US President Donald Trump is tightening conditions for support of the South Sudanese government to stump plunder and perpetual violence, but in a move that could offer China another chance to expand its influence.
Trump’s new Africa strategy released by his National Security Advisor John Bolton is supposedly more specific, targeting priority areas of trade, fight against violent extremism and improving efficiency in utilising American money on the continent.
But it is on South Sudan that Trump was more specific, part of the new policy of “ensuring that all US assistance dollars sent to Africa are used efficiently and effectively to advance peace, stability, independence, and prosperity in the region.”
South Sudan, Africa’s youngest nation, is only coming out of a five-year deadly war after President Salva Kiir and his nemesis Riek Machar signed a peace deal back in October in a bid to guarantee lasting peace.
But that war has left in its wake millions displaced, hundreds of thousands killed and millions of dollars, mostly received in aid or sale of oil, plundered.
Now, Trump says he is reviewing US assistance to South Sudan to ensure that “our aid does not prolong the conflict or facilitate predatory behaviour.”
“We will not provide loans or more American resources to a South Sudanese government led by the same morally bankrupt leaders, who perpetuate the horrific violence and immense human suffering in South Sudan,” Mr Bolton said in a briefing.
“Countries that receive US assistance must invest in health and education, encourage accountable and transparent governance, support fiscal transparency, and promote the rule of law. The administration will not allow hard-earned taxpayer dollars to fund corrupt autocrats, who use the money to fill their coffers at the expense of their people or commit gross human rights abuses.”
South Sudanese authorities had not responded to inquiries by Friday but they had previously dismissed or even ignored sanctions against government officials said to be fuelling war and dismissed suggestions of money laundering.
But it could not have come at a bad time. December 2018 means the country has been at war for the last five years, signing nearly ceasefires that were broken almost immediately.
On Thursday, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said it was appealing for $1.5 billion to provide “urgent and life-saving assistance to 5.7 million people affected by conflict, hunger and displacement.”
In those five years, an estimated 400,000 may have been killed, another five million displaced. Even in relative peace, the UN says up to seven million South Sudanese need aid.
The US says it sent about $3.76 million in aid to Juba between 2014 and 2018.
“This number represents only a small amount of the total aid that the United States devotes to Africa. In fact, the Department of State and USAID provided approximately $8.7 billion dollars in development, security, and food assistance to Africa in 2017.”
But South Sudan’s problem is also bout indifferent neighbours. Most of the warlords in South Sudan have faced sanctions, from the UN and the US, to have accounts frozen or barred from travelling. The international community has also toyed with the idea of an arms embargo.
But they continue to serve in government and appearing as guests in Uganda or Kenya. Trump warned financial institutions that ignore the sanctions could be blacklisted and went ahead to send a senior Treasury official to give the same warning.
A Kenyan diplomat told the Nation that Nairobi is reluctant to enforce sanctions because they either don’t serve its interests or have little possibility of helping South Sudan get lasting peace.
“Everyone has to be at the table, everyone has to be included in talks and we do not want to appear to take sides,” the official said in confidence on Friday.
“That is not to say we support evil dealings. We are saying the solution in South Sudan has to be by the South Sudanese people.”
The policy is not entirely new. Former US president Barrack Obama consistently warned of abuse of human rights and supported countries to fight extremism. Obama’s predecessor George W Bush was funded war on terror where some countries were blacklisted for being state sponsors of terror. All three leaders imposed conditions on their aid, something the Chinese haven’t done.
Though banked on search for Africa’s stability and end to violence, Trump did admit his government was also checking the influence of the Chinese and Russians who Bolton described as predators.
“We want our economic partners in the region to thrive, prosper, and control their own destinies. In America’s economic dealings, we ask only for reciprocity, never for subservience,” he said.
“Great power competitors, namely China and Russia, are rapidly expanding their financial and political influence across Africa. They are deliberately and aggressively targeting their investments in the region to gain a competitive advantage over the United States.”
The US had hinted earlier it would check China, whose direct investment toward Africa reached about Sh640 billion dollars last year.
Earlier this year, the US Congress endorsed the Sh600 billion International Development agency to do the job.
The new Africa Strategy has the "Prosper Africa" theme where Trump will encourage African leaders to opt for “high-quality, transparent, inclusive, and sustainable foreign investment projects, including those from the United States.”
Trump says China was profiting from corrupt regimes as Russia sold arms to countries, fueling violence.
Whether the policy on South Sudan succeeds, there is a possibility of Juba shrugging its shoulders as long as China and Russia are bringing the money without conditions.