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What Is the Context of the Violent Crisis in South Sudan?
If you are confused between Sudan and South Sudan, join the club! We in Africa, and even next door to Sudan and its new neighbor South Sudan (a new country formed only three years ago), are often bewildered by strange events reported only in sporadic, obscure and bizarre news reports hinted at.
Clearly, part of the deeper problem with the Sudanese crisis is that the world media reported on it without devoting the resources to deal with a human tragedy of this magnitude in Europe, Asia, Africa, or the Americas. Sadly, we’ve grown so accustomed to thousands of Africans dying that it doesn’t make the headlines. Thousands may have died in South Sudan, according to United Nations officials, but no one has an exact toll.
Although South Sudan has shed a lot of blood, it has gotten worse over the past ten days. The focus of violence has increasingly fallen on civilians. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has ordered an increase of around 7,000 international police and troops to a similar number already stationed in the area around Juba, but that may not be enough to counter the two political heavyweights fighting for South Sudan The supremacy of Salva Kiir and his former collaborator and political ally Riek Machar. A local UN human rights official said there was no ceasefire in sight. The clashes and deaths will continue until Kiir or Machar win decisively.
An overly simplistic (but always helpful!) approach is to understand the context of the current outbreak of violence in this barren part of central-eastern Africa based on race and religion. The process that created the current chaos was a two-step process, the first involving the Muslim/Christian conflict that created South Sudan as a new state in 2011, and the conflict that is now occurring only within South Sudan because of competing Politicians vie for supremacy.
Going back to the days of the old country of Sudan, the largest country in Africa before the partition, there were often religious and ethnic struggles in the north and south of Sudan. The people of northern Sudan, centered on Khartoum, the grand and ancient capital on the banks of the Nile, are predominantly light-skinned Arab Muslims. The people of Southern Sudan are predominantly black African Christians. For decades, Muslims treated southerners as second-class citizens and didn’t hesitate to mistreat them. Thus, it was these black Christians who voted overwhelmingly (98%) in 2011 to secede from Sudan and become a new country. The new country was named South Sudan.
A decade ago, when Hollywood movie stars tried to focus philanthropic giving on human suffering in Darfur, the wider issues of the Great Sudan came to the fore, causing a stir around the world. Actor George Clooney has been known to use his charisma and popularity to raise money for refugees. But then Sultan disappeared from the news, and now we find that the killing and terror has started again.
About 300 U.S. citizens were evacuated from the city of Bor, the capital of Jonglei province, the geographic focus of unrest in South Sudan. Bor is an area of newly discovered oil wealth, which makes everything very complicated.
Large, heavy-duty U.S. Navy Ospreys, magnificent airships that can turn their engines into the sky upon landing to function like helicopters, have drawn gunfire over the past ten days as they attempted to free fleeing Americans. Meanwhile, thousands of citizens from other Western countries, including Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia, have chosen to remain in South Sudan and persevere, hoping to cobble together a peace plan before the violence worsens. There may be some reasons for hope.
US Secretary of State John Kerry this week pressured President Salva Kiir’s government to call for a ceasefire at Christmas (ironically, the old government in Khartoum once banned Christmas celebrations), with mixed results Mixed. According to most reports, the battle is still going on as I write this. Refugees are fleeing to neighboring countries to the east, mainly Uganda and Ethiopia.
There are reports of 20,000 displaced people in Juba, the dusty capital of South Sudan. International airports have been closed, perhaps to slow the tide of departures. There are another 15,000 refugees in Bor. All feared for their safety despite a curfew from sunset to sunrise.
Some backstory that might help understand the new wave of fighting that escalated dramatically in late December: President Salva Kiir was the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the political movement that led to South Sudan’s independence from Khartoum. organization. Since coming to power, even Kiir’s supporters have accused him of becoming authoritarian and paranoid, more concerned with his personal wealth and status than with his ability to provide stable leadership and governance.
Under Kiir as supreme leader, corruption in southern Sudan was far worse than when Khartoum was in power. In a comical turn of events a few weeks ago, Keir even demanded recalcitrant cronies, some of whom were cabinet ministers, hand over the cash they had stolen for personal use. In short, the Kiir government is not in power.
The upshot is that war-weary South Sudanese citizens are probably less happy now than they were when the Arab Muslim rulers in Khartoum called the shots. Kiir was one of them, but he oppressed them even more than Muslims. This creates anger and frustration.
The violence began nearly six months ago, in July, when Salva Kiir dismissed the entire executive level of his government and shut down some key ministries. But the fighting has intensified over the past six weeks, mainly in the capital Juba.
Ten days earlier, President Kiir had shed his usual black summer weight suits for a khaki military uniform, his first appearance in such attire. It’s successful drama, even if it doesn’t succeed in bringing peace and laying down arms.
Kiir accuses his closest political associate, ex-VP Riek Machar, of inciting coup Against him. Kiir fired Machar from his post. Riek Machar has now formed his own military unit to wage war on Kiir. In the minds of foreigners and the people of South Sudan, Machar is likely to be an acceptable successor to Kiir. Many observers are now betting on Machar.
But even seasoned observers of neighboring countries have had trouble gauging the true depth of the political divide between Kiir and Machar, who have quarreled before but usually managed to become good friends again. However, there may be a new element in the mix that does not bode well for conflict. Keir’s health deteriorated markedly, which appeared to manifest itself in anger, violence and horrific callousness towards the former trusted collaborator.
Salva Kiir’s inability to lead effectively shows that the conflict will get worse before it gets better. Meanwhile, refugees continue to flow into Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. In urban areas, the murder of hundreds, if not thousands, continues. Many of the remaining Europeans, cueed by the Americans, are packing up for London, Paris and Sydney, waiting for a better and safer life in Africa.
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