The Tragedy of South Sudan & Why We Should Care

south sudan

The most violent element in society is ignorance.” Emma Goldman

By Kelly Loughery

Images of mutilated bodies, slaughtered livestock, desecrated villages and grieving mothers[1] have haunted me since I first read about the conflict in South Sudan. While I’ve never been to South Sudan, nor am I an expert on the conflict that has plagued that region for over fifty years, in my heart I know these images should not be rationalized, trivialized or ignored. Yet they are – everyday – by you and me both as we drift through our days, oblivious to the atrocities taking place 7,000 miles away in that war-torn nation.

South Sudan became a country in its own right in 2011 by referendum, becoming the first new African country since Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Yet the euphoria from the secession quickly dissipated as the country fell into civil war when President Salva Kiir Mayardit (a member of the Dinka tribe) accused his former deputy (a Nuer tribesman) of an attempted coup. Violence between the warring tribes is escalating, leaving thousands dead and nearly 1.5 million displaced. Civilian attacks, sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers are well-documented and apparently increasing. Yet the conflict has failed to garner mainstream media attention; overshadowed by civil war in Syria, the rise (and sheer brutality) of ISIS and the Ebola outbreak.  So the war continues, away from the spotlight, as the images of violence and death only replicate and intensify.

Consider that a child born in South Sudan, assuming he survives childbirth (which with an infant mortality rate of 105[2] is far from certain), has a life expectancy of 55.[3] Likewise, only 27% of the population aged 15 years and above is literate, with the rate of male literacy nearly tripling the rate of female literacy.[4] Compare that with the United States where the infant mortality rate is 6[5], life expectancy is 79[6], adult literacy is approximately 99%[7] and over 41%[8] of 18 to 24 year olds attend university.  Success in South Sudan is survival; hope and ambition are therefore difficult – if not impossible – sentiments to cultivate.

Many Americans believe our collective ability to rationalize, trivialize and outright ignore conflict in Africa somehow boils down to race. Yet race is merely one of many ways we seek to distinguish ourselves from them to avoid facing the harsh reality of our shared humanity.  We discriminate, we erect boundaries, adopt an “us” vs. “them” mentality to justify the immense disparity in opportunity that exists merely because of the geography of where we are born. The South Sudanese ARE different from us: not less human, simply less privileged, significantly less privileged. And we can’t justify the luxury in our lives without somehow making them less deserving than us.

Many also will argue that Africa has done little to save itself or protect its own people. Perhaps this is true, yet also represents another veiled attempt to erect illusory boundaries between us and them. Like our parents before us, we perpetuate a cycle of ignorance, indifference and occasional justification. We sit with our lattes and read about horrific, unthinkable violence in Africa every Sunday. Yet we quickly and quietly dismiss the latest atrocity as a “third world problem”, resign to our helplessness, and continue our day.

South Sudan’s problems are not “African”; civil strife is not a new phenomenon, nor is it unique to Africa or this region. Likewise, we know the human toll civil war exacts on its people, the death, destruction and grief war leaves in its wake.

Until we change our perception of Africa, embrace the humanity of the South Sudanese and make an uncompromising promise to do something for these long suffering people we are part of the problem. While we may not be able to directly bring peace to South Sudan, nor ease a grieving mother’s pain, or create economic prosperity for the region, we can change our attitudes. We can choose to care, choose to pray and choose to do something good – however small – for a people….a continent…. that desperately needs our attention.

kellyKelly Loughery is an attorney for a Fortune 500 company and resides in Edgewater, Maryland with her twin boys and Italian greyhound.

There are a host of charitable organizations operating in South Sudan including Save the Children www.savethechildren.com and the International Rescue Committee www.rescue.org – consider donating today.

[1] Fabio Bucciarelli’s incredibly powerful photographs of South Sudan are available on his website: http://www.fabiobucciarelli.com/.
[2] Source, World Bank – infant mortality rate is the number of infants dying before reaching one year of age, per 1,000 live births in a given year. See http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/southsudan/overview
[3] Ibid.
[4] World Bank, http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/southsudan/overview
[5] Source, World Bank 2013. Data available at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/southsudan/overview
[6] Source, World Bank 2012. Data available at: http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states.
[7] Source, CIA World Fact Book available at: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html.
[8] National Center for Education Statistics, 2012

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