FILE PHOTO: Staff of the International Committee of the Red Cross carry an injured patient to a plane to evacuate him to Juba, in Bor, South Sudan. (Photo by Stefanie Glinski/picture alliance via Getty Images)
For weeks and months, the social media was awash with news of tribal mobilization in Jonglei State in preparation for a new cycle of violence. Indeed, the information we got was accurate as horrific clashes did happen with the loss of lives and widespread devastation in the areas affected by the intercommunal conflict. In April 2020, we watched the video clip of the Murle apparently, mobilizing to attack the Lou Nuer in retaliation for previous attacks on their areas. Expectedly, what we saw resulted in large-scale attacks against Lou Nuer villages, causing the loss of hundreds of lives and the destruction of people’s properties and livelihood.
The same scenario repeated itself a few weeks ago, albeit on the opposite side of the standoff. But there’s a little twist to the matter this time. The Bor Dinka have joined the Lou Nuer in their retaliatory campaign against the Murle. Last week some of us watched video clips showing mobilization among the Bor Dinka. I was told the Lou Nuer had similar events and videos. The common denominator in the mobilization campaigns on both sides is the level of armament. The Murle on one side and the Lou Nuer with their Bor Dinka allies on the other; are heavily armed almost to the standard of the ‘national’ army. We have seen people carrying PKM machine guns and Dragunov sniper rifles in those video clips. Now the news reaching us say that clashes have already occurred, which means South Sudan should brace itself for a disaster of immeasurable magnitude.
All the above took place and continue to happen with no response whatsoever from the government. There appears to be a media blackout imposed by the regime so as not to draw attention to what is going on in Jonglei State right now. Accusations have been thrown here and there that the government is fuelling the conflict by arming all parties. But what is clear is that the government seems to have forgone its duty of maintaining law and order and fostering peaceful coexistence among the communities of South Sudan.
Many would not fail to notice that, the government approach to the recent deadly shooting in Gumbo-Sherikat suburb of Juba was quite different from its approach to the long-standing and ongoing intercommunal conflict in Jonglei State. We saw the government moving swiftly to contain the emerging conflict. It was, in essence, a criminal incident that threatened to spark intercommunal clashes between the Bahr Ghazal Community and that one hailing from Bor. Two committees had been formed by the President, one to investigate the Gumbo-Sherekat incident, and the other is to find out the facts about the alleged targeting of natives of Bahr Ghazal in Bor town.
All will agree that the government did the right thing by promptly addressing the problem in Gumbo-Sherikat suburb of the capital Juba. Nonetheless, questions are popping up in the minds of many South Sudanese as to why the regime is keeping quiet about the dire situation in Jonglei State? Which of the two conflicts deserves immediate attention, an ordinary criminal incident which could adequately be tackled by our law enforcement bodies and criminal justice system, or a conflict that pose a real threat to the integrity of the country? More questions could be asked which all point to complacency and double standards in government policies concerning the intercommunal feuds.
The government did form the High-Level Taskforce on COVID-19 in March 2020 headed by the First Vice President, Dr Riek Machar and other high-ranking officials in the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGONU). It was a good move by the President to face the growing threat of the Coronavirus pandemic with such a high profile team. But the intercommunal feud in Jonglei State is more lethal and devastating than the COVID-19 pandemic. The reasons are quite apparent as the fighting would undoubtedly lead to massive population displacement. And such a disastrous outcome would significantly hamper the efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
It’s time for the government to show that it cares about the welfare of its citizens. A High-Level Taskforce should be formed to resolve the ongoing intercommunal conflict in Jonglei State and elsewhere in the country. Such a body would be expected to work closely with the community leaders in the affected areas. It would very likely achieve quick results if it relocates to Jonglei State and remains there until the problem is resolved.
No government in the world would allow its communities to mobilize forces against each other under its watch. Moreover, these hostile activities were conducted while the country is under a state of emergency. Many people are now suspicious about the regime’s motives. The situation is not helped by the apparent lack of concern and inaction by the government. It can only reinforce the notion that what is happening in Jonglei State is being driven and fuelled by players within the RTGONU in a bid to gain an advantage. In other words, it’s war by proxy in which the citizens of the same country are made to fight each other for political gains. It’s a grave mistake and a miscalculation that some would regret in the long-term. These hostilities could only result in irreparable damage to the fragile social fabric of the country. And should that happen, then the very existence of the country as an independent state would be in great jeopardy.