By Ayana Jones
PHILADELPHIA — As a new wave of violence in South Sudan has caused more than four million people to be displaced from their homes, South Sudanese Bishop Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala is traveling through the U.S. to bring attention to his country’s crisis.
Kussala visited Philadelphia this week, and had plans to meet with policymakers here and in Washington, D.C.
“The reason why I am here is to encourage the government of the United States to take its role of helping and assisting this young democracy to build a peaceful, prosperous country,” said Kussala, who heads the Tombura-Yambio Catholic diocese in South Sudan.
Kussala said the U.S. government has pulled back diplomatically even though it is still providing humanitarian aid to the African country.
“The U.S. needs to have a better relationship with the (South Sudan) government not just as a watchdog, but to work with them hand-in-hand to make sure that they do the right thing,” he said.
He says the U.S. government can use its influence to encourage South Sudan’s neighboring countries to help bring stability to the independent country.
“We don’t regret becoming independent,” Kussala stated.
“It is still the best gift for us, but the problem is it was too early for the international community to give up on us and let us go on our own. We should not be measured (with) other countries who are already developed. We are a young democracy and we need the support and the love of the world to continue to grow in the right direction.”
South Sudan, a predominantly Christian county, won its independence from the Muslim-majority north in 2011.
However, President Salva Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group, and Vice President Riek Machar, a member of the Nuer, have clashed since the country’s inception.
Kussala has been trying to broker peace between the warring factions in South Sudan. He encouraged religious leaders to venture into the forest and encourage thousands of young rebels fighting against the government to lay down their weapons.
“I told them that we have to mobilize together to go and talk to the rebels and the government to stop war and bring peace, and we brought out over 10,000 young men who were in the bush,” Kussala recalled.
Due to the civil war, about four million people in South Sudan are living in refugee camps and more than five million continue to lack sufficient food, medication, and water and shelter.
“The impact of the war is huge,” Kussala said.
“In South Sudan, basic services are not there. The humanitarian support is very weak. The children and women are actually the major victims.”