Hilde Johnson was in South Sudan, serving as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission from July 2011 to July 2014. She witnessed the country’s move to independence after it’s continued struggles with Sudan, and she witnessed its descent into chaos and terrible bloodshed.
Due to Johnson’s role at the time, she is able to provide a unique and high level view of the developing chaos, and discuss the points where the people supposed to be controlling the situation let their people down.
As one senior SPLM member put it: ‘When leopards are assigned the responsibilities of shepherds, the flock stands no chance.’
Johnson follows the time line of the split from Sudan, the joyous vote for independence, through the difficult relationship between Sudan and South Sudan to the disastrous choice to close the oil pipeline between the two countries. She talks of the widespread corruption and theft by those with responsibility in the early government and finance sectors. She speaks of the difficulties between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar – the President and Vice President – and how this instability contributed to the lack of control that led to the wild outbreaks of violence. She also talks of the terrible impact on the civilians of South Sudan and the fact that this was now South Sudanese perpetrating violence upon one another for the first time and her fear that this could have turned into another Rwanda.
This is a striking and important book. I remember watching bits and pieces of this crisis unfold from my lounge room in Australia. Told from up close it is incredibly awful. Johnson’s account is scholarly and factual, but I couldn’t help but wonder how scared she and those around her must have been in some of those moments. Her sympathy is obviously with those who were not protected by the UN who suffered terribly. She does not discuss any fears she may have had for her personal safety.
South Sudan is still in a state of terrible disarray with Kiir’s ability to lead and govern still being questioned, and with basic necessities like food, clean water and health care being hard to come by. After reading this book, this is not a surprise, although it is a terrible tragedy.
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4 out of 5 corrupt government officials.