital oil producing regions of South Sudan such as Bor, capital of oil-rich Jongolei state, and oil hub Bentui, capital of Unity State.

South Sudan desperately needs a leader with a steady hand. Kiir has his constituency in South Sudan. However, he has his detractors, and they insist that he has intervened messily on the domestic front. 

The international community wishes to keep the South Sudan crisis at bay. Not only because of the imminent humanitarian crisis, but because the political stability of South Sudan — a crucial country in the Nile Basin and its leading oil producer — is vital. UN Security Council members are currently considering imposing sanctions on South Sudanese warring parties. The protagonists do not seem to be taking the threat seriously.

Herve Ladsous, the UN peacekeeping chief, called for the cessation of hostilities and warned that more than a million people face starvation in South Sudan, a country that he explained faced “a humanitarian catastrophe”. One million South Sudanese have been rendered homeless. 

The Ladsous strategy for South Sudan seems sensible enough, but it needs fine-tuning. The scars of the atrocious massacre in Bentiu on 15-16 April plunged the country into unprecedented depths of despair. The dreaded so-called “White Army”, nicknamed because its fighters smear themselves with ash, direct their venom against anyone deemed to be standing against Machar.

A descent into darkness of South Sudan does no country in the Nile Basin any good. Machar’s men have seized key strategic oil towns and regions in the northern and central regions of South Sudan. Machar’s militias for the time being do not seem so keen to march on the capital Juba.

For a brief moment it seemed that South Sudan’s slide into civil war might be halted. The Addis Ababa peace talks, however, did not produce tangible results on the ground. 

A torrent of sleaze allegations against Kiir and his circle resulted in the escalation of the crisis in South Sudan. Key projects on the River Nile that forms the pulsating heart of South Sudan urgently need consideration, and especially the Jongolei Canal project that was first envisaged by the legendary late Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) leader John Garang. His study and research work on the project, the subject of his doctoral thesis, indicated that not only South Sudan, but also countries as far afield as Egypt could benefit from the development of the Jongolei Canal project. 

Beyond the river, much remains to be done. South Sudan has become politically charged because of the rivalry between Kiir and Machar. Most of the country’s neighbours have sided with Kiir. Machar has few friends in the region. However, of late it seems that East African leaders’ criticisms of Machar have been couched in terms of recommendations that reconciliation is reached. With no side emerging as a clear winner in the war, South Sudanese benefactors such as the United States and China, which has invested heavily in South Sudan’s oil sector are despairing of chances to redeem the nascent nation.

The key to the end of the conflict in South Sudan appears to be Machar. He has courted Ethiopia, partly in retaliation for the perceived animosity between Egypt, a staunch Kiir supporter, and Ethiopia over the latter’s Renaissance Dam. 

Uganda backs Kiir and has provided troops, arms and ammunition to his cause. Khartoum has followed a different policy, arming both sides in the South Sudan conflict. Drawing regional powers into the conflict will not resolve the crisis. Machar must make up his mind to save South Sudan from being drowned in blood. He must stop seeking revenge, as he did in Bentiu where traders from Darfur were singled out for retaliation because the Darfur armed opposition group fighting the Sudanese government, the Justice and Equality Movement, supplied Kiir’s army with weapons. 

Machar must mend fences with Kiir and with neighbouring countries. His ragtag militiamen cannot overthrow Kiir’s government. The country has slid into the unenviable status of a failed state because of his bullish intransigence.

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