This article is written by Jordan Bialek.
Jordan Bialek studies International Relations and Arabic at American University in Washington, DC. She is interested in identity based conflict in Africa and the Middle East.
What’s the deal with South Sudan?
In July of 2011, the world saw the birth of South Sudan under the leadership of President Salva Kiir. While any new nation is expected to have a rough transition into independence, South Sudan’s case has been especially troublesome. Rebel groups, under the leadership of former vice president Riek Machar, have recently seized territory, looted villages, and are waging a war against President Kiir and his national army. This current conflict stems from a clash that occurred on December 15, 2013 between troops in the presidential guard, and, more specifically, between members of the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups.
Although a brief ceasefire was called in the beginning of January of this year, fighting has been constant, displacing over a million South Sudanese and killing thousands of others causing scholars to ask: How can a nation founded on the very premise of national identity dissolve into ethnic conflict? The answer is simple; preexisting ethnic and political rivalries combined with extreme poverty, famine, and lack of infrastructure, has made it virtually impossible for Kiir’s government to develop and reinforce a national identity. Once independence was established in 2011, the common struggle against Sudan no longer existed to unite the ethnically diverse South Sudanese into one front. In addition, once an independent South Sudan was created, many political leaders defaulted to drawing support from their own ethnic or regional groups, effectively causing factions in the government and ensuring that they were not representing the people of South Sudan as a whole. A combination of these different factors has led to a fractured national unity in South Sudan.
Are the Lost Boys an Answer to South Sudan’s Problems?
The Lost Boys of South Sudan, a group of over 20,000 displaced and orphaned children from the Second Sudanese Civil War, may provide the answer to South Sudan’s problems. Many of these children, now men, migrated from Ethiopia to Kenya and eventually ended up in the United States where they were placed into foster care. Upon maturing, many of the Lost Boys attained citizenship and graduated from American universities in hopes of one day returning to South Sudan to make it a better place for their children. In 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed ending the Second Sudanese Civil War and paving the way for the Lost Boys to return to their country. Upon return, many of the Lost Boys founded non-governmental organizations, in Sudan and South Sudan in order to improve infrastructure, fill economic and health care voids, and pay the help they received forward.
Although many Lost Boys have seen their efforts in South Sudan thwarted in this recent outbreak of ethnic violence, in the long run they will play a pivotal role in making South Sudan a stable and successful nation. What group is more fitting for the job? The Lost Boys are, for the most part, educated, united despite varying ethnicities, and feel a strong sense of national pride towards South Sudan. Yes, South Sudan may be one of the poorest nations lacking infrastructure and strong institutional support for civic development; however, the Lost Boys may just be what South Sudan needs.
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