I may have mentioned this before (childhood trauma clearly runs deeply), but when my brother and I stupidly fought over an item and couldn’t agree, then my mum would just take it away from both of us (needless to say, this briefly resulted in more howling because we both felt treated very unfairly. And yet we lived). I think of this pretty much every time I look at South Sudan. There is nothing new in President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar falling out: go back and look at Machar and Garang falling out, and you will have a strong sense of déjà vu. And at this point, both Kiir and Machar are clearly both part of the problem. They have been for quite some time. And despite the ongoing insecurity, Kiir long resisted the suggestion of more peacekeeping troops (admittedly, with the recent incidences of UN peacekeeping troops casually standing by as women were getting raped, this might not be quite the solution either). This is a country with millions of people deeply exhausted from the endless war and civil war. A lot of the recent reporting mostly mentions the outbreak of fighting three years after the new country’s independence. But that of course glosses over the fact that there’s a pattern: lots of years of fighting, a few years of relative respite – and then more fighting, with and without the north’s interference. So South Sudan is pretty much back to SNAFU (you’ll have to look that up).And what South Sudan had shown us is that we don’t actually know how to build a country, with all the institutions necessary to run it, within a few years. You can write legal framework, but you can’t create the institutional capacities and human resources for a competent, civilian government when the main people running the countries had been warlords. So in the FT, Princeton Lyman and Kate Almquist Knopf actually raised option of pursuing my mum’s approach – take it away from both Kiir and Machar: ‘put South Sudan on “life support” by establishing an executive mandate for the UN and the AU to administer the country until institutions exist to manage politics nonviolently and break up the patronage networks underlying the conflict. This will realistically take 10-15 years.’ This completely undermines the still so new, so hard won sovereignty of South Sudan, and I have doubts that the UN and the AU – neither one of which is known for really managing anything well – would be the right institution. But would it b worth thinking about to break that endless cycle of Groundhog Day?
The writer is an independent risk analyst