7 outrageous things S. Sudan's leaders are doing instead of making peace

With millions facing hunger and 1.5 million displaced, President Kiir and rebel leader Machar are supposed to lay down arms and figure out a new government. Just the opposite is happening.

Tiksa Negeri/Reuters
South Sudan's rebel leader Riek Machar attends an interview with Reuters in his office in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa July 9, 2014.

A version of this post appeared on Enough Said. The views expressed are the author's own. 

A month ago, the two protagonists in South Sudan’s civil war promised to make peace within 60 days. The country’s president, Salva Kiir and its erstwhile vice president, Riek Machar, recommitted themselves to the terms of a May 2014 ceasefire and pledged to deliver aid to the 1.5 million people who have been displaced by violence. In June they promised to figure out what a national unity government would look like within 60 days. 

Halfway to that deadline, neither man has delivered on his word. Instead, they’ve done almost everything but, issuing bizarre decrees, increasing weapons stockpiles, and generally avoiding the hard work of ending a war.

Here’s just seven of the unbelievable things South Sudan’s leaders have done instead spending the past 30 days making peace with one another:

1. Order curfew violators shot dead since only “witches” go out at night.

South Sudan’s Interior Minister Aleu Ayieny Aleu confirmed that he had ordered security forces to shoot and kill anyone who violates the country’s night-time curfew. When questioned about the curfew by reporters, Aleu added: “It is only witches who move at night. They steal and kill our people … shoot them.”

2. Threaten to capture oil fields even if that means attacking the UN.

Opposition leader and former vice president Machar told Reuters that if fighting resumed, his troops would try to stop production from South Sudan’s oil fields – even if United Nations peacekeepers were guarding these installations. Machar added: “We won’t harm oil installations but we will make sure it [output] stops, because it will be used by the government to buy arms.”

3. Stock up on millions of dollars worth of Chinese-made weapons.

Despite their pledge to put down their weapons and end the fighting, South Sudan’s government continued with plans to spend millions on Chinese weapons. Bloomberg reports that a shipment set sail from the Chinese port of Zhanjiang in Guangdong province last month and is now headed to South Sudan via Kenya. Among other things, the South Sudanese government is buying thousands of automatic rifles and grenade launchers, millions bullets for automatic rifles, hundreds of machine guns and pistols, and even anti-tank missiles. An unnamed Western diplomat in Juba estimates that the South Sudanese government has spent at least $1 billion on new weapons since the civil war began in December 2013. For their part, the armed opposition continues to recruit and train from bases in Ethiopia. To counter these dynamics, the International Crisis Group recently called for an arms embargo on the region.

4. Refuse to attend multi-stakeholder talks organized in Addis Ababa.

Citing concerns about who was invited to participate in the talks, Machar’s delegation did not show up for multi-stakeholder talks hosted by the IGAD mediators in late June 2014. Due to their absence and government protests about the mediator’s use of the term “stupid,” the mediation team was forced to adjourn negotiations. The parties have not been able to agree to sit down for talks at all since then.

5. Celebrate their third independence day by grounding all humanitarian flights.

On July 9, South Sudan commemorated its third independence day. Ugandan President Museveni, whose troops are fighting on behalf of Kiir’s government, was the only regional leader to attend the festivities. Nonetheless, the South Sudanese government closed Juba Airport thereby halting all humanitarian flights. Radio Tamazuj explains that the order to close the airport was issued to allow visiting dignitaries to make unhindered use of the airport. Although incredibly expensive, in South Sudan’s vast underdeveloped and muddy countryside, air drops are often the only viable option to deliver food aid to remote areas.

6. Write the UN asking for talks that exclude civil society and other perspectives.

In a formal request to the United Nations, Riek Machar made it clear that he preferred direct talks with Kiir’s government over the broad based multi-stakeholder forum organized by the mediation team. In an effort to avoid another back room deal, inclusivity has been a touchstone for those trying to facilitate a lasting solution to South Sudan’s crisis. While the mediators have embraced that priority, many in civil society have questioned the limited way that the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) body have implemented that principle in practice.

7. Ban any debate on “federalism” and confiscate all copies of a local newspaper using the word.

After Machar embraced rhetoric around federalism and greater autonomy for South Sudan’s regions, Kiir’s government criticized those who raised the topic and later allegedly bannedany debate on the subject. Security officials are even confiscating newspapers and threatening editors for daring to use the word.


When he announced the 60 day deadline, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told reporters in Addis Ababa.“if they don’t abide to this agreement, IGAD as an organisation will act to implement peace in South Sudan.”

The Ethiopian prime minister noted that sanctions and (other) punitive actions were all viable options. While briefing the UN Security Council, chief IGAD mediator Amb. Seyoum Mesfin also threw his weight behind the idea of targeted sanctions for non-compliance, including asset freezes, travel bans and possibly the escrow of oil revenues. The United States took unilateral action by sanctioning two key military commanders in early May 2014. Today, the European Union joined in with its own sanctions against the same two men.

However, both the UN Security Council and regional governments, like Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, have yet to act. The 60 day window for talks about a transitional government is flying by. It’s time to make that deadline meaningful by making the threat of sanctions an actionable reality.

Akshaya Kumar is a Sudan/South Sudan analyst with the Enough Project. A version of this post also appeared oThinkProgress.

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