The US ambassador to South Sudan Thomas Hushek, who is back in Juba after being recalled to Washington in late November, spoke to Garang A. Malak about the peace process and the formation of a transitional government.
Why were you recalled?
I was called back to the US to consult with the State Department and other sections of the government as part of a reassessment after the missed deadline in November regarding the formation of South Sudan’s unity government.
What was the outcome of the discussion within the US government?
We spoke extensively and brainstormed about the measures we could take to advance the peace process in South Sudan. Some of the results you have seen in recent announcements such as sanctions and visa restrictions, put additional pressure on parties to move the process forward.
Another outcome is better plans and more deliberate actions for engaging in the peace process with countries in the region particularly those under the Intergovernmental Authority on Development who are guarantors of the peace process and beyond.
How would you describe the relationship between Juba and Washington?
The US stands in solidarity with the people of South Sudan. We have supported South Sudan even before independence; we supported self-determination and independence; we are the number one supporter of the humanitarian sector. That relationship stands solid.
However, government-to-government relations have been in trouble since the outbreak of civil war at the end of 2013. We had to take steps to push the government to keep the peace and to use national resources to drive development and not conflict. This has been a difficult conversation and we continue to hold South Sudan as we work towards a peaceful future.
Why are there different sanctions imposed by the US on individuals, government officials and businessmen in South Sudan?
The various sanctions are much more targeted than they used to be when I began my diplomatic career 30 years ago. Some of the earlier sanctions were against the individuals who committed atrocities in the battlefields and others against civilians, and more recently we had sanctions targeting drivers of conflict, corruption and corruption earnings that feed the conflict.
On December 10, we sanctioned individuals who were responsible for kidnapping and killing of political activists Dong Samuel and Aggrey Idri; and those who were documented in the United Nations report and panel of experts.
Just last week, we sanctioned two Cabinet Ministers for their roles in obstructing the peace process. The UN has also adopted an arms embargo against South Sudan in an effort to have fewer resources spent on war machineries.
The US also has some control on US companies involved in the petroleum sector, because there is a general sense that resources from petroleum and mining have not been used transparently and may be fuelling the conflict.
Have past sanctions been effective?
Sanctions alone are going to be the solution to the peace process here. We hope they are beginning to put pressure on individuals contributing and obstructing the peace process. We hope that there are no more large arms purchases and that the arms embargo the UN extended on South Sudan becomes more effective.
But this does not mean the fighting will stop automatically; there are a lot of arms in the country, the idea is to prevent more weapons from coming in and to prevent the leadership from using the resources that belong to the people of South Sudan wrongly.
What’s your take on comments that US sanctions target the wrong people?
Well, it’s the start, with people named in the UN panel of experts report. We have clear documentation on that but we are continuing to review various individuals including those who have obstructed the peace process and those who have contributed to corruption which has fuelled conflict.
It is possible there will be more sanctions. We are keen on seeing corrective action taken. We are not using sanctions for the sake of sanctions but this is one pressure tool and we will continue to use it if we need to.
What are your observations on the recently extended 100 days for the formation of a unity government?
We hope that the peace process can move forward from the pre-transitional phase to transitional phase. There is a lot of work in the peace agreement that is supposed to kick off during the transitional phase including reforms. We want to see the peace process move forward.
What are some notes South Sudan politicians need to take during this 100 days extension?
It will take considerable progress, and some outstanding technical and political issues will take leadership and political will by the leaders. This is an area where we haven’t seen a lot of evidence yet that there has been renewed political will, courageous leadership needed to come to a political agreement. That is what we want to see happen before the end of 100 days to mid February.
What is your view on South Sudan’s mediation of the Sudanese peace talks?
Well, it can be a distraction; South Sudan needs to focus on its own peace process. Positively, I think there are lessons from Sudan that can be applied in South Sudan.
In Sudan, now people are talking very much like Dr John Garang used to, like the “New Sudan” idea. This renewal in Sudan is getting a lot of international support and attention; people are building confidence with the government. You can see a lot of techniques that Omar al-Bashir used in Sudan being used here; there is a lot of repressive measures, you need to remove restrictions on media, allow political voices and opponents to be actively engaged and the civil society and South Sudanese need to see the new ideas that the Sudanese are embracing.
Are there plans for the US to shift its funding strategy for South Sudan?
Yes, it will be driven by humanitarian needs but yes the idea is that if the peace can take hold here, there will be dividends for the country, the humanitarian needs will start to get diminished but not instantly.
What is your take on Information Minister Michael Makuei’s comments that the US is applying double standards in the Juba peace processes?
We have been consistent; we expect the opposition and the government to work together. It’s not double-standard at all. We think the people of South Sudan deserve the same rights and enjoy the same freedom as people of the US and other countries around the world. It would be double-standards if we say the people of South Sudan do not deserve peace; they don’t deserve more political space; they don’t deserve officials who fight corruption then they contribute to it.
We have been consistent about our stand; that the people of South Sudan deserve a good government, a peaceful country and opportunities to seek their own prosperity, to move the country forward.