How to hold up a sky that is falling in South Sudan

How to hold up a sky that is falling in South Sudan

The government must end military campaigns and invest in dialogues with affected communities.

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By Daniel Akech Thiong

The world expects South Sudan’s political landscape to descend into anarchy at any moment. Unmoved by the worrying signs of political and economic inefficiencies, some South Sudanese political elite are still pursuing the exact same strategies of divisive politics which triggered political instability and economic uncertainty in the first place.

There is a growing appeal to the outside world to rescue South Sudan from itself by activists and academics who are calling for diverging external interventions. Why should the outside world bear any responsibility to restore political and economic order in an environment where those responsible for political and economic disorders aren’t yet scared enough to take a very different direction? The war was planned and executed without first hearing the opinions of external actors and its cessation as well as coping with its destructive fall-out should be placed squarely on the shoulders of the South Sudanese elite and the governed masses.

The world has been faced with the challenge of dealing with these leaders or looking for other willing stakeholders to work with. The international community cannot succeed in halting the war machine in South Sudan without involving local actors. The fire will only be put out through a collaborative effort that involves actors both international and local who command a large following. These local actors are rational and they want to survive politically too at the end of this elite rivalry.

But the way the international community has been approaching them makes the whole thing a zero sum game. They are made to see the end of the conflict as the end of their political lives. Surely a better basis for appeal would be that everyone benefits, including them, when the conflict is ended: if they change direction they will not only save the economy and many innocent lives, but also resuscitate their own legitimacy.

The outside world has been treating the governed masses as a vulnerable entity in need of help both materially and in terms of voice. Sadly, because this has always been how the world has approached affairs of developing countries, the governed masses accept the role of innocent bystanders in the activities taking place in their countries. The governed masses must prioritize access to food and physical security over supporting elite members on ethnic/clan-based lines, because the elite rivalry is set to dock the boat at the shores of hell.

Backing off from conflict

But this has to be a process. It has to begin somewhere and then get moved onto a larger scale. I propose that the entire aid to South Sudan ought to be redirected to support entrepreneurship activities among locals including building practical skills. Such priorities ought to be given to projects that serve people in rural areas.

I am proposing that both the locals and the ruling elite need to start doing something while waiting for that external help to defuse rising tensions, since this can take a long time. We lose nothing nor do we contradict other solutions by appealing to the local actors to change direction. It is better to try anything to seal the leakage, even covering them with bare hands while waiting for the external trusted technicians whose attention seems to be spread thin.

President Kiir does possess the power to bring about a ceasefire in places threatened by conflict now. The fact that he did not act to prevent atrocities in the past is not a reason to close all doors on continuing the dialogue with him and appealing to him to play his part now to end the war. His supporters need to make him see the incentive for changing his management of armed men. I think the western perspective of seeing the whole government of South Sudan and its military establishment as uncaring is very counterproductive.

President Salva Kiir needs to reverse the extreme position currently maintained by some of his inner circle. The President needs to make drastic compromises with opposition groups. His government needs to deal genuinely with the SPLM/IO to help the country back away from conflict. The SPLM/IO should be represented in Juba by a choice from Pagaak, who is not seen by the Nuer constituent as a sell-out. President Kiir can easily reach such a compromise with Dr. Riek Machar over the phone.

The government must end military campaigns and invest in dialogues with affected communities. Any military presence in Equatoria needs to be scaled down drastically so that the SPLA stay in designated military barracks and the military leaders need to engage the communities through dialogue in western Equatoria, eastern Equatoria, and central Equatoria. Key leaders from Equatoria who opposed the government such as Gov. Bakosoro must be engaged through direct dialogue with the presidency so that they help calm tensions between communities and the army in places like Yei, among other towns where tensions, hatred and fear are high.


Use humanitarian food inflows to impact food prices. An agreement can be reached with INGOs importing massive food inflows into South Sudan so that this will have a direct impact on the food prices. The government can work with competing local traders who could design two tracks for dealing with this: (a) short-term is for traders to procure items and make them available at 10 or 28 distribution centers and then the INGOs can buy directly from these stores rather than importing food directly from the outside world (because the INGOs will have to get South Sudanese pounds to buy food, they will be forced to take their dollars to the banks to get South Sudanese pounds) and (b) long-term: a good number of traders can be loaned government machineries to produce food within 9 months to 18 months and so instead of importing food the INGOs can directly buy these food items for their needs.

Stop importing red-meat and fish, build two processing plants in Juba. The government needs to set aside $10 million USD to build fish and meat processing plants in Juba and this will save a lot of dollars that are needed to import fish from Dubai and Kampala.

Use the dry season to wage a battle against food insecurity in the Sudd: The government needs to invest $10 million USD in a temporary food production project on the bank of the Nile from Mangala, Jameza, Bor, areas around Ziam-ziam and Jonglei village, Angany e Kuach, Shambe, Adok, among other areas in Malakal and other places within the Sudd that dry up between January through April.

Corns can be grown and harvested in three months and other products such as Sukuma Wiki among others can be grown within that period and this will cut down the demand for dollars to supply such products from Uganda and Kenya.

Daniel Akech Thiong is a South Sudanese independent researcher.

This article was originally published by Open Democracy and is available by clicking here.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of TransConflict.

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