The conflict that erupted in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, on December 15, 2013, that later spread to other states like Jonglei and Unity State, has seen thousands of people losing their lives and half a million people forced to leave their homes.
Fears of potential genocidal action in South Sudan has seen the country go from celebrating its independence from Sudan to tears and violence, a mere two years later.
The Niles went to the Yambio home of the governor of the state of Western Equatoria to discuss the situation with him.
Bangasi Joseph Bakosoro has served as the state’s governor for two and a half years and he is well known as a progressive leader who has always tried to protect his people and keep the peace.
Bakosoro has not only cultivated peace, he has also promoted education for women and encouraged the state’s people to become self-sufficient after austerity measures were announced.
In January of 2012, a group of South Sudanese religious leaders voted him the country’s best governor.
Recently Bakosoro told would-be fighters in his state that if they wanted to fight they should quietly come to him and he would arrange transport for them to leave the state. He said they could go and fight but he would not allow fighting in his state.
The Niles’ interview took place in Bakosoro’s garden and the governor’s children brought out drinks of water. Unlike other political leaders, Bakosoro has not sent his children away to a safer place during the recent conflict and he says he will not. He has said that if he did that, it would only increase local people’s fears about armed conflict and they would want to send their children away too.
While relaxed at home during the conversation, the governor was certainly concerned about South Sudan’s predicament. He spoke to The Niles about how, contrary to popular opinion, the current conflict in South Sudan is not a tribal conflict; he also described how he believed South Sudan could pull itself out of the current crisis:
The Niles: What can you tell us about the current crisis in the country -- many reports have said that it is a fight between tribes?
It’s not really a tribal conflict, although it looks like one.”Governor Bangasi Joseph Bakosoro: First I want tell you that South Sudan is a multi cultural country and it contains about 60 different tribes. On the first day of the violence in the capital Juba, many thought it was a tribal war because it was only between the Dinka and the Nuer.
But as fighting has continued, the dynamic has changed and it has become a national issue because so many tribes are now involved.
The political detainees are not just from one tribe and those defending the country are also from different tribes. So it’s not really a tribal conflict, although it looks like one.
It has also been handled like one at times. For instance, you may be asked which tribe you are from. If you give the right answer, you are allowed to go. If you give the wrong answer, you are tortured.
It is a national issue but when it comes down to the one-to-one situation, it becomes a tribal issue. At the moment each person has their own perception regarding what is going on. But really it is a national issue.
The Niles: What are the other tribes doing during this crisis?
We are doing more to end the conflict -- we don’t like war.”Bakosoro: The problem is not only affecting the two major ethnic groups, Dinka and Nuer. It is also affecting other ethnic groups and many have died on the front line.
Also, other tribes are not just sitting and watching. We are also contributing to peace negotiations and supporting IGAD [the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an eight-country bloc in eastern Africa] to bring peace back to South Sudan.
One might think other tribes are not contributing but we are doing more to end the conflict -- we don’t like war.
The Niles: What can the South Sudanese learn from this crisis?
We need to find another road map, so that we can get back on the right path.”Bakosoro: We have got to learn a lot from this crisis. Just look at Rwanda: that situation turned into a genocide because not everyone was represented in the government and the government was not looking after everyone’s interests equally.
So the South Sudanese need to be very vigilant and careful and they need to take into consideration that there are about 60 tribes in this country and they all must be protected.
We have also got to learn that whenever there is recruiting of new forces, that there should be an equitable way of doing this so that all the tribes feel they are represented. Because once I don’t see myself in the system, I will become the agitator.
This is an eye opener for all South Sudanese, an opportunity to make sure that if peace comes to the country again, we will change our ways. We will need to balance job opportunities between all the ethnic groups in the country. We need to find another road map, so that we can get back on the right path.
The Niles: What do you see as the way forward?
IGAD needs to develop a new mind set, one that welcomes Sudan.”Bakosoro: First, to stop the fighting. We also need to need to have a new democratic system in the south.
The other way forward is to involve Sudan in the discussion because, if for no other reason, the IGAD needs to develop a new mind set, one that welcomes Sudan as a legitimate member of the region.
The Niles: Finally, what is your message for the people of South Sudan?
Bakosoro: The fight in South Sudan is a political fight which has taken on armed dimensions. Therefore I want to ask people to be patient and to support the democratic process in the country.
We, as the South Sudanese people, should also avoid any enrolment in this conflict based on tribal affiliations. This will just push South Sudan further into turmoil.
I also want to tell those who want to take up this fight that this conflict -- like every other conflict in the world -- started as a fight between two individuals. Look at Uganda and the rebel Joseph Kony. That started as two people fighting, then it became a rebel movement, then it became a regional war.
So the South Sudanese people need to think very carefully about where they have come from and where they are going to.