South Sudan ‘at tipping point’

South Sudan has been hijacked, looted and betrayed by irresponsible and venal leaders and must be placed under international management if the total collapse of the world’s newest nation is to be avoided, the United States Congress has been told.

The call came as the United Nations and the International Red Cross warned of an imminent humanitarian catastrophe caused by the civil war, which enters its third year this week. Thousands of people have died as a result of the fighting, seven million are in need of food aid and two million have been displaced. A recent African Union report detailed appalling atrocities by both sides.

Princeton Lyman, a former US special envoy, told a Senate hearing that South Sudan was “one of the great tragedies of the world today [that] is also undermining the stability of one of the most sensitive regions in the world”.

Bob Corker, chairperson of the Senate foreign relations committee, accused President Salva Kiir, who leads the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) government, and his chief political rival, former vice-president Riek Machar, of together creating an utter shambles.

John Prendergast, director of the Enough Project lobby group and former director for African Affairs at the National Security Council, said South Sudan was not only a failed state but also a hijacked one that had become a “violent kleptocracy”. He urged the Obama administration to impose financial and legal sanctions.

“This war has been hell for the people of South Sudan, but it has also been very lucrative for their leaders. ‘War crimes pay’ has been the message,” Prendergast said.

The criticism came as fears intensified that a peace deal, agreed under intense US and AU diplomatic pressure in August, is unravelling. Repeated ceasefire violations have been reported, atrocities against civilians are continuing, and weapons still flow into the country despite efforts to impose an arms embargo.

Peter Bashir Gbandi, South Sudan’s deputy foreign affairs minister, rejected the criticism and insisted the peace process was on track. Yet nearly six months on, key provisions including the creation of a national unity government, improved security and the introduction of a special “hybrid court” to investigate war crimes have not been implemented.

Kiir’s SPLM is reportedly riven by infighting – a leadership convention at the weekend was postponed indefinitely at the last minute. Divisions are also apparent among South Sudan’s neighbours, notably between Uganda, which backs Kiir, and President Omar al-Bashir’s Sudan, the SPLM’s old enemy.

Lyman, former US envoy to South Sudan and Sudan and a former ambassador to South Africa and Nigeria, told the Senate the country had suffered systemic leadership and institutional failures since 2011 and now needed a strong external hand to take charge.

The AU’s recent report had shown that the SPLM, the legislature, the judiciary, the police and civil society were “all inadequate to the challenge of keeping the rivalries among the leaders from spinning out of control … Without understanding the weaknesses of those institutions, the peace agreement will almost surely fail,” he said.

Lyman proposed that the AU, backed by the UN and the US, transform the joint monitoring and evaluation committee set up in August and chaired by former Botswana president Festus Mogae into an internationally managed transitional authority. “To be effective in this role, Mogae should be accorded by the AU the authority of a high commissioner, someone who can call the parties to order,” Lyman suggested.

To all intents and purposes, Mogae would exercise the powers of a colonial-era governor general, including financial policy and budget control, and the power to sanction erring parties and individuals. He would also assist the hybrid court in bringing war criminals to justice.

He would be backed up by a UN peacekeeping mission or an AU force, or both, supported by the US and aid donors such as Britain, turning South Sudan into what, in effect, would be an international protectorate. – ©?Guardian News & Media 2015

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Simon Tisdall
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