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What would help South Sudan end its brutal war?

May 5, 2017 at 6:35 PM EDT
What will it take to end the violence in South Sudan? Hari Sreenivasan speaks with independent analyst Nii Akuetteh and Brian Adeba of the Enough Project about what can be done from an advocacy perspective, and how the U.S., the U.N. and other countries in the region can play a role.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: But first: All this week, we have brought you reports from South Sudan on the roots of its conflict, the famine there, and the use of rape as a weapon of war. And from neighboring Uganda, we met South Sudanese refugees fleeing for a better life.

Tonight, we ask, what will it take to end the violence?

And we turn to Nii Akuetteh. He has led a number of nonprofit organizations that promoted democracy and good governance in Africa. He is now an independent analyst. And Brian Adeba, he is the associate director for policy at The Enough Project, which advocates for accountability for genocide and atrocities in Africa.

So, Nii Akuetteh, the world’s youngest country, how did we get here so fast?

NII AKUETTEH, Independent Analyst: I think it’s because, in their fight for independence, the rest of the world focused on who they were fighting, Khartoum, and I think we didn’t pay enough attention to the rivalries and the dissensions and the fault lines within the South Sudanese leadership.

And also, while they took control of the new country with the rules to be written and resources and rivalries, I also do think that the death of John Garang, who everything says was an outstanding leader, his death in a helicopter crash also led to that.

Finally, I think the world needs to pay more attention to what’s going on.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Anything to add?

BRIAN ADEBA, The Enough Project: Well, indeed what he said is true.

At independence, a small group of people in the ruling party, a small group of elites hijacked government and all its institutions, and ensued on a corruption spree that created a lot of dissension within the party.

Ultimately, in the end, rivalries started appearing in the party because of this corruption. The state became the most prized asset that everyone was vying for control of.

Unfortunately, for the ruling party itself, because it had incapacitated the ability of institutions to mitigate this conflict, in the end, the conflict began to be expressed in violent terms. And that’s where we are right now.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, stopping the conflict is the first priority for everyone. Why hasn’t worked? Why hasn’t it worked so far, whatever we have tried?

NII AKUETTEH: I think one of the methods, one of the measures that people have talked about that have not actually implemented is stopping the flow of arms into the country.

It’s like pouring gasoline on fire. And various international players behind the scenes are reluctant, both in the region and then globally. I think that’s one of the things. But the other thing is that not enough pressure.

I mean, the people who are doing — the leadership doing the fighting, they have not suffered from it. And I think one other aspect of the fighting that needs to be stressed is, heartbreakingly, it has become ethnicized, so that ordinary people are being killed. There are ethnic militias. So I think stopping it will be — is going to be quite a challenge.

BRIAN ADEBA: It’s true. The missing element here is leverage, what can be done to exert leverage, so that the parties in the conflict change their calculations towards peace. That’s been missing.

And we have suggested that targeted pressures, targeted sanctions are essential, an arms embargo. Targeted sanctions are essential because most of these transactions happen in the U.S. dollars. And that gives the U.S. jurisdiction to act within the toolkit here, the precious toolkit available to policy-makers in the U.S.

There are measures that can be enacted to trace these assets, to seize these assets in some aspects, and to send a message to the perpetrators of this conflict that there is a price to pay for war.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is that the most effective way to do it, because the U.S. dollar is the sort of currency of the day?

NII AKUETTEH: Oh, I agree totally, because also ,on the global stage, the U.S. looms large.

And the U.S. was a leader in supporting the independence of South Sudan. But even if you take a more narrow view of U.S.’ own national interests, it’s always been said that ungoverned spaces breed terrorism, which eventually can come to affect the U.S.

So, frankly, when I look down the road, this is an American issue. Now, the fighters are South Sudanese, the victims are South Sudanese. But it should concern Americans. And I think, for one, think that Congress needs to make its voice strong and push the State Department to work with various organizations, because, otherwise, it will get worse, and that — we will then see that it’s beginning to affect the American interests in ways that cannot be missed.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Brian, as he points out, the U.S. was instrumental in trying to birth this nation.

But is this administration going to — are there any indications that they’re going to pay as close attention to this?

BRIAN ADEBA: Well, I’m quite optimistic.

If we look back at the statements — the statement that the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, uttered a few weeks ago, it was the very first time that a member of the Trump administration had come out very strongly on South Sudan.

She chided how her counterparts in the Security Council for inaction on South Sudan and suggested that perhaps it’s time now to broach or examine the possibility of an arms embargo to stop the carnage that is going on.

She also called out the president of South Sudan for continuing to perpetuate the conflict and also the other political elements involved in this conflict. So, that’s encouraging.

From a multilateral perspective, an arms embargo is very, very essential, and the U.S. has a lot of room and opportunity to use that.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is that the best way for us to move forward? Is it through a body like the United Nations? Is there something the United States should be doing independent?

NII AKUETTEH: I think so.

The region original organization IGAD, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, all of them have played a great role. And, in fact, up until some time ago, they played a positive role. But now, in fact, the reason that there has been no push on the leadership in South Sudan is because IGAD itself is divided.

And within IGAD, what I’m saying is, the U.S., apart from pressure like Brian has said, on the Sudanese leaders, South Sudanese leaders, to also put pressure on the countries in the region. I mean, U.S. relations with Khartoum is warming up. It has good relations with Uganda. It has good relations with Ethiopia. It has good relations with Kenya.

So, I, for one, think the U.S. should also put pressure on these countries to come to a meeting of the minds, because they are backing different sides.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Nii Akuetteh, Brian Adeba, thank you both.

NII AKUETTEH: Thank you for having us.

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