Since violence broke out in late December 2013, killing tens of thousands of people, many South Sudanese are left deliberating whether to leave their homes and even their country. Many of these have fled war during previous decades, and are reconsidering their future yet again.
Violence between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those supporting rebel leader Riek Machar has left more than a fifth of the country’s population either living as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in other parts of the country, or as refugees in neighbouring countries or further afield.
This bodes badly for the young nation, which is yet to find its feet following its protracted stints of civil war. Many of those leaving the country are young people, those who should shape South Sudan’s future. Violence deprives South Sudan of the motivated, energetic people it needs to build up the country, where poor infrastructure and a lack of services has been compounded by the devastation of the war.
Unless factors compelling South Sudanese people to abandon their homes and country are addressed and people feel confident that they are safe, millions will continue to be on the move. To prevent this disaster-in-the-making, leaders must direct their energies towards ending violence, the root cause of citizens’ displacement.
To prevent future violent conflict, South Sudan’s leaders need to embark on a long overdue task: To build a nation where all citizens feel they belong to their home country first, over and above their allegiance to their respective tribes.
After peace, the government needs to focus on providing basic services, like health and education. Only this can permanently discourage citizens from flocking to refugee camps or crossing borders into neighbouring countries, Europe or America, reluctant to leave but driven by desperation.