First published Sunday Standard, July 16, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group
In the shadows of every conflict, men and women carefully move to repair their societies. Collecting and re-assembling shattered pieces of the national mirror they work until the nation can see itself clearly, again. Last week, I met a group of young South Sudanese leaders who are committed to healing Africa’s youngest democracy.
The meeting was fortuitous. South Sudan has just turned six but there is little to celebrate. Four million men, women and children are in flight. They flee abductions, rape and death by several armed militias and armies. Fear has replaced hope. The Equatorial region is now called the killing fields and women there, see safety only in death. Controlling access to food is a weapon of war. Today, it leaves 1.7 million severely hungry. With the rains, cholera looms for thousands. Calculating their chances, nearly 2 million South Sudanese have left for exile in East Africa and elsewhere.
Yet, South Sudan was born unified and rich. 98% of the country declared their preference for national independence from The Sudan. Today, the Government controls tremendous oil reserves. In the next couple of months, it plans to hold an international oil and gas conference. Despite this, corruption and impunity ensures that this wealth is enjoyed by very few men and women. The gap between the promise and current reality of South Sudan grows wider daily. This gap brings the leadership and governance crisis to Kenya’s doorstep in several ways.
Firstly, a humanitarian and human rights disaster on our doorstep offends our national sense of human dignity and pan-Africanism. South Sudan also represents an opportunity for regional trade and Kenyan business to sell goods and services to the emerging economy. As we have found with the four Kenyan Click Technologies businessmen now imprisoned after an unfair trial, the current situation makes this a risky venture. We also now require decisive non-partisan mediation in the revitalization process declared by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. Is it time to bring General Lazaro Sumbeiywo back to directly engage this process?
Ultimately, the destiny of South Sudan lies in the hands of its 12 million people. Three generations – the sunset, noon and sunrise – contest to lead them. The sunset generation are typically in their sixties, fought or supported the fighters in successive wars and negotiated the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The noon generation are between 45-60 and include those that are unwilling or too frightened to disrupt the political status quo. The sunrise generation are under 45 years old. They are tired of a country that is militarized, held hostage by the generals and without a future. They come from 70% of the population that have typically been the child-soldiers but also the emerging professional classes.
“Sunrise” men and women have played a central role in the history of all successive movements for independence, human dignity and justice across Africa. Winnie Mandela, Patrice Lumumba, Julius Nyerere, Samora Machel and Thomas Sankara were revered sunrise leaders of their time. Behind them were countless other “sunrisers”. Like those that have done so before them, the sunrise South Sudanese leaders must build the bridges again to create a country that is a match for the dreams of 2011.
Knowledge is power, it is said. Imagination is even more daring. The sunrise generation of South Sudan must have mastery over both. Building a new society requires new values to replace old vices. Values are not the preserve of any generation, they are the glue that could bind the three generations together. Similarly, being overly pre-occupied with being at the upcoming national revitalization talks may be short-sighted. These are spaces that the sunrise generation will be invited into. They are not spaces created and owned by this generation. The sunrise generation are best placed to create new spaces and public campaigns among their people at home rather than presenting positions and papers in neighboring capitals.
Our role as their neighbors is to offer counsel when asked, safe passage and havens when required and a firm voice and action against violence and repression from any quarter, rebel or state. A question could be asked of our Presidential aspirants, how will your Government help restore peace and justice to the people of South Sudan?
Peace mediator Ambassador Bethuel Kiplagat died on July 13, the day this was written. He would have been very supportive of the sunrise generation. I dedicate this article also to his forty years of mediation attempts across the continent and during the Post-Election Violence of 2008 in Kenya. The leadership of Dekha Ibrahim and Bethuel Kiplagat during this period is well captured in https://irunguh.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/raising-voices-for-peace-in-kenya-a-personal-reflection/