On August 17, the Guardian newspaper reported that the number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda reached the one million mark. Another million have fled to Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to Jason Burke of the Guardian, the fighting between South Sudan’s factions ‘has created the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.’ The article, like many others, provides an important record of the personal stories of some of the South Sudanese victims of the conflict. Thousands of children have arrived in Uganda without their parents; children and parents miss their homes but have nothing to return to; refugees in overcrowded camps depend on international NGOs to meet their basic needs.
South Sudan’s crisis is one of the most important global issues of the past year, but it has not been widely covered in the press. The Guardian article reminded me, however, of a piece published in the New York Times earlier this year, which moved beyond the regular descriptions of the conflict to present the views of some leading experts on how to move forward. I think it’s worth sharing in this blog.
Published on January 23, 2017, the article – written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jeffrey Gettleman – asked whether South Sudan should be taken over by an international body to stabilize the political situation and buy time to find a solution to the civil war that has been raging since 2013. The strongest proponent of this idea was the well-known Ugandan political scientist Mahmood Mamdani, who proposed a six-year trusteeship period managed by the African Union with oversight by the United Nations. Under Mamdani’s plan, none of South Sudan’s political elite would be allowed to participate. Opposed to this plan is James Solomon Padiet from Juba University, who feels that an international takeover would be ‘offensive’ because it would exclude many good South Sudanese leaders who are ‘waiting in the wings’ for a chance to contribute to the country’s future. Padiet also said that many South Sudanese – especially the Dinka – would oppose the idea of an international takeover and its interference with South Sudan’s sovereignty.
Taking a ‘middle position’ is Amir Idris, the Chair of the African and African-American Studies program at Fordham University in New York and a well-respected Sudanese intellectual. Idris argues that the trusteeship option might be considered as a ‘last resort’ but that the priority should be to build a new South Sudan after removing the current political elite in its entirety. This would open the door for a new group of South Sudanese politicians and experts to restart the development of the country along more positive lines. Idris has written about the need for international involvement many times before, and as one of the most important scholars and activists involved in South Sudan his ideas should be considered very closely.
If you are interested in learning more about the current conflict in South Sudan, including historical and contemporary perspectives, here are a few sources that I consider especially worth reading:
Newspaper/popular media articles:
Amir Idris, Identity, Citizenship, and Violence in Two Sudans: Re-imagining a Common Future (Palgrave, 2013).
Douglas Johnson, South Sudan: A New History for a New Nation (Ohio University Press, 2011)
Douglas Johnson, The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars, 3rd edition (Boydell and Brewer, 2016).