Southern Sudan Violence Begs the Question: Do We Care?

Civilians and soldiers can't seem to stem the violence.

The dusty village of Akobo resides on the Southern edge of Sudan, the war torn country that has seen more ethnic and political violence in recent years than perhaps any other country in Africa. Last August, reports surfaced describing a horrific massacre in Akobo where 185 people died in the attacks. Eye witnesses recount seeing bodies of women and children floating along in a river, gunshot wounds to children who were deliberate targets, and survivors crawling towards hospitals desperately seeking aid.

Last Wednesday over fifty civilians were killed in more raids between the Lou Nuer and the Murle people in Jonglei, one of the 10 new South Sudan states.  Humanitarian agencies estimate more than 60,000 people have fled the region as a result of the ongoing violence. It has been over a year since South Sudan gained its independence from the northern provinces, but little has changed. Disputes over oil and natural resource control rage on.

The slaughters in Akobo and Jonglei are just a few events out of dozens that demonstrate the level of turmoil afflicting the country. The same country that was subjected to the well documented genocides that began in 2003. The same country that thought a 22 year long civil war had ended when a peace deal was struck in 2005.

Location of Jonglei in South Sudan

The future of Sudan certainly appears grim and disheartening. With the combination of a recessionary world economy, and a volatile Middle East that has seen its own share of political unrest in recent months, it is enough for the World to once again turn a half-closed eye to Africa. Perhaps more important than the political party details of which tribe is killing which ethnic group, is the question of how much we, American citizens, care. Is it possible that the public has grown so accustomed to seeing news stories like those of the Akobo massacres that we are past the point of feeling?

Perhaps it is as New York Times columnist Bob Herbert suggests in his article generically entitled “Changing the World” – that our ambivalence and apathy has grown so strong that it prevents us from taking any action, feeling the task too great.

The ultimate solutions to Africa’s complex problems are impossible to see at this juncture, that is for certain. However, the first steps are always the same and easy to begin. It starts with a desire and action to gain two things. Understanding and knowledge. Something that is well within all our capabilities.

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