South Sudan: The Art of “Nationcide” vs. the Crisis of Antidotes
As South Sudan burns itself to the ground, the moral bankruptcy of the West emerges from its ashes.
What is in a name? Does the word “Horn” – as in the Horn of Africa – have anything to do with the region’s apparent passion for pervasive and nasty civil wars? Yes, several tragedies have characterized the countries in northeast Africa. Despite some promises of growth, for decades the Horn has been characterized by atrocious carnage, akin to Hollywood’s horror movies.
- This column’s topics will include literature, art, education, history, and political culture in Ethiopia, as well as society and politics in the Horn of Africa. Moreover, I will address the tribulations of journalists and the ill-fated constitutional right of freedom of expression under Ethiopia’s deceptive authoritarian regime. I will try to be the voice of the voiceless, be it persecuted journalists at home or exiled journalists abroad. These themes will make Ethiopia’s uniqueness and absurdities evident.
- Chalachew Tadesse is an Ethiopian journalist and columnist. He has previously worked as a full time journalist for The Reporter and The Sub-Saharan Informer English newspapers. He was also a columnist for the much-acclaimed Fact magazine, before the Ethiopian regime closed it in October 2014. A political science student by training, he works as a university lecturer and is known for his sociopolitical commentaries on the Ethiopian private press.
In political science, the famous maxim “small is beautiful” is used to describe small economies that can better empower a country’s people. But in the Horn, the quest for smallness is often realized through protracted bloodshed. That is why, as in the case of Eritrea and South Sudan, smallness loses its emotional and practical utility. Until now, the undying quest for smallness has bedeviled the region.
Mind you, Africa is not a country. Nor is the Horn. So, let me focus on South Sudan only.
Back in 2011, when I was attending Addis Ababa University for my Ph.D. in Political Science, Professor Terrenes Lyons, an American academic with expertise on protracted civil wars and political development in Africa, lectured my class on South Sudan. He and most of my classmates were optimistic about the future of world’s youngest nation. I disagreed, and said something like: “A liberation movement fraught with persistent factional fighting on the basis of ethnicity (pitting the Dinka ethnic group against the Nuer) throughout the course of a 30-year-long guerrilla struggle for independence can hardly be immune to post-independence split and armed violence.”
And of course the leadership crisis within South Sudan’s ruling party led to the country’s explosion in December 2013, shortly after President Salva Kiir (a Dinka) infamously accused his former deputy Riek Machar from the Nuer ethic group (who was earlier sacked) of attempting a coup.
Strangely, both civilians threw away their Italian suits and appeared on TV wearing military uniforms. Machar, who immediately fled to the bushes to lead a rebel army, also began to wear military fatigues when he spoke to the media. Kiir even restored his previous military rank of General.
Funnily, Kiir had also put away his typical black hat briefly, for it didn’t go with his military uniform. By the way, rumor has it that Kiir’s old-fashioned Texan hat was a gift from President George W. Bush. These days we see this old-fashioned hat only in Hollywood movies. Thanks to Bush, Kiir is a subject of gossip for contravening formal protocol, be it at the AU or UN General Assembly. But the fact that some African hypocrites give diamonds to their Western “friends” in the form of gifts and receive Texan cowboy hats or nothing in return is funny, albeit this practice is changing now due to the dominant “Africa rising” rhetoric.
By the way, the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) so far brokered seven ceasefires, signed in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, only to be violated shortly afterwards. Almost one ceasefire agreement every two months!
What is disgusting is that in diplomatic circles, both delegations earned a reputation as “slow talkers and hard drinkers.” Funnily, Western diplomats even mocked Kiir and Machar for being accustomed to lavish days and nights in the expensive and luxurious Sheraton Hotel. As a result, donors have so far spent – or should I say wasted – more than 20 million Euros. Alas, what an extravagance at the expense of millions of civilians who have been displaced or killed!
Kiir and Machar seem to stick to one catchphrase: “No deal is better than a bad deal.” Perhaps they learned this faulty lesson from Israel’s intransigent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In political science, the famous adage “politics is the art of the possible” is used to assert that politicians should shrive to attain what is possible only. However, this isn’t acceptable for South Sudanese politicians particularly President Kiir, who always wants to grab everything- like his friends in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and Eritrea- through his kleptocratic regime.
Sometimes, I wonder whether the negotiations would have succeeded if Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi were still alive. Mind you, Americans portrayed Meles as a leading statesman in Africa and saw him in high regard. For me, the CIA lacked an accurate “political profiling” of Meles. That is why we often mocked at Americans for failing to understand his deception and undying ambition for a personality cult worldwide. By the way, when the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2009, it was after all Meles who invoked the rhetoric of “peace must precede justice” and stood by his side. For over six years, Meles’ rhetoric has brought neither peace nor justice to Sudan, however. And Basher is still at large.
No matter the gravity of the crimes being committed in South Sudan, the international community has pushed aside the principle of “Responsibility to Protect,” even though it was unconvincingly invoked before against other African countries. In fact, the UN Security Council has recently authorized sanctions against South Sudan’s warring parties. Yet, they remain unheeded. Some argue that sanctions would harm Kiir’s government unfairly and spoil the peace process. Alas, Meles’ infamous rhetoric has won even in his absence!
In the midst of this, a portion of the AU Inquiry Commission report on South Sudan leaked to Reuters in early March. Although its official release was deferred indefinitely, the report contains some contentious and unprecedented “antidotes” for the besieged nation.
The two most radical recommendations are to exclude President Kiir and rebel leader Machar from a future transitional government and place South Sudan under AU custody. The Commission also recommends the African Development Bank to oversee South Sudan’s oil revenues. Of course, if managed well, billions of oil money that would other wise have been stashed in Swiss banks would be saved. However, the fact that the AU and the African bank- in which African countries ruled by corrupt hypocrites have shares- would have their “unclean” hand on an oil coffer is very ironic.
In effect, if the Commission’s recommendation is approved, AU would be Chief Executive Officer of the besieged “South Sudan Corporation” so to speak. Imagine if, because Greece’s bankruptcy and neo-Fascist resurgence are existential threats to the Greeks and the European order, the Germany-led EU puts Greece under custody. Does this sound like a good idea? I don’t think so.
There is also another irony in this: the AU would conduct the surgery on South Sudan under the Chairmanship of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, who is ruling a country besieged by unprecedented politico-economic crisis.
No doubt South Sudan’s carnage has hollowed out the country’s soul so much so that it needs to be admitted to an intensive care unit. A region-wide proxy war has also been looming due to divergent interests in the country. Nevertheless, a surgical operation necessary to clean up the mess of a war-ravaged and oil-rich nation, where several regional and international actors have high stakes, will definitely be difficult for the AU, if not altogether impossible. AU’s low moral standing for daunting tasks such as this also poses a fundamental problem.
Certainly, the issue of removing the two big elephants raises eyebrows. But we must ask this: In South Sudan’s political body, are Kiir and Machar twin infected kidneys? Or are they more like appendixes, easily removable? If they are kidneys, the surgery to exclude them from politics may put South Sudan in a grave. But given the entrenched kleptocratic system and ethic dimensions of the war it is difficult to regard them as easily removable appendixes.
In a nutshell, several compounding factors make the AU custodianship proposal less than likely. Hence, irrespective of the motto “African solutions for African problems,” the UN must act boldly to end the senseless carnage, ethnic cleansing, mass displacement, rape, and alleged cannibalism. And the best way of doing this is imposing sanctions which must be fallowed by strict accountability mechanisms for perpetrators of injustice. I think these two guys- specifically Kiir- have undermined the threat of sanctions and legal accountability simply because they have oil.
Back in 1999, a certain Edward Luttwark argued in Foreign Affairs that war must be given a chance in order to bring a lasting peace. That means the South Sudanese conflict must be allowed to burn itself out irrespective of the human toll. Isn’t that a cruel thing to do? It is, indeed. Hence, the UN must now say enough is enough, as it is always better late than never.
About 500 years ago, Machiavelli wrote The Prince for new rulers who aspire to build new nations. By their own actions, Kiir and Machar are also authoring a 21st century African guidebook that is exactly The Prince’s opposite. I would prefer to call their work The Art of Murdering Infant Nations as they sadly seem to be condemned to carry out “nationcide” against their young state.
Unless rescued, South Sudan will sooner rather than later descend to a perpetual Hobbesian “war of all against all,” thereby exposing the moral bankruptcy of the West again, not to mention the colossal human toll. May God forbid it, but if the South Sudanese state virtually “withers away” as in the case of Somalia, Karl Marx will be once again vindicated in Africa.