In late March, speaking with barely controlled anger, Dutch Minister for International Trade and Development Cooperation Lilianne Ploumen told Dutch TV, “The leaders of South Sudan are bastards who starve their own people!”
Ploumen is justified to feel passionate about African babies dying from hunger. Australia’s SBS on March 31 declared the minister “isn’t one for holding back.”
But Ploumen chose to not hold back on the wrong target in South Sudan’s so-called “civil war” that has devastated the nation and its prospects for the past three years. The minister was primarily referring to the democratically-elected President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, omitting criticism of rebel forces causing displacement of populations and exacerbating a famine by preventing adequate access for humanitarian agencies.
U.S. and other politicians, journalists, and humanitarian organizations usually mutter diplomatically that “both sides are at fault” or “all players in the conflict commit atrocities,” while privately condemning President Kiir’s administration and the South Sudan Army. Ploumen, though, didn’t even try to pretend to see any moral equivalence. The Big Man in his cowboy hat from W (fairly certain Kiir has cast off the hat that former Secretary of State Kerry, that old Texas cowhand, gave him to displace deliberately the Bush hat) was in her sights.
These misleading accusations feed on the fact that every narrative about South Sudan is full of confusing acronyms and terms (SPLA, SPLA-IO, GONU, rebels, civil war, etc.) and unattributed actions.
The Government of South Sudan that Kiir leads was renamed the Transitional Government of National Unity, (GONU) in April 2016. A global coalition, including the United States, the African Union, the UN, and others, pressured South Sudan’s leaders into sharing power and leadership with all of their unelected rivals, including the former Vice President Riek Machar. Kiir’s government cooperated with the dictates of internationally imposed leadership as demanded, and has made concession after concession of its own sovereignty for the sake of pursuing peace with rebels like Machar.
Machar has attempted to take over South Sudan by armed rebellion and by a campaign of deception and demonization worthy of Saul Alinsky. He has been aided in this by the Islamic Republic of Sudan (Khartoum), just as he was during Sudan’s civil war in the 1990’s, when he and other current “opposition leaders” tried to take control of what was then southern Sudan. In that rebellion, he was responsible for the death of more southern Sudanese than were the Khartoum jihadists.
A great lesson: stage a violent coup attempt as Machar did in December 2013, be responsible for the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands and for encouraging other leaders to leave the government and join the rebellion, and the international community will reward you by supporting your ‘right’ to be part of the government.
There is calamitous food insecurity in South Sudan. 100,000 citizens are at risk of starvation and half the population, 5.5 million people, face severe food insecurity this summer, according to the World Food Program. Many issues cause this food insecurity, including the displacement of populations by South Sudanese rebels’ attacks and the inability for humanitarian aid to reach affected populations because of the threat from those same rebels, but not deliberate starving of the citizens by the government.
News stories say “fighting,” “civil war,” and raids by “the military” have caused enormous displacement. True enough. But most often, it is the attacks and terror inspired by the rebels – often supported or at least encouraged by the Khartoum regime – or the ensuing firefights between the rebels and the Army that cause people to flee.
In addition, few news stories explain that much food insecurity is actually within the UN “Protection of Civilians” (POC) sites in country. POC’s and refugee camps are overcrowded and food is scarce. GONU officials have urged citizens to return home in peaceful areas where cultivation is taking place. But the UN’s drumbeat of tribal conflict has frightened many South Sudanese and discouraged them from going home.
Finally, there is the claim of humanitarian groups and the UN that the government “denies access” to them in areas where people are starving. But according to a trusted, well-placed source, stacks and stacks of access request forms, photos of which will soon be available publicly, have been approved by the GONU.
The UN is well aware that the requests for access denied are in areas controlled by rebels, not the GONU. The government has neither control nor the ability to protect the humanitarian agencies from attacks and kidnappings by rebel militias aligned with Riek Machar or with others that have taken advantage of the nation’s instability to try to grab power for themselves.
Last November, the UN pushed the GONU until it finally gave access to an area under rebel control. Naturally, the rebel forces of Riek Machar (the SPLA-IO “In Opposition”) ambushed the group. The UN called for help and the real SPLA, the South Sudan Army, came to the rescue. But the SPLA lost 16 of its own men because of this reckless action by humanitarian groups whose loyalty to the rebels is not returned by the rebels. The incident resulted in a notable lack of reports featuring quotes from UN officials expressing their gratitude to the GONU and the SPLA for this sacrificial action.
The criticism of South Sudan appears particularly hollow when compared to international commentary on Sudan. The regime in Khartoum has used government-orchestrated starvation and famine as a weapon of jihad for decades. And it is currently perpetrating three, three genocidal wars: in the Nuba Mountains, in Blue Nile State, and in Darfur, where starvation conditions, not to mention chemical weapons, are always present.
Unlike South Sudan, however, the trade and investment opportunities between the Netherlands and Sudan may be too cozy for insults. Sudan has notably evaded the criticism Ploumen offered – for example, former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, lauded a “sea change of improvement in Khartoum’s facilitating of humanitarian access in Sudan” in spite of no change in Khartoum’s policies and declaration of jihad against the black African Christians and Muslims of the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile State, and Darfur.
Contrary to the assessment of certain Africa policy experts that opine about a country far away with little to no actual experience there, South Sudan was not stillborn. South Sudan was delivered, a baby nation, but then expected to act full grown while emerging from trauma such as most human beings could never imagine. The international community should redirect its anger away from the legitimate South Sudanese government and look to quell the actions of violent rebels supported by the genocidal regime in Khartoum