Dr. Jane Kani Edward is a Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of African Immigration Research at the Department of African and African American Studies at Fordham University in New York City. She was born and raised in South Sudan prior to the split of Sudan into two countries in July 2011 and completed her undergraduate studies there.
This interview was conducted on April 25, 2017 as part of the “Crises in Context” educational awareness campaign at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.
How have your feelings about South Sudan evolved in the six years since independence?
I was optimistic that South Sudan would be one of the prosperous and stable countries in Africa following its independence in 2011. Given the availability of natural resources in the country, and in particular the financial revenue generated from the oil sector, I was hopeful that the government of the new nation will embark on development projects to improve the living conditions of South Sudanese people. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Barely two years into its existence, South Sudan’s political and military leaders differed on political issues and resorted to violence confrontation in 2013 to resolve their differences. The war continues today with devastating impacts on the civilian populations. Millions have been uprooted from their homes and forced to either live in UNMISS protection of civilian sites inside the country or take refuge in the neighboring countries of Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Central African Republic.
Tens of thousands of people lost their lives. Government forces regularly commit ethnically-based targeted killings, rape, gang rape, and other gender-based sexual abuses. Children were recruited in the army. Churches, schools, villages and people’s livelihoods are being destroyed. As the war continues, my optimism is diminished, and I am less hopeful of the situation in South Sudan.
Do you have any stories from your work that you would like to share that would help Western audience understand the scope of the crisis in South Sudan?
There are many stories one could share to offer a better understanding of the scope of the civil war in South Sudan. However, one of my urgent concerns is the future of the younger generation of South Sudan. While the war continues, generations of South Sudanese are growing up without education, health care services, and other basic necessities.
The impact of the civil war on women’s lives in particular is disheartening. Since the war broke out in December 2013, women and young girls in South Sudan have been subjected to unimaginable level of cruelty and gender-based and sexual abuses. A report by the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan, published in October 2014, and countless human Rights agencies’ reports, documented numerous extreme cases of human rights violations committed against women by men in uniform.
How do you imagine the civil war in South Sudan coming to an end?
The only solution to the current situation is a peaceful resolution of the conflict, whereby all South Sudanese armed opposition forces, political parties, and all concerned citizens negotiate a political settlement.
Those who are seeking to resolve the current crisis in the country must develop common strategies that transcend their ethnic differences and political rivalry, and find ways to work together for the common good and the future of South Sudan. The neighboring countries of South Sudan, the African Union, the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), and the Troika countries should change their approaches toward the crisis in South Sudan. There is a need to move beyond humanitarianism, and threats of targeted sanctions and travel ban against South Sudan’s leaders. Those who perpetuated the war and committed crimes against humanity should be held accountable.
How different is the struggle during the second Sudanese Civil War?
Given such diversity, ethnic rivalry and divisions exist, and disputes are bound to occur. Nonetheless, despite such diversity, the people of South Sudan were able to forge relative unity to confront the external enemy – the central government of Sudan.
At that time, for many South Sudanese, the war was a struggle against political, economic, and cultural marginalization and oppression. Thus the feeling of a common enemy might had united the different ethnic groups. However, this sense of unity, did not address the underlying causes of rivalry and divisions that existed between the different ethnic groups.
After the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, and the subsequent independence of South Sudan, the previously suppressed ethnic rivalry and divisions re-emerged with damaging consequences. The current civil war, though it started as a political conflict, quickly transformed into ethnically-based war, whereby civilians are brutally killed and displaced on the basis of their ethnicity. Thus, the interethnic conflicts in South Sudan today are far worse than the period of the second civil war.
From your work in Sudan and South Sudan, what aspects of the humanitarian situation would you like to shed light on that has not gained the media’s attention?
Little attention is given to civilians who are currently trapped in their remote villages and towns across South Sudan with no access to food, health care services, shelter, etc. Civilians have already lost their lives due to severe hunger in cities like Torit and Kapoeta in Eastern Equatoria, and in other parts of Northern Bahr El-Ghazal.
However, these stories are not reaching a wide audience. Additionally, it appears that the work of different humanitarian agencies that are currently operating in South Sudan is not well coordinated. During the second civil war, for instance, all the United Nations agencies coordinated their work under the umbrella of Operation Lifeline Sudan to provide humanitarian aid to all those affected by the war.
Therefore, it is crucial to coordinate all the work of the aid agencies, and humanitarian assistance should be extended to all those in need, particularly the elderly, the sick, and children, regardless of whether they reside in UNMISS protection of civilian sites or outside. Indeed, I was able to survive in Juba in the 1990s during the Second civil war, because of the humanitarian assistance that was extended to all people in South Sudan regardless of their status.
What gives you hope that the conflict will come to an end?
Simply because the majority of South Sudanese want peace and stability, not war and destruction. Therefore, the solution to the problems of South Sudan will come through an inclusive and genuine negotiated peace settlement. And I do believe the people of South Sudan are capable of pulling this off.