The Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee invited me to testify on the crisis in South Sudan on July 26, 2017. Video of the hearing and copies of the written testimony are available here.
The premise of Joshua Meservey’s recent Heritage Foundation report is sound. It is high time for the United States to hold accountable those responsible for the conflict in South Sudan. In Washington and around the world, there is and should be immense frustration with South Sudanese elites presiding over the collapse of their country. In response, that collapse demands practical, urgent realism, if the priorities of saving lives, reducing suffering, and ensuring regional and international security interests, including those of the United States, are to be advanced.
Meservey makes 19 recommendations. While his analysis is generally accurate, many of the recommendations that follow are problematic. The most radical proposals are: Continue reading
Last week, African Arguments published my article on the perils and limitations of the recent international call for a comprehensive ceasefire in South Sudan.
I argue that:
The achievement of peace in South Sudan is not, and has never been, dependent on demands made from New York, Washington, Addis Ababa or Nairobi. It has always depended on the South Sudanese. But as the fighting in the country continues, international actors should be aware that even an apparently uncontroversial policy such as the demand for a ceasefire can have complex, and potentially adverse, implications.
Read the full text here.
With sanctions, as in politics, it is only a slight exaggeration to say, paraphrasing Gladstone, that timing is everything. Altering U.S. policy on Sudan now, and not six months or a year or five ago, is more about Obama’s impending departure from office than due to any dramatic difference or reform in the Sudanese regime. The regime continues to prioritize the security state over effective governance and service delivery, attack legitimate political opposition and expression, systematically and indiscriminately use the tools of repression, and more (see, for example: Continuing judicial harassment of 5 defenders from TRACKs and the Director of ZORD; Silencing Women Rights Defenders)
None of these are new patterns, nor has Khartoum been discreet enough to avoid further incidents in recent weeks. Mudawi Ibrahim, one of Sudan’s best known human rights activists, was detained in Khartoum on December 7. Human rights lawyer Tasneem Ahmed Taha was detained in El Fasher on December 26. Access to Jebel Marra and many parts of the Nuba Mountains remains extremely limited.
But it does not follow that comprehensive U.S. sanctions are a solution to these or Sudan’s many other problems, or that progress on all of these fronts should have been a precondition to the initial easing of sanctions. The blunt force of the policy of the last twenty years has clearly harmed ordinary civilians, including civilian opponents of the regime. The easing of personal communications equipment sanctions by the U.S. government in February 2015 was recognition, in part, that Sudanese civil society, and ordinary civilians, suffered much more than any Sudanese government elite in being prevented from using modern technology.
There is not much to suggest that U.S. sanctions have compelled those ruling Sudan to consistently moderate their behaviour over the last twenty odd years. The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control noted in a 2009 report: ‘assigning causality between the threat or imposition of economic sanctions and regime-level behavioral changes is fraught with peril,’ while going on to argue, through a few rather unconvincing examples, ‘that U.S. sanctions against Sudan have applied constructive pressure that has affected key Sudanese officials’ decision-making calculi.’ Affected, perhaps, but to what extent? Even Treasury’s own statement announcing the easing of sanctions this month seemed to unwittingly accept this ineffectiveness: ‘our sanctions were intended to pressure the Government of Sudan to change the way it treats its people.’ Intent does not equate to results.
Herein lies the problem with both critics and proponents of this policy shift: sanctions – their imposition and their removal – are not a strategy; they are merely tools, in service of a strategy. And the alternative strategy remains sorely lacking.
The leading U.S. government voices on South Sudan will soon be out of office. Over the last eight years, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power and USAID Administrator (and formerly, Special Assistant to President Obama and Senior Director at the National Security Council) Gayle Smith have given the South Sudan file prominence and attention in Washington that the South Sudanese government scarcely appreciates. To the long list of things in flux in American foreign policy in 2017, we can probably add: a decline in U.S. attention towards South Sudan.
Many in the increasingly repressive and intolerant Juba government were quick to publicly gloat at the election of Donald Trump. The defeat of the Democrats was further occasion to express disdain at the Obama administration and what Juba perceives as its championing of policies unjust to South Sudan.
Although it remains in doubt, if the United Nations Security Council finally imposes an arms embargo on South Sudan this week, the international community may feel that it has responded to the dire warning of genocide made 19 days ago. But the ingredients for genocide in South Sudan are already assembled, and even if the resolution is passed, putting in place the practicalities of an effective sanctions regime will take too long. It is already too late for the embargo to play a fully preventative role in future atrocities.