US Senate statement on South Sudan reflecting PCCA calls for leaders to step aside!
Mr. President, several months ago I spoke of the hope we all felt that after decades of civil war, famine, and political turmoil, after millions were killed and millions more became refugees including thousands of “lost boys” and “lost girls”, South Sudan’s independence and a peace agreement would be the beginning of a period of lasting stability and progress.
Regrettably, what has unfolded since then is the antithesis of stability or progress. The past decade has been plagued by continued ethnic violence, widespread hunger, and ongoing disputes between rival politicians who have been motivated by their own personal ambitions rather than building a democratic country or improving the lives of the South Sudanese people. Two individuals, President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar, are primarily to blame for fueling tensions and mobilizing support along ethnic lines, and for failing in their responsibility to invest in public infrastructure, basic services, and the institutions of a multi-party democracy. The country remains divided, violent, and impoverished. The Parliament is nothing more than a hand-picked rubber stamp.
In Senate Resolution 380, which passed unanimously on December 9, 2021, we recounted the failure of leadership that continues to plague South Sudan. We said:
Whereas despite years of fighting, widespread suffering of South Sudanese civilians, punitive actions by the international community, and 2 peace agreements, the leaders of South Sudan have failed to build sustainable peace, and critical provisions of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict [R-ARCSS] . . . remain unimplemented;
Whereas South Sudan has not held an election since its independence and the current leaders of South Sudan were appointed or installed through transitional arrangements based on peace agreements.
The people of South Sudan deserve better. Their children are hungry. They live in constant fear that the country will again erupt into civil war and they will be forced to flee their homes yet again. It is a travesty that despite billions of dollars in international aid, oil revenues, and black market loans so little has been accomplished due to the whims and greed of two politicians. Where did all that money go, when the government does not pay teachers, or health workers, diplomats, or war veterans, or build schools, health clinics, housing, or roads, or otherwise address the basic needs of the people of South Sudan? Where did the money go when the government does nothing to protect its citizens and their livestock from drowning from the yearly flooding of the Nile River? Does anyone doubt that it ended up in secret bank accounts or to purchase properties far away from South Sudan?
I have spoken before of the People’s Coalition for Civil Action (PCCA), a pro-democracy civil rights movement that seeks to mobilize the people of South Sudan in their pursuit of peaceful political change, which is their right. The PCCA and similar peaceful organizations represent a rejection of war, corruption, insecurity, and poverty. They are calling for new, honest and capable leadership that is committed to improving the lives of their people, to providing stability and security, rather than self-enrichment.
I note that Senate Resolution 380 calls on the Secretary of State to “lead a comprehensive interagency process to develop a revitalized United States policy toward South Sudan that . . . identifies South Sudanese political and civilian stakeholders, beyond President Kiir and First Vice President Machar, with whom the United States may work for the promotion of peace, democracy, development, accountability, transparency, and anti-corruption efforts.” Supporting the PCCA would be a good place to start.
How has President Kiir responded to this praiseworthy demand for nothing more than that he and Vice President Machar keep their promise to lead the country out of poverty? Several of the PCCA’s leaders have been arrested. Others live in exile, fearing that they too would be jailed if they return home.
I think of Abraham Awolich, one of the lost boys. One of his brothers was killed fighting for the liberation of South Sudan and Abraham nearly died himself for the same cause, but he was fortunate to be educated in a refugee camp in Kenya and resettled in my state of Vermont where he graduated from the university. He is one of the dedicated leaders of the PCCA who have called for free and fair elections so the country can finally have new leadership and leave behind a generation of corruption, violence, and misery. Abraham left the comfort of living in America and chose to go back to South Sudan to help build a new democratic society, but he has had to flee his country and his assets have been frozen for speaking out and standing up for democracy and civil rights. This is wrong.
Others who are in jail for their peaceful advocacy are Kuel Aguer Kuel, Pastor Abraham Chol Maketh, Malik Angok, and Fadhia Ngor. Rajab Mohandis, Wani Michael, Joseph Akol Makeer, and Jame David Kolok are on the run for the same reason, their assets also frozen. Other advocacy organizations the government has targeted besides the PCCA include the Organization for Responsive Governance, the Okay Africa Foundation, and the Foundation for Democracy and Accountable Governance.
These individuals and organizations deserve and need our support.
I urge the South Sudanese authorities to release Kuel Aguer Kuel and all the political prisoners mentioned so they can begin this new year with their families. The government should also unfreeze the assets of the individuals and organizations affected and issue a public statement revoking any further threats against them and their organizations.
The repressive actions of the South Sudanese government should outrage each of us, especially considering the billions of dollars American taxpayers contributed to secure South Sudan’s independence and put the country on a path to a prosperous future. President Kiir and Vice President Machar have a duty to provide the political and civic space for their people to exercise their rights of free expression, association, and assembly, and to petition for free and fair elections and for honest and competent governance.
Ever since independence 10 years ago, the people of South Sudan have struggled to survive under the suffocating oppression of the same two disgraced leaders. President Kiir and Vice President Machar have an opportunity to show real statesmanship, but time is running out. They should listen to the voices of their people expressed through the National Dialogue and step aside and give South Sudan a new beginning. The two could end the unrest in South Sudan with a public declaration of their intention not to contest the next election. Rather than delay elections as they have done repeatedly before, President Kiir and Vice President Machar should set a date for national and parliamentary elections, in accordance with the R-ARCSS, and declare their unconditional commitment to relinquish power as soon as South Sudan’s new leaders are sworn in.
In acting on this advice, President Kiir and Vice President Machar would receive international support for an honorable exit from power. Ignoring this advice, however, would result in further condemnation and consequences from the United States and the rest of the international community.
The text of Senate Resolution 380 bears repeating, because it identifies some, but by no means all, of the consequences that could result. It “urges the Secretary of the Treasury—
(A) to prioritize investigations into illicit financial flows fueling violence in South Sudan;
(B) to work with the Secretary of State to update, on a regular basis, the list of individuals and entities designated under the South Sudan sanctions program, including individuals at the highest levels of leadership in South Sudan and from within the National Security Service; and
(C) to coordinate, in cooperation with the Secretary of State, with the United Kingdom and the European Union on South Sudan-related sanctions designations and enforcement.”
Mr. President, what has befallen the people of South Sudan in the ten years since independence is a travesty. Their dreams of a better future have been crushed. Their rights have been trampled. Many have paid with their lives or their freedom. Their government has become a subject of ridicule by the same international donors that staked so much on the good faith of leaders who have failed them.
Time has run out for President Kiir and Vice President Machar. The patience of the South Sudanese people has run out. The tolerance of the international community has run out. They have squandered and abused their authority for far too long. They would be well-advised to stand aside so that others, chosen in a free and fair election, can begin the process of uniting and rebuilding the country. To that end, the United States can work with regional allies, Canada, Norway, the UK, other European nations, and church leaders to achieve a democratic and peaceful solution in South Sudan