The United States on Monday pulled the plug on South Sudan when it recalled its ambassador to Juba. Very few people saw this coming.
The move, apparently, was intended to pile pressure on the warring parties to expedite implementation of a drawn-out peace process.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Ambassador Thomas Hushek was recalled to Washington for consultations “as part of the re-evaluation of the US relationship with the Government of South Sudan given the latest developments and that Washington would work with the region to support efforts to achieve peace and a successful political transition in Juba.
Washington’s move generally reflects the growing impatience with the principals to the conflict and is in consonance with the African Union’s peace and security council, which has demanded a clear matrix on how the 100—day deferral of the commencement of the transitional government is going to be utilised.
The AU has adopted a tougher stance that seeks to loop in the fringe rebel groups led by renegades Thomas Cirillo and Paul Malong.
Under normal circumstances, the US move should elicit a positive outcome since it sends a strong signal of Washington’s displeasure.
On the flipside, without supplementary measures that also have consequences for the backers of the main protagonists; it is unlikely to achieve much and could as well lead to the unravelling of whatever threads to peace have so far been put together.
Salvar Kiir, Riek Machar, Paul Malong and Thomas Cirillo thrive because of backers within the regional community who facilitate their movement and business about the continent.
It is safe to assume that the US is not motivated by a desire to save money on peace making since the cost to it and other stakeholders, of the humanitarian fallout from the conflict is much higher. In fact it is the latter cost that is of concern to everybody.
The South Sudan crisis is being described as the biggest humanitarian crisis in Africa since the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
According to some estimates, close to 400,000 people have either died from violence, hunger or disease since December 2013, when President Kiir and his former deputy Dr Riek Machar began fighting. Another million plus are displaced and living in neighbouring countries.
There is all the justification for the United States and other parties that are deeply involved in trying to restore peace and order in South Sudan to apply pressure on Juba.
But the US and anybody for that matter, who makes such a unilateral move, owes the other stakeholders and the victims of the conflict, an explanation that goes beyond justification. It would also be reassuring if the US could communicate its “day-after-tomorrow” strategy for South Sudan.
What is the follow-on action should the belligerents for one reason or another be unable to flag off a transitional government on December 12 as originally scheduled?
In the context of the 100-day extension, the US action could also be adjudged premature. But that pales in the face of the likely consequences of a collapse of what is likely the best shot at peace in South Sudan.