South Sudan: How Does the U.S. View South Sudan?

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The U.S. has a special relationship with South Sudan, being responsible in large part for the creation of South Sudan in 2011. Last Friday a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing was held in Washington about South Sudan, specifically about civil unrest and ethnic cleansing in the country.

The Senate engaged in dialogue with two panels. First the current U.S. Envoy to South Sudan was interviewed, led by Linda Thomas-Greenfield. Second a panel of experts on South Sudan was interviewed.

What follows in this article is a summary of the Committee hearing. Senators took turns asking questions of the panels. Senators sometimes made statements themselves. The article refers to all senators and panel-members as “the U.S.” for sake of convenience. Obviously, it does not represent the views of any particular member involved, but is a shorthand of how the U.S. views South Sudan.

What is South Sudan, in America?

South Sudan is the world’s youngest nation, having been formed finally in 2011. South Sudan is still a somewhat fragile democracy, but had been–before December 15–a success story in America.

America has been South Sudan’s strongest international champion. In Washington, South Sudan has a powerful and interested constituency. America has invested hundreds of millions in aid to South Sudan. The U.S. has invested a total of possibly around $12 billion in South Sudan. America’s most recent aid portfolio was $350 million. The U.S. has now added $50 million to the $350 million.

U.S. diplomat for Africa Thomas-Greenfield explained why South Sudan matters to the U.S. this way:

“For 30 years the United States has been supporting the people of South Sudan, even before South Sudan became an entity, supporting their right to exist, their right to freedom of religion, and their fight against the government of Sudan. We birthed this nation and there are Americans from all walks of life … who are concerned about what is happening.”

U.S. presence in South Sudan

The U.S. in South Sudan is currently working very closely with the UN, NGOs and international partners, both at the Juba level and in Nairobi. The U.S. has been seen by both sides of the conflict as an honest broker between the two. The U.S. has also been accused by both sides of aiding the other.

The UN in South Sudan

The UN mission in South Sudan was not there to deal with civil violence. Violence broke out suddenly in mid December. The violence was something new to the peacekeepers, who hadn’t before thought of aggressive peacekeeping as their mission. The UN operation was largely concerned with statebuilding. The current UN mission is divided into separate categories, such as government capacity building, standing up of new institutions, etc.

Does statebuildling represent leverage in situations like the current conflict? Does the aid and assistance given represent leverage the U.S. can use? Is it effective at all, or just on the margins, or not at all? The U.S. did not provide a clear answer to this.

The UN, in order to meet the new challenges of South Sudan, will have to organize, provide and train for a different role: aggressive peace-keeping. The mission will have to protect civilians. UN compounds will have to be secured against rebel encroachment. Protected areas will have to be patrolled. A ceasefire–when it comes–will have to be monitored and reported. It will take the UN mission a while to adjust to this very different type of mission.

Challenges to providing aid in South Sudan

Security challenges in South Sudan are the main–almost the only–obstruction to distributing aid, but logistical challenges also exist. For example, the White Nile is a highway for supplies, but all barges on the White Nile have been commandeered and can’t move relief supplies. There are few roads in South Sudan. The rainy season is upcoming (May). Now–the dry season–is the time when provisions need to be pre-positioned around the country for the coming year.

Status of current U.S. aid in South Sudan

U.S. aid is being altered by the rebel outbreak. U.S. aid had gone to the South Sudanese government. Therefore, the U.S. can’t implement this aid right now. The U.S. has considered that if violence continues the U.S. should suspend support. The U.S. committee was not certain how much U.S. aid would run to South Sudan if a new government was instituted in the event of a successful coup.

Current U.S. aid measures taking place

The U.S. has begun to fund additional flights for the UN to distribute aid, but this is expensive because it is not an organized distribution mission based on most effective and economical means. The flights are emergency, immediate, individual missions. Aid cannot be moved to an optimal degree nor as quickly using this type of method.

Mass graves

Thomas-Greenfield stated that the reports of mass graves has not been confirmed, and that confirmation would be the job of UN workers who would go out into the field to find out.

Refugees in South Sudan

The outflow of refugees into neighboring countries takes the problems of South Sudan into those other countries, who–given their recent histories–know well what will be the impact of refugees on their economies and societies.

The region is one that already has significant displacement of persons, and there are already pressures of dealing with such significant displacement of persons.

Uganda’s activity in South Sudan

Uganda came in at the request of South Sudan. Ugandan military has has been tasked with protecting infrastructure at the airport, on Juba road, and protecting Ugandan citizens. Uganda is prepared to aid militarily in South Sudan.

China and what China will do regarding the South Sudan crisis

China went further than it ever has in just making a statement that the sides should cease hostilities. China’s interests are actually much deeper than the U.S. or any other country regarding national security. China will therefore act, America believes, but not publicly. The U.S. seeks ways to engage China in supporting stability in South Sudan. The U.S. seeks to find common ground with China so that they can together support peace efforts in South Sudan. One expert suggestion at the committee had to do with reforming the TROIKA plus China (and India) for leverage, due to the major oil investment of China and India in South Sudan.

Other countries in South Sudan

The U.S. seeks to put collective pressure on South Sudan’s leaders during key point moments, when there needs to be a push.

Currently, South Sudan is staffed with peacekeepers from Bengal, Kenya, Nigeria, and is expecting Guineans.

South Sudanese oil

Most of the oil pumping in South Sudan has ceased, according to Thomas-Greenfield, leaving South Sudan without much to fall back on. This statement contradicts somewhat the South Sudanese government’s statements that oil production has fallen 45 000 barrels per day to 200 000 due to Unity State fighting–that is to say Upper Nile State is still producing 200 000 bpd.

The U.S. decided that South Sudan would need to have a more dynamic relationship regarding its economy. South Sudan should not just have oil production. The U.S. noted that the second largest revenue source in South Sudan was a brewery.

Droughts and floods in South Sudan

Climate change creates a threat multiplier in South Sudan because draughts and floods create negative consequences for agriculture and food security. The overwhelming majority of South Sudanese depend on agriculture. Poverty is also linked to this situation. Floods and droughts create a negative feedback loop wherein civilians fight for smaller and smaller amounts of natural resources, making it more difficult to solve the original problem. Any disruption in agricultural production–whether flood, drought, or civil violence–rolls back any progress and gains previously made. Steps must be taken to reduce the long-term impact of climate change in South Sudan. Greater resilience to floods and droughts must be created. There must be greater management of risk.

Machar and Kiir

No evidence was seen by the U.S. that the outbreak was a coup attempt by Machar. Thomas-Greenfield stated that the outbreak had been “the consequence of a huge political rift” in South Sudan.

The U.S. noted that Machar split from the SPLA in the 90s and had massacred Dinka. The U.S. also noted that party dissenters do not favor Machar; rather, party dissenters criticize the ways policy institution dissolvements have taken place during Kiir’s presidency.

The U.S. stated that Kiir must accept his burden as president and play his role more effectively. The U.S. sees Kiir, though, “for all his faults” as “the democratically elected President, and you have to build on that.” The U.S. remembered Kiir’s past. Kiir had been proud of and admired for creating unity among all the groups in the run-up to the formation of South Sudan. This was one of the reasons Kiir was highly supported. Kiir has changed direction since then. Kiir now sees all critics as enemies. Kiir’s original contribution is being lost.

Dinka and Nuer tribes

The tribal question was of interest to the U.S. 30-35 percent of South Sudan is Dinka, although that group contains many subgroups. Nuer is the second largest ethnic group. There are 65 ethnic groups in South Sudan. There was reference to the problem of possible all-out tribal war as being “a numbers thing,” and in which the U.S. should “forget the mandate.”

Accountability for humanitarian crimes

The U.S. stated that those actors who are guilty of violence should not be part of a new government. Charles Taylor and Liberia were remembered. The U.S. wants to see an example set that war criminals will be tried in the international court.

U.S. selling arms to South Sudan

In January 2012 Obama added South Sudan to the U.S. list of countries eligible to buy weapons from the U.S., although the EU maintained an arms embargo on South Sudan. The U.S. authorized $9 million in weapons sales to South Sudan, and $3 million were actually shipped to South Sudan.

Possible new restrictions on weapons sales to South Sudan

In light of the fact that there is a risk that the weapons will be used to commit atrocities, the U.S. is considering suspending or limiting weapons sales to South Sudan. There was a call for a review of U.S. arms exports in general, which weapons were used to commit human rights violations. A statement was made that the U.S. has the responsibility for longterm harm if the U.S. does sell weapons.

The video of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Washington Friday:

By Day Blakely Donaldson


Radio Miraya