I am more and more worried about the situation in South Sudan. Since December 2013, the country, which celebrated its 4th anniversary of indipendence on 9th July, is sinking into an atrocious civil war which is hardly reported by international medias. Having lived in South Sudan, my thoughts are with the people of that country as it is once again going through a very difficult period of its tumultuous history.
South Sudan is the place where I had my first African experience, back in 1989. At the time, I witnessed hunger, displacement and war, and that’s a period of my life I will never forget. Then, in the 90’s, I lived with young South Sudanese people, in Uganda. I contributed toward the education of a number of them. Their hopes of returning home were, by then, very slim, but they were all very eager to learn and to become educated. By helping them to reach their goal, a few dedicated persons and myself had the feeling that we were contributing, in a small way, to the founding a new and peaceful nation, where the seeds of tribal hatred would have been eliminated.
I spent the year 2000 in Rumbek, a small town in Dinka land, held by the SPLA; there, I was working there for the German branch of the Order of Malta. I was managing a project which included a field hospital offering surgical services, a real “luxury” in the liberated area of South Sudan. Again, I experienced war and misery. During the year I spent there, I spent a fair amount of my time watching the sky, in order to detect planes coming from the North to drop bombs. With extreme sadness, I was seeing an entire generation deprived of education. Once again, I tried to do my best to give a little contribution. I was giving some of my free time to a nearby Catholic primary school.
Through my efforts, a few young South Sudanese from Rumbek and elsewhere succeeded in getting education in Uganda. I supervised their studies during the first decade of the 21st century. I am very proud of a few of them. Like them, I felt full of hope when the peace treaty was at last signed in Nairobi, in 2005. We all thought that the event marked the beginning of a new era, an era of peace and stability and, why not? democracy!
In April 2013, I spent 10 days in Juba, capital city of the newly independent country. What I saw there left me with mixed feelings. The city was experiencing a rapid growth, people coming from all over the world were there, attracted by the prospect of making quick money, corruption was rife. Half educated officials were cruising the streets in brand new huge luxury 4 wheel drive vehicles. War, and even ethnic cleansing, was still going on in some parts of the country, particularly in Jonglei State. I was sad to to see that some of the young people I had contributed to educate had become arrogant, ungrateful. Nobody came to the airport to welcome me the day I arrived, nobody went there to see me off the day I left. At the time, I was wondering whether South Sudan was on the right track. Unfortunately, what happened since December 2013 did not come as a surprise to me. War, in South Sudan, started as early as 1955. It only stopped for a small decade in the 70’s. It didn’t stop with independence, in 2011.
Democracy and human rights have never become a reality: the SPLA was never guided by democratic principles, as I was able to see it during the year I spent in “liberated” territory, back in the year 2000. Peace and stability are now a forgotten dream. A cruel war between brothers is currently destroying this new nation. Its leaders are fighting for power and for controlling the huge revenues generated by oil drilling. Tribal hatred is again the order of the day. Once again, hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese have had to flee their homes to seek relative safety in squalid camps in the cities peripheries or even in neighbouring countries.
Tens of thousands of children and adolescents have been rounded up to become soldiers, instead of being able to go to school to prepare a better future for their country. Thousands of men, women and children are being massacred by so called military, just because of their “wrong” ethnic backgrounds. Those horrors are being perpetrated by both the rebels of former vice-president Riek Machar and by soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir, or even by other armed groups more or less uncontrolled. To describe the massacres taking place in South Sudan, one has to use a terrible word:genocide.
The rare news coming out of South Sudan are extremely sad. Sad for the people of South Sudan, sad because of all those vanished hopes and dreams, sad because of all the time and energy which were invested in that country. Will a miracle happen? Will South Sudan be saved from its power hungry leaders’ voracity? Will the country manage to get out of the abominable cycle of hatred and violence? As the newest country in the world celebrates its 4th anniversary of a hard won independence, I must admit that I am not optimistic.