- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2015

NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW:

The struggling government of South Sudan says the U.S. must do more to support the democracy it helped create in the nation four years ago, asserting that the Obama administration and the international community are unfairly blaming the leadership in Juba for dragging its feet on a peace deal with rebels in the country’s civil war.

Without clearer American leadership and backing, said Awan Riak, a top adviser to South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit, the cycle of violence that has gripped the country since it achieved independence will only continue.

“We cannot make it alone, and we will not succeed alone,” Mr. Riak said in an interview with editors and reporters at The Washington Times on Thursday, suggesting that Washington has an obligation to intervene with resources that none of South Sudan’s neighbors can provide.

“If they see their child is perishing,” he said, “I do not think that the United States of America will just stand watching things.”

At the same time, however, Mr. Riak said the Obama administration and many others in the international community have unfairly portrayed the government as the aggressor in South Sudan’s internal strife and that U.S. officials are turning a blind eye to ongoing meddling by the government of Sudan to the north.

He said Mr. Kiir has ceded to pressure from the White House to sign a peace deal with Khartoum-backed rebels in recent weeks in the hope that the Obama administration would follow through with funding to ensure that the accord is implemented.

“There is a need for the [U.S.] to cooperate with our government,” he said, asserting that suggestions by administration officials that Mr. Kiir is to blame for the nation’s problems are “not helpful” and “not productive.”

The South Sudanese president and rebel leaders traded charges this week over who had violated a cease-fire as the two sides tried to implement the August peace accord. Mr. Kiir also faced skepticism from the United Nations when he participated by video hookup in a high-level summit this week on the country’s difficulties reaching a power-sharing accord.

“I hope you will not betray and disappoint us,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told Mr. Kiir.

The South Sudanese president told the conference, “I know there are people who doubt my commitment. I will prove the doubting Thomases wrong.”

South Sudan’s plight, Mr. Riak said, has grown more precarious by fact that the price of oil — the war-torn African nation’s economic lifeline — has plummeted in the past year.

“We are not even meeting our budgetary obligations towards delivery of services to our people,” he said. “And now, with the [peace] agreement itself coming in as another process to be followed when we are having all these economic challenges, we find it difficult to move forward without [financial] support.”

Souring relationship

Although the Obama administration spent the initial years of South Sudan’s independence backing the Kiir government, the relationship began to sour when the South Sudanese president sacked his entire Cabinet — including Vice President Riek Machar, now the leader of the rebel forces — in 2013.

During the months leading up to the purge, Mr. Kiir had gone on an anti-corruption campaign. He accused dozens of officials in his own government of gutting the new nation’s accounts and illegally moving the money to overseas markets.

Mr. Kiir said some 75 current and former officials had enriched themselves, often by paying cash for foreign properties.

He also made headlines by writing letters to foreign leaders, including President Obama, calling on them to help recover some $4 billion he said was stolen from South Sudan’s government.

Washington’s lack of action on the matter prompted frustration among officials in Mr. Kiir’s new government.

The sacking of Mr. Machar, meanwhile, highlighted other divisions on the nation’s political scene, underscoring the friction between the two men over what Juba’s long-term oil-sharing relationship should be with Sudan, from which the south had declared independence in 2011.

Mr. Machar was seen to advocate reconciliation with Khartoum, while Mr. Kiir was seen to want a more aggressive posture toward the northern neighbors, whose “Janjaweed” militants were accused of carrying out genocide against Sudanese civilians in Darfur during years of civil war between north and south.

Upon his dismissal, Mr. Machar emerged as the main leader of opposition rebels that the Kiir government says are backed by Khartoum. Further complicating matters, both men, who hail from different ethnic tribes, have stoked clan loyalties in an effort to recruit supporters.

With that as a backdrop, the Obama administration appeared to ease off its support for the Kiir government last year and encouraged the government to strike a peace deal with Mr. Machar’s rebel force.

Mr. Riak made clear Thursday that the U.S. pressure did not sit well with Mr. Kiir.

It was only after the White House threatened last month to rally the United Nations for an arms embargo on South Sudan that Mr. Kiir agreed to sign a deal with Mr. Machar and his rebels, which calls for Mr. Machar to be reinstated as vice president.

Despite his complaints, Mr. Riak said Thursday that the Juba government wants to turn “a new page with the United States of America.”

The Obama administration said it has already given more than $1 billion in aid to South Sudan since independence.

But Mr. Riak said more money is needed to implement the peace deal, which includes disarming Mr. Machar’s rebels.

He did not name a specific dollar amount, but he made it clear that his visit to Washington, which includes meetings at the White House and the State Department, aims to convince the administration that Mr. Kiir is trying to do right and hopes to get U.S. financial support in return.

“If there is something that we are not doing right in the government, we have to be told and cautioned,” Mr. Riak said. “But if blames are always done, we feel that something is terribly wrong and it has to be corrected.”

He stressed that American companies have much opportunity in the resource-rich African country.

“We are a country that has resources that should be exploited for the mutual benefit of all of our countries, not only the people of South Sudan — and yet, it is a place where people are still suffering, not even affording to have food on the table, despite all these blessings we have,” Mr. Riak said. “These are areas we feel we have to cooperate on, and if the [U.S.] will take the lead in the process of investment and development, the rest of the world will follow. We cannot make it alone, and we will not succeed alone.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide