Instead of continuing to bet the lives of innocent South Sudanese on the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development’s (IGAD) effort to bring peace, the United States should stop acting as just a supporting agent for the IGAD-led peace initiative and instead take more active measures to end the conflict. To this end, the U.S. should impose tough sanctions on the top leadership of the warring parties by freezing all of their assets outside South Sudan and by pressuring all the regional governments to adopt an arms embargo as measures to force the leaders to agree to a sustainable peace.
Since 2013, the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, has been embroiled in a horrific civil war. Despite the best efforts of regional bodies like IGAD to end the conflict, the warring parties have failed to agree to a sustainable peace deal. The ongoing conflict has led to the loss of thousands of lives, displaced millions of South Sudanese, and caused inhumane conditions for those caught up in the conflict. Even with such despicable suffering, both sides’ leadership has yet to agree to a solution to the conflict.
The United States should use all of its diplomatic tools to persuade East African regional leaders to impose sanctions on the key leaders like President Salva Kiir and his former Vice President Riek Machar, whose families continue to live in huge mansions in the countries outside South Sudan, while millions of innocent civilians continue to suffer from the ongoing conflict. Regional leaders could freeze all the assets of belligerent leaders outside South Sudan as leverage to bring the warring parties to the negotiation table. As it stands now, the top leadership has been mostly untouched by the negative consequences of the war, unlike the average South Sudanese.
South Sudanese generals during Independence Day celebrations in 2011
If anything, the leaders have been enriching themselves on the backs of everyday citizens, as reported in 2016 by The Sentry, an organization that holds people who profit from genocides and war atrocities accountable. In the absence of any serious consequences for the warring parties’ leadership, they have hardly any incentive to end the conflict and will continue to pursue their personal ambitions at the expense of South Sudanese civilians unless the United States persuades the regional powers to impose sanctions on them. The people who should be leading South Sudan have continued to fail their people and have shown to the United States and the world that they cannot solve the crisis with the IGAD as the main mediator.
The United States should also push the regional powers to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan. The regional powers, some of which serve as transit points or suppliers of weapons, could play a crucial role in ending the conflict in South Sudan, if the United States was able to successfully convince them to adopt the arms embargo. Since South Sudan’s lack of seaports makes it reliant on neighboring countries to get weapons, regional governments are essential to the success of an embargo essential. If the neighboring countries were able to put a stop to the inflow of the weapons, eventually both parties would have no option but to engage in an honest discussion on how to end the conflict in the country. For more than four years, IGAD and interested parties like the U.S. have tried to bring the parties to the table, but every time, peace efforts have proven fruitless because both of the warring factions continue to import weapons through neighboring countries.
The United States’ leadership in South Sudan is needed now more than ever to help end the horrendous civil war. The current American policy toward South Sudan has been ineffective due to IGAD’s inability to use assets as leverage; stopping the inflow of weapons from the neighboring countries and freezing all the assets of the warring parties’ leaders in order to force them to end the conflict is a step in the right direction. The United States cannot allow the suffering of innocent South Sudanese at the expense of a few politicians to rip the country apart. The change of the United States’ policy toward more active role would help end the conflict in the world’s newest country.
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Atem is a second year in Masters of Arts of International Affairs with a focus on conflict resolution at Elliott. He currently works with International Student House-DC and has previously interned with PeaceTech Lab as a South Sudanese diaspora outreach coordinator on bringing awareness concerning the hate speech online.