Growing Pains: The U.S. / South Sudan Relationship

By Omar Aruna and Justin Thomas Russell

Background

The New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs (NYCFPA) is a policy, research, and educational organization headquartered in New York City with offices in Washington D.C. Established in 2019, NYCFPA is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan institution devoted to conducting in-depth research and analysis on critical aspects of American foreign policy and its impact around the world. The organization is funded by individual donors focused on improving global relations and interaction with the U.S. Federal Government Our organization receives no corporate or government subsidies.

The mission of the NYCFPA is simple:

  • To make foreign policy analysis accessible to the general electorate, both domestic and foreign
  • To be an educational resource for policymakers and foreign policy leaders in order to promote American interests and values around the world; and
  • To bring focus to areas of American foreign policy that may not garner major attention in government and the media.

Our team is currently conducting research on American foreign policy interests in the world’s hot zones and has forthcoming reports and educational briefings on:

  • Africa
  • China
  • Russia
  • Middle East
  • Latin America

Our Center has established a strong baseline of advocacy involving foreign policy towards the African continent. NYCFPA is conducting in-depth research and analysis of the current political and economic situation in South Sudan, the relationship between the Federal Government in Juba and Washington, DC, the effectiveness of targeted sanctions in the region, and the effectiveness of these policies in furthering American foreign policy and business interests in country.

Our Mission to Juba

In July of 2022, The New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs was commissioned to conduct research and provide a delegation to travel to South Sudan on a fact-finding mission to analyze the current situation in South Sudan. The intent of the mission was to see firsthand the situation in the country, provide analysis, and to bring these findings to the attention of U.S. Legislators, Foreign Service Officers, Senior Administration Officials, Non-Governmental Organizations, US Corporations, and media outlets.

In researching avenues to affect positive change in the United States’ foreign policy relating to South Sudan, the NYCFPA delegation met with a wide array of stakeholders including senior members of the Government of South Sudan, the international business community in South Sudan, local business leaders, senior members of Academia in country and in the U.S., along with officials within the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The Challenges of The World’s Newest Sovereign State

The region known today as South Sudan has been a focal point of religious tension, political challenges, and tribal rivalry for many decades. These disturbances have been a point of interest on U.S. foreign policy in the region for many years.

After decades of hostilities in the southern part of Sudan, a move to create a sovereign nation quickly moved forward. On January 9, 2011, the citizens of the southern regions of Sudan initiated voting on a referendum to secede from Sudan and create it’s own independent state. This referendum, which received 98.89 according to the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, overwhelmingly demonstrated the desire for independence from Khartoum. After the results of the vote were confirmed, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir stated that the results of the vote would not be challenged.

On July 9, 2011, The Republic of South Sudan formally declared its independence and was recognized as the newest sovereign nation after years of autonomy in preparation for secession from Sudan. Salva Kiir Mayardit is named as the President of the new nation and Riek Machar is named Vice-President. Ironically, Sudan became the first nation to formally recognize the new Republic of South Sudan.

Infighting and Civil War

Shortly after South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, internal conflicts began to surface and tension within the new republic grew. In 2013, just two short years after independence was achieved, fighting broke out in the capital city of Juba. These clashes, largely between Dinka forces aligned with President Kiir and Neur forces siding with Vice President Machar, set the stage for a political power struggle inside South Sudan. On July 23, 2013, President Kiir dismissed Vice President Machar along with all government ministers, their deputies, and several key officers in the national Police organization. The power struggle increased fighting among their supporters and divided the country along ethnic lines. Seen as “dictatorial” behavior, the ensuing violence resulting from President Kiir’s actions turns into a six-year long civil war in South Sudan.

A New Era in South Sudan…A Path to Peace

After six years of civil war, a series of peace agreements between parties loyal to Kiir and Machar allowed for progress toward the formation of a Constitutional Republic in South Sudan. Under the terms of the 2018 peace agreement, Kiir’s term as the nation’s President was extended until April 2018. That July, the legislature voted to further extend Kiir’s term to 2021, along with the mandates of his vice presidents, state legislators, and governors.

In 2020, parties to the 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) implemented its power-sharing arrangements, with Kiir serving as president of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU) and Machar as first vice president.

In February 2020, Kiir appointed South Sudan’s vice presidents, including Machar, to three-year terms. In March 2020, ministerial posts were allocated among the previous government, the SPLM/A-IO, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement–Former Detainees (SPLM-FD), the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), and the Other Political Parties coalition (OPP).

As of the date of publication, both Kiir and Machar remain in their executive posts.

The Current Relationship With Washington…Risk and No Reward?

In April of 2014, the administration of President Barack Obama instituted a series of sanctions against many individuals associated with the Government of South Sudan. The sanctions program implemented by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) began on April 3, 2014, when the President of the U.S. issued Executive Order (E.O.) 13664. According to the Executive Order, the sanctions were implemented in response to the situation in South Sudan to date, which had been marked by activities that threatened the peace, security, and stability of South Sudan and the surrounding region. E.O. 13664 authorized the imposition of targeted sanctions against specifically identified individuals and entities determined to be engaged in certain activities contrary to U.S. foreign policy and national security interests in South Sudan.

On July 15, 2022, the United States citing “the lack of sustained progress on the part of South Sudan’s leaders, and following consultation with Congress, of the United States” ended support for the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission and the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism. According to U.S. Department of State Spokesperson Ned Price, “South Sudan’s leaders have not fully availed themselves of the support these monitoring mechanisms provide and have demonstrated a lack of political will necessary to implement critical reforms”. He indicated that “South Sudan has yet to pass critical electoral legislation in keeping with the revitalized peace agreement’s timetable. South Sudan still lacks a unified, professional military to serve and protect the population. Civil society members and journalists are routinely intimidated and prevented from speaking out. The government continues to divert proceeds from oil production before they reach the national budget and has not implemented public financial management reforms.”

It is worth noting that on August 30th, during the visit of the delegation representing the NYCFPA, the Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU) formally established the unified defense forces, seen as a key milestone of the 2018 peace agreement and recognized as a progression to stability in the growth of South Sudan as a Republic. During the ceremony, attended by representatives from neighboring nations including Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Sudanese leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and other notable global leaders, 52,074 officers and soldiers graduated and were transferred to the unified forces.

Another recognized challenge to the relationship between Juba and Washington, DC is the Level 4 Travel Advisory status given by the U.S. State Department. The current travel advisory reads…

“Do not travel to South Sudan due tocrime, kidnapping, andarmed conflict. Violent crime, such as carjackings, shootings, ambushes, assaults, robberies, and kidnappings is common throughout South Sudan, including Juba. Foreign nationals have been the victims of rape, sexual assault, armed robberies, and other violent crimes. Armed conflict is ongoing and includes fighting between various political and ethnic groups. Weapons are readily available to the population. In addition, cattle raids occur throughout the country and often lead to violence.

Reporting in South Sudan without the proper documentation from the South Sudanese Media Authority is considered illegal, and any journalistic work there is very dangerous. Journalists regularly report being harassed in South Sudan, and many have been killed while covering the conflict.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency consular services to U.S. citizens in South Sudan. U.S. government personnel in South Sudan are under a strict curfew. They must use armored vehicles for nearly all movements, and official travel outside Juba is limited. Due to the critical crime threat in Juba, walking is also restricted; when allowed, it is limited to a small area in the immediate vicinity of the Embassy and during daylight hours only. Family members cannot accompany U.S. government employees who work in South Sudan.

Finally, due to risks to civil aviation operating within or in the vicinity of South Sudan, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) and/or a Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR). For more information U.S. citizens should consult the Federal Aviation Administration’s Prohibitions, Restrictions, and Notices.”

Consensus

The delegation from NYCFPA conducted discussions and interviews with key stakeholders within the South Sudanese Government, industry leaders, academia, and key figures in the United States. A consensus of the delegation confirms that corruption remains an issue in the country. Our team recognizes that the governance structure is not yet fully functioning and needs to improve considerably, and security remains a challenge. However, it is also clear to the NYCFPA fact finding’ team and from all the stakeholders we consulted that:

  1. The current level 4 travel advisory doesn’t accurately describe current security conditions in Juba, nor does it represent the actual socio-political environment of the country. Our analysis finds the classification to be slightly excessive, unwarranted (even in an abundance of caution) and should be revisited by the State Department.
  2. The current ‘targeted’ sanctions in place have proven to be ineffective and have become counterproductive. Sanctions apparently are exacerbating current problems that the policies were meant to resolve, which were to eliminate and prevent corruption, bad governance, and improve the climate of law and order in South Sudan. These sanctions, as implemented, are crippling non-sanctioned individuals, government agencies, the academic community and international development in the region. We find that these sanctions are irradiating into all sectors and preventing ‘good actors’ and Western companies from transacting legitimate business in South Sudan. The sanctions also continue to enable the ‘bad actors’ to fester and strengthen their share of the market by using subterfuge and corrupt practices to avoid sanctions. It is evident that many competing businesses are also weaponizing the sanctions process to eliminate their competition.

    In short, the current U.S. sanctions against South Sudan should be reviewed and eased to allow American companies to enter the South Sudanese market and enable the country to reach its full potential…economically, politically, and academically.

  3. The current U.S. government engagement in South Sudan has not been effective at large in dealing with the relationship with the Federal Government in Juba. We believe that U.S. foreign policy and aid programs should put a strong emphasis on capacity building (Public and Private sector), more U.S trade and investment, training, cultural and educational exchanges.

    For example, we believe that aid programs and funding should be redirected to support:

    • Strengthening the federal judicial system,
    • Enhancing the anticorruption agency and the Auditor General
    • Securing the economic base and workforce development
    • Assuring proper economic capabilities in country to allow for international development
    • Promoting academic programs on an internal and exchange basis…at all levels of education

Analysis

Unintended Impact of Sanctions on South Sudan

Under the Obama Administration, sanctions against South Sudan came into effect on April 3, 2014, through Presidential Executive Order (E.O.) 13664. Key regulatory requirements in implementing E.O. 13664 were issued on July 1, 2014.

Our analysis deems that, while the sanctions were aimed at individuals who meet the listed criteria in Annex I, the implementation of the regulation in practice has amounted to broad and blanket economic sanctions against the country and all the residents of South Sudan. It has hampered trade as well as the purchase of Western goods and services by South Sudanese citizens.

Selected examples below illustrate the unintended impact of the sanctions programs…

  • It is not possible to subscribe to an online magazine such as The Economist or purchase an item on Amazon from an IP address based in South Sudan. When these transactions are attempted by those in South Sudan, customers are met with transaction messages such as “access from IP addresses in this country is prohibited.”
  • Conducting simple financial transactions outside of South Sudan are literally impossible from within South Sudanese borders. In May 2019, a Professor at the University of Juba (wanting to purchase and bring copies of a book he wrote for distribution in South Sudan) was informed by his European publisher that nothing can be exported from the European Union to South Sudan because of economic sanctions on the country.

Unintended Impact on Education

  • In 2016, a noted faculty member at the University of Juba was forced to resign from the university for the sole purpose of being able to receive a scholarship for a Doctoral Program at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. The scholarship program was funded through a US based program (Partnership for African Education) that targeted countries in sub-Saharan Africa. After inquiring as to the reasoning of this decision, the faculty member was informed that the University of Juba was a public university under the direct oversight of the government of South Sudan and due to sanctions, only non-government entities and individuals could benefit from the program.
  • The same year (2016), faculty from the University of Juba were invited to attend a training workshop in Dakar on combating campus-based gender violence…a key program of interest by University leadership. The faculty were turned away at the last minute after being invited by the organizers (Virginia Tech). Upon being denied attendance, the University was advised by staff from Virginia Tech that due to a U.S. policy and the current designation of the University of Juba, the invited faculty members were prohibited from benefiting from funds from the US State Department (who provided funds for the program).
  • In March of 2022, The University of Juba was informed by Blackwell Publishing, the sole provider of publications and supplies to the University bookstore on campus that they would no longer accept any payments originating from South Sudan. This action has effectively prevented the student body from accessing any of the printed materials supporting their education and closing the bookstore in perpetuity.

Unintended Impact On Trade

  • A private citizen who imported a car from Japan through the port of Mombasa in Kenya was informed by the port authorities that they were not allowed to permit the passage of equipment destined for South Sudan because “the country was under economic sanctions.” That citizen had to change the destination of the car to Kampala in Uganda…adding great expense to this transaction
  • After being assigned to a diplomatic post in Morocco, a South Sudanese foreign officer was denied the ability to open any personal bank account by any Moroccan bank because “South Sudan was under economic sanctions.”
  • The Vice Chancellor of the University of Juba indicates that his personal bank account at a UK-based bank was closed in May 2022… less than a year after being appointed to the Board of Directors of South Sudan National Communication Authority, a non-full-time appointment. The bank justifies the decision on the basis that the customer was a “politically exposed person”.
  • From 2021, transfers of any amount equal to or more than USD 1,000 from South Sudan to any individual in the United Kingdom could attract a request for more information by a money transfer agent. There is also a cap on the amounts any single person can receive as transfer from South Sudan.
  • Payment of school fees or purchase of any luxury item from South Sudan could invoke an investigation and report to financial regulatory authorities by the concerned financial institution because UK financial regulatory authorities consider any money from South Sudan as “dirty money” as stated in their circular to all UK financial institutions.

The cases outlined above, are indicative of the challenges facing South Sudan based on the economic sanctions applied over the years and still in effect in many instances. These “targeted” sanctions are broad in scope and affect every citizen in various ways in their daily lives. Additionally, the sanctions currently in place are not, in fact, targeted, but broader sanctions against the whole country. As implemented, these economic sanctions are proving to be more of a hindrance to economic and political growth… And could likely lead to social collapse and political instability.

IS AMERICA PUNISHING A COUNTRY IT HELPED TO CREATE?

The South Sudanese that the NYCFPA team interviewed have asked and are wondering why the United States of America, a country that helped South Sudan achieve its independence, has put in place a “targeted sanction” that is adversely impacting free trade by hardworking and descent citizens of South Sudan and Western countries including the United States.

Many in South Sudan as well as officials in government and business complained that these broad and blanket economic sanctions on South Sudan are being implemented by individual countries such as the US, UK, Germany, etc… “under the table” and have never been discussed openly nor declared publicly nor approved by the UN Security Council.

Difficult Path to Democracy and Good Governance in South Sudan

South Sudan is the world’s youngest country, having gained its independence on July 9, 2011. This independence, however, came on the heels of many decades of civil war and violence that ravaged the country’s fledgling economic, political, and social structures as well as destroyed social cohesion. That is why it was easier for South Sudan to plunge itself into civil war in 2013, just slightly over two years after independence. The current government was born out of a compromise peace agreement signed by the warring parties in 2018.

In the sections that follow, we try to take a stock of challenges and opportunities of nation and state building in South Sudan. This includes opportunities for promoting sustainable peace and transition to a more viable democracy.

The Politics of Perpetual Transition in South Sudan

The brutal civil war that broke out in the evening of December 15th, 2013, has left South Sudan in a perilous and seemingly perpetual socio-politico-economic and military fragility. This twist of fate could mean that it may take decades for the world’s youngest country to recover from the fragility induced by conflict situations (FCS). That is because some domestic political players, with the tacit approval of external actors who – by that very conduct, aid and abate this state of uncertainty – have now become accustomed to using FCS or war to advance their material interests. It is, however, worth noting that the negative effects of the FCS in South Sudan are not limited to the conflict that erupted in 2013. They are generally a result of the two civil wars that have politicized, militarized, and ethnicized the national body politics. Moreover, considering that the war has undermined the social fabrics of the South Sudanese society it is estimated that it could take South Sudan between 20 to 30 years to regain the semblance of political stability and socio-economic progress. That is to say that South Sudan is caught up in a “conflict trap.”2 Consistent with the general observation that the first casualties of war are the death tolls and the distortions of the truth, the impact of pain-distribution has often prodded the warring parties to realize that the best available option to them is dialogue. It is often better to sit down and negotiate an exit strategy to end this state of perpetual conflict without winners. This has been the trend in South Sudan. Parties to the conflict in the last decade have often sat down and adopted a peaceful settlement of the conflict. Unfortunately, every single time some parties sign a peace agreement, others take up arms, and return the country to square one. That is because rebels tend to negotiate themselves back into the government with big gains in terms of wealth sharing and political positions. That is why South Sudan is stuck in the state of transitional governments.

The Problem of State Formation in Segmented Societies

The central point that should be emphasized when writing and analyzing the situations and political dynamics in South Sudan is that the world’s youngest country is experiencing or undergoing the problem of state formation. Before a semblance of true statehood is achieved, a society requires a strong political will and the rule of law to create an effective political order. Anthropologically speaking, South Sudan is a kinship-based society. Demonstrably, the majority of the South Sudanese ethnic communities are Nilotic groups, some of which have been described as acephalous in nature. They include Acholi, Bari, Dinka, Lotuko, Murle, Nuer, Pari or Taposa, Murle, among others. These communities are known in social anthropological literature, as acephalic or kinship-based societies because they lack hierarchical and centralized political systems. Their political and social governing structures are kinship-based on families and clans. These kinship-based social structures are “segmented.”3

This partly explains why there is not only an ethnic rebellion, but also a clan-based rebellion against the government of the day in Juba. A clan-based or ethnic-based rebellion is a situation whereby members of the same clan or ethnic group rebel against the government because the president or prime minister comes from a different clan of the same ethnic community or entirely from a different ethnic group. The fragmentation of ethnic interest in South Sudan is one of the factors that serve to undermine the establishment of a strong state in South Sudan. A government that is weak does not enjoy the monopoly over the legitimate use or threat of the application of force or violence to create and ensure a stable political order. Again, most of the Nilotic communities in South Sudan do not have centralized political systems. Their systems are not hierarchical, but fragmented. This is an important recipe for rebellion and state collapse. The prototype of this is Somalia. The 1991 collapse of the Mohammed Siad Barre Government in that country is blamed on the deadliest rivalry4 among various Somali clans for the capture and control of the state. The state collapsed in Somalia in the early 1990s, and was mostly driven by internal sectarian factors rather than externalities.

Furthermore, any analysis with respect to the situation in South Sudan has to be undertaken in view of the fact that South Sudan is a recent post-independence and post-conflict country, which just gained independence from Sudan. The latter has never enjoyed political stability since independence in 1956 from Great Britain. Moreover, South Sudan’s independence came on the heels of protracted civil wars with the Arab-Islamic Northern Sudan (1955-1972 & 1983-2005). Yet while the South was fighting against the Arab-Islamic Northern political, military, social and economic hegemony in the Sudan (especially between 1983 and 2005), the Northern intelligentsia deployed a divide and conquer strategy to set Southern communities against one another. The ensuing hatred among Southern Sudanese communities was only submerged by the common aspirations for independence. Yet those animosities soon emerged following independence in 2011. It is, therefore, the same vestiges – that is the Northern strategy of pitting ethnic communities against one another in the South – that are still ongoing in an independent South Sudan. For this reason, South Sudanese rebels often enjoy a safe and secure abode in Khartoum. It stands to reason that the legacy of the Northern intelligentsia of dividing and setting the Southern ethnic communities against one another during the first and the second civil wars in the Sudan that are currently fueling instability in South Sudan. For instance, the civil war that broke out in December 2013, could have not occurred but for the bitter memories of the internecine conflict of the past, especially of 1991 coup against the leadership of the SPLM/A on the ethnic lines, principally under the leadership of the current 1st Vice President, Mr. Riek Machar. Indeed, on August 28th, 1991, the SPLA forces of the Nuer and Shilluk ethnic communities (the SPLM/A Nasir Group) broke away from the Mainstream SPLM/A, which they portrayed as a Dinka-dominated politico-military organization. This division was exploited by the North which earnestly armed and supported the Nuer and Shilluk communities against the Dinka, which stood with the Mainstream SPLM/A under the leadership of Dr. John Garang and his then deputy, Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit, the current President of the Republic of South Sudan. Both of the latter hail from the Dinka, the largest ethnic group in South Sudan. The violence that ensued in 1991 resulted in mass fratricides in the South in which the Nuer and Shilluk people turned their guns on their fellow Southerners, especially Dinka civilians in Baliet, Bor, Pariang and Akoka, among others in Upper Nile Province.

The Northern intelligentsia was politically satisfied that its strategy of divide and conquer was being implemented by Southerners themselves against by fighting against one another.

As such, the genesis of the current perpetual political conflict in South Sudan must be understood, as the continuation of the South-North civil wars in the Old Sudan. This is because, with a few notable exceptions, whichever side one was supporting during the civil war with the Arab-Islamic North is the side one is still supporting today in an independent South Sudan. For instance, if one was supporting Riek Machar during the 1991 Nasir Coup, that person or ethnic community is still supporting the rebellion today in South Sudan. In other words, if one hailed from an ethnic community that had allied with the Arab-Islamic North during the liberation struggle, then that individual or community is nowadays supporting rebellion. If one’s community was anti-Arab-Islamic northern Sudan during the liberation struggle, then that individual or community is now supporting the current government under the leadership of President Salva Kiir Mayardit. This remains true even amidst the implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCISS) signed between the Government and various rebel groups in Addis Ababa, in 2018.

The Implementation of R-ARCSS and the Extension of the R-TGONU

The signing of the much-criticized R-ARCISS led to the formation of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGONU) in 2020. The R-ARCISS was negotiated in Khartoum, in circumstances that have been described as coercion or duress. It is often said that a bad peace is a deferment of the conflict by one of the actors or parties to the conflict. Some contend the R-ARCSS is one of the worst ever negotiated and signed by the Government of the Republic of South Sudan for a variety of reasons.

First, any negotiations and concessions made by one of the warring parties to the other are, as a matter of generality, dictated by the parties’ relative military strengths and/or victories on the battlefields. The party that concedes to the other in any negotiations is always the weakest in the battlefield. This was not, however, the manner in which the 2018 Khartoum peace accord was negotiated. Yet, in every practical respect, the Government of the Republic of South Sudan (GRSS) was in a better military position in the battlefields across South Sudan. Indeed, the rebel group were on the losing side of the war. These rebel organizations and their leaders did not, in fact, have any standing armies. Their (mostly keyboard) armies were dispersed all over East Africa with a few making sporadic raids here and there in South Sudan. Their various leaders sojourned from one foreign capital to another in East Africa or South Africa (in the case of Riek Machar).

Second, the R-ARCISS was negotiated in a clandestine manner that sought to reward the weakest parties to the conflict such as the SPLM-IO of Riek Machar; the Group of 10/Former Detainees (FDs/G10) and the collection of small parties under the umbrella of South Sudan Opposition Alliances (SSOA), etc. with strategic and lucrative positions in the power-sharing formula it set out therein. Again, at the time of the negotiations in Khartoum, these rebel groups did not have any standing armies let alone capturing any major towns from the GRSS.

It follows that the R-ARCISS handsomely rewarded Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO and other briefcase parties with strategic ministerial portfolios and financial resources. This situation serves to confirm the contention that rebellion in South Sudan is a lucrative business enterprise. Those who rebel and are often rewarded with political power and money in South Sudan. Most of these people are those who at one time or the other served in the GRSS and had siphoned off public resources to unjustly enrich themselves. And when they were relieved and about to be held to account for their misdeeds, they sought to insulate themselves from accountability, rebelling and killing people on ethnic lines so that they are given amnesty and brought back into the government. This was how Riek Machar, and his SPLM-IO were rewarded with the ministries of Defense and Petroleum in the 2018 Khartoum power-sharing agreement. As a matter of fact, Riek Machar and his SPLM-IO are using the money they siphoned off from the public institutions allocated to them by the peace accord to buy arms for the eventuality of occurrence of another war, which he is actively planning while in Government, right now

Third, the 2018 R-ARCISS has created too many centers of power through the establishment of the offices of the five vice presidents. Institutionally, the Office of the President of the Republic of South Sudan has been weakened by the institutionalization of the five vice presidents that hail from different warring parties and regions.

The establishment of the offices of five vice presidents in South Sudan underscores three important facts…

  • It points to the fact that rebelling is profitable. If you rebel, you are rewarded with power and wealth.
  • It undermines the institution and office of the president and its ability to make decisions in the best interest of the people of South Sudan.
  • It makes South Sudan’s transition to democracy almost elusive. This is because each of the five vice presidents does not want his or her current position to be abolished through the holding of the national elections, without any financial package assurances. That is why the extension of the R-ARCISS (hence, RTGONU) was unanimous

Indeed, when President Kiir broached the idea of holding elections in 2023, he was cut into pieces by vice presidents and their international allies. The five vice presidents prefer the continuation of the status quo which allows them to retain their lucrative posts. They purportedly argued that some protocols in the R-ARCSS were not completed. Yet all that could have been completed from the time the President announced that there would be elections in 2023. This was an excuse to legitimize the extension of the current coalition government until 2024. In reality, their opposition to the conduct of elections in 2023 has nothing to do with the implementation of peace to the letter and spirit.

The Weaponization of the Human Rights

It is safe to contend that the contest to capture the state of South Sudan by different socio-political forces is the ambition to ascend to the presidency, not about democracy. More specifically, every political opposition that wants to ascent to the national leadership is driven by sectarian politics. For instance, Gen. Thomas Cirilo Swaka rebelled against the GRSS because the current President is not an ethnic Bari. He has made that unequivocal in his utterances. This ethnic animosity is what lurks behind the raging conflict in South Sudan. The same can be said about Riek Machar who rebelled in 1991 against the SPLM/A because the politico-military leadership of the SPLM/A was led by Dinka. He also rebelled against the GRSS in 2013 and 2016 because South Sudan has Dinka as head of state. It is, however, worth noting that members of the Dinka ethnic group that had occupied the top posts of the SPLM/A and the state of South Sudan today assumed those positions because of their hierarchy, loyalty and contributions during the liberation struggle. In this regard, the South Sudanese conflict can be better understood through the Arab Bedouin proverb that “I against my brother. My brother and I against our cousin. My brother, my cousin and I against the neighbors. All of us against the stranger.” This is one of the primordial dimensions of the contest of the state in South Sudan.

However, these historical and contemporary differences are often misunderstood by external forces that interfere in the internal affairs and take advantage of the state of fragility of the world’s youngest country. Such forces take superficial views of the issues and blindly take side with minority claims in South Sudan. For instance, Riek Machar and other minority leaders have, pretentiously, often deployed democracy and human rights, since 1991, as his persuasive allure-a tactic to induce, manipulate the West to support their pernicious agenda. It is these very groups that have often preyed upon innocent civilians from specific community or communities and committed horrendous human rights violations against them. They do this in order to “cut the Dinka into sizes” (Alier, 2000). In fact, human rights abuses by rebel groups and minority communities are neither criticized by human rights groups nor by the Troika countries (US, UK and Norway) on account of their sympathies induced by fabrications of minority leaders.

The silence of the international community when the rebels or opposition groups are the ones violating the rights of others speak volumes of the double standards of the international society’s account of human rights in South Sudan. The international community only blames President Salva Kiir Mayardit. For instance, from May throughout July 2022, the Governor of Eastern Equatoria state kept inciting his people against South Sudanese nationals from Jonglei because Dinka cattle herders from Bor who were displaced by floods and insecurity took up temporary abode in Eastern Equatoria State failed. Tens of innocent civilians from Bor were killed as a result. And yet when the Bor cattle herders defended themselves and their cattle, the Troika countries and various international NGOs operating in South Sudan were quick to step in, with critical biases against people who exercised their natural right of self-defense.

However, they were deafly silent when minority communities were the ones attacking, raiding and killing Dinkas from Bor. On July 12th, 2022, the joint Murle, Tenet and Buya youth attacked and raided more than 15,000 cattle and killed 10 and 12 injured from the Taposa ethnic community of Eastern Equatoria. However, neither Governor Lobong nor the international community said anything when the victims and aggressors were members of the minority communities.

The cardinal point is that the Troika countries are not partial in the conflict in South Sudan. For instance, most of the sanctions on South Sudan are advocated by the NGOs such as Mercy Corps, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Doctors without Borders (MSF), Enough Project and The Sentry, etc. These international NGOs and think tanks are working hand in hand with the Troika countries. Admittedly Norway is the only Western country that has much influence on the SPLM/A leadership for historical reasons. During the liberation struggle against the Arab-Islamic North, Norway stood thick and thin with the SPLM/A. However, since 2013, Norway has lost credibility, resulting in the South Sudan-Norwegian relations being impaired singly by Norway’s relations with the G10/FDs and its tendency to take ethnic sides. The close relations between The Kingdom of Norway and G10/FDs came to light in Khartoum in 2018, when Norway lobbied the US and the UK to pressure President Omar al-Bashir to establish the fifth post of vice president in the R-ARCSS, specifically to be allocated to Rebecca Nyandeng.

One would have thought that Norway would support the reform agenda, especially the Public Finance Management Reforms (PFMRs), but after supporting it for just about one year, Norway quickly withdrew its support to PFMRs in early 2022, when it becomes clear that opposition leaders and their supporters were not clean when it comes to corruption.

South Sudan’s Difficult Path to Democracy

The mantra that democracy is the worst form of Government is a modern maxim that finds currency in any political community in the 21st-century. Even countries, commonly regarded as police states, such as North Korea, Iran, Cuba, and China, for instance, claim to be democratic. It is, therefore, a settled matter that democracy enjoys currency in today’s world. However, the question remains… is democracy a form of government that can take hold in South Sudan, considering its internal political dynamic?

The answer is both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’…here is why.

It is ‘Yes’ because, where citizens have the will to govern themselves by means of democracy, then it is possible for any society to adopt a democratic a system of government. However, in light of the fact that democracy is a process, not an event, South Sudan’s transition to democracy can only remain aspirational in nature. For any society to enjoy a viable democratic form of government, certain elements must be satisfied.

A society must attain a modest level of economic and political development. That is because democracy requires resources to function. Democracy, in other words, is expensive. Institutions of democracy require consistent financial injections to thrive.

Additionally, Democracy requires a certain level of literacy. Citizens should understand what their democratic rights are. Exercising those rights requires a modest amount of education.

Also of note…democracy thrives when there is a critical mass of middle class. Citizens must vote for leaders that espouse their values.

Finally, democracy is chaotic by its very nature. It is noisy and even contentious. This can further fuel violence in a weak state and, thus, worsen the state of fragility seen in the world’s youngest country.

In this regard, it is plausible and painfully realistic to contend that South Sudan is not ready for democracy. That is because not only is South Sudan economically and politically underdeveloped, but it is also a polarized country, especially on ethnic grounds. A haphazard transition to democracy is more likely to imperil South Sudan and consequently tear it asunder. Put differently, a transition to democracy now can easily add more fuel to the current state of perpetual political instability in South Sudan. Democracy, in other words, is not viable in the short run for post conflict societies such as South Sudan because it is a country torn between hope and despair, solidarity and fragmentation. Such a country first and foremost needs a strong government and leadership to under the project of state-building and nation-building.

Yet, the West continues to chide South Sudan’s Government and thinks that South Sudan’s failure to adopt a democratic form of government is a reason for its lackluster cooperation with the world’s youngest country. In a hindsight, this is not how countries such as Chile, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, and Botswana transitioned to democracy. These countries first required visionary leadership and decisive political authority to set the tone for that vision. It is that vision that led these countries to more viable economic development before they became democracies. South Sudan, as such, cannot invent the wheel. It can only become democratic through measured stages of economic and political development

South Sudan Economic Potential

According to the Africa Development Bank, growth is projected to rebound to 5.3% and 6.5% in 2021/22 and 2022/23 due to increased oil export receipts. It will be driven by industry and by private consumption and investment.5

In August 2022, IMF Executive Board Concludes 2022 Article IV Consultation and IMF Management Completes Second Review Under Staff-Monitored Program with Republic of South Sudan. They found that “Despite a challenging economic environment, South Sudan has implemented many of the recommendations of the 2019 Article IV. The authorities have taken encouraging steps to improve macroeconomic governance and liberalize the foreign exchange market. Public Financial Management reforms have been initiated and continue to progress. Subject to continued implementation of the R-ACRSS and prudent fiscal and monetary policies, the medium-term outlook is for economic recovery and contained inflation”. IMF Directors were also encouraged by the authorities’ “commitment to pursue economic reforms with a view to unlocking further support from donors and the international community.”6

According to the Office of the United State Trade Representative, in 2019, South Sudan GDP was an estimated $3.7 billion (current market exchange rates); real GDP was up by an estimated 11.3%; and the population was 13 million. (Source: IMF). South Sudan is currently the U.S. 173rd largest goods trading partner with $88 million in total (two way) goods trade during 2019. Goods exports totaled $22 million; goods imports totaled $66 million. The U.S. goods trade deficit with South Sudan was $45 million in 2019. South Sudan was the United States’ 181st largest goods export market in 2019. The U.S. trade balance with South Sudan shifted from a goods trade surplus of $23 million in 2018 to a goods trade deficit of $45 million in 2019.7

Due to travel and trade restrictions, U.S. trade with South Sudan is little to non-existent. One major additional challenge is that, as of the date of publication, the country is not an eligible beneficiary of the African Growth and Opportunities Act.

South Sudan Socio Economic Conditions: A Real Dilemma

South Sudan has faced a decade of instability from war, natural disaster, hunger, inter-ethnic fighting, and political bickering since it gained independence in 20118. The US is the largest donor in South Sudan. U.S. humanitarian aid totaled over $700 million in FY2021 and $585 million to date in FY2022. The Biden Administration’s FY2023 budget request includes almost $147 million in bilateral aid for South Sudan9. There are more NGO in South Sudan that there is investors and business investors. Although assistance and aid is needed, this approach will not suffice in the long term for the country’s development. The general understanding is that South Sudan, like many African countries, needs more trade and business investment and less Humanitarian assistance.

In December 2013 Black Rhino Group (Black Rhino), owned by private equity firm Blackstone (BX), entered in an agreement with Trinity Energy Ltd a South Soudanese companies to undertake the construction of an oil refinery project in South Sudan. The project involves the construction of an oil refinery with a capacity of 50,000 BPD in Upper Nile, South Sudan in the Pagak city near the Ethiopian border. The $1 billion project that was supposed to be partly funded by the US Exim Bank and guaranteed by Office of Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) today called the U.S. Development Finance Corporation (USDFC), included the construction of storage tanks, processing units, loading facilities and the installation of related machinery. Black Rhino Group exited the deal in December 2013 when the country witnessed internal conflicts, which prompted the US Government to issue injunctions to US Companies and citizens to take necessary precautions. Black Rhino, accordingly, couldn’t continue with the project. Today, Trinity Energy Ltd is still looking to replace Black Rhino with non-US international partners for the proposed Refinery. The current perception of South Sudan is making almost impossible to any U.S. firm to do business in South Sudan. Considering that Trinity Energy Ltd is an ISO 9001 Certified company and follows absolute transparency in its operations, this is a missed opportunity for U.S companies willing to do business in South Sudan. However, during our fact-finding mission, we saw major projects and investments made by African companies and other developing countries.

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The foregoing demonstrates that the political forces that fuel South Sudan’s conflict are rooted in the historical context of South Sudan’s struggle for independence. The struggle was long, bloody, and fractious. This meant that historical animosities that preceded South Sudan’s independence did not vanish. Instead, they were only concealed by the common aspiration for independence by the people of South Sudan. Yet as soon as independence was achieved, those historical challenges came to light. This resulted in the brutal civil wars of 2013, and 2016. For South Sudan to be a viable state, thus, the processes of nation-building and state-building must be pursued in the context of its historical evolution to statehood.

More importantly, economic freedom is a prerequisite for political freedom. Therefore, it is critical that all stakeholders, national and international, join forces to address poverty issues, creating jobs for the millions of unemployed youth. Giving them dignity, including them in the economy by giving them lasting jobs, is the only way to prevent them from waging war against each other. Those jobs can only emanate from a strong private sector that also depends on foreign investors, preferably from their historical partners like the United States.

It is well documented that Economic Sanctions also impose economic cost for the United States as they restrict business transactions and opportunities in which U.S. individuals10 and firms would otherwise engage. U.S. Sanctions at times harm American manufacturers of goods and impact job creation in the United States and when sanctions are implemented unilaterally, they cede business competitive advantage to foreign companies to the detriment of U.S firms. Therefore, we recommend that economic sanctions, travel restriction and visa policy in South Sudan must be reflective of the reality and practical in easing market entry to South Sudan for U.S. companies and business.

The United States should remain fully engaged in South Sudan and encourage American Business to do business in the country. The country is only 12 years in the making and good governance can only come about with constant contact with best practice from United States entities including business engaging effectively on the ground.

At a time when the world is facing a serious geopolitical shift and considering all the above-mentioned challenges, it is in the US’ best interest to reevaluate its South Sudan foreign policy and take a more pragmatic approach toward this country, whose stability is vital to the stability of the entire region. Therefore, in evaluating South Sudan democratic progress, U.S. Foreign Policy should consider the country’s cultural and historical background and context. U.S South Sudan foreign Policy should be more people-centric thereby ensuring that South Sudanese women, men, and youth are not trapped within the country’s geopolitical predicament. Emphasis should remain on children, education, food, healthcare, women empowerment, and youth employment.

In conclusion, U.S funding should be designed to help create the enable environment that will allow the private sector to strive, to ease foreign direct investment, human resource capacity building and support good governance, transparency and building institutions.

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