The world’s newest nation: At God’s mercy 

According to a report in 2017 by the UN Commission on Human Rights, South Sudan witnessed tens of thousands of its women and children arriving in Ethiopia after fleeing civil war&famine

Photo courtesy: social media
Photo courtesy: social media

Ashish Kumar Singh

The youngest nation state on earth, South Sudan’s brief post-independence history has been marred with political violence, famines and economic hardships. At the end of 2017, the country had an inflation rate of a massive 835% and such a meagre harvest that twice as many people in the emergency phase, pre-famine that the same time last year. With an estimated 4.8 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, it is impossible to not wonder how on earth did South Sudan end up in this deplorable situation.

Unending bloodshed

South Sudan’s latest civil war which began in December 2013, when soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and those loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer, fought in the capital following months of growing political tensions, has caused serious abuses against civilians by both government forces and opposition fighters despite a peace agreement signed in August 2015. Government soldiers reportedly killed, raped and tortured civilians; destroyed civilian property during counter-insurgency operations in the southern and western part of South Sudan. Both sides committed abuses against civilians. More than 2.1 million people have crossed into neighbouring countries including Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, resulting in Africa’s largest refugee crisis. Inside South Sudan, more than 1.8 million people are displaced.

No country for human rights

According to a report in 2017 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, South Sudan witnessed tens of thousands of its women and children arriving in Ethiopia after fleeing civil war and famine. Hundreds of thousands of other civilians were subjected to collective punishment by government forces, based on ethnicity and their perceived support for the opposition. About 70% of women who were sheltering in (these and other) camps had been raped since the beginning of the conflict, with a clear majority of rapists being police and soldiers. Human rights violations have included UN refugee camps being shelled; a sharp increase in the number of reported incidents of child recruitment; restrictions on the freedom of expression in the form of the arbitrary detention and torture of journalists; repression of NGOs; disease outbreaks including cholera; and inability to deal with widespread food shortages. The effect of all the instability and insecurity in the country has been devastating on property rights and the private markets in general. However, this effect is felt most drastically with regards to agriculture, an area in which South Sudan has notable potential. Without the required rule of law and property rights though, there are shortages all around. Little food is available and in Juba, the retail price of sorghum, a staple grain, is 600 percent higher than it was in 2015.

Road ahead

There is often a presumption that democracy will be enough to negate ethnic differences and developmental challenges. However, future elections have caused alarm in international circles as potentially unsettling and ethnic voting bases have merely taken the issue of ethnic strife into the new nation’s political structure

and system. It is difficult to imagine a change in the recent future. For there to be a change the elites of South Sudan would have to renounce a toxic politics which has enriched them and elevated them to the very position which they are in now. While not impossible it does not seem likely. Therefore, toxic politics is likely to remain, the question is how violent will the result be? It is worth remembering that ethnic voting blocks are a feature of many developed democracies, alone they do not have to result in human rights abuses and civil war. To resolve the human rights challenges a consistency towards peaceful solutions, a joint approach towards healthcare, food security and education are the things local as well as international actors need to focus on. The country is still like a newborn baby. If the human rights abuses can be abated and perhaps be confined to history, then there may be hope in the future.

Inputs from Judas Everett

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Published: 14 Jan 2018, 9:28 AM