New govt must prepare for scrutiny – U.S. activist


In the Republic of South Sudan, partition has created both opportunities and obstacles. Against a backdrop of regional and ethnic tensions, reports of human rights abuses continue to surface from Darfur and the Nuba Mountains while escalation of tensions in the Blue Nile and Abyei seems likely. And the government in Juba is positioning itself in important oil revenue allocation negotiations that may ultimately dictate the nature of the young country’s development.

johnJohn Prendergast is a human rights activist and co-founder of the Enough Project which is dedicated to ending genocide and crimes against humanity. On July 9, 2011 Prendergast attended the Republic of South Sudan’s independence ceremony in Juba. Weeks later he spoke at the United States Institute of Peace warning against impending conflict along the country’s border with Sudan and calling for policies aimed at civilian protection. Prendergast recently sat down with AllAfrica’s Trevor Ballantyne and Ellie Schneidman to discuss the prospects for peace and development in South Sudan.

As the new nation of South Sudan goes down the path of development, how does the international community balance development and security initiatives?

The two are equally important and need to go hand in hand. They can’t be played off one against another – both objectives are critically important. In Washington you have the security folks and the development folks. Rhetorically they talk a big game about cooperating. However, in South Sudan it all comes together in such an amazing way, and if we get it right, if U.S. policy, both political and economic, is crafted in a way that’s maximally supportive of the embryonic Sudanese state we can make a big difference there. This is one of the opportunities that folks in the whole foreign policy establishment hope to have: a chance to help stabilize and enhance the prospects of a successful state building experiment if you will.

How will the Republic of South Sudan proceed to develop?

On one hand, for development in South Sudan the imperatives are profound. As everyone knows it’s one of the poorest countries in the world, it is off the grid on a lot of basic statistics, the World Bank guesses at a lot of stuff. Statistics are just beginning to be captured in the remote areas of the country. To be able to penetrate and make a difference in the lives and opportunities for South Sudanese across the country is an incredible challenge. There needs to be a focus on pastoral and agricultural potential in South Sudan because that’s where the majority of the livelihoods are situated.

The other side of the development coin is the rule of law and transparency [which are] necessary to extract natural resources in a way that isn’t disruptive and exploitative and ultimately conflict producing. Creating the legal codes and then enforcing them, building communities and livelihoods around oil extractors is going to be crucial for the bigger tickets: taxation and revenue generation for the whole country.

Ultimately, South Sudan is going to develop on its own. Resource revenues will help build safety nets, it will help catalyze opportunities. For the most part, if it develops the vast natural resources at its disposal its development is not going to come from foreign aid.

At a conference at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Assistant Secretary [of State] for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said, ‘With the loss of oil revenues from the south and a crippling debt burden of some 38 billion dollars the government of Sudan needs debt relief, access to international financial institutions and a new infusion of FDI [foreign direct investment].’ Is it realistic to see the U.S. investing in the north as well as the south?

I don’t know what [Carson] was talking about. I don’t see how U.S. investment opportunities can be fruitful in a country like Sudan, where they massacre their own people and we have very well established sanctions, executive and legislative.

What about investment in agriculture?

My answer to that is helping the agricultural sector in the north is the last thing I would be looking at. I don’t see that as the U.S. role. The U.S. role in terms of north Sudan needs to be protecting the civilian population. First of all no one’s going to give a dime in development assistance to north Sudan at this point in time. Anyone can talk about it, but congress will block it, because the government of Sudan is slaughtering its own people.

Second, it’s now time to re-evaluate what our policy is in Sudan. We tiptoed around with this regime in Khartoum led by General [Omar al-]Bashir for 22 years, while the international community tried to figure out a way stop the bleeding in the south. The policy has always been one of constructive engagement – not terribly dissimilar to what was pursued in South Africa before the ratcheting up of international pressure. And that policy of constructive engagement is no longer something the international community has to worry about because of the southern Sudanese populations’ commitment to the formation of their new state.

Now with South Sudan sovereignty settled, we have a very stark picture in north Sudan: you have populations in Darfur being bombed, you have people in the Nuba mountains being starved, you have military units who are moving into positions against the people of Blue Nile and you have the potential breakdown of a peace process in eastern Sudan; ethnic cleansing in Abyei; you have a central government which is deeply unpopular that is generating enormous conflict displacement and human suffering. You no longer have to tip toe around the southern question, so my view is that this is the time to re-evaluate U.S. policy.

The U.S. dumped [Egyptian leader Hosni] Mubarak who was an ally for decades, and we are openly seeking the toppling of – [Muammar al-]Gaddafi in Libya, and interestingly we have no opinion on an indicted war criminal in Khartoum. The winds of change are sweeping, the regime in Khartoum is going to try to block those winds by using violent tactics. We have to look at the armed and unarmed opposition in Sudan, and look at ways where we can fulfill, at the very least, our responsibility to protect civilian populations.

There has to be structural reform at the center [in Sudan]. If it can be a political process, great, but if it can’t be, and the government in Khartoum continues to fight multi-front wars with all of the non-Arab people and ethnic groups of Sudan, we have to think about where we want to be aligned in the long run.

What are the prospects for peace in Sudan’s conflict areas?

There already are five separate stove-piped peace processes, all of which are failing in north Sudan. The problem with the conflict-resolution model is that we have already played into the hands of Khartoum by having a separate process for Darfur, which has failed; a separate process for Abyei, which is seeing Ethiopian peacekeepers come in, and when and under what terms it will be finished, remains very unclear. With a separate process for the Nuba Mountains, Bashir himself cancelled that peace deal.

None of these things have worked. Khartoum is playing the international community like a violin. Its time now to look at one process that deals with the fundamental problem in Sudan, which is a central government that controls all the power and wealth; and for the Darfurans … for the Nuba, and for the Blue Nile folks to get more autonomy; for the east to get more autonomy and more representation in the center. You can’t have separate processes. There has to be one process that deals with multiple symptoms of the same root cause.

How do negotiations over oil revenue allocation affect peace negotiations?

Oil negotiations are an opportunity for peacemakers on both sides because they need each other. To exclude Sudan in the export process would mean the South Sudanese would need to build a massive pipeline to Mombasa or Lamu or wherever they would export oil out of, once they have the plan bidding done. Its foolhardy to just sit on the oil, because now there is a state that has dependency on those revenues for massive patronage, and a civil service system that has established an army, they can’t just cut off production.

Similarly the north can’t just say, ‘We are going to stop transporting the oil until we make a deal,’ because they need that revenue too. They need to keep negotiating until they get a deal.

Khartoum of course is playing with fire because if they don’t make the deal then there will be further problems on the border – remember Eritrea and Ethiopia? They didn’t have any clarity on where the border would be. Similar concern here, they are going to care deeply where they are going to draw that line, which will have implications for how much money each side is going to benefit from. If they don’t deal with that, it is a ticking time bomb.

Does South Sudan benefit from a negative perception of the government in Khartoum?

Since 2005 they probably got more of a free pass because things are so bad in the north. People took less of a hard line with the southerners with human rights issues and the transparency issues given the extreme stakes that are in play with the embryonic state and whether it will survive or not.

With this government, there is going to be more scrutiny and attention going forward than it has had in the past. As a sovereign state, South Sudan will not be solely judged on what’s going on in Khartoum. But that is still going to be factor, because Khartoum is still supporting militias in the south, but it will not be as decisive a factor as it has been in the last 25 years.

So they have to prepare themselves for a degree of scrutiny on the question of how they’re dealing with oil resources and the human rights front than they have had in the past. If the international community is going to provide support they also want to see a transparent, non-corrupt and human rights respecting government emerge in South Sudan.

What type of development projects would you want to see? Can the government deliver on some of these expectations?

The first real investment should be in the quality of public administration, where you would have technical assistance to key administrators so you can improve service delivery, revenue generation, and all of the kind of things a state is going to be judged on by its people. If the people feel that money is coming in and they can see where its going in general terms and it’s going to things that are improving peoples’ lives, and this oil money is not going into peoples’ pockets, then this state will succeed, but that is not where it is right now.

There is going to be a huge push for the whole “anti-corruption” thing, there is always a serious problem of corruption with this resource curse that occurs all around the world. So how is this government going to deal with it, and how are donors going to help them?

I would also like to see a real emphasis placed on the productive capacities of the south. The [Barack] Obama administration has the “Feed the Future” initiative on agriculture development so it would be nice to see a real investment there on the kind of crops that are drought resistant – next generation seeds that can have the highest productivity for this climate and topography. That would be a fantastic use of the Obama administration initiative.

Attention needs to be directed to how you can develop mining and investment codes in South Sudan, so there are very clear rules of the road in those sectors, so that companies from the outside and their partner Sudanese will have to follow those rules and be transparent in order to know where the money is coming from and where it is going.

Vultures are stealing land, ministers are making side deals – there are all kinds of weird deals being cut. But then there are others that are really good; that internationally follow the rules. Those people are going to be at a disadvantage unless there is a system that allows for transparency and that is where the money is going to come from for the South’s development.

There will be money for conflict prevention and for building a civil service that can address the problems in the periphery that could lead to conflict – that is a fundamental element of state building. To get to where Sudan wants to be, which is a peaceful state, you are going to have to get early development initiatives right, and the United States could play a very crucial role in that if we invest in the right way. Right now we are working too quietly, we need to shout when we see deals going on where people are making millions of dollars on the side. Whoever makes those types of deals needs to be prosecuted. That is going to be a crucial part of the equation in building the state properly.

Development and peacemaking are just inextricably intertwined. You just can’t have a state that manages conflict and resolves conflict if the state is simply a means for the influential people to gain. If the state’s leaders don’t want to share power, the first thing that is going to happen is the areas that aren’t getting anything are going to erupt in rebellion. Unless you have integrated conflict prevention structures and proper state development formation, the state will fail.

Transparency is obviously an important aspect of investment in state development, but are leaders and policymakers in South Sudan invested in transparency?

There are a large of number of Sudanese in the bureaucracy civil societies that want that. It’s always this way in every country including the United States. When you go out and battle corruption, there are elements of civil society that whistle blow and then there are the cheats and thieves that go into government or business to make money not in the old fashioned way but to steal it.

It’s not that different really here. The U.S. is just in a more advanced technological and financial state than South Sudan, but the same human impulses exist. There is a disproportionate interest from Congress in South Sudan, which is good, so there will be more scrutiny and there will be more interest in what happens to the country.

And at the end of the day it is a South Sudanese issue and it’s the media watchdogs and the civil society organizations in South Sudan that are going to blow whistles and point fingers because they are going to know better than anyone who is cheating the system. If you’re empowering those people, that is a great investment, for America, for state building – to empower and give people the resources to be able to do the job themselves.

 *The interview first appeared in

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