Co-Chairs Pitts and McGovern, members of the Commission, thank you for your ongoing commitment to the people of South Sudan.
It’s bittersweet that we come together today – four years after South Sudan’s independence– not to measure all that has been accomplished but instead to reflect on all that has been lost. Four years ago, I stood shoulder to shoulder with my South Sudanese friends and colleagues under the hot Juba sun to celebrate as a dream long deferred came to fruition. We listened to then Ambassador Susan Rice tell the swelling crowd that southern Sudan’s peaceful referendum and separation proved that “few forces on Earth are more powerful than a citizenry tempered by struggle and united in sacrifice. And every problem created by human folly can be met by human wisdom and mended by human resolve.” Now, nineteen months into a new and equally devastating civil war, that legacy is deeply in jeopardy.
The South Sudanese people’s struggle and sacrifice continues, but this time, it’s their own kleptocratic leaders’ folly that is testing their resolve and wisdom.
In the face of nine broken agreements to cease hostilities, it is indisputable that there can be no military resolution to this conflict. Both sides’ intransigence and callous disregard for human suffering have left them deadlocked on the battlefield. With each passing day that elites delay at the negotiating table in Addis Ababa or Nairobi, the economic collapse and humanitarian disaster back in South Sudan deepens. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could possibly benefit from the tit-for-tat scorched earth campaigns that have driven over two million people from their homes and left one in ten South Sudanese households in Upper Nile facing catastrophic famine conditions. And it’s even harder to conceive how any advantage could be gained from fighting that UNICEF confirms has often involved castrating young boys and raping young girls.
But the cold hard truth is that there are people who profit from the war economy in South Sudan and the grand corruption that enables it. With billions in oil revenues missing from state coffers, hundreds of acres of land bartered away for pennies on the dollar, and currency speculation running rampant, South Sudan was hijacked by violent kleptocrats long before it became an independent state four years ago. Since the 2005 peace agreement that ended the earlier war between the northern and southern parts of Sudan, South Sudanese elites have taken advantage of their country’s rich potential to line their own pockets, just as the leaders in Khartoum had done before 2005. Since there is no arms embargo on South Sudan, both warring sides’ continued unchecked access to the global financial system enables these hijackers to exploit rich natural resource endowments, loot the state treasury, and launder their profits to get rich and wage war.
The American people have long stood in solidarity with the people of South Sudan. For decades, that meant supporting their leaders in an international campaign to secure their freedom. Now, that dynamic must change.
*Watch Akshaya Kumar's testimony at at 02:37:44