To Save South Sudan, Dump The Warlords By Christopher W. Douglas
No single product or project can “save” South Sudan, and nobody can turn a “bad government” into a “good” one. Some groups might even be happy with the status quo. But international partners can help what’s already good in South Sudan become even better by building on the existing social, economic, and democratic activities.
It’s cruel and dishonest to call South Sudan a “failed state” whose people have “little to celebrate” on their fourth Independence Day, which passed by earlier this July. The failure is one of state building – and of building the wrong state.
After years of bitter internecine conflict in the country, those same international governments and agencies pronouncing South Sudan kaput share responsibility for this failure with South Sudan’s current government.
The United States and other countries sent immense resources to South Sudan’s generals-turned-statesmen, seeking to prevent another war with Sudan or, worse yet, a Somalia-like environment for terrorists. They couldn’t or wouldn’t see that many of those generals, possessed of a lust for power, were still at war with Sudan-sponsored militias. Soldiers in the South Sudanese army, meanwhile, were becoming ever more impatient for the peace and prosperity promised after decades of bloodletting.
Whatever the donors intended, too much money went into political coffers, military hardware, and infrastructure for the oil industry.
Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained the international community’s tolerance for this mismanagement in 2012. “A percentage of something is better than a percentage of nothing,” she said, meaning that a minimally functional but increasingly kleptocratic and authoritarian-leaning government was better than the violent turmoil another U.S.-backed intervention had just unleashed in Libya.
Who will stand behind that reptilian zero-sum logic today, as lives and property are destroyed throughout South Sudan by the private armies of those seeking the biggest share of the country’s oil revenue? If the wasted scientific, cultural, and economic potential isn’t chilling enough, there’s also the threat of incubating the next Lord’s Resistance Army, Boko Haram, or Ebola strain.
Signs of Hope
Despite all these mistakes, a peaceful and stable South Sudan is still within reach, if South Sudanese civil society groups are assisted in building on their existing social, economic, and democratic activities.
South Sudanese cooperatives and entrepreneurs show one way forward. River Nile International and the Lulu Works women’s co-op just sent their country’s first export to the United States: 100 percent natural honey and shea. The South Farmers Company is connecting local poultry farmers with hungry markets, like Kenya’s One Hen Campaign. Jewelry and artwork from the women of the Roots Project has debuted at New York fashion shows. The Savannah Farmers Cooperative set up and runs the country’s first major grain mill.