South Sudan application for Arab League seat is opposed

Saturday March 17 2018

Women from more than 40 South Sudanese women’s organisations march through Juba on December 9, 2017 to express their frustration and suffering and called for an end to the civil war. PHOTO | AFP


South Sudan’s dalliance with the Arab League has divided public opinion, with the government saying it will just enjoy observer status while critics accuse Juba of using this tack to ease the West’s pressure over the continuing civil war.

After media reports a week ago that Juba was seeking membership of the Arab League, South Sudanese in the diaspora took to social media condemning President Salva Kiir’s move, pointing out that the Arab bloc did little to help them during the struggle for Independence from Khartoum.

Even after Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mawien Makol clarified that Juba was only applying for observer status in the 22-member League, the idea did not sit well with most South Sudanese who spent 21 years fighting to free themselves from the Arab North.

Mr Makol said that South Sudan — which ceased to be a member of the Arab League when it separated from Sudan in July 2011 — was simply seeking the observer status because the organisation discusses issues affecting it, such as the use of the Nile waters.

He said Juba will not pay fees to the League and would not commit to other resolutions but that its ambassador should be present when issues affecting the country are under discussion.

But civil society and the opposition said Juba was seeking soft loans from rich Arab countries after the United States and the European Union threatened an aid freeze and arms embargo should the political talks to be held later this month in Ethiopia collapse.


The US and the EU have already slapped sanctions on some top government and military officials for allegedly perpetuating the war that is in its fifth year.

Eyeing oil wells?

“They are eyeing financial support but in return these countries are likely to ask to exploit some oil wells, which is not a good idea for South Sudan because all these countries never supported our struggle for independence after being influenced by Khartoum,” said Biel Boutros Biel, a member of the South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy.

Besides financial support and possible armaments supplies, probably through Egypt, Mr Biel says Juba could also be looking to increase its bargaining power at the UN General Assembly at a time that the US is preparing to draft a third resolution at the Security Council calling for an arms embargo against President Kiir’s government.

For the past two years, Russia and China — two permanent members of the UN Security Council with veto power — have stood in the way of approving a US-sponsored arms embargo on South Sudan at the Council.

Sudan’s membership of the Arab League and the introduction of Sharia Law by then president Gaafar Numeiry in May 1983 are some of the reasons that led the late Dr John Garang to launch a civil war, which ultimately led to the independence of the South in 2011.

Gabriael Dak, a member of the Senior Youth of South Sudan lobby, said that the idea of joining the Arab League emanated from the recent unilateral arms embargo by the US and threats by the EU to follow suit.

“It is against this background that Juba decided to shift allegiance to the Arab world because they are increasingly being isolated by their Western allies that pressured Khartoum to let the South go,” said Mr Dak.

President Kiir has been unable to stop the war and inspire the entire country. In November 2017 while visiting Khartoum, the president said that he regretted his country’s breaking away, saying most of his people were forced to follow the decisions of the majority.

Dr Lam Akol, a former Agriculture minister and the leader of the National Democratic Movement said that President Kiir’s government is bankrupt and would do anything to ensure the regime’s survival.

But South Sudan Ambassador to Ethiopia, James Morgan said that the issue of observer status in the Arab League was being blown out of proportion by the rebel groups.

The Arab League, founded in 1945 and headquartered in Cairo, is a voluntary association of 22 countries — including Palestine — whose peoples are mainly Arabic speakers or where Arabic is the official language.

The league’s objective to strengthen ties among member and harmonise some polities for a common good. In March 2015, the Arab League agreed to create joint military force, but that is yet to be formalised.

Although English is the official language in South Sudan, a good number of its citizens speak what is commonly known as “Juba Arabic”.