Crisis in South Sudan

Since the middle of December the world’s newest country, South Sudan, has been gripped by violence. What started as a political dispute has escalated into fighting across significant portions of the country. A rebel movement controls important areas and more than a thousand people have been killed. Negotiations between the government and rebels have commenced in Ethiopia, but the fighting continues on the ground. The international community has responded rapidly, including by significantly expanding the size of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, but questions remain about international leverage over the parties. Meanwhile, close to 200,000 South Sudanese have been displaced, with tens of thousands seeking shelter in U.N. bases.

Please join USIP and the Wilson Center for a discussion of the root causes of the crisis, strategies for ending the violence, and ideas for building a more stable South Sudan. Join the conversation on Twitter with #SouthSudan.

This event will feature the following speakers:

Ambassador Princeton Lyman (left), Panelist

Senior Advisor, U.S. Institute of Peace & former U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan; board member, National Endowment for Democracy.

Ambassador Alan Goulty, Panelist

Wilson Center Global Fellow & former U.K. Special Envoy and Ambassador to Sudan

Kate Almquist Knopf, Panelist

Adjunct Faculty, Africa Center for Strategic Studies & former USAID Assistant Administrator for Africa

Jon Temin, Moderator

Director, Africa Program, U.S. Institute of Peace

This event will be webcast starting at 2pm on January 15.

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Friday, January 10, 2014 from 2:00 PM to 3:30 PM (EST)

Washington, DC


Beyond moral equivalence: preventing civil war in South Sudan?

lymanNeither the U.S. nor the international community can ignore the threat that South Sudan’s current conflict represents, says Princeton Lyman, President Obama’s former envoy.

But there is no going back to the status quo ante, nor to normal assistance operations, he writes for The New York Times:

The current crisis brings home the fact that South Sudan’s political institutions were much too weak and unable to manage the competing ambitions and other demands of a new state. Its army, more a coalition of competing militias than a unified military, fragmented in the crisis. The international community, not just the U.S. but African countries and institutions, the United Nations and our European partners, must now become more deeply engaged.

First of all there must be a more robust role than heretofore for the UN peacekeeping operation, says Lyman, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:

Backed by the U.N. Security Council, the operation must no longer accept restrictions by the South Sudan government on its movements, investigations and role as protector……Furthermore, the international community must participate directly in helping South Sudan develop the institutions of governance, democracy and human rights protection that are lacking today. …. Broad civic and political participation in the process should be assured. RTWT

There were plenty of warning signs last year but experts say no one expected the violence to escalate so quickly, NPR’s Michele Kelemen reports:

Lyman echoes that. He’s a longtime diplomat who was, until last year, the Obama administration’s envoy to the region. Lyman spent much of his tenure trying to resolve the outstanding hostilities between South Sudan and its former rulers in the North. And he had a hard time getting Washington to raise concerns about internal politics in the South.

PRINCETON LYMAN: You had so much sympathy for the South that it became very difficult to criticize them for anything.

KELEMEN: South Sudan’s constituency included administration officials as well as celebrities. Lyman says he understands their sympathy for the South, where millions died as mainly Christian and animist rebels fought a decade’s long war of independence from the Arab rulers in Khartoum. But once South Sudan became a state, he says, the U.S. needed to be more hard headed.

LYMAN: I can’t tell you the number of times people accused me of quote, “moral equivalency” – that you’re putting them on the moral equivalency with Khartoum, which is the personification of evil.

KELEMEN: And Lyman says South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir used that constituency to his benefit and ignored U.S. advice on internal matters.

LYMAN: He was listening more and more to what I call the securocrats, the people who were telling him you are surrounded by enemies, who let us take care of them – we’ll harass them, we’ll kill them, we’ll jail them. And we tried hard pushing him back on this and we weren’t successful.