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Opinions of Thursday, 9 January 2014

Columnist: Bokor, Michael J. K.

There is no peace in South Sudan for Ghanaian troops to keep!!

By Dr. Michael J.K. Bokor

Monday, Tuesday 7, 2014

Folks, the headline is loud and clear: “Ghana to send peacekeepers to South Sudan”.

Miss Hannah Tetteh, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, has said that Ghana will be contributing troops for peacekeeping operations in South Sudan. We are not yet given specifics.
Miss Tetteh, who spoke at a public forum in Accra dubbed “Advancing the better Ghana Agenda: Prospects for 2014” as part of activities marking the first anniversary of President John Dramani Mahama’s government, said Ghana was committed to the maintenance of peace in Africa.
Not a good message to celebrate, at least, for now. And I will bluntly say so: that there is no justification to rush Ghanaian troops into the situation unfolding in South Sudan.
There is no peace in that country to keep. It is a war being fought for political power, which has already been qualified as nearing a civil war, pitting the South Sudanese President (Salva Kiir) and his Dinka people against his former Vice (Riek Machar) and his Nuer tribe.
When there is civil war anywhere, outside forces risk becoming embroiled in it without the possibility of solving any problem.
We recognize the importance of peace on the African continent but want to caution against any rash move to insert Ghana into needless trouble spots on the continent.
Considering the fact that heavy fighting is still going on in the country while the negotiation in Ethiopia to patch up differences have just begun without any clear indication of a compromise being reached, can we not say that there is no peace to keep in that country? Why send any outside force there all too soon to be caught up in the catastrophe?
Of course, a soldier’s duty goes beyond peacekeeping. Soldiering involves fighting as well—and the troops know it for a fact that their job is a matter of life-or-death, which they live with. But if the situation doesn’t call for any life-threatening sacrifice, no one should tempt Fate.
A glaring fact is that all too soon, South Sudan has been plunged into this kind of mess—just like all other hotbeds in Africa or anywhere in the world that Ghana has contributed troops and police personnel to “keep peace” there.
The country deserves better than what has unfolded so far. Disappointing, indeed!
The situation there doesn’t portend peace being made soon. It is a free-for-all situation in which the various forces pitted against each other are not sure of where they want to move their own country.
South Sudan is rich in petroleum resources and can stand on its own feet if its political administration so desires. But what has erupted, barely 2 years after gaining independence from Sudan is deplorable.
Sudanese President Al-Bashir has just concluded talks in Juba with Mr. Kiir—talks centring around protection of petroleum installations and oil pipelines (through joint patrols by Sudanese and South Sudanese forces). No talk of Sudan’s intervention to ensure peace in its neighbor. Not surprising because it was only recently that hostilities between both seemed to have lulled.
Other countries with huge stakes in South Sudan (the United States, China, the UK) have evacuated their citizens from there and not indicated any direct involvement in the fracas going on. All of a sudden, Ghana has emerged to contribute troops for peace-keeping there!!
Obviously, there are vested interests in South Sudan. What is Ghana’s interest there, anyway? What is Ghana interested in securing in South Sudan?
Of course, one may want to say that Ghana has always played an important role in peacekeeping all over the world and is well known for it. The Ghanaian military establishment also rakes in some benefits. Let’s not forget that the UN pays countries that contribute troops to such missions; but beyond all those considerations rises the overarching question: Is it Ghana’s duty to be in South Sudan at this time? I don’t think so.
We note that Ghana has actively participated in military operations in recent times , including ECOMOG in Liberia and others in Rwanda, Somalia, Mali, etc.
I am not suggesting that Ghana should sit down unconcerned for those countries to “burn” but we must at the same time be cautious how we rush headlong into conflict zones.
The reality of the South Sudanese situation is that Salva Kirr and his opponents don’t seem to be committed to building that young country. They appear to be more interested in realizing their own political ambitions than working together to develop the country and bring decency to the homes and lives of millions of their compatriots suffering from excruciating poverty.
Sadly, these were people who had fought a war of liberation for decades, putting their own lives and those of many other compatriots on the line.
Colonel John Garang did so but couldn’t survive to lead the country at independence. Those who took over from him seemed to have understood the relevance of the liberation struggle but are at each other’s throat over the spoils of that long-drawn-out struggle for freedom.
President Kiir has been accused of making moves to stifle opposition and consolidate his hold on power, which is likely to turn him into a despot.
The stiff opposition facing him is born out of that fear and is borne out by the fact that since he dismissed his entire Cabinet in July last year and did away with Riek Machar, his closest nemesis, nothing has been done to establish the framework for democracy.
The immediate cause of the December 15 disturbances in Juba can be traced to the apprehensions that he was gradually and steadily establishing himself as a despot and needed to be halted in his stride before he could accomplish his objective.
Indeed, the skirmishes going on all over the country, especially in the Jonglei and Unity States indicate that the rebel forces under Mr. Machar are formidable. They have re-taken Bor in Jonglei State from the government forces and consolidated their hold on other areas.
Although efforts at negotiation are ongoing, the reality on the ground indicates that heavy fighting won’t stop soon. The government forces may have the full backing of the Establishment but they cannot over-run the rebel forces (made up of thousands of disaffected professional soldiers defecting from the military and joining disgruntled militiamen and other pockets of rebel factions all over the country).
From all indications, the negotiations in Ethiopia won’t lead to any peace soon. And “peace” what will the troops from other countries be going to Sudan to maintain?
A lesson worth teaching those whose mishandling of affairs sparks off conflicts is not far off. It takes common sense to know that no country can develop in the face of war and needless destruction of limb and property.
Had Ghanaians also chosen the path of war, could the country have been stable enough to breed troops for peacekeeping operations anywhere? It’s high time power-hungry elements in African countries recognized the fact that they would not be allowed to create problems only for us to be pushed around to solve for them.
It takes level-headedness to rule a country. Those in charge of affairs need to put the national interest far above their parochial quests and allow decency to control their mindset and attitudes.
Those in South Sudan are not prepared to rule themselves and should be dealt a severe blow. Salva Kiir and Riek Machar should be sanctioned and made to pay for any damage to country and people. It’s high time African politicians learnt how to conduct affairs and not plunge their countries into the catastrophe of the sort that is testing the resolve of Ghana and other countries being urged to contribute troops for peacekeeping duties in South Sudan.
All-in-all, though, our government has to tread cautiously so it doesn’t overdo things.
I shall return…
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