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Africa’s newest nation has been engulfed in violent conflict for a year now. It is sad that the freedom struggle that lasted so long has not translated into quality life for the majority of the citizens. The root causes of this must be addressed – and they have everything to do with failed leadership.

Superficial and politically massaged transitional justice processes for South Sudan cannot bring lasting peace and co-existence in the country that is tribally and ethnically fragmented. The recent fighting among civilians even in UN camps in Malakal, Juba and Kakuma Refugee shows clearly how angry the people are against one another. Any form of prescribed mechanism must be based on a clear understanding of the root causes of the mistrust amongst the communities of South Sudan. The country presents its own unique features and historical facts that cannot be ignored in a meaningful transitional justice process.

The indicators suggest that a copy and paste prescription of any transitional justice mechanism from the globe will not only fail but may even exacerbate the problem further. The people of South Sudan have been at war with Sudan since 1955 because of bad leadership and marginalization. It is not different today as corruption, lawlessness, tribalism and blatant disregard for institutional processes are now threatening the very existence of the new nation. It is a nation where many illegally acquired small arms are in the hands of civilians. About 70 percent of the people are illiterate with no capacity to hold government accountable.

Instead of focusing on nation building that should have been founded on reconciliation and unity to advance the aspirations of the people, the leaders forgot all the injustices, human rights violations that the people went through for over 50 years. They chose to build the nation on a false cohesion, which proved illusory. Apart from mere rhetoric, there has never been any genuine commitment to nation building and reconciliation even in the face of apparent disunity and misdirection of the country by the leaders.

Visionary leaders such as the late Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia expressed concern about the plight of the people of South Sudan when he noted that the government of South Sudan and the ruling party had lost its vision in 2009. The country was ranked for two consecutive years by the Fund for Peace as a failed state but these early warnings were politically resisted, with the leadership branding such indicators as originating from people who were meddling in the affairs of a sovereign state and those who did not wish the country well.

It is shocking that in the 21st century where everybody is busy fighting terrorism, Ebola, tsunamis, mudslides and earthquakes, South Sudan is busy killing her own people. Life is destitution for many people in South Sudan as there are no functioning hospitals, no schools, no food, no clean water and above all no security of the person. The people have nothing to lose in a country described as very rich in resources. The leaders of South Sudan should know that even in the Bible, Jesus made it clear that they are to “serve not to be served”.

Politicians have lied to the people of South Sudan about the war and continued to incite them along tribal lines without examining the extent of damage their actions and inactions cause to the people. For those of us who are Catholic, when we confess, we are required under our faith to confess “what we have done and what we have failed to do” for us to be forgiven by God. This confession is a sign of guilt and remorse. Our leaders must boldly come up and apologize to our people for all the wrongs they have committed through their actions and failures.

To achieve genuine reconciliation which safeguards peace, those tasked with the duty to mend the broken communities must go and camp in those communities for the period these issues are being resolved. It should not be a fly in and out process that keeps breaking in the middle. Unity of leaders must be exhibited and any process of reconciliation must begin with informally talking to the people. The leaders in government and the communities must go for a serious retreat, reflection and prayer led process by all faith leaders in the communities to bring a sense of admitting sin and remorse. They must go beyond their selfish interests and think about the people that the nation is greater than an individual.

Government must commit resources to purchase “only tents” and if anything the dialogues can be held under trees and leaders must go and be seen by the poor people who have not seen some of them since 1983. The leaders of South Sudan must regain trust of the people or else they must be ready to rule a fragmented nation.

Transitional justice is the only way to healing wounds, rebuilding trust, forgiveness, justice and satisfaction. It offers opportunity for the victims to speak to their tormentors, and opportunity for leaders to be held accountable and to genuinely apologize and ask for forgiveness from the people of South Sudan for introducing an unjustifiable war because of poor leadership and bad management of politics. It will all be meaningless unless transitional justice mechanisms are identifiable with the victims who must be the point of focus.

* Wani Mathias Jumi is an advocate and Secretary General of South Sudan Law Society



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