Editor's Note: This op-ed, written by George Clooney, co-founder of Not On Our Watch, and John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, together head the Satellite Sentinel Project, originally appeared on the Daily Beast.
The world’s youngest country, a mere two and a half years old, now stands on the precipice of a new civil war which threatens to hurl South Sudan back into the violence from which it just emerged. For the South Sudanese who fought and suffered so dearly for their independence, and for those around the world who supported the new state, this development is tragic and disappointing, but it is hardly surprising or without vast precedent.
Most African countries that emerged from colonial rule or long periods of dictatorship have experienced rocky transitions marked by violence and coups. Sudan itself, from which South Sudan split in 2011, was born into a civil war and has been rocked by three major coups since independence in 1956. Similar stories have plagued the neighboring states of Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Chad, and Congo. South Sudan’s own fledgling state has been rendered vulnerable by a major rift in the country’s political leadership, where past unresolved grievances were left to fester.
That there were going to be problems and even eruptions in the early years of this new republic was widely predicted. What is much more unpredictable, however, is how South Sudan’s leaders react to this, the biggest crisis their new country has yet faced. How they respond will dictate South Sudan’s fate for years to come, and decide whether it has a future more like prosperous Botswana or bloody Somalia.
The worst-case scenario is rapidly unfolding: political and personal disputes are escalating into an all-out civil war in which certain ethnic groups are increasingly targeted by the others’ forces and the rebels take over the oilfields. There is a real opportunity here for South Sudanese leaders and the broader international community to respond in ways that could prevent the country from plunging into chaos and protracted conflict. Two and a half million South Sudanese died for the creation of this new state. With robust international action and statesmanship by South Sudan’s leaders, millions more deaths can be prevented.
Photo: George Clooney in South Sudan. (Tim Freccia/Enough Project)