South Sudanese Atlantans Watch As Conflict Divides Homeland


South Sudanese Atlantans Watch As Conflict Divides Homeland

KENNESAW, Ga. (Jul 12, 2016) — Excerpt of Article: 

Some metro Atlanta residents are watching the conflict in South Sudan closely and say they are worried for their families.

This weekend, South Sudan marked its fifth independence day, but it was overshadowed by fighting that may mark the start of a second civil war.

At least 150 people have died and thousands are displaced in South Sudan after fighting broke out in the capital of Juba last week.

South-Sudanese In Atlanta

Zeinab Said Hessen left her hometown of Wau, Sudan in 1994 for Egypt before finally settling in Clarkston, Georgia as a refugee in 1999 with her seven children.

Since then, 53-year-old Hessen became a U.S. citizen and now runs a clothing business called Wau Fashion in Clarkston.

But the rest of her family is still in South Sudan. For the past three weeks, she hasn't been able to get in touch with them and fears for their safety.

"The [militias] come to your house; they rape the women; kill the children; molest the young girls,” Hessen said. "They need to leave the innocent people alone. Please. We need peace.” ...

Political Conflict

Hessen identifies as Christian, but has a Muslim name and covers her hair. She said many of her family members are of both faiths and said people try to label the fighting as a religious or ethnic conflict, but in her opinion, it's just political.

The two leaders at war, President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Vice President Riek Machar, are from the Dinka and Nuer tribes respectively. The Dinkas hold the most power in South Sudan and are just one of more than 60 tribes in the country.

The two men are from different tribes and first fought each other in the country's first civil war that broke out in 2013 and ended in August 2015.

Hessen, who is from the Ndogo tribe, said you don’t see this same division among tribal lines in the United States.

She said South Sudanese community members in Atlanta, regardless of tribe, are planning a trip to Washington, D.C. on July 29 to attend a protest of the conflict.

“It doesn’t make sense to me. I was born in the war and I was raised in the war,” Hessen said. “And I don’t want my kids to see what I went through. We just got independence five years ago.”

Warring Leaders

Kennesaw State University professor Nurudeen Akinyemi said South Sudan's president and vice president are trying to divide the country among ethnic lines.

“Even with the peace deal that was supposed to result in a national unity government, the Vice President still has his own standing army that's not part of the national army,” said Akinyemi, who also leads the school’s Center for African and African Diaspora Studies. “So how do you have a country and there's never been a disarmament of rebel groups? They can always go back to civil war.” ...

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