President Yoweri Museveni’s of Uganda military response to South Sudan’s conflict maybe a knee jerk reaction to the unfolding humanitarian crisis occurring at Uganda’s borders, but no effort has been made to highlight the plight of refugees.
Mr. Museveni was clear that the deployment of 1,200 troops was at the request of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, with the intention to secure installations such as State House and the Airport, but the reality is that Ugandan aircrafts had been militarily involved in bombing rebel held positions, making Uganda not only a government ally in the conflict, but also complicit in the unfolding conflict.
Thus far, the United Nations has reported that over 240,000 people have been displaced during the two week conflict with about 15,000 fleeing across the borders to other countries. It is estimated that about 2,500 people cross the border into Uganda in what has been described as a “horrific violence along ethnic lines.”
Even as the peace talks between Salva Kiir’s government and the Rebels led by Riek Marchar’s representative progress in Ethiopia, it is a fragile process with conflicting reports of stalling and agreements on what is clearly turning to political deal making situated around the oil fields of Unity state and the strategic towns of Bentiu and Bor. In all the political grandstanding, the push and pull between the rebel forces and the SPLA, there are about 1000 people who have been killed so far. The death toll may actually be higher, given the little information coming out of rebel controlled areas of the conflict.
What is disturbing thus far is the portrayal by Kenya’s media of the conflict as merely ethnic in nature. The biggest failure of the press is to not separate their own world views from every single conflict in Africa. This is telling of just how ingrained our tribal thinking is. From the onset of the South Sudan crisis, reporters have continuously painted a picture where Kiir, being government and also from the Dinka community, is pitted against the rebellious Machar and his Nuer tribesmen.
We have such a narrow and myopic perspective on life that we automatically super impose our own primitive and segregatory nature onto other people. Or perhaps it is the still raw memory of how Kenya rapidly descended into ethnic centered chaos after the controversial elections of 2008. In some circles the “peace talks” going on in Addis Ababa are some sort of “Nusu Mkate” arrangement.
The reality is that, just like during the Post Election Violence (PEV), there are casualties on both sides of the conflict and most of these are unarmed civilians, unable to defend themselves. War is a terrible thing, and with hordes of vulnerable refugees fleeing the battle zones it is unclear what measures are being considered to alleviate the growing humanitarian crisis by either side.
This conflict is not simply a falling out between the most populous tribes, but a deliberately orchestrated situation where the power behind the control of oil producing states is being fought over vigorously. With the entrance of Uganda, clearly on Kiir’s side, the chances of a lasting solution that is mutually satisfactory are fast dwindling. It is unclear what Machar’s end game is in all of this, but what is certain is that his initial demand that Salva Kiir steps down and pave way for a new election will not be met.
As one South Sudan citizen recently lamented on twitter, “The US Embassy has shut down, the foreigners have evacuated, and we are left all alone.” What is happening in South Sudan can really be described as bartering and bargaining over the souls of the S.Sudanese people caught up in the conflict. As the previous 21 year conflict has shown us, there can be no end to a war where the vast oil resources of the South are at stake. This is clearly exhibited by the inability of both parties to agree to a ceasefire.
It is really no surprise that the government of South Sudan has taken a seemingly hard-lined stance. With the claim of legitimacy, and the fact that Uganda is providing indirect military support, Salva Kiir may very well be in this for the long haul. The question then becomes; what happens to the people? Should Kenya in turn prepare herself for an influx of refugees in numbers similar to the height of the 21 year war?
When it comes to the matter of possible crimes against humanity being committed, it is very disheartening to recall Salva Kiir’s statements in May of 2013, when he was categorical about South Sudan not signing the Rome Treaty.
“Whatever has been written in Rome has never been used against any one of their presidents or head of state. It seems that this thing has been meant for African leaders, that they have to be humiliated.” Kiir told a press conference during the Ordinary Summit of the African Union. (Daily Nation, 24th May, 2013)
It is a dismal state of affairs thus, that while the oil is haggled over by politicians and foreign interests salivate over the prospects of either of their allies gaining the upper hand in the talks the people of South Sudan are left at the mercy of war mongers willing to sacrifice their lives in the name of retaining power. Indeed, the plight of the victims is now only a concern for humanitarian organizations, and not for the political leaders brokering the “peace” deals.