I am close to paralyzed about the situation in South Sudan. Readers who follow this column know that I spend four weeks a year in South Sudan and have done so for almost five years, going there about every 12 weeks.
The news comes fast and furiously, with people on both sides of the conflict writing emails during the day. We heard as early as Friday that the rebels were in control and were taking parts of the country. We also heard that forces loyal to the president had gone house to house in Juba and were killing people of the Nuer tribe. We have heard, as of Sunday morning, as many as 65,000 people were internally displaced.
Most of us in the United States can’t and won’t grasp this on a person-to-person level. We hear about ethnic conflicts in Congo or other parts of Africa and our eyes glaze over. It is both too foreign and too intense for us to be able to comprehend. “Compassion fatigue” sets in.
However, for those of us who travel to South Sudan, this recent crises is heartbreaking. Christian Solidarity International, a human rights group that I work with, began a project for women who had experienced war with the Arab North and had seen or heard (while hiding in the bush) someone killed in front of them.
This group with Post-traumatic stress disorder learned a form of yoga-like breathing through Dr. Richard Brown. It is called coherent breathing. All of the women had a reduction of their symptoms, from panic attacks to running out of their huts at night from scary dreams. We wondered if the women were telling us what we wanted to hear about their symptom reduction until fighting in Abyei, the oil-rich area, broke out. Three of the women who had relatives in the military stationed in Abyei had their symptoms reoccur.
Now, as we look at a whole country in turmoil as the tribes fight each other and a battle for control of South Sudan takes place, the human costs are staggering. Agot Deng, one of the 75 “lost girls” brought to the United States during the war (the U.S. brought in 3,500 “lost boys” but only 75 lost girls) can’t find her sister and her four children. They live in Bor, where American troops were shot at. Agot is about to begin pre-medical education at St. George’s University in Grenada and needs to focus and concentrate.
Agot is just one small example of the effects of civil unrest and war. Now there is an entire country, just recovering from the largest genocide since World War II, which is going to be re-traumatized.
Christmas is a huge holiday in South Sudan for all sides of this conflict. Because of power grabs and conflicts about oil and which side is most corrupt, there will be a South Sudan Christmas of anxiety and conflict. It saddens me to think about these beautiful people who are pawns once again of leaders who want control.
As Christmas approaches, we can only pray for our brothers and sisters in South Sudan and remember that behind this war and conflict are real people with real lives and families.
It is a tragedy beyond comprehension.
Hopefully the United States and the international community can exert pressure to bring all sides to the table to stop this needless war and conflict that traumatizes its citizens and only strengthens its enemies from the neighboring Sudan.