As the West is preoccupied with the crisis in Ukraine, South Sudan is getting scant attention. This newest nation in the world has been descending into chaos for the past several months, but nobody, especially those who can help to make a difference, have been noticing. Finally, an acknowledgment of the seriousness of the crisis in the country has come from the US. The Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Thursday that ethnic violence in the country is spiraling towards an all-out genocide, a statement which Washington Post said was the strongest American warning yet that the African nation which the United States helped to establish three years ago is at risk of collapse. He said international peacekeepers with a UN mandate must get on the ground fast to separate the warring factions, and warned of ‘widespread famine’ among the roughly one million people displaced by fighting.
South Sudan has turned into a battleground between the forces of President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar. Kiir is an ethnic Dinka, and Machar is a Nuer. According to experts, the two men are fanning ethnic flames to settle personal scores. A January ceasefire agreement never took hold. Last month, civilians were massacred in mosques and targeted in hospitals. Efforts for peace have failed, agreements have been broken, thousands of people have died and the little progress the country made since its formation has been wiped out. The pace and severity of attacks has escalated in recent weeks, raising the spectre of a genocidal rampage like the one in nearby Rwanda two decades ago.
Since Kerry has realized the seriousness of the problem, it’s time for him to act and rescue South Sudan from collapse. The US official made his statement in the Ethiopian capital, where leaders of regional powers are helping renew peace talks between the two factions. Kerry said Washington and East African nations are committed to deploying a predominantly African military force in South Sudan. “We are actively considering sanctions against those who commit human rights violations and obstruct humanitarian assistance,” he said. But words are not enough. Time is running out and US needs to act more aggressively and urgently. Unfortunately, the sense of urgency is not felt in Kerry’s words, though African leaders are extremely worried.
The United States has a duty to help South Sudanese because it was instrumental in getting the new government running, and it has pumped tens of millions into diplomatic and economic projects in the country. South Sudan voted in 2011 for independence from Sudan, after decades of civil war and a fragile peace brokered partly by Washington.
It’s unfortunate that the world is looking away as a country is collapsing.