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Africa; a continent in perpetual crisis


A decade ago when I was in graduate school, a white classmate made an offhanded assertion that stunned me; seething with anger I asked him the premise of his rather caustic remark; frankly, his statement smacked of pure, unbridled racism. He depicted Africa as a hopeless continent mired in unrelenting poverty and despair. He pointed to the continent’s dismal economic performance and glut of civil unrests.

My classmate’s stinging indifference was nonetheless prescient; Africa’s economy may be growing at an envious 5 percent thanks largely to the soaring prices of commodities but the continent continues to grapple with its recurring nightmare – civil wars.Not a day passes without a deluge of devastating news from Africa.

The latest batch of bad news is the unraveling of South Sudan; sadly, it has joined the burgeoning number of trouble spots in Africa – the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, northern Nigeria and Mali. Thousands of civilians caught in the senseless violence have paid with their lives for the boneheaded decisions and selfishness of a few misguided politicians.And there is no end in sight to the misery and hardships; children, women and the elderly, sadly, continue to be killed, maimed and displaced from their homes.
South Sudan’s current dilemma is truly sad and tragic. After all, it was just two years ago that South Sudan pried itself from Sudan after a long and brutal war that reportedly claimed 2 million lives. The euphoria that greeted its newly gained status as a nation was not just confined to the dusty streets of Juba and other South Sudanese cities, the international community joined in the celebration, warmly embraced the new nation and wished it well. So,you can imagine the horror and disappointment that many felt at news of the outbreak of violence.

When two elephants fight, as an African adage goes, it is the grass that suffers; in South Sudan, the two elephants are political behemoths, President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Rick Machar. The trampled grass is the South Sudanese civilian population that is clearly bearing the brunt of the savagery. Kiir and Machar are two former rebels who fought against Sudan and are unfortunately mired in a dispute over leadership of the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Movement, the de facto governing party in the country.

It has been reported variously that the violence erupted after the arrest and imprisonment of eleven politicians aligned with Machar for plotting a coup d’etat against the Kiir’s government. A gunfight reportedly broke out between supporters of the President and Machar’s allies at army headquarters in Juba and quickly spread to other cities. And now there is a raging war.

The power play between Kiir and Machar is purely an ego trip: while both men have appealed to the atavistic loyalties of their tribes – Kiir is a Dinka, the largest ethnic group in the country and Machar is a Nuer, the second largest ethnic group – President Kiir has been in office for only two years, but has dubiously gained a reputation as power-hungry and corrupt – he has a family home in Kenya. Because of these perceived inadequacies, Kiir feared being sidelined at the party’s upcoming congress before the general elections in 2015. Machar, an engineer with a Ph.D in Philosophy and Strategic Planning, is just as power-hungry but does not seem to have a penchant for patience. In 1991, he broke away from the SPLM/SPLA only to rejoin the movement again.

The ongoing conflict in South Sudan is symbolic in a variety of ways, the most prominent of which is that it showcases the typical African jostling for political power where considerations for the welfare and protection of citizens are easily cast aside. Take a look at the conflicts in Africa and what emerges is the heart-wrenching fact that most, if not all of them were precipitated by greed, a few individuals gunning for political power and the accompanying wealth and influence at the expense of their constituents. Similar scenarios played out in Liberia, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC.

There is so much to be gained from wielding political power in Africa. Not only is there an entrenched patronage system that enables politicians to buy loyalty by doling out jobs, contracts and other goodies to family members, friends and political allies, opportunities exist to accumulate vast wealth instantly.
Would South Sudan come apart at the seams as some doomsayers are predicting? It is hard to tell, but I am optimistic. After a grueling war with its northern neighbors, South Sudanese will not throw away the chance to run their own affairs. It is a learning process that comes with its own set of ups and downs.The stakes are much greater, and the rest of the African community, and by extension the international community which invested a great deal in the creation of South Sudan would not allow its breakup.


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