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South Sudan President Salva Kiir. (Charles Atiki Lomodong, AFP)
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Peter Biar Ajak
Six years ago, South Sudan gained independence in a joyous occasion that marked a dramatic end to the intergeneration struggle of its people.
After fighting two wars against Sudan, in which millions were killed, the people of South Sudan were hopeful that a new era of peace and prosperity had dawned.
Two years later, one night in December, the high hopes of independence were shattered when a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, his former deputy, plunged the country into a civil war.
Since then, the country and its hopes have become unrecognisable.
The power struggle between South Sudan’s leaders has brought the country to a state of near total anarchy.
Nearly 2 million people, mostly women and children, have sought refuge in other countries. Hundreds of thousands of people do not have anything to eat.
If the war continues at its current intensity, half of the population will have starved to death or fled the country by the end of this year.
Added to this, 72% of women living in UN displacement camps in Juba in Jubek State have reported being raped or sexually assaulted during the war.
The economy has been destroyed. Inflation is the highest in the world.
Fertile land has been left fallow because the fear of a violent death has kept farmers from tilling their soil.
Food is so scarce and food prices are so high that onions are cut into quarters for sale in markets in the city of Yei.
These statistics should shock any leader into action.
Not in South Sudan, it seems, where political leaders have squandered every opportunity to end the war and save the lives of their people.
Beyond the point of no return
There is no doubt that South Sudan is experiencing a man-made disaster of epic proportions.
The political leaders of South Sudan from the warring factions are the primary constraint to peace.
They have consistently failed to discharge the burden of leadership in the service of their people.
For the past four years, South Sudanese citizens, as well as regional and international leaders have been calling on the leaders of South Sudan to soften their hearts and prioritise the lives of their people.
Tragically, these calls have fallen on deaf ears.
At this critical juncture in our history, before South Sudan goes beyond the point of no return and into the abyss, the country is in desperate need of leadership that will salvage it from a bitter power struggle and respond to the aspirations of the common South Sudanese for peace, stability and prosperity.
There is a desperate yearning for a leadership that will bridge the deep historical cleavages between its peoples and embark on the project of nation-building.
We urgently need a leadership that will enter into and uphold a social contract with the people rather than rule over them.
This is the strong and substantive message that a group of 13 delegates from the South Sudan Youth Leaders’ Forum, which I am a part of, will be taking to the region’s leaders, South Sudanese politicians and the people of South Sudan.
It is for this reason that we are repeating the same message to the leadership and policy fraternity of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia to share our views on what is needed to stop the war, and place the nation on a path towards peace and stability.
These young leaders I am travelling with are drawn from a diverse range of ethnic and political backgrounds.
Among us are academics, church leaders, policy experts, government officials and civil society leaders at the forefront of peace-building, reconciliation, and nation-building efforts in South Sudan.
The long and drawn-out peace process in South Sudan has left the region and the entire world feeling bereft and tired.
The peace process is desperately in need of new energy and ideas if it is to achieve its purpose.
This sojourn by the South Sudan Youth Leaders’ Forum aims to catalyse the type of responsible leadership that has eluded South Sudan for so many years.
We can only succeed in this effort if other South Sudanese and regional leaders are willing to talk with, support and join us in our call.
Undeniably, the situation in South Sudan has never before been more urgent.
We may be forced to watch the sun set on a generation that has achieved independence for our people, but tragically mismanaged it for their own narrow interests. This is the time to correct that dark history.
It is time for the sun to rise on a new generation of South Sudanese, who can focus on leading – not ruling.
The future of South Sudan is in the hands of its youth.
We will not squander it, but humbly seize this opportunity with all the energy we have to make it right.
This is our only chance.
Ajak is a co-founder and coordinator of the South Sudan Young Leaders’ Forum
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