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South Sudan: From really bad to worse

The biggest refugee tragedy on the African continent is taking place in South Sudan today. It is constantly growing and thus appears to be an even bigger famine disaster.


Book excerpt: As I neared the end with the recently released Lives at stake – South Sudan during the Liberation Struggle - an updated and expanded English version of On life loose (2015) – was the situation for the people of South Sudan as follows:

No one knows for sure, but the indications are that more than 200 000 people have died as a result of the civil war 2013 – 2017, or due to illness and hunger caused by the war. The sexual violence against women and children has been described as the worst of its kind ever, and reports state that the government forces are primarily responsible for these atrocities. South Sudan has about 11 million inhabitants. About 2 millions of these are refugees in their own country and about 200 000 of them are under protection in UN camps in South Sudan. About 2 million are refugees mainly in neighboring countries, and around 5,5 million have an unsafe nutritional situation. About 100 000 in the state of Unity is threatened by hunger and death. They are all completely dependent on international humanitarian aid through the UN and international non-governmental organizations.

Government propaganda. The Kiir government has not done anything since January 2014 to help the suffering masses in their own country. The total indifference to these people in distress that both the President himself and his court persistently show, shocks both the people of South Sudan and throughout the world (see interview with Salva Kiir at Deutsche Welle August 24, 2017).

The indifference the president exhibits to the suffering of his own people is shocking.

It is an important factor in the devastation of South Sudan that is constantly overlooked. Most South Sudanese cannot read and write, but they listen to radio broadcasts. The government has de facto taken control of all media institutions. The suppression of freedom of speech is massive. The privately owned media is being threatened and harassed. The state-owned – South Sudan Radio and TV – have been used as propaganda machines every day since December 13, 2013. The messages are, on the one hand, praise of the president and his court, and on the other the dirty talk about most of the leading freedom fighters from the liberation war who have fallen into disrepute with the president. The very poor, uninformed and innocent people of South Sudan, about 80 percent of whom are illiterate, are led to believe that those who destroy them are "the kind", while the capable leaders who are now in exile – and who could have ruled the country in a peaceful and dignified way – are "the bad guys".

Status quo. South Sudan is currently hit by the biggest refugee tragedy on the African continent, and the tragedy may still grow to become an even greater famine disaster. The material destruction is extensive. The states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile were hit hardest at the beginning of the war, but now the devastation of the war has reached most states. Oil production has dropped to about 40 percent of what it was in 2010. The government has borrowed billions of US dollars – mainly from China and Arab countries – with security in future oil production and access to other natural resources. But the government now seems to have lost all confidence in the lending market. For a long time, the central bank has printed South Sudanese pound notes that are becoming less and less valuable. Inflation is creeping up to 1000 per cent. To put it bluntly: the South Sudanese state is technically bankrupt. Politically, the system has become very repressive, and any resemblance to democracy has long since disappeared. South Sudan is a dictatorship today.

The civil war that broke out in 2013 has destroyed more for the people and society of South Sudan than the long period of liberation war from 1983 to 2005. Provided that peace with security, respect for human rights and freedom can be restored, it can take a generation or so. more to get the country back to the material level it was in the summer of 2013.

The shattered vision. When the peace agreement was signed in 2005, South Sudan entered a transition period of six years while the Khartoum government still had some power in the south. For a time, in South Sudan – among many in and out of the SPLM liberation movement – there was a belief that regardless of whether South Sudan became a completely independent state or part of a confederation, the country should be very different from Khartoum. The slogan was "One country, two systems".

About 2 million are internal refugees, 2 million are refugees in neighboring countries, and the nutritional situation is unsafe for 5,5 million.

The understanding was that even though Sudan was formally still one country, the emerging new state and society of South Sudan should be a democratic society that showed respect for human rights and human dignity.

Today, people say the opposite: "Now we have two states, but one political system." The two states systematically violate human rights and human dignity and are equally oppressive and destructive to the people living in them. There can still be a difference: the dictatorship in South Sudan is possibly even worse than that in Khartoum.

Who's in charge? Some believe that all the leaders of the old SPLM must take collective responsibility for what has happened since 2012/13. I'm of a different opinion. The head of state and chairman of the SPLM, Salva Kiir, and his court in Juba, including the advice of the elderly Dinkas, Jieng, obviously have a far greater responsibility than any other actors in the destruction process. The president and his court have always had the opportunity to make other choices. President Salva Kiir has not done so. Under the strong influence of the elder Dinkas' counsel in Jieng and other advisers – many of whom have neither been members of the SPLM nor fought in the liberation struggle – the president has so far chosen confrontation, violence and war instead of dialogue, reconciliation and peace.

The excerpt is printed with the author's permission.

Lives at stake is an updated and expanded edition of On life loose – with Norwegian People's Aid in South Sudan which came out in 2015. The book contains about 80 pages of new material, including Hansen's settlement with Salva Kiir and his co-conspirators who control South Sudan in day.

Norwegian People's Aid's decision to support the freedom struggle in South Sudan through active support for the SPLM / A guerrilla was controversial. Hansen was Secretary General of Norwegian People's Aid when the freedom struggle was intensified in the 1990s. Rumors of the role of Norwegian People's Aid flourished, and the tabloid focus was on arms smuggling. In the controversy and the rumor flood, the most important thing has almost drowned, namely Norwegian People's Aid's humanitarian efforts.

It is believed that the stake provides insight into the dramatic humanitarian effort that was made to save lives in South Sudan. The book is particularly interesting and readable because the drama of the struggle for freedom is set in a further political context. Through the stories of people who were part of the course of events, we come close to key players in the freedom struggle and the game behind the scenes. Some of these stories surpass our imagination.


Halle Jørn Hanssen
Halle Jørn Hanssen
Former Secretary General of Norwegian People's Aid, TV correspondent, politician and author.

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