At less than three years old and the world’s youngest state, South Sudan (SS) is too little to be allowed to play with guns; older neigbouring East African states and the larger African Union must intervene immediately and stop the ongoing carnage.
This week’s revelations by UN that Riek Machar’s rebels slaughtered hundreds of civilians when they seized the oil hub of Bentiu; hunting down civilians including women and children who were hiding in hospitals, mosques and churches invoked memories of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, not to mention the timing — the commemoration month of April.
While the world failed to intervene in Rwanda’s, SS provides a chance for redemption from our past failures. This time though, this responsibility falls largely on the AU, the UN and other international bodies are secondary stakeholders in this crisis.
Sides must not be taken in SS because the two warring parties, Salva Kiir’s government and Riek Machar share the blame of failing to solve their power squabbles that have plunged a young but rich nation into unfathomable violence.
So far, millions have been displaced and hundreds of thousands killed.
Only three years ago, each and every one of these civilians (minus children) went to polls not as Dinka or Neur but as South Sudanese united by a single cause and overwhelmingly voted in a referendum to breakaway to form an independent nation.
In casting their votes, a moment that was globally covered and has since gone down as a major historical event, South Sudanese envisioned peace, equal opportunities, economic prosperity and dignity which many claimed was denied to them when they were still part of The Sudan.
Naturally, the world welcomed the birth of SS and many even sided with Salva Kiir’s government during the initial conflict between his government and the North over oil sharing.
East African community governments had even started on the process of enrolling SS as a sixth member of the regional bloc and trade was booming.
Everything appeared to be moving on smoothly until the men whom the South Sudanese people had trusted with leadership failed to put the interests of their country and the people at the forefront of whatever misunderstandings they may have had.
Should East African states or the AU let South Sudan collapse? No. Then what should they do?
As it is; government troops don’t have the capacity to defeat Machar’s rebels. A more pragmatic solution would be to let a dominant force win the war and institute a central government; but that’s too risky and could cost more civilian lives.
Therefore, regional governments must send in troops with a clear purpose of restoring order and peace.
This week, Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto announced that his government is awaiting Parliamentary approval to send in troops and help restore calm. That’s a good move but in addition to the support they will need, time is of the essence in whatever approval or decision making process that is required.
Though Uganda’s initial intervention helped the government troops stand their ground against the rebels, they were met by massive external criticism forcing them to scale down on their intervention, then; hopes were being placed on a peace deal that was being negotiated in Ethiopia but all that has now clearly collapsed.
On Friday, Salva Kiir released more political detainees whose incarceration had been a key source of disagreement with the rebels.
This week, top security officials from regional governments including Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi and Uganda met here in Kigali to discuss ways of expediting the creation of a regional stand-by force, if we had such a force today, it would be executing its mandate in SS.
Insecurity in SS is a liability to all regional governments and a major setback to economic prospects of the region. The time for action is now.unity and love?
Kenneth Agutamba is a post-graduate student at the Communication University of China