Thursday, January 02, 2014

140.4 - Bad news: South Sudan

Bad news: South Sudan

Finally, one more way it was a bad week. This, frankly, is something you may know nothing about and may not even care about. But I do. And it is probably the one that made me the bluest.

It's South Sudan. I don't even know if you've heard of it. You may have heard of Sudan, but South Sudan? Yes, South Sudan - and it's part of the reason it makes me sad.

The African nation of Sudan went through a 20 year civil war that set the Christian and traditionalist (or animist) southern part of the country against the mainly Muslim north. The war dragged on, brutal year after brutal year. By the time it all ended, about 2 million were dead, about 4 million more were homeless.

By the end of 2003, both sides were exhausted in every sense of the term. People had finally had enough of war. Months of negotiations lead to a draft peace agreement in June of 2004, the heart of which was a six-year period of autonomy for the south followed by a referendum in the south on independence. Months of haggling over details ended in January 2005 with the deal being done. Peace or at least something approaching it was coming to Sudan.

In fact, people were so tired of war that when the leading figure among the southern rebels, who under the pact had become vice-president, was killed in a helicopter crash six months later, it didn't serve to derail the agreement - nor did a brief outbreak of fighting in May 2008 over a dispute about oil.

In January 2011, that referendum was held and over 95% voted for independence. South Sudan became a nation, the newest and today still the youngest nation on Earth. The deal seemed strong enough that not even some more military clashes in May 2011 broke it down.

What you have to understand is that I followed this story, I followed it through the first negotiations to end the fighting, through the draft agreement which looked like it would never come, through the final agreement which looked like it would never come, through the multiple near-breakdowns of the whole process, to the plebiscite which had at one time seemed so very far off it seemed like it would never come. I followed it. I followed it when two old rivals, Riek Machar and Salva Kiir, joined together in the new government of South Sudan, with Kiir as president and Machar as vice-president. And it made me hopeful.

But old rivalries die hard and on December 15 Kiir dismissed Machar over some charges of attempted or perhaps imagined coup attempts. Old hatreds, old suspicions, such as those between Kiir’s Dinka group and Machar’s Nuer clan, need very little prompting, and now they had it.

Bloodshed has swept across the nation, with fierce battles reported and grim reports of massacres, rapes, and killings. Reports now are that Machar has gathered a force of thousands and is advancing on the major city of Bor and Kiir's army representatives are saying, more or less, "bring it on" while hopes for a ceasefire fade.

So many years, so much hatred, so much blood, so much suffering, and for a time it looked like it might finally be over. And now it looks like it was just Death pausing to tie its shoes.

It really has been a bad week.


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