The ghastly attack on a United Nations base in South Sudan on Thursday night underscored the severity of the ethnic strife that has killed thousands in the world’s youngest nation. The world body’s centre housing thousands of civilians fleeing the four-month old war in the African nation was attacked by about 350 armed men. A total of 58 people including 10 militants lost their life. The worse thing about the attack is that those killed in the UN base were all civilians. Though the Indian, Nepali and South Korean peacekeepers repulsed the attack, they could not prevent the killings and hundreds being wounded. The UN official in charge of the centre, however, praised the peacekeepers saying that it was their response that prevented a mayhem, which could have claimed 5,000 lives.
The scale of the attack and the number of casualties despite effective intervention by troops, points to the unrest gaining ground in the country which is yet to stand on its feet after separating from its northern neighbour Sudan in 2011.
Will South Sudan become another failed state like a few other African countries that have seen ethnic violence rip apart their social and economic fabric? It would be preposterous to jump to conclusions at this stage. But the violence — the result of a political feud between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar — is surely becoming a force to contend with. The United Nations and other multilateral bodies should quickly take stock of the situation in the impoverished nation and recommend remedial measures.
The conflict has seen Dinkas — the group to which Kiir belongs — take on Nuers, the ethnic denomination of Machar. What example is South Sudan, which achieved independence after a protracted struggle, setting for its citizens and other fledgling states? In the 21st century, when technology and development have reached closer to the zenith and social change is giving a short shrift to anthropological challenges, fights based on tribal loyalties present a strange problem. Such strife-torn societies find it hard to turn the corner and are sucked into the vortex of a protracted struggle for which they have to pay a very heavy price.
Just four months into the conflict has imposed a refugee crisis on the young country that had thought of building its future separate from Sudan. Thousands are fleeing in groups to Ethiopia.
Instead of taking small steps at economic development the government in Juba is embroiled in an ethnic conflict. Instead of counting on better economic indicators to alleviate poverty, Kiir’s administration is counting the number of dead. The fledgling nation needs the international community to bail it out of the crisis. It is also for the battling sides to realise that peace and security are vital for progress and no amount of ethnic loyalties can replace the gifts of development.