South Sudan Tragedy: Salva Kiir And Riek Machar Draw Swords And Blood
Salvar Kiir -- can he and Machar rise to the occasion and lower the heat?
South Sudan is not even three years old yet. What a disappointment.
The country's two leading political figures have pulled out their swords. Hundreds of civilians have already died.
Will they allow the new nation to crumble? WIll South Sudan's fertile soil be washed with the blood of civilians?
South Sudan is facing its India moment.
Shortly after its independence, the sub-continent went through a serious and blood convulsion. Many corpses later, the region ended up with Pakistan and India. Bangladesh came much later.
How did South Sudan arrive here?
In July President Salva Kiir fired his entire cabinet including Vice President Riek Machar.
Several months before that, South Sudan was paralyzed by two major problems. There were allegations of massive corruption -- the siphoning off of hundreds of millions of dollars by officials governing the newest country in Africa.
At the same time, South Sudan was involved in a dispute with Sudan (Khartoum), its neighbor to the north, over their contested borders since the former separated from the latter.
The dispute led to several military clashes, with Uganda, ruled by war-monger Gen. Yoweri Museveni, vowing to get involved in the war on South Sudan's side.
The war-of-words-and-wills between South Sudan and Sudan stopped the flow of oil, which both countries need to sustain their economies. Much of the oil fields are located in South Sudan; the pipeline to ship to market runs through Sudan, in the north.
South Sudan and Sudan needed each other to drill and export the oil. Any war would have amounted to mutually assured destruction.
The entire region that now covers the two countries was until July 2011, one country, Sudan.
There had been on-and-off war for 50 years between the regime in the northern part of Sudan, and the southern part.
Khartoum had always tried to impose its will and Islam. The southern part of the country fought racism, discrimination in hiring and resource distribution, lack of development, and Arab chauvinism by the rulers in Khartoum.
Finally the outside world, including the United States, took keen interest when major oil discoveries were made in the region.
The two sides were brought to the negotiating table and an agreement signed in 2005. As per the agreement, a referendum was held in January 2011, and people in the south voted to secede from Sudan.
Southern Sudan's quest for justice was then led by Dr. John Garang, commander of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and its political arm. He was a U.S. -trained agronomist and economist.
Garang had envisioned a united Sudan and believed he could win national elections to become president of the country. After the peace deal, Garang died in a mysterious helicopter crash while returning from a meeting with Uganda's dictator Museveni.
Garang was replaced by his deputy Salva Kiir.
There was always rivalry between Kiir and the equally ambitious Dr. Machar, who, like the late Garang, is also highly educated and sees himself as more qualified to be president. In any case, he had made his intentions clear to run as president in elections scheduled for 2015.
After Kiir dismissed Machar in July it was only a question of when matters would come to a boil as they did these past few days.
Machar denies he tried to overthrow Kiir. Several analysts believe the president may have tried to pre-emptively disarm soldiers from Machar's Nuer ethnic group because he questions their loyalty. Kiir comes from the Dinka, the largest ethnic group.
If ever there is a moment for statesmanship this is it.
Hundreds of civilians have perished as the power struggle between the former liberation fighters have taken on inter-ethnic dimension with Dinkas setting upon Nuers; and vice versa.
War-monger and mischief-maker Gen. Museveni has rushed to South Sudan. His deadly proxy army M23 was humiliatingly defeated in Congo in November and he seeks to repair his image.
South Sudanese be wary: his military intervention in Rwanda in 1990 caused the deaths of more than one million Rwandans during the 1994 massacres; and in Congo, the death toll may exceed 10 million as a result of his military forays.
Machar's military supporters have seized major areas in the northern-part of South Sudan -- the oil regions.
Machar could seek the support of Khartoum to survive if Gen. Museveni props Kiir and lends him troops for an assault to retake oil areas.
The stalemate can't endure. Kiir would need Machar for oil revenue; Machar in turn would need Omar Hassan al-Bashir in Khartoum to export the oil to market.
They all need each other. They must all wake up and get to the negotiating table.
Peace broker could be a respected African president such as Tanzania's Jakaya Kikwete.