EDITORIAL: South Sudan: High Time President Kiir, Machar gave peace a chance
The video and photo clips of Pope Francis, the 82 year-old 266th pope of the Catholic faith struggling, kneeling and kissing the feet of rival South Sudan leaders on Thursday are graphic and emotional. It is an extreme act of humbleness and burden for peace.
By now, over 400, 000 people have lost their lives in the South Sudan Civil War since 2013 from South Sudan’s population of 12 million people. Both the President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar with their power monger allies are still while a huge number of South Sudan masses have gone to blazes. This shows that it is the common people that bears the brunt of this lingering Civil War and not the protagonists.
Pope Francis message to the leaders of the country is clear and direct. And the chief priest has gone ahead to demonstrate this by his heart-rendering act of kissing the leaders’ feet.
What more do they want to make peace in South Sudan? It is high time these protagonists made peace and give peace a chance in the interest of the common people.
Salva Kiir and Riek Machar should allow the message from Pope Francis to sink into their hearts. They must let this message sink.
Thursday, in an unprecedented act of humbleness to encourage them to strengthen the African country’s faltering peace process.
At the closed two-day retreat in the Vatican for the African leaders, the pope asked South Sudan’s president and opposition leader to proceed with the peace agreement despite growing difficulties.
Then he got down on his knees and kissed the leaders’ feet one by one.
The pope usually holds a ritual washing of the feet with prisoners on Holy Thursday, but has never performed such a show of deference to political leaders.
‘I express my heartfelt hope that hostilities will finally cease, that the armistice will be respected, that political and ethnic divisions will be surmounted, and that there will be a lasting peace for the common good of all those citizens who dream of beginning to build the nation,’ the pope said of South Sudan in his closing statement.
The spiritual retreat brought together President Salva Kiir and opposition head Riek Machar. Also present were Kiir’s three vice presidents. The pope kissed the feet of all of them.
South Sudanese Vice President Rebecca Nyandeng Garang said Francis’ actions moved her profoundly.
At the closed two-day retreat in the Vatican for the African leaders, the pope asked South Sudan’s president and opposition leader to proceed with the peace agreement
‘I had never seen anything like that. Tears were flowing from my eyes,’ she said.
South Sudan, gained independence from Sudan in 2011 and in 2013, the country plunged into a bloody civil war, which left at least 400,000 people dead.
The two-day Vatican meeting was held a month before the end of the shaky peace deal’s pre-transition period. On May 12th, opposition leader Machar is expected to return to South Sudan and once again serve as Kiir’s deputy.
Pope Francis poses with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit (C-L), South Sudan opposition leader Riek Machar (C-R) and a delegation of South Sudan prelates at the Pope’s Santa Marta residence in the Vatican
However, the agreement, which was signed in September in Khartoum, the capital of neighboring Sudan, has been met with delays, missed deadlines and continued fighting with key aspects still not implemented.
A military coup in Sudan on Thursday fueled worries in South Sudan that the toppling of longtime President Omar al-Bashir could derail the already fragile peace deal.
‘Sudan has helped us with the peace deal. We hope that the new system will also focus on the agreement, ensuring that it will be implemented,’ said opposition leader Machar, who attended an evening prayer vigil for peace, held at Rome’s church of Santa Maria in Trastevere.
The South Sudanese Civil War is an ongoing conflict in South Sudan between forces of the government and opposition forces. Wikipedia writes that in December 2013, President Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar and ten others of attempting a coup d’état. Machar denied trying to start a coup and fled to lead the SPLM – in opposition (SPLM-IO). Fighting broke out between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and SPLM-IO, igniting the civil war. Ugandan troops were deployed to fight alongside the South Sudanese government. The United Nations has peacekeepers in the country as part of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). In January 2014 the first ceasefire agreement was reached. Fighting continued and would be followed by several more ceasefire agreements. Negotiations were mediated by “IGAD +” (which includes the eight regional nations called the Intergovernmental Authority on Development as well as the African Union, United Nations, China, the EU, USA, UK and Norway). A peace agreement known as the “Compromise Peace Agreement” was signed in August 2015. Machar returned to Juba in 2016 and was appointed vice president. Following a second breakout of fighting within Juba, the SPLM-IO fled to the surrounding and previously peaceful Equatoria region. Machar was replaced by Kiir as First Vice President by Taban Deng Gai, splitting the opposition, and rebel in-fighting has become of major part of the conflict. Rivalry among Dinka factions led by the President and Paul Malong Awan have also led to fighting. In August 2018, another power sharing agreement came into effect.
About 400,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the war, including notable atrocities such as the 2014 Bentiu massacre. Although both men have supporters from across South Sudan’s ethnic divides, subsequent fighting has had ethnic undertones. Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group has been accused of attacking other ethnic groups and Machar’s Nuer ethnic group has been accused of attacking the Dinka. More than 4 million people have been displaced, with about 1.8 million of those internally displaced, and about 2.5 million having fled to neighboring countries, especially Uganda and Sudan. Fighting in the agricultural heart in the south of the country has soared the number of people facing starvation to 6 million with famine breaking out in some areas. The country’s economy has also been devastated. According to the IMF, real income has halved since 2013 and inflation is more than 300% per annum.