South Sudan is Another Tale of American Ally Gone Rogue

South Sudan, like so many African nations, has distanced itself from times of hope and optimism, instead decaying into oppression and tribal civil warfare. And, like many individual groups across the globe which America has thrown its financial support behind in the hope that they could provide stability regionally and loyalty to the United States, the government of South Sudan has proven itself hostile not only to its own people, but Americans too.

President Trump has acknowledged this dark reality, issuing a harsh statement in May that stands in stark contrast to the rosy view coming out of Washington when South Sudan became the world’s youngest state in 2011.

“Seven years [after South Sudan’s independence was established], the leaders of this country have squandered this partnership ... killed their own people, and repeatedly demonstrated their inability and unwillingness to live up to their commitments to end the country’s civil war,” the White House statement read.

According to the U.N., the government in Juba, South Sudan, reaps the financial reward from approximately 130,000 barrels of oil being produced per day. And, as a sign of just how uncommitted to the peace process and any sense of national unity South Sudan’s leadership has become, they spend far more than half of their budget on soldiers’ pay and weapons, according to the U.N.

Representatives of South Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir, have resorted to pleas of mercy in response to the White House’s threats to withdraw funding that goes directly to the Kiir government.

“We are asking the United States not to abandon this country (South Sudan) because we need them … their role to assist the population of South Sudan is crucial and cannot be ignored”, said foreign affairs ministry spokesman Mawien Makol Ariik. (Reuters)

Statements from the Kiir government professing to use aid to “assist the population of South Sudan” would be laughable, if the entire affair weren’t so sad. The nation has been embroiled in a civil war that has raged on since 2013, only two years after the nation was established. This war, which was rooted in splinters between President Kiir and his then-Vice President Riek Machar, eventually devolved into several ethnic groups fighting against one another. The death toll has claimed more than 383,000 lives since December 2013.

These brutal conflicts have created scars that the sitting government has played a central role in deepending. Those scars are not going to go away, the Kiir government will not simply cease being despised by a large portion of South Sudanese, and they are also not going to pretend that retribution is not a very real possibility, should they let their guard down.

“Since the outbreak of South Sudan’s conflict, government security forces, particularly its national security agency, have consistently targeted people seen to oppose the government based on their political opinion and not criminal acts.  These include journalists, human rights defenders, and members of political opposition groups. They are often held for long periods – years, in some cases –without access to lawyer or family visits.” (Human Rights Watch)

The South Sudanese who have fallen victim to the government’s lack of due process – which, you can be sure, also includes indiscriminate killing – have not and will not forget acts of cruelty inflicted upon them. But that has not stopped the Kiir government from pretending that these people will simply acquiesce to a blank slate under the guise of official “peace talks”.

And so, there’s been a series of disingenuous, extremely tenuous “peace” talks and agreements since roughly 2014, all the while the Kiir government continues to encourage violence against its rivals, insulate its power through corruption and ultra-militaristic governing style, and use foreign aid to achieve these ends.

Even the peace agreement that was signed earlier in September is deficient, according to experts. The “roots of the conflict” which include but are not limited to atrocities committed by the Kiir government against its people. It will likely take a new government to create even a symbolic step towards a sense of normalcy, and to provide a much-needed reset in a nation characterized by distrust.

“With the peace agreement that was signed earlier this month being so structurally flawed, it is likely this number will continue its inexorable climb until the root causes of South Sudan’s violence are addressed,” John Prendergast, founding director of the Enough Project and co-founder of The Sentry, which researches the financing of conflicts, said in a statement.

Even when the Kiir government is gone, modern history in Africa tells us that these ethnic conflicts will persist, and the wounds specific to the South Sudanese civil war will not simply go away. Apologies from the Kiir government to its adversaries, and between ethnic groups, aren’t going to cut it.

The latest peace agreement, flimsy as it is, is being pushed by Kiir’s representatives to solicit even more aid from America. 

“We believe this peace is not perfect but of course it is better than [the] alternative, which is war,” Deng said to openly skeptical officials at the event hosted by the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank.

Deng added that the Kiir government was not responsible for atrocities occurring in South Sudan; it’s mere civilians carrying out these acts, he said. He also claimed that the country was rooting out corruption and taking the rule of law quite seriously; each of these claims is patently untrue.

If the current administration is wise, it should take care of those most in need, but provide no more funding that is going to the hands of the Kiir regime. Limiting the perception of blood on American government’s hands has to be goal number one in South Sudan, and fortunately it appears that the Trump administration is taking that perception seriously.

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