Last month the U.N. declared a famine in two parts of South Sudan and warned that nearly half the population—some 5.5 million people—is in urgent need of food assistance. According to a recent U.N. report, “The bulk of evidence suggests that the famine … has resulted from protracted conflict and, in particular, the cumulative toll of military operations undertaken by the SPLM/A in Government in southern Unity state; denial of humanitarian access, primarily by the SPLM/A in Government; and population displacement resulting from the war.”
This comes as no surprise.
Since December 2013, South Sudan has been at war with itself. On one side, is President Salva Kiir—known for his trademark cowboy hat and sticky fingers that shameless that have bankrupt an oil-producing state. On the other side is Riek Machar, the former Vice-President who has callously played the role of spoiler at every turning point in this pointless civil war, while taking his fair share of South Sudan’s national wealth.
And now a famine has been declared.
Why? The U.N. report tells us why—protracted conflict, denial of humanitarian access and population displacement. Not drought. Not pestilence. War.
A famine has been declared in South Sudan because the outsized egos of two shameless men have sold out their country for 30 pieces of silver.
South Sudan won its independence after 30 years of struggle with the north. After countless numbers of deaths and wasted lives, South Sudan won its independence from Sudan and Kirr governed—and stole the country blind—for two short years until accusing his partner in crime of trying to carry out a coup d’etat. Since then, South Sudan was propelled into a downward spiral of unremitting bloodshed and displacement.
The international community shares culpability in this tragedy. The United States alone has given the South Sudanese government over a billion dollars in aid. What happened to this aid? It lined the pockets of government officials who rapaciously emptied public coffers. In May 2012, Kirr wrote an extraordinary letter to 75 government officials accusing them of stealing at least $4 billion and demanded that they return the money. Just a little over six months later, war broke out.
To date, hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese have lost their lives in this utterly senseless fratricide. Over 3.6 million people have fled their homes, now living in destitution in neighboring countries or internally displaced inside South Sudan.
The following map from Mercy Corps shows the tragic dispersal of the people of South Sudan
What can the international community do in the face of famine and displacement? Humanitarian aid is only a short-term solution to the problem of South Sudan. The South Sudanese people need their basic needs met today—food, shelter and health care. However, this situation cannot continue. This is not a situation of drip, drip, drip oppression that slowly suffocates. This is a situation where the floodgates have opened and the people are being drowned by the cruel chess game being played by Kiir and Machar.
Both Kirr and Machar are criminally negligent in the downfall of the country. Decades of a brutal warfare has extinguished the dim light of hope for the people of South Sudan—displaced and impoverished for decades while sitting on oil’s untold wealth. IGAD and the international community at large have spent too many resources—time and money—on trying to negotiate between two thieves.
It’s time for more decisive action. Strathink can only offer what should be the outcome. Kiir and Machar have to go. It is incumbent for the African Union and IGAD to plot a course of a quick outcome for the two men who bear the primary responsibility for the current morass. History will judge African institutions for their action or inaction in saving the people of South Sudan. This should be the end of the line for Kiir and Machar. The time is now.