Publisher: CUEA Press
Author: James Okuk
Has peace in South Sudan become a victim of the parties negotiating for it or is Africa’s youngest nation simply a canvass on which warring factions paint with brushes made from factors that have always fuelled the war?
For a country so rich in fertile soils, oil and other natural resources, why have its people been perennially shocked with wars and hunger, brutalised by factions led by leaders they thought would deliver them from years of marginalisation?
In his latest book, Dr James Okuk, a South Sudanese academic, weaves through a history of bad politics influenced by external factors and poor institutions as a compendium.
Currently, South Sudanese key principals President Salva Kiir and Dr Riek Machar are on a six-month deadline to negotiate how to form a government of national unity. It is the third time since 2013 that they are doing so.
But this didn’t begin today. Initially a part of Sudan, the southern tribes were often victims of the ‘Arabanisation’ in the north, starting with the Ottoman Empire and later the annexation of Sudan in a colonial arrangement between the British and the Egyptians.
In those 18th century expansionist drives, the conquerors had objectives “to extract gold and capture strong black youthful slaves for service” in the armies or menial works.
Yet, even as slavery was abolished in the 1800s, the people in southern Sudan continued to live like second class citizens yet their land had “ivory, ebony, ostrich feathers and tame animals” targeted by the outsiders.
The southerners weren’t willing participants and would be brutalised for fighting back against taxation, slavery and annexation of their land.
When the Sudan got independence in 1955, the marginalisation was continued by the new rulers.
And according to Dr Okuk, the new Arab leaders used miscommunication, rumours, propaganda, under development, illiteracy, ignorance and backwardness” to put their fingers on the pulse of southerners.
Despite southerners seeking greater autonomy but within Sudan, “the post-independence Khartoum-based governments did nothing constructive to be admired in the south despite availability of feasibility studies for big developmental agro-industrial projects".
Some of these projects which would rely on the waters of the Nile, would have seen sugar, rice and maize plantations flourish. Instead, indiscriminate detentions, torture, assassinations and massacres were common.
These sabotage fuelled creation of rebel movements in the south, led by John Garang (who had warned in his PhD thesis that draining the Jonglei swamps in the south, as Khartoum tried to do, would cause civil war).
Things were to turn around following a series of negotiations that led to the secession of South Sudan in 2011.
Instead, the new country entered another round of chaos. Today, there are four million south Sudanese refugees, two million more displaced within the country and just 27 per cent of the population able to read and write.
Dr Okuk argues the people were “betrayed” by their leaders, who have become a curse in conflict over rivalry on political interests".
But now they have a chance to redeem themselves. First, he argues Mr Kiir and Mr Machar must stop thinking the world starts and ends with them.
They must then dedicate their energy to realizing peace and dignity of south Sudanese.
It may include actions such as abolishing political parties from owning militant branches, reopening schools, encouraging the South Sudanese entrepreneurial spirit and “fighting insanity by changing attitudes that are nor productive”.
It is not everyday that stories are told by the South Sudanese themselves. This book is an attempt to contextualise by a South Sudanese. Will the leaders read the suggestions in there? I hope they do.