March 31: When Elephants Fight

Listen, you heads of Jacob
   and rulers of the house of Israel!
Should you not know justice? —
   you who hate the good and love the evil,
who tear the skin off my people,
   and the flesh off their bones;
who eat the flesh of my people,
   flay their skin off them,
break their bones in pieces,
   and chop them up like meat in a kettle,
   like flesh in a cauldron.
Then they will cry to the Lord,
   but he will not answer them;
he will hide his face from them at that time,
   because they have acted wickedly.
Micah 3:1-4

Micah minces no words when he targets Israel’s leaders. He uses quite graphic language to portray how the leaders of the nation have betrayed her citizens; he accuses them of symbolic cannibalism, of destroying and eating them.

Sadly, history is replete with examples of kings, presidents, emperors, and prime ministers who take advantage of their people. At this moment in time, this dynamic is at play in the country of South Sudan, which came into existence only six years ago.

Though born out of a sincere desire to secure the interests of the southern Sudanese against their Arab counterparts in the north, the creation of South Sudan only created new conflicts and power struggles. 

The large majority of Sudanese oil reserves were located in the south, which was supposed to be a major advantage to the new country. However, the new government has spent the large majority of the revenues on arms purchases and building up its military forces, and virtually nothing on infrastructure, economic improvements, or other projects that would benefits its people.

And now a famine has broken out in the region, which threatens an already-fragile people. According to the U.N., around 100,000 people currently face starvation, and another 1 million people are on the brink of extreme hunger. The famine has sparked a new refugee crisis, as desperate South Sudanese seek food in Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Central African Republic. Already, there are 1.5 million refugees of the famine.

It is the ongoing civil war in the country which sparked the famine in the first place, says the U.N.: “The bulk of evidence suggests that the famine … has resulted from protracted conflict and, in particular, the cumulative toll of repeated military operations undertaken by the government … beginning in 2014.”

In other words, the leaders of South Sudan have “torn the skin off their people, and the flesh off their bones; they eat the flesh of their people, flay their skin off them, break their bones in pieces, and chop them up like meat in a kettle.”

An African proverb aptly sums up this crisis, and captures the meaning of Micah’s words, too: “When elephants fight, the grass suffers.”

The true meaning of leadership, whether national, religious, or local, is to serve the people whom one has been entrusted to lead. When leaders look out for their own interests, and attempt to profit from their position and power, a reckoning is due.

In a democratic republic like the United States, the reckoning comes in the form of elections. But even so, the people themselves bear the responsibility of watching, observing, and holding its leaders accountable.

And in the case of countries where there is a minimum of democracy and a dearth of institutions which can hold leaders accountable, there is only the power of the people themselves.

Prayer: God, we mourn for the people of South Sudan. Turn their leaders from their own interests, and make them cry for their own people. Help the whole world pay attention to what is happening. Amen.

Justice Challenge: Make a donation to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees to help feed the refugees of South Sudan. Then post on social media any and all stories you can find about the famine in South Sudan, to help draw attention to what is happening there.