NAIROBI, Kenya -- Along a road littered with bodies, South Sudan marched north in mid-April to capture a Sudanese oil field that both countries claim.
By the time South Sudan withdrew from Heglig 10 days later, it had damaged more than just the looted oil installations; also badly frayed was the countrys claim to the moral high ground in its decades-long conflict with Sudan, a war thats long been portrayed in terms of Sudanese atrocities and war crimes.
The first anniversary of South Sudans independence from Sudan is fast approaching, but the hoped-for peace that was the promise of South Sudans creation last July 9 hasnt materialized. Instead, war seems closer than at any other time since the 2005 peace agreement that U.S. diplomats brokered, and South Sudans reputation is in tatters. Many whod long championed South Sudan are shaking their heads in dismay.
South Sudans military aggression against Sudan was just the most glaring sign that the nation-building project thats taking place in central Africa isnt going as planned. In recent months, South Sudans government has been accused of deep corruption and its military has been accused of widespread abuses against its own people.
One need look no further than the U.S. governments own reckoning to see how South Sudans image is eroding: The State Departments human rights report for last year documents vote-rigging by South Sudans ruling party, pervasive official corruption, a state-led crackdown on liberties and widespread abuses of civilians by security forces.
Still, the Obama administration, many of whose members and high-profile supporters are considered South Sudan hawks, has taken few steps to pressure South Sudan to reform perhaps no surprise, given the role that influential insiders have had in promoting South Sudan.
That group includes John Prendergast, a former Clinton administration official who regularly testifies on Capitol Hill; Susan Rice, Obamas ambassador to the United Nations; and actor George Clooney, who visits South Sudan with Prendergast, meets with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and lobbies President Barack Obama personally when he returns. Clooney held a fundraiser for Obamas re-election campaign last month at his home in California, raising $15 million for the presidents re-election, the largest single-event haul in U.S. history.
In an email, Prendergast defended the administrations approach, which he called evenhanded.
The sizable aid package goes primarily to addressing the massive challenges faced by the population of a newly independent country emerging from decades of war, he said. If the U.S. was backing South Sudan in the conflict (with Sudan), Washington would be providing a much different kind of aid package to Juba. I think the premise that Washington is excessively pro-South is incorrect.
Last month, cash-starved South Sudan admitted that government officials have stolen $4 billion roughly twice the governments annual budget up to last year since the peace deal established the regional administration in 2005.
"We fought for freedom, justice and equality. Many of our friends died to achieve these objectives. Yet, once we got to power, we forgot what we fought for and began to enrich ourselves at the expense of our people," President Kiir wrote in a letter to more than 75 current and former South Sudanese officials. The letter asked them to return stolen money to a Kenyan bank account in exchange for amnesty.