Why the U.S Carrots and sticks policy won’t work in South Sudan

By John Bith Aliap – Australia, SEPT/20/2015, SSN;

Under the recently “Imposed Peace Agreement” signed on 17th and 26th August in Addis Ababa and Juba respectively, by rebel chief Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir, a cease fire was due to enter into force in the following week, but fighting continues in Upper Nile, a region that historically pumps aimless, destructive and tribally–oriented rebellions in South Sudan.

On Friday Sept 4th, the 15 – member council met at the request of the United Nations after John Kerry, Secretary of the United States singly warned Kiir, an internationally law-abiding man whose forces are constantly attacked in their defensive positions by Machar’s rebels to respect the ceasefire agreement during a phone conversation.

However, as the nation desperate to bring the government of South Sudan to its knees, the United States had requested that a global travel ban and assets freeze be imposed on South Sudan’s army chief Paul Malong Awan and rebel commander Johnson Olony for their role in the continued fighting, but a million thanks to Russia – a Security Council veto-wielding member and Angola for blocking that US – driven, evil, ill-timed risk of achieving the reverse and ill–conceived sanctions against the government of South Sudan.

However, with threats of sanctions still lingering in the air, the question which begs answers from us is – will the threats of sanctions impede or expedite the peace process and subsequent healing and reconciliation in South Sudan?

The path of punitive action which the United States and its allies are currently pursuing in South Sudan won’t silence the guns. It will rather retard conflict resolution mechanisms already put in place by South Sudanese themselves.

The United States should be warned that any sanctions against the government of South Sudan will likely make it more intransigent. For example, the sanctions imposed on Burundi after the coup led by Pierre Buyoya in 1996 emboldened Hutu hardliners, undermined Tutsi confidence in reconciliation and strengthened extremists’ positions within the army and minority community by heightening their sense of vulnerability and persecution.

One key lesson we can all learn from history is that punitive action should not be taken by or associated with the peace mediator and the United States and its IGAD partners are not exception in this equation.

A mediator such as the United States which resorts to coercion has a reason to be mistrusted by the people of South Sudan as surely as a soccer team mistrusts a biased referee. The United States sacrifices its status as an ‘honest broker’ and it becomes a party to the conflict due to its support to Machar’s rebels.

The job of the United States as a peace mediator in South Sudan’s conflict should have been to build the government of South Sudan and the SPLM–IO’s confidence in negotiations as a means of meeting their needs.

Given the fears and mutual hostility that exist between the government of South Sudan and the rebels led by Riek Machar, their trust in the United States as a mediator is crucial.

The United States is expected to be non-partisan and fair, not a biased mediator which imposes a conflict-ridden agreement which grants one greedy minority tribe a lion share of power – 40 per cent.

In practice, strict adherence to non-partisanship has been a core feature of successful mediation. Sant’ Egidio’s strength as a mediator in Mozambique ‘was exactly not having to defend any vested interest in the country, but the one of a solid peace.

Conversely, the United States’ mediation in South Sudan has been severely hampered by its perceived bias in favour of Machar’s rebels.

However, instead of punitive action such as sanctions and threats, the United States should pursue other healthy options if it’s serious about bringing a sustainable peace in South Sudan.

The United States should be aware that its frequent threats of sanctions on the government of Sudan only sends a message of hostility and it will likely generate resistance that could result in non–implementation of the agreement.

Sanctions can have unintended consequences. Alexander George in his book Forceful Persuasion: Coercive Diplomacy as an Alternative to War, published by United States Institute of Peace in 1991, discusses the potential “boomerang effect” of coercive diplomacy when he suggests that Japan’s decision to attack Pearl Harbour, and the subsequent entry of the United States in to world war two stemmed from economic sanctions.

Alexander argues that the oil embargo the United States imposed on Japan in July 1941 was so credible and so potent that it quickly provoked Japanese leaders into making a very difficult and desperate decision to initiate war rather than capitulate to Washington’s extreme demands that it gets out of China and gives up its aspirations for regional hegemony in Southeast Asia.

Similarly, Louis Kreisburg, Constructive Conflicts: From Escalation to Resolution, 2nd edition, Rowman & Littlefield 2003, New York, explains that sanctions can widen the conflict, add to its destructiveness and sometimes prolong it.

Louis and Alexander are not alone when it comes to destructiveness of sanctions. John Mueller and Karl Mueller – Sanctions of Mass Destruction, Foreign Affairs June 1998 argue that sanctions are destructive to the targeted societies. A 1999 study suggests that post-Cold War sanctions have contributed deaths than weapons of mass destruction used throughout the history.

In Iraq for instance, it has been estimated that hundreds of thousands of children died between 1991- 2001 as a result of sanctions. Threats of sanction inherently cause stress and can affect problem –solving ability – Frontline Story: The Debate Over UN Sanctions available at www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/iraq/sanction.

John Gatung, the author of On the Effects of International Economic Sanctions, World Politics, April 1967 also suggests that sanctions can increase domestic support for targeted leader. The population under threat can unite behind its leader and become hostile to the international community.

External pressure can be used by leaders to ignore domestic troubles – placing the blame for economic instability on outsider, and providing political cover to further repress domestic dissidents, while directing resentment toward those who impose the sanctions.

But to Daniel Fisk, in Economic Sanctions: The Cuba Embargo Revisited, economic sanctions are policy instrument with little, if any, chance of achieving much beyond making policy – makers feel good about having done something for a particular domestic community.

The above literature review paints a grim picture about unintended consequences of sanctions and the United States should unconditionally abandon its frequent threats of sanctions against the government of South Sudan if it needs peace to bounce back to South Sudan.

The human costs of sanctions are unacceptable to people of South Sudan who have experienced untold suffering during the course of their struggle.

John Bith Aliap holds two Bachelor Degrees in Social Work & Social Planning. He can be reached at johnaliap2011@hotmail.com


  1. Mafai says:

    Dear John,
    When I read the first two paragraphs in your article, I decline to continue further. Being a beneficiary of the current government, does not justify you to talk on behalf of South Sudanese and I quote you . “A mediator such as the United States which resorts to coercion has a reason to be mistrusted by the people of South Sudan as surely as a soccer team mistrusts a biased referee”. Unfortunately, you are defending a wrong government far from within South Sudan. You are being fed by wrong information by your bread suppliers my brother. The causes of this senseless war is the government that you are praising. Being in Australia, I thought, would have refined your thinking towards the path of democracy the way your host country practice it. This should be what you should be advocating to happen in your first country of birth. The violation of the cease fire is your iliterate general from the cattle camp, Malong Awan, who believed he will win it through the barrel of the gun.Telling lies, covering up corruption. looting public money to feed people such as you in Australia is what South Sudanese, and indeed, the west, IGADD and other European Countries hate your King Kirr for. In addition, seeing thousands of South Sudanese in refugee camps and in displaced camps suffering without food and shelter, where even the government does not care because of there tribal affiliation necessitate an intervention to hold it. The result is the imposed peace appreciate by many South Sudanese, except you and the likes. I wish you could just enjoy the looted money and rest in peace instead of wasting your time lecturing South Sudanese. Kirr, your King, has already shame himself, the Country and its people. You should be advising him to quite to avoid more shame on you.

    Good Day

    • Joana Adams says:

      You seem not to recognise that Salva Kiir,s illegitimate government has long expired. We are now awaiting for formation of the transitional government of national unity, where Kiir will not be absolute president but will share executive authority to govern the country with 1st VP designate Dr. Riek Machar.
      There is no more place for the little black hat tribal chief. Sovereignty has been restored back to the people. There is nothing called majority or minority. All will be equal citizens without fear or favour in the new South Sudan. Those who are afraid of sharing power with all the other tribes in South Sudan can go back to join their kins in old Sudan. If in any doubt see how Kiir has been lambasted by SG Pagan Amum in today’s Sudantribune.
      Stop this ego boosting trips against the US or IGAD, without these countries South Sudan wouldn’t have come into existence. Kiir is responsible for starting the civil war and committing genocide against his own people. He should be man enough to own up to his many shortcomings including his trade mark of deception. Kiir will be remembered as the most deceptive, dishonest, corrupt, tribalist, blood thirsty president in South Sudan ever. A genocidal president ought to be surrendered to The Hague to face justice and not to enjoy the priviledge of being a president. Be greatful that the US and others have given Kiir a chance he doesn’t actually deserve. Every good thing comes to an end. It’s time Kiir and cohorts and supporters face the music with dignity.


  2. Guet Athina Guet says:

    Ms. Adams,

    I will say it again, stop being hysterical about the Dinka tribe, with all due respect little lady, we’re here to stay, and we’re not going anywhere..for your information..Forget it lady, the butcher of south Sudan DR. death Machar was with the government of president Kiir for 8 years, what did he do to better the country … nothing, but death!. Dr. death must be brought to justices for his mess murder he committed 1991 coup d’etat attempt against Dr. Garang. When Dr. death failed he went on a rampage of killing women, children and the old. Again, 2013 he tried his dumb ass coup against elected president, and he failed for second time, he went on killing spree again. So what makes you thinks your Dr. of death will hold the higher office in south Sudan, maybe in his next life. Your inept hatred of Dinkas tribe will not help you and your clans.

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