Where are the world’s journalists?

Certainly not in South Sudan.

The BBC’s finest are camped in Syria. Aleppo’s fall is chronicled minute by minute.

Other media do much the same. And rightly so. This is a critical battle which involves international actors, from Russia and Iran to the USA and Britain.

But – and there is a but – why so little attention on the plight of South Sudanese? Their conflict now involves the whole region and the suffering is intense.

We have to learn from the Rwandan genocide, which took place as Nelson Mandela was being inaugurated, and was all-but ignored by the world when it broke out.

Famine in 2017?

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The warnings are there.

As the excellent reports by the Famine Early Warning System make plain, famine is a looming threat in the coming year.

Here are some key points from their report:

  • Nearly 300,000 people have fled the country since July, the majority of which left Greater Equatoria to seek refuge in Uganda. By mid-October, Uganda has registered 226,415 refugees since July. An additional 40,000 people fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • As of mid-October, the number of South Sudanese refugees reached over 1 million. This is in addition to the 1.67 million people who remain internally displaced since the conflict broke out in late 2013.
  • Food security is expected to deteriorate to extreme levels from February to May in northern South Sudan. Of greatest concern are central and southern Unity and Northern Bahr el Ghazal. These areas have persistently been in Emergency (IPC Phase 4) and households have experienced severe food insecurity. If humanitarian assistance is limited as the lean season approaches, some households could exhaust their capacity to cope and be in Catastrophe (IPC Phase 5).

The report is being polite: Phase 5 is famine – people dying. That is the reality which South Sudanese face.

Tribal war

In the West it is considered impolite to talk of ethnic conflict in an African context. But there is no denying the reality. Men, women and children are being slaughtered for just one reason: they are from the ‘wrong’ tribal group.

This is from the latest Reuters report.

‘The fighting has mostly pitted Kiir’s Dinkas, the dominant ethnic group estimated to be roughly a third of the population, against Machar’s Nuer tribe.

But as fighting has spread to southern border states, known as Greater Equatoria, it has sucked in dozens of other ethnic groups that are also historically in conflict with the Dinka.

Adama Dieng, U.N. Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, warned the Security Council this month that the violence was providing “fertile ground” for a genocide.’

This conclusion is supported by the latest report from the UN Panel of Experts:

the war is increasingly characterized by the targeting of civilians on a tribal basis, given that it has evolved into what is widely perceived to be a zerosum confrontation between the Dinka and non-Dinka tribes in many areas.

UN sanctions?

We cannot ignore this any longer. The UN Security Council should now act.

The USA is attempting to win enough votes on the Security Council to bring in sanctions. This is what Reuters reports.

‘A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes to be adopted, but a senior U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said so far only seven members were in favor, while the remaining eight were planning to abstain or vote no.

While Russia and China are skeptical of whether imposing an arms embargo on South Sudan would achieve much in a country already awash with weapons, diplomats didn’t expect them to block the measure if it was put to a council vote.

“No one is talking about a veto … There is a question about whether (the United States) can get to the nine positive votes or not,” said the senior diplomat, adding that some countries had argued they wanted more time to consider the move.’

Let’s hope this it can be brought in. It will be a blunt instrument that may have limited impact. But it is better than nothing.

An arms embargo plus seizure of the funds South Sudanese politicians hold abroad might help. That – plus massive aid – could head off the famine that is now looming in 2017.