Suspending Africa’s newest nation from regional bloc is unlikely to resolve the country’s crisis.
WHAT IT MEANS: UN forces are lax in their protection of civilians. A war-torn south sudan allowed into the EAC
There was so much promise, on a sunny, jubilant day in South Sudan in July 2011 when the world’s newest nation was created. How could the world know that five years later neighbouring Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan would each be home to more than a quarter of a million South Sudanese refugees?
Lives aren’t the only casualties of the country’s bitter civil war. Fighting between political factions allied with president Salva Kiir or his former vice-president, Riek Machar, has been funded through the fiscus, setting the stage for an economic disaster.
South Sudan’s fiscal deficit is forecast to be US$1.1bn (about 25% of GDP) in this financial year. Inflation spiked to 109.9% in December 2015, and hit 661% by July, the country’s statistics bureau says.
The transitional government made a recent appeal to Kenya for aid to cover basic expenses, and it has also sought a $1.9bn loan from China.
Some companies, like SABMiller and Resolution Insurance, have shut operations in the country.
Resolution Insurance, an East African firm, was one of the early entrants to South Sudan. "Economic indicators presented at the time were excellent for an ambitious growing brand," says CEO Peter Nduati.
Kenyan employees were in the minority in the South Sudan subsidiary. Once the civil war erupted, "it was difficult to evacuate them ", Nduati says. And when the violence subsided, only two employees were willing to return . The firm attempted to resuscitate its business there in 2015, but it has now left the country.
Mabior Garang de Mabior, the country’s former water minister and an ally of Machar, describes South Sudan as a country that’s been a "trusteeship, without being a trusteeship ", a reference to the presence of UN forces that don’t have formal control over the country.
The idea of a formal trusteeship has not been broached yet. Even if it were, it would run into stiff opposition from both sides. The authorities in Juba have been extremely vocal about their opposition to the deployment of more troops to the country, especially if they are UN forces.
The lax approach UN forces have taken to protecting civilians means they aren’t part of the solution, says Macharia Munene, international relations professor at the US International University — Africa.
"Neither Kiir nor Machar are genuine about the welfare of South Sudan," he says.
Barely a year after a 2015 peace deal was signed, South Sudan was admitted into the East African Community (EAC), a regional trade bloc. But relations are strained.
The bloc has two ways to kick out South Sudan if it chooses to. Article 146 of the EAC treaty allows for the suspension of a member if "it fails to observe the fundamental principles and objectives of the treaty".
"Suspension alone is not enough," Mabior says. "We have not been members of the EAC for long enough to feel the benefits of being members."
Alternatively, a state can be kicked out for "gross and persistent violation of the principles and objectives" of the EAC treaty.
Munene says South Sudan "is not a full member yet. It cannot be kicked out . But its entrance and acceptance can be delayed ."
Kenya, a s a country with long-standing ties to South Sudanese leaders and the region’s biggest economy, could impose sanctions on South Sudan’s warring politicians. The country’s finance ministry declined to comment for this article.
Even if these options are implemented, it is unlikely to resolve the problem. The dispute between Kiir and his former deputy, according to the AU’s Peace & Security Council , is "essentially about power ".
The dispute has claimed thousands of lives, displaced millions and killed off the promise of a young nation. South Sudan’s neighbours, meanwhile, have done very little to arrest its decline.