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Lessons from Biafra and South Sudan

By Donasius Pathera - posted Monday, 25 January 2016

Issues of secession in Africa are not new. They have been there for long. There are so many factors that have led countries to secede from the 'mother country'. However, results have shown that most countries who have seceded have failed to find peace on their own. In most cases citizens have ended up fighting against each other struggling for power.

Statistics have shown that countries that have seceded after the defeat of 'colonization' have more problems than before. People of eastern Nigeria tried to fight for their independence from Nigeria under the banner 'Biafra' but it never worked, they got defeated.

It is reported that beforethe civil war, Biafra differed from most developing nations because it had a good supply of food and water, as well as sound public health policies with many physicians, nurses, hospitals, and clinics. Following the slaughter of 40,000 Ibos in 1966, about two million Ibos and other minority groups left their positions throughout Nigeria and fled to Biafra. Additional refugees continue to pour into Biafra to avoid capture by the Nigerian troops who have gained a reputation for slaughtering whole villages.


While Biafra originally encompassed 29,000 square miles, present boundaries now enclose only about one-fourth of that area. This remaining territory is totally landlocked and does not contain the former Biafra's most fertile land. The Mission asserts that somewhere between eight and nine million Biafrans live in this area, although many previous estimates have been as low as four million.

South Sudanese had a successful bid for secession from Northern Sudan. After decades of brutal civil war that left two and a half million dead, the devastated and vastly underdeveloped southern part of Sudan secured independence in 2011. The world's youngest nation came into existence amid great challenges.

Secession from Sudan marked a major milestone and a fresh opportunity for South Sudanese. But massive state-corroding corruption, political instability within the ruling party, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), and persistent tensions with Sudan over the sharing of oil revenues left South Sudan deeply vulnerable to renewed conflict.

On December 15 in 2013, tensions between factions loyal to President SalvaKiir, of the Dinka ethnic group, and those aligned with his former Vice President, RiekMachar, of theNuer ethnic group, exploded into fighting on the streets of Juba the capital city. South Sudan's dramatic return to war has torn communities apart and left thousands dead. As of September 2014, 1.8 million people were still too afraid to return to their homes.

Since independence, South Sudan has been handicapped by the competing interests of powerful political actors and the factions and interests they represent. In early July 2013, along with three other friends of South Sudan, Enough's Founding Director wrote to South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, warning "after almost nine years of self-rule, the government is still failing to meet the basic needs of its people.

Despite claims that vast sums of money have been expended on investment in infrastructure, there is very little to show in the way of roads, medical services, and education for millions of South Sudanese who greeted the prospect of independence with eagerness and hope."


Machar and other leading political figures from a variety ethnic group began to openly challenge Kiir's leadership of the ruling party. Pointing to disunity within the ruling SPLM party, Kiir dismissed Vice President Machar and an entire cabinet of ministers in July 2013. As tensions rose within the SPLM, Kiir announced that he had dissolved all internal party structures in November 2013.

Originally contained to fighting between Nuer and Dinka elements of the elite Presidential Guard, the violence quickly spread to residential areas of Juba. Multiple sources confirm door-to-door searches for ethnic Nuer, in one dramatic incident documented by Human Rights Watchand Amnesty Internationalat least 200-300 Nuer men were shot by security forces at a police station in Juba. Thousands of Nuer civilians sought refuge in peacekeepers' bases. Nine months later, many still remain there.

Since then, violence has spread across the Greater Upper Nile region, including Unity, Jonglei, and Upper Nile states. Following mass defections, the national army of South Sudan, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) has also split. To many, this is not a surprise, because the national army consisted of a collection of former rebel groups who remained loyal to their leaders, rather than to the army's command and control. Notwithstanding the growing humanitarian catastrophe, thousands of fighters and civilians have been killed, and terrible massacres have been perpetrated on both sides.

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About the Author

Donasius Pathera is a Malawian young writer and he contributes to Malawi’s premier newspaper, The Daily Times. He works for the Malawi Revenue Authority in the Corporate Affairs Division.

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