It seems almost unbelievable to me that sensible men who know one another and usually seem to respect one another, even with their ideological differences, can be so belligerent towards one another. Surely they have a common goal of peace for their peoples.
The northern leadership is now spruiking the ridiculous line that they are going to liberate the south from the SPLM, that is to say, to free the southerners from their own government.
I guess there are many in the north who may believe this political line but it is not the reality! What is more disappointing to me is that there are many in the South who seem to be cheering on and encouraging the provocative actions of their leaders.
I was surprised to find in Yambio last Tuesday that all the shops were shut. The police had enforced closure because there was a rally in support of the taking of Heglig by the South.
Yes, Heglig was part of the south in the 1950s but an international court did declare it part of the north a few years ago and that verdict seem to be accepted by the south – until very recently when the southern forces attacked and reclaimed it. So, for a change, moral right seems to reside more on the side of the north but strength on the ground lies with the south. Why has the south done this? Perhaps because the north has been bombing targets in the south and some retaliation is seen as justified.
The south is smaller but boasts many more citizens from it population genuinely willing to fight for their country. Here, well south in Yambio, there has been a call for young people to join militias and trucks have been seen heading off with soldiers/police to towards the north. The southern soldiers, as I write, are still in Heglig -maybe because the north lacks the strength on the ground to evict them. The north still has superior air power but on the ground it is probably a very different story. So what is going to happen?
Hopefully, reason will prevail on both sides and, with international pressure being applied, both sides will begin to edge out of the corner into which they are pressing. The media has already reported declarations of war. The conflict is very localized at present and likely to remain so -at the northern borders of South Sudan -for quite some time. In spite of all the aggressive rhetoric, it may actually be a ‘phony war’ where neither side wants to give in nor does either side want it to get too serious! After all, the leaders on both sides are very evidently prospering at present! But it is hardly phony for the soldiers who are being killed or for the families who are displaced from their homes.
Among our Solidarity with South Sudan members there is no panic. Three are in Abyei region, a traditional trouble spot. Their only problems are trying to cope with about 105 teachers in their English classes (three streams) rather than the planned 90 -and the heat not to mention high food prices, limited availability of goods, long periods without power and general uncertainty. But we are used to do that! I shall be joining them in Agok next week. I am not at all apprehensive about it.
Life continues almost as usual but not as usual! There is still diesel readily available in Yambio and I filled up our vehicle yesterday – but there is no petrol. My guess is the government has sequestered supplies for the military. In most matters, we simply don’t really know: we guess! What we need is a circuit breaker that promotes dialogue over physical confrontation and promotes unity and common purpose over division and self righteousness.
We need Christians and Muslims to unite as believers in the one true God, common sons and daughters of Abraham – not crusading enemies!
I continue to be optimistic – fundamentally because the leaders of both sides have too much to lose and the people want peace. Both countries require courageous leadership with a genuine vision for lasting peace. No-one really knows if that is what we have.