Home | Comment & Analysis    Monday 2 November 2015

Can South Sudan learn from AU Commission of inquiry report?


By Amir Idris

The release of a long-awaited African Union Commission of Inquiry Report on South Sudan has been welcomed by concerned regional, international, and South Sudanese entities. The report documented detailed inhuman atrocities committed by the warring parties in South Sudan’s civil war. It highlighted acts of forced cannibalism, brutal and gruesome practices of rape, and burning innocent civilians alive including children and the elderly simply because they belong to the wrong ethnicity. Sadly, reading the detailed testimonies of the witnesses, one cannot help to recall vividly the racist image of Africa contained in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Africa has been seen as a place where all elements of civilization do not exist while inhuman behaviors and practices flourish. Indeed, while the documented atrocities in the report do not confirm Conrad’s depiction of Africa, they do not make easier to refute them either.

The brutality of the violence and the systematic targeting of civilians based on their ethnicities raise questions not only about the moral and the ethical standards of those who planned and committed them but also about the sanity of their humanity. There is no doubt that the unspeakable atrocities and the sheer lack of respect for human life will tarnish the image of South Sudan regionally and internationally. It will also be difficult, if not impossible, for credible historians to write a favorable chapter about the current government in the future.

Though the report painted a dark picture about the state and society of South Sudan, it does not necessarily condemn the entire social and cultural values of the society. Indeed, the report recognizes the role of history of liberation and its aftermath in shaping the behaviors and the policies of its political and military leaders. The report, however, highlights two vital facts about the causes of the conflict. It refutes and puts to rest the claims that there was an attempted coup planned by those who wanted to overthrow a democratically elected government. Instead, the report documented how the government and its military and security organs planned and executed the targeted violence against its own citizens particularly in Juba.

For any keen observer of South Sudan’s political affairs, the past and the present history of the country cannot be discounted in understanding the recent violence. The history of the state in South Sudan is indeed marked by a series of violent episodes: kingdoms and states fought each other periodically in the pre-colonial period; the British colonial state violently rearranged the social and cultural maps of South Sudan; and the history of racism and discrimination in postcolonial Sudan. Hence, the language of violence has been part of the process of state formation.

The world expected South Sudan to chart out a new path for an inclusive future after gaining its political independence in July 2011. South Sudanese thought that their new state would learn from the past and imagine a future by confronting the legacy of its violent past. Instead, the leaders of the new state have embraced state violence and the language of exclusion as tools to secure power and wealth. Therefore, instead of cultivating a new political culture which speaks the language of civic values and norms, authoritarian tendencies and ethnically-driven policies and practices become the guiding principles of the state. Aided by their interlocutors including naïve intellectuals who were unable to free their minds from the deadly shackle of ethnic thinking, the government felt empowered and legitimized. The outcome of the distorted thinking and the ethnically-driven policies has been deadly violence with unspeakable atrocities.

The AU Commission Report and the signed peace agreement indeed offer South Sudan a road map to address its political violent past and to embark on an inclusive process of accountability, healing and reconciliation. South Sudan’s political leaders have to accept that the reform of the existing state institutions as outlined in the signed peace agreement is critical to the cultivation of a new political culture that fosters the values of democracy and citizenship. The perpetrators of the violence should be held accountable in particular those who planned and implemented the violence and the ethnically-targeted killing in Juba. The state cannot be allowed to kill its own citizens without attribution to its political and military leaders. Instead of denying the truthfulness of the report, both sides of the conflict should also acknowledge the mistakes of the past and agree on working together towards creating a new future for all South Sudanese. If both the perpetrators of the killing and the victims recognize that both have to live in South Sudan and share a common future, the journey towards reconciliation and unity will still be possible. After all, state and society cannot be built by a single ethnic group. Then and only then, South Sudan can prove Joseph Conrad and his admirers wrong.

Amir Idris is Professor and Chair of Department of African and African American Studies at Fordham University, New York City, USA. He can be reached at idris@fordham.edu

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  • 3 November 2015 06:31, by Paul Chadrack

    this things have all occurred because of the wrong greedy people call bhar el gazels. we will blame nobody but God who created such an Unscrupulous people with us in one country.

    • 4 November 2015 02:54, by Akol Liai Mager

      "It’s God who made the Nuer, Bari, Azande, Shilluk and so forth, and who is this to make an amendment of God’s works, if I take this case to Rabuna, I will win this case, Wallai laziim" (Dr John Garang de Mabior). Working out ways to accept one another is the only way forward, not regretting or blaming here and there.

  • 3 November 2015 10:27, by Eastern

    Being typical of SPLA, the government in Juba nor the other parties fighting it would learn nothing from the detailed report - the same attrocities documented are taking place in southern parts of Unity state, Malakal, Moduruba, Mundri even after deceptively signing peace to end the war. SPLA has been a bag of deception through and through!!!

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