U.S. Goes From Support to Sanctions for African Ally
14 Jan 2020

In the years since South Sudan declared independence in 2011, the U.S. has been its principal backer, supporting the government of the world’s newest nation despite its wars, rights abuses and corruption.

Now, with the threat of famine looming after a series of missed deadlines for the country’s warring factions to form a unity government, Washington has signaled its patience has run out.

On Wednesday, Washington imposed sanctions on South Sudan’s first vice president, after adding two government ministers to its blacklist in December, accusing them of perpetuating the conflict.

“The people of South Sudan have suffered enough while their leaders delay the implementation of a sustainable peace,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last month.

Washington signaled its frustration in November when the State Department temporarily recalled the U.S. ambassador and said South Sudan President Salva Kiir’s government was no longer suitable to continue leading the country’s peace process.

“The U.S. has gone from South Sudan’s chief backer to its main naysayer,” said Alan Boswell, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. “It’s a remarkable shift.”

The U.S., far outpacing other donors, has spent a total of $11 billion on the largely Christian East African nation since it claimed independence from majority Muslim Sudan, according to the Congressional Research Service. The aid was intended to help build a stable government for a fledgling nation endowed with sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest oil reserves.

But money and diplomatic pressure have failed to bring about a deal between Mr. Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, whose forces began fighting a civil war in 2013 that has killed 400,000 people and uprooted more than 4 million.

The conflict erupted after Mr. Kiir accused Mr. Machar of plotting a coup. Clashes quickly spread across the country, splitting South Sudan along ethnic lines, pitting Mr. Kiir’s Dinka tribe against Mr. Machar’s Nuer.

Clashes have subsided in much of the country since the two sides reached a truce in September 2018 under pressure from the U.S. and the United Nations.

But the leaders have missed a series of deadlines to form a government. When Messrs. Kiir and Machar met in Juba in December for the latest power-sharing talks, they failed to strike a deal on important issues including how to integrate rebel forces in the national army and the composition of regional states.

The South Sudan government said it is addressing Washington’s concerns and accused the Trump administration of pushing for regime change.

“Every time we are close to forming a unity government, Americans sanction our people,” said Michael Makuei Lueth, the country’s information minister, who is one of the government ministers under U.S. sanctions. “The Americans are confusing the peace process. It’s now clear they don’t want us to form a unity government.

The government has been encouraging families to leave U.N. camps and return home, but aid officials in oil-rich Unity State said that mothers are refusing to send their children back because they don’t trust that the fragile peace will hold.

The most imminent concern is the prospect of famine.

Half of the country’s population of 11 million is now facing a potential famine early this year because of drought, flooding and political uncertainty that hampers aid response efforts and farming, according to the U.N. World Food Program.

The displacement of millions of people by the conflict has heightened the threat of extreme food shortages, acute malnutrition and deaths, according to the U.N., which in 2017, in parts of South Sudan, declared what was the world’s first famine since 2012.

“It is much worse than we had anticipated, we are literally talking about famine in the next few months,” said World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley.

Despite the truce, opposition and government forces have continued to break in to humanitarian facilities and demand payment from aid convoys at checkpoints, according to the United Nations.

By Nicholas Bariyo and Julia Steers, The Wall Street Journal, 13 January 2020

Read more at The Wall Street Journal

Photo: Steve Evans [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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