International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

South Sudan and International Support

Over the last few weeks, the international community has turned its attention to the ongoing crisis in South Sudan, one that began almost exactly three years after the country held its first-ever elections after seceding from Sudan. The United States, United Nations, and African Union have all contributed to efforts to encourage peace, and observers have already begun discussing how South Sudan will rebuild after the conflict is over.

The conflict began in mid-Decemberwith fighting in a military barracks in Juba, the capital, which President Salva Kiir labeled an attempted coup by his former Vice-President, Riek Machar. Kiir had fired Machar in July. Fighting quickly spread throughout the country, and the availability of arms allowed many civilians to become involved. Violence between the Dinka and the Nuer, the country’s two largest ethnic groups, led to abandoned neighborhoods in  The International Crisis Group estimates that there have been close to 10,000 casualties in South Sudan, and hundreds of thousands of people are displaced.

A New York Times Room for Debate column along with articles on The Atlantic’s website and the blog African Arguments have considered the role of the international community—particularly the U.S. and other Western powers—in a post-conflict South Sudan. Hank Cohen, the former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, noted that South Sudan started with very little in the way of infrastructure—only 35 miles of paved roads, little access to electricity or running water, and few schools. In supporting a UN trusteeship for South Sudan, Cohen argued that, unlike African countries that gained their independence in the 50s and 60s, South Sudan had little support for its governance—practical help with the challenge of governing a new nation. G. Pascal Zachary, for The Atlantic, also supported trusteeship for South Sudan, and the article’s headline, “Post-Colonialism,” anticipated the numerous criticisms of neocolonialism.

South Sudan will likely need some form international support—the AU hosted peace talks, the UN and NGOs are providing aid—but the extent of what that can and should look like is unclear. The US was instrumental in helping South Sudan gain its independence, and so some have claimed that we have a unique responsibility—and opportunity—to help South Sudan recover. And the pieces calling for foreign governance are correct in identifying infrastructure as a significant limitation to statebuilding.

The crisis brings up the question of international responsibility to intervene. Foreign and UN troops are on the ground in the country, but how long should they stay? What is the correct balance of military, civilian, and technical support? At what point would their presence move beyond support and into either neocolonialism or, post-transition, supporting an unstable government?


2 responses to “South Sudan and International Support

  1. aoforiappiah January 18, 2014 at 1:47 am

    In response to the question of neocolonialism I would say that a foreign presence arguably does constitute neocolonialism especially within the context of Africa even when the scope is narrowly limited to the UN. There seems to be an overwhelming pattern of the West supporting a specific group or ideology within the internal politics of these nations. If the person in power is disliked then they’re supplanted, usually through a coup backed by the West. I think this trajectory is especially resonant in Africa and the Caribbean. In South Sudan it will be interesting to see which side the West will support. As far as I’m aware Kiir has not been asked to step down by the West. An even more overt example of foreign intervention as neocolonialism might be France deploying troops to the Central African Republic and Mali. Yes, the situation is horrible, but the French do have an overwhelming pattern of intervening in their former colonies. They have quite an attachment to Français Afrique, and I’m not sure it’s for entirely altruistic reasons.
    In regards to neocolonialism and international justice, I wonder the extent to which conviction by courts such as the ICC can be said to constitute neocolonialism. Some argue that the ICC has become a tool to recolonize Africa, claiming that African leaders have been overwhelmingly chosen for indictment. The African Union feels so strongly about this that they deliberated withdrawal from the ICC in October. And let’s just concede that Africans are being indicted in overwhelming numbers: Is this such a bad thing, assuming that there is strong evidence that they have committed such atrocities? Speaking from personal experience and from my knowledge of current events there is an overwhelming culture of flagrantly disregarding the rule of law or molding the rules to fit one’s specific agenda. Of course you can argue that such a culture exists in other places, and therefore, people who commit atrocities in those places should be tried accordingly. However, things don’t seem to work this way in practice… How can the international community try for justice so that it doesn’t look like it’s unfairly targeting a specific continent or group of people?

    • pstichnoth January 18, 2014 at 9:53 am

      I agree with most of what you said, especially about France’s colonial legacy. If South Sudan were a former French colony, I think France would already be there, and way more involved than the US/UN are now. (If you speak French and want to hear some critiques of French intervention in Mali, look up Aminata Traore on youtube–lots of great interviews.)

      But as to the AU, I really can’t get behind the argument that heads of state should be treated differently by the ICC because of alleged racism or anti-African sentiment, especially when several heads of state or former have been implicated in atrocities in the past. I’ve heard the AU described as being a little too much like an old boys’ club for African presidents, and I think the shakeup over Kenyatta’s trial has been kind of illustrative of that.

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