South Sudan hell no longer touted by Obama as foreign policy success

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Upon gaining independence and becoming the world’s newest nation in 2011, South Sudan was touted as a major foreign policy success for President Barack Obama.

Celebrities such as George Clooney and Don Cheadle led the chorus of congratulatory praise for the president.

More than two million South Sudanese have been displaced after civil war erupted in 2013. /Getty Images
More than two million South Sudanese have been displaced after civil war erupted in 2013. /Getty Images

Five years later, amid civil war, squalid and dangerous conditions at refugee camps and the rapes of more than 1,000 women and children by the country’s soldiers, South Sudan is looking like a failed state.

“The euphoria has faded and South Sudan is an embarrassment for the (Obama) administration, and that comes with reputational costs,” Joshua Meservey, policy analyst for Africa and the Middle East at The Heritage Foundation, told

“Bringing attention to it is not in the White House’s interest.”

Meservey said the U.S.-backed solution was based on a “very superficial” grasp of the deep divisions between Sudan and South Sudan. “People ignored the warning signs.”

With three-quarters of Sudan’s oil reserves in the newly formed country, the future looked bright for South Sudan. South Sudan quickly became a United Nations member state, and expatriates returned by the thousands to help build the country which is rich in oil reserves.

The jubilation in Juba didn’t last long.

Civil war broke out in late 2013 after President Salva Kiir accused his then-deputy, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup. Machar denied the accusation, but quickly formed a rebel army.

A UN effort to stop a war that was deeply embarrassing to the world body has utterly failed. Since a peace deal was signed by both sides in August 2015, thousands of people have been slaughtered and driven from their homes. The number of displaced people in South Sudan camps is now over two million.

“These aren’t refugee camps, they are military bases where they have to be under armed protection,” Casie Copeland, an Africa-based analyst focusing on South Sudan for the International Crisis Group, said. “They are afraid to leave, and are fearful for their lives every day.”

South Sudanese army soldiers were given permission to rape more than 1,300 women and girls “as a reward” in lieu of receiving salaries. Amnesty International reported that scores of men and boys were suffocated in a shipping container by government forces. Civilians have been burned, starved, shot, speared, blown up and even consumed in ritual cannibalism.

“People have been burned and drowned, children are raped and homeless mothers are being forced to eat meat of their dead children after their husbands die,” South Sudanese journalist Joseph Afhandy – who is now living in exile in Nairobi, after being tortured for exposing corruption and government abuse – told

“The issue of human rights in South Sudan has no value to reality,” he said. “This is about power and shadow-wrestling. The war machine just won’t stop.”

Some analysts have likened what has taken place in South Sudan to Syria during the same period.

“It is possible,” John Prendergast, human rights activist and founding director of the Enough Project, an initiative to end genocide, said of the comparisons to Syria death tolls. “But we will never know because the world does not prioritize what is happening in South Sudan sufficiently to even properly count the dead there.”

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