AU Summit chance to salvage South Sudan

My country is the youngest. Its birth was a joyous time. Yet South Sudan has been brought up in a broken home, with our leaders constantly battling for control.

Our East African neighbours always ask us to keep the noise down but, in reality, constantly sneak in through the back door to pilfer what they can for themselves.

Every day of fighting takes us closer to the point of no return. The humanitarian crisis disproportionately affects the most vulnerable in society: Women, children and the elderly. Rape against women and girls is being used as a weapon. The violence is increasingly along ethnic lines.

On the Friday before Christmas, a cessation of hostilities agreement was signed in Addis Ababa in an effort to stop the fighting that has caused the multiple, overlapping crises of war, hunger and economic ruin.

Stash the spoils

But the violence continues — not just between forces aligned to the ‘big men’ who were at the table but also emerging rebel groups expecting reward for their ongoing domestic abuse.

Every conversation on South Sudan needs to involve the broader population, not just the ‘big men’. No backroom deal to share power among elites will deliver sustainable peace. That is why representatives of local civil society were at the talks.

We must be listened to when we say no more impunity for atrocities. When we say violations of the Addis deal must carry consequences. When the future of our country is being shaped.

South Sudan’s neighbours have provided safe havens for its leaders and warlords to stash the spoils of their abuse, as documented by the United Nations and others. The actions of a few are being allowed to tarnish entire financial systems in the region and perpetuate violence on South Sudanese.

This week — January 22-27 — the African Union meets for the annual Summit and, appropriately, under the theme Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation.

This is an opportunity to end the plunder of South Sudan and the laundering of that money. Political and diplomatic pressure must be ramped up on the warring parties by their regional counterparts, including the Presidents of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.

In September, the AU threatened sanctions on those who continue to deny South Sudanese peace and security. As the peace talks resume next month, the continental body should make it clear that it intends to carry out the threat.

Beyond the region

We must also have a discussion about the need for African leadership beyond the region to live up to its responsibilities. If the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) — the regional body tasked with delivering peace — again proves incapable or unwilling to deliver, let it make way for the AU, or even the UN, to broker a new era for the country.

Finally, those responsible for atrocities must be held accountable as justice is a prerequisite for peace.

South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and his former first vice-president, Dr Riek Machar, signed up to a hybrid international and national court only to evade and block the pursuit of justice at every turn.

Irreparably damaged

To his immense credit, AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki has continued to champion the establishment of the court. That would be worth celebrating at the Summit.

Every moment of delay accelerates the costs. The war has caused almost half the population to flee their homes in terror while the economy, one of the most resource-rich in Africa, lies in ruins.

Unless a solution is found, beginning at the AU Summit, there is risk of South Sudan becoming irreparably damaged.

Dr Miamingi is a co-convener of the South Sudan Human Rights Observatory

Can Kiir deliver on his promise of peace and stability in South Sudan?

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