South Sudan: my motherland is hurting, over two years on and the war is draining the hope from the eyes of our beloved. I see an old woman begging on the streets, hungry as she leans on her walking stick moving from car to car in the mid-day heat(almost 40 degrees) stretching out her bony hands through the traffic. It is heart wrenching watching the frown cringe her wrinkles, dejected by every rejection, as she goes to sit down under the traffic light as it turns green. The road itself is a mess, but that is but a luxury for men who can afford life in this expensive real-estate.
South Sudan was once a symbol of hope, I held on to the thought of going back home to see my grandmother and play with my cousins. My mother talks so proudly about her homeland in Abyei, hoping that the border issues would be resolved once and for all. But this has not yet come to be, 2 years on from the senseless war. I came back hoping perhaps we’ll put the history of violence behind us. If you ask me why they are fighting, I don’t know why, neither can anyone else explain.
I read through Hilde Johnson’s book searching for answers about where things went wrong. The title: South Sudan The Untold Stories, from independence to Civil war, sounded like a promising revelation. But that’s just as good as it gets. When they said don’t judge a book by it’s cover, I guess this is what they meant. Beyond the generous reviews, I found little insight into the precursors of the brutal war starting. Reading through it, you get a sense that she is marketing her credentials rather than giving a voice to the south sudanese daily struggle.
The main features of the book include the Yau Yau rebellion of 2012, the lack of institutions in South Sudan, and the poorly executed DDR programmes. As the head of the UN mission in South Sudan, she had access to the leaders and to the facts of what it happening in South Sudan. Yet she complains about lack of access, lack of capacity and undermines the value of her own organisation when it comes to executing its mandate. This comes in the backdrop of internecine fighting in Jonglei state involving the three communities inhabiting the state: the Nuer, Murle and Dinka. The SPLA with support from UNMISS tried to disarm the three communities and had started with the Nuer and Dinka with little friction. When it came to the Murle, the friction between the majority Nuer in the SPLA force that was engaged in the DDR and the Murle youth led to fighting.
Although the Protection of Civilians cites were only temporary during the resurgent internecine fighting of 2013, the Murle case proved their role to be redundant with the communities’ adaptation and understanding of their surrounding. This prompts her to explain her understanding of anthropology into the culture of South Sudanese tribes which only serves to build her esteem. There are numerous example of her chest thumping beyond just her role in the signing of the CPA in 2005 for example she tarnishes the IGAD led peace talks stating that it was dominated by regional politics rather than the address of underlying issues.
The book is well written and gives a proper timeline of the engagement of UNMISS in south sudan, it lists the achievements (few) and none of the failures. After the war broke out in 2013, there were protests against UNMISS and she painstakingly describes how the Protests were organized and funded by the SPLM and takes offence to being called “Co-President”. In the numerous accounts of how she had contact with both President Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar, she seems almost proud of having a sway in their decision making and yet finds it offensive to being called a “Co-President”. Trying to highlight the good of UNMISS she downplays catastrophic errors made during the mission and doesn’t address the purpose of the protest.
This for the most part shows that although the book might be good intentioned, it only goes so far as to praise the author. When it come to explaining the nexus between the two leaders, President Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar and the subsequent fall out, she tries to create a profile for which to qualify any of the decisions they have made. It is a crude attempt at justifying her perceptions of the South Sudanese politics, which is disastrously unravelled on page 250 when she states that two persons seemed to have prepared in advance for the 2013 conflict. In the details of how the war started, she gives both the government and opposition accounts of how the events unfolded and tries to fit her narrative in the mould. The truth behind her theory about what happened of the 15-19 December 2013 seems to be a repeat of the UN and AU reports on the matter and hardly informs the reader of the events as they occurred.
Straight to the point; it is a disappointing read which only exasperates the need for a more enlightened approach to writing about south sudan. While many of the reviewers called it an insight into South Sudan’s brutal conflict, I find it lacking in details and only reiterates the published reports on the conflict and news clippings. It’s a shortfall of this western diplomat to dominate the story telling of a protracted civil war with her perception of events rather than give voice to the underlying issues. Her account of the corruption and lack of institutions to the breakout of all out war is little else than public knowledge, failing to reveal the perpetrators makes it all the more devastating in giving voice to the south sudanese struggle. The role of UNMISS as she stated earlier was to undertake capacity building for the young nation. The subsequent failings of the “nation without a state” would therefore be a mirth on her record. The subsequent mandate for protection of Civilians as she states was the only notable success amongst the countable few. This book has failed to give insight to the daily struggle of South Sudanese and only gives undue praise to the author without actual intel.
The recent breakout of violence from 7-11 July shows that the underlying tensions have yet to be addressed, the failures of the international community in understanding the dynamics and power plays (Game of Thrones) and the subsequent hijacking of the peace process in the regional campaign of the IGAD led peace process has only exasperated the struggles of our young nation. It remains to be seen if there will be any respite to the aggravated suffering of my people and the unaddressed issues. As it stands, there increasing pressure to return things to the previous status quo, ignoring the interests of the people. Should the August 2015 peace agreement work, it will need to be localised and endorsed at the community level rather than be owned by selfish leaders. Thus far the reference to “Nation with No state” as said by Hilde Johnson hijacks the story of the South Sudanese struggle and equates it to the failures of the leaders. It gives no voice to the Peace builders working inside the UNMISS Protection of Civilian camp and other actors’ initiatives being undertaken under her nose(forgive the metaphor).