State Failure and International Response: The Lessons of South Sudan

Professor Allen D. Hertzke[*]

What responsibility and/or capacity does the international community have for failed, fractured, or fragile states? This question goes to the heart of humanitarian and governing challenges in the 21st Century. The world is awash with refugees fleeing civil wars, violence, lawlessness, and state breakdown. As of mid-2019, there are over 70 million forcibly displaced people worldwide – 41 million internally displaced and 26 million refugees.[1] Nations and international institutions seem ill equipped or unwilling to deal with the origins of a crisis that is destabilizing modern and developing societies alike. This massive crisis stems from a growing list of failed states, fractured states, oppressive states, and societies wracked by violence, exploitive justice systems, and rampant corruption. Intolerable conditions lead millions of people to take the enormous risk of fleeing toward a perilous, uncertain future.

This reality reveals the challenges inherent in a Westphalian international system of sovereign nation-states, still the organizing feature of global governance. Transnational institutions of global order that do exist – international covenants and treaties, the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the European Union, NATO, and other regional bodies – remain inadequate for the current crisis. Moreover, such institutions strain under the weight of rising nationalist resistance, driven in part by refugee and immigrant flows that spark clashes over national identity and provoke soul-searching questions over the capacity of wealthier societies to absorb so many people from other lands and cultures.

The response of religious leaders, particularly the Holy Father, has been to call upon wealthier peoples and nations to open their hearts and borders to the refugee. While this is a commendable and trenchant theological precept, it does not address the origin of the problem – state failure. A generation ago, Samuel Huntington defined the great question of developing societies as the capacity of states to provide minimal order for progress. According to Huntington, political order is the prime task of governance and the perquisite for economic development and democratic consolidation.[2] The breakdown of order in the first decades of the 21st Century, which fuels the refugee crisis, shows how this challenge of state capacity has re-emerged with a vengeance in our own age.

My examination of the fracture of South Sudan – the world’s newest nation – will illuminate the inadequacy of current structures for addressing state failure. South Sudan also presents an especially poignant illustration of the gulf between moral responsibility and international capacity. Born out of transnational advocacy, its declaration of independence from Sudan in 2011 carried the hopes of an African people shattered by a previous genocidal war. Its descent into civil war turned it into one of the world’s most fragile states.[3] As a report by the Council on Foreign Relations concluded, South Sudan “is a country in name only”.[4] Riven by ethnic divisions, unreconciled wounds, and pervasive government corruption, it is unable to perform the most basic function of governance: to provide a modicum of order and economic infrastructure. Though sustained by vast international aid and heroic civil society actors (especially indigenous churches), as a truly functioning nation it was virtually stillborn.[5]

As background, I have conducted periodic research on South Sudan for two decades now. I documented the movement of transnational advocacy that led to its creation,[6] conducted field research during its fragile independence,[7] monitored developments as it descended into civil war, and remain in contact with seasoned experts, diplomatic officials, religious leaders, and NGO advocates on the ground who struggle to contain the chaos.[8]

The crisis of South Sudan reflects the legacy of centuries of marginalization, decades of civil war, bereft development, and the curse of tribalism, which is exacerbated and manipulated by ruling elites. More proximate causes of the tragedy include the naivety of western advocates, mistakes by international actors, blunders by South Sudanese leaders, and greed, compounded by bad luck.

There is an even simpler explanation: South Sudan was unprepared for independence, and once the new nation descended into civil war and state failure, existing international and regional institutions lacked the means and political will to impose order and provide effective governance.

What lessons does the tragic example of South Sudan offer to other cases of state fracture or failure? Can we strengthen or restructure international institutions to intervene when states fail? What are the minimal requirements for the success of a nation-state? Finally, what responsibility do those of us in advanced societies owe to the suffering people of South Sudan, and how can that responsibility play out? These vital questions underlay my investigation of the world’s newest nation.

The Responsibility to Protect, Trusteeship, and Sovereignty

The central global framework for protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, or crimes against humanity is the Responsibility to Protect, which emerged out of a global normative commitment to prevent such mass atrocities.[9] Inaugurated in 2001 by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) and headed by Canada, it was endorsed in the UN World Summit Document and published in 2005.[10] Signed by virtually all members of the UN, this document established Responsibility to Protect as an organizing global principle. The Responsibility to Protect has become a global catchphrase of sorts, with the commonly invoked abbreviation of R2P.

In January 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his commitment to take R2P as a framework and apply it to concrete policy by issuing the report, Implementing the Responsibility to Protect.[11] In the report, R2P refers to the obligation of states to populations at risk of genocide and other mass atrocities. It enunciates three pillars of responsibility:

·      The first pillar pronounces every state’s responsibility to protect its populations from four mass atrocity crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing. While recognizing state sovereignty, this pillar articulates a global norm for every state to protect the population within its border, both citizens and non-citizens alike. The government of South Sudan has failed to fulfill this fundamental responsibility.

·      The second pillar places responsibility on the international community to encourage and assist individual states in meeting the individual Responsibility to Protect. This entails capacity building to prevent outbreaks of atrocities by building legal institutions and supporting peaceful and economically viable societies. In the case of South Sudan, international aid agencies, NGOs, and the United Nations have invested billions in development and undertaken peacemaking initiatives, both before and after the outbreak of civil war.

·      The Third Pillar articulates that if a state is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take appropriate collective action in a timely and decisive manner, in accordance with the UN Charter. Such collective action should be calibrated, and only as a last resort would it entail some form of coercive military action. The UN report stipulated that such action would need to be authorized by the Security Council, but it recognized the vital role of regional bodies, such as the African Union, whose charter, embracing the idea of responsibility to protect, moved from “Non-Interference” to “Non-Indifference” as its guiding principle.[12]

Each nation, under R2P, has a responsibility to uphold its norms, and the international community then has a corresponding responsibility to intervene if states fail to do so. South Sudan, sadly, meets this latter criterion, as atrocities, ethnic cleansing, and attendant depredations from all sides of the conflict have swept through the country. The international response, restricted to humanitarian aid, diplomatic pressure, and some peacekeeping forces, fell short of the vision of R2P. International actors lacked sufficient leverage over the antagonists while regional neighbors sometimes fueled the crisis.[13]

            R2P has exploded the literature on international law. Critics observe, however, that it remains a bit vaguely defined – a broad framework without clear, actionable policies. In a sense, it is an effort at norm creating, with good ideas and rhetoric, but thin on concrete requirements and structures. Moreover, R2P remains anchored in the idea of sovereign nations and lacks an organizing mechanism to deal with failed states. The third pillar’s “appropriate collective action” assumes UN Security Council ruling, but in the current environment of skepticism about humanitarian intervention and retrenchment by leading nations, that requires herculean initiative and leadership.[14] Moreover, it is not clear what “appropriate collective action” actually means.

A related but distinct modality is the idea of Trusteeship. As Lake and Fariss observe, “Trustees are sets of states that take direct responsibility for exercising authority in another state on a temporary basis. The trustee is commonly delegated this responsibility by an international organization”.[15] As initially conceived by the United Nations in the wake of World War II, Trusteeship entailed the “moral responsibility” of powerful nations, under UN auspices, to administer dependent territories, especially colonies, on their way to independence.[16] Such paternalistic trusteeships envisioned “a formal recognition of the moral obligation to administer dependent territories with justice and a sense of responsibility towards the inhabitants themselves and the world at large”.[17]

Powerful colonial legacies and economic interests often undermined this vision.[18] Ironically, one of the most effective UN-authorized trusteeships arose from the vast array of Pacific islands liberated from Japanese occupation by the U.S. Navy during WWII. By virtue of its strategic interest and power, the United States was granted trusteeship by the UN for what became Micronesia. During its administration from 1947-1994, the United States helped Micronesia develop democratic political structures and functioning independent courts.[19]

Modern trusteeships, often termed neo-trusteeships, involve UN or other multilateral-sponsored transitional authority for post-conflict societies.[20] In contrast to earlier trusteeships designed for subject peoples, recent trusteeships have arisen from formerly sovereign but failed or fractured states and often involve UN peacekeeping forces. These include:

·      The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (1992-1993). Following a peace accord signed in Paris in 1991 to end factional conflict, the UN Security Council established a transitional authority with the responsibility of shepherding a new constitution and unified government.

·      United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor 1999-2002. In the wake of mass violence following the independence of East Timor from Indonesia, the UN authorized transitional governance, law, social services, and peacekeeping forces for the fledgling country.

·      United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo 1999-2008. In the wake of the Balkan wars, the UN Security Council authorized an international security authority for Kosovo, which was so weakened by war that it could not perform basic governing tasks. The mission involved both a large UN budget for civilian administration and peacekeeping forces.

Beyond these UN transitional authorities, de facto trusteeships were created by coalitions of nations, as in Bosnia and Herzegovina after the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, or by occupying powers, as in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s. Another interesting example occurred in Liberia, where widespread corruption provoked donors from the European Union and the United States to employ their leverage to force the transitional government to submit to financial oversight, which was backed by the African Union. In this case the trust relationship was limited to financial auditing and oversight. Given the systematic corruption in South Sudan, such oversight would be welcomed by many in the country.

As Lake and Fariss document, modern trusteeships tend to fall short of their aims, or frequently fail. Why? In part because state-building is so difficult, requiring years of commitment and development. Another reason is clashing interests. Trustee authorities may not always have the interests of the average citizens of the territory at heart, nor may local leaders who are often motivated by political survival or greed. Successful trusteeships thus occur in those rare cases “when the interest of the trustee and the average citizen coincide”. This was the case in East Timor, “where Australia played the role of neutral arbiter as leader of international peacekeeping missions”.[21]

Finally, the reigning principle of Westphalian sovereignty “limits the ability of others to intervene in the internal affairs of states – even failed ones”.[22] This dynamic certainly shaped the destiny of South Sudan, as former rebel commanders who were incapable of governing the new nation nonetheless asserted their sovereign legitimacy to rule.

An endemic problem of multilateral administrations involves the behavior of foreign soldiers brought in to provide security for extremely vulnerable populations rent by recent violence and depredation. In Cambodia, Kosovo, and elsewhere such troops fueled a sex trafficking industry.[23] This suggests the need for additional measures to ensure tight discipline and close international scrutiny, including monitoring by respected NGOs, when transitional administrations involve peacekeeping forces.

Because no current mechanism is adequate for the challenges of state failure in the 21st Century, scholars and policy makers are groping for new international norms and mechanisms. Richard Haass, as president of the U.S. Council of Foreign Relations, proposes a framework he terms “World Order 2.0”. In his book, A World in Disarray, Haass documents how a form of world order operated after the Second World War – an “operating system 1.0” led by the United States that included the UN, security alliances, global trade accords, international covenants, cooperative regional bodies, and balances of power. As that system is breaking down, he views such frameworks as R2P as insufficient in a globalized world of transnational problems – climate crisis, resource depletion, infectious diseases, global crime syndicates, cyber threats, massive migrations, weapons proliferation, international terrorist networks, civil wars, and failed states. The challenge is rooted in the disjunction between a Westphalian assumption of states with sovereign rights and the wide global fallout from state misconduct, weakness, and failure. What happens inside states ripples far beyond their borders. In our interconnected age, therefore, a new “world order 2.0” must operate with the doctrine that states have Sovereign Obligations in addition to sovereign rights.[24]

In a way, we see intimations of this normative understanding in the considerable international response to the fracture of South Sudan. The “Troika” of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Norway worked to apply serious diplomatic pressure on the leading antagonists in the South Sudan civil conflict (President Salva Kiir, former Vice-President Riek Machar, and others), employing a variety of carrots and sticks to produce ceasefires and accords. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD, a cooperative program of the six countries on the Horn of Africa) hosted numerous rounds of peace talks between the parties and applied additional diplomatic pressure. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) provided blue helmet troops to protect nearly 200,000 civilians sheltered in its bases all over the country. Under threat of government and rebel troops, this unheralded program represents a tremendous and heroic act by the UN,[25] though thousands of other refugees have been sheltered in church compounds. Finally, international NGOs work through local church networks to provide desperately needed services to traumatized and hungry people.

In another way, however, the international response also reflects the enduring assumption of state sovereignty, in this case treating the major antagonists in South Sudan as legitimate potential leaders of a functioning state, when they operate more as ethnic militia commanders or warlords. This illuminates the need to instantiate the idea of Sovereign Obligations in concrete mechanisms. Such instantiation requires forward-looking international leadership, which, with American retrenchment, seems increasingly absent on the global stage.[26]

Overview of the South Sudan Crisis

South Sudan represents the stunning case of a new nation born out of transnational advocacy. As recounted in Freeing God’s Children, in the late 1990s Christian solidarity activists and allies in the West mounted a formidable international movement on behalf of the African peoples of southern Sudan, who were engulfed in a brutal civil war of resistance to the dominant Islamist government in Khartoum.[27] The Sudanese regime’s use of scorched earth tactics, forced Islamization, and slavery mobilized passionate and creative advocacy by the movement, which mounted increasingly intense pressure on the Khartoum regime to end its war on the South. This culminated in the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between Khartoum and rebel groups in 2005. Through a provision of the CPA, leaders in the South pushed for a referendum of independence. After an overwhelming vote in favor (near 99%), and with much jubilation, South Sudan was declared an independent state in July of 2011.

International NGOs invested heavily in the new nation, and local Christian leaders engaged in heroic efforts to consolidate and weave the nation together. But the country – afflicted by decades of devastation, bereft of infrastructure, beset by tribal and ethnic divisions, and sapped by poor governing capacity – proved too fragile to hold. Tragically, in December of 2013 a power struggle in the capital city of Juba between President Salva Kiir and former Vice-President and opposition leader Riek Machar erupted into ethnic conflict and civil war, sparking a round of massive displacement, disease, and looming famine.

A Hobbesian nightmare of warlords leading ethnic militias in atrocities and reprisals haunts the once hopeful land. Over the past five years, conflict and anarchy killed nearly 400,000 people, uprooted a third of the country’s twelve million people (2 million internally displaced and 2½ million refugees), left more than half the population food insecure, and at one point put 1.5 million on the brink of starvation.[28] South Sudan is now among the top three countries in refugee displacement in the world (along with Syria and Afghanistan) and is Africa’s worst refugee crisis since the Rwanda genocide.[29] As of 2018 it had the world’s highest proportion of out-of-school children (over 2 million or 70%).[30] A tentative peace accord signed in September of 2018 has stabilized the country somewhat, but continuing flare-ups and lagging implementation threaten a return to fratricidal conflict.

Historical Background to the Creation of South Sudan

The current crisis in South Sudan owes its origin to a wider historic division in Sudan. For centuries uneasy relations festered between the dominant Arabic-speaking people of northern Sudan and the ethnically-distinct and often marginalized Africans of the South.[31] The roots of this fraught relationship trace as far back as the 16th Century, when Muslims advancing from Arabia defeated the Christian kingdoms of Nubia, pushing the Africans southward where they were shielded for a time by a vast geography of swamps called the Sudd.[32] By the 19th Century, however, Ottoman and Arabic rulers from Khartoum breached the Sudd and opened huge slave raiding operations that trafficked thousands of Africans from the South to the North and beyond. This legacy of exploitation endured into the 20th Century and propelled marginalization of the African south.[33]

Among the African tribes in the south are some 60 ethnic groups, with Dinka as the largest (at nearly 36%), and Nuer as the next (at 16%).[34] Religiously, the Africans are a blend of traditional religionists and Christians, the latter including Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, and others. Simmering tensions between the Arabic North and the African South have erupted into two civil wars since Sudanese independence, 1955-1972 and 1983-2005. The latter intensified after a 1989 coup by Omar al-Bashir brought a militant Islamist regime to power in Khartoum. That regime – the same one that gave refuge to Osama Bin Laden – launched a campaign of forced Islamization of the African populations of the South.

Guided by an ideology of racial and religious superiority, the regime waged its self-declared jihad in scorched earth fashion, burning villages and crops, slaughtering livestock, indiscriminately killing civilians, and abducting women and children into chattel slavery, which often involved concubinage and forced conversions. This conflict claimed the lives of some two million Africans, displaced another five million, and enslaved thousands more. Because Christianity provided the cultural glue for the peoples of the South – just as churches form the core institutions of civil society today and were the means by which South Sudanese were educated and prepared for leadership[35] – the Khartoum regime sought to eradicate its presence by destroying churches, religious schools, and clinics. This combination of massive killing, manufactured famine, and forced conversions aimed at the destruction of a distinct people led international monitors to depict the regime’s campaign as genocidal.[36] It also sparked a broad rebellion of the southern Sudanese population. Rebels coalesced in several, sometimes competing groups, the most prominent being the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), founded and led by John Garang until his untimely death in 2005 in a helicopter accident.

For over a decade this conflict remained “Africa’s Forgotten War”, but it was plucked from the backwaters of international concern through global Christian advocacy networks. Courageous local pastors and bishops in southern Sudan long championed the cause of their communities – providing succor, documenting atrocities, and even mediating ethnic clashes and violence between factions of the SPLA.[37] As the crisis deepened they formed the New Sudan Council of Churches, which became instrumental in fostering transnational relationships between local Christian congregations and international NGOs and solidarity groups. With unique on-the-ground access to the remotest regions of this sprawling land, indigenous Christian leaders conveyed vital information on the crisis to a growing international human rights and Christian solidarity network. Because of their global denominational linkages, southern Sudanese Catholic and Anglican bishops became especially influential voices for their besieged flocks. They traveled abroad, testified before policy makers, and were feted at congregations and advocacy gatherings in the United States and Europe. Churches and aid agencies in the United States and Europe also provided haven for Sudanese refugees and escaped slaves, who became powerful voices for the cause.[38]

Here we note the crucial role of the United States in bringing an end to the civil war. The remarkable coalition of Christian churches, African American leaders, Jewish activists, and human rights champions moved members of Congress to pass the Sudan Peace Act in 2002, which propelled high level diplomatic engagement to broker a peace agreement between the Khartoum regime and the SPLA. The Bush Administration put its weight behind a peace deal by appointing former senator John Danforth as special envoy to Sudan. More significantly, an American diplomat with extensive African expertise, Susan Page, was detailed by the State Department to serve as full time UN representative for the peace negotiations. From 2002-2005 Page engaged in “hard negotiations” with representatives of the SPLA, the government of Sudan, and regional African nations to end the conflict.[39] In addition, American religious activists, in a striking exercise of citizen diplomacy, pressed both sides to come to an agreement.[40] These efforts culminated in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in 2005 by John Garang as Chairman of the SPLA and Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, First Vice President of the Republic of the Sudan, ending Africa’s longest civil war.[41]

In hindsight, Western advocates for the besieged people of southern Sudan operated with some naivety about the nature of the SPLA and its capacity to govern an independent functioning state. Abuses by the SPLA and the autocratic tendencies of Garang were well known, as were deep fissures in the movement and the existence of southern militias that never were a part of Garang’s army.[42] To grasp the current crisis, we must contend with this complicated legacy.

John Garang was born in 1945 into the Dinka ethnic community in southern Sudan. In 1962, at the age of 17, he attempted to join the rebel resistance in the first civil war but was urged to complete his secondary education in Tanzania away from the fighting. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in 1969 in economics from Grinnell College in Iowa (U.S.) and studied agricultural economics at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. When the first Sudanese civil war ended in 1972, Garang, like other rebels, was absorbed into the Sudanese military. Over the next decade, he became a colonel and even took advanced military training at Fort Benning, Georgia. Taking leave from the military, he earned a master’s degree in agricultural economics and a PhD in economics from Iowa State University. He continued to serve in high levels in the Sudanese military, but like other Africans from the South increasingly chafed at Arab and Islamist dominance. Sent to quell an uprising, he instead led a mutiny of his unit and combined it with other rebels to create the SPLA in 1983, which sparked the second civil war.[43]

Garang, who led the SPLA from 1983 until his death in 2005, was a complex figure. On the one hand, he articulated a vision of a secular and multi-ethnic new Sudan, which he termed “Sudanism”. He spoke of transcending Arab-ness or African-ness, of building bonds between Christianity and Islam – a bold if unrealistic vision of unity and transformation. Seeking greater autonomy for South Sudan but not full independence, he viewed the struggle by the southern Sudanese people as the catalyst for a transformation of Sudan itself.[44] On the other hand, Garang received early support and arms from the Marxist Mengistu regime in Ethiopia and Kaddafi’s Libya. Neither supported an independent southern Sudan, and Garang ruthlessly suppressed rivals in the SPLA who supported secession.[45] By building his powerbase among fellow Dinka, he also generated grievances among the Nuer and other marginalized ethnic groups.[46]

As for the SPLA itself, it was “riven by factional and ethnic rivalries”,[47] the most significant of which was when Riek Machar, one of Garang’s lieutenants, broke with Garang in 1992. Like Garang, Machar was highly educated. Trained as an engineer at Khartoum University, he obtained a PhD in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Bradford, UK. Machar disagreed with Garang’s vision of a united democratic Sudan, pressing instead for complete independence for South Sudan. Equally important, Machar represented the second largest ethnic tribe in South Sudan, the Nuer. Machar formed his own SPLA faction, which was involved in the infamous Bor Massacre, where more than 2000 civilians (mostly Dinka) were killed by Nuer militias in the city of Bor and surrounding countryside and tens of thousands of others died in famine afterwards. A Machiavellian figure, Machar was calling for independence while receiving support from the Khartoum regime, which apparently saw an opportunity to sow discord in the ranks of the SPLA. He even switched sides several times, and at one point he even negotiated a separate pact with Bashir.[48]

Church leaders in southern Sudan operated with a more sober appraisal of the SPLA because they suffered from its infighting and sought to keep a proper distance from military operations. On the one hand, many in their Christian flocks were soldiers in the SPLA, and pastors often served as chaplains to lead worship services among units of the army. On the other hand, prominent bishops criticized abuses by rebel troops and condemned bloodshed between SPLA factions. The legendary Catholic Bishop Paride Taban, as co-founder and leader of the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC), pursued high-level mediation between Machar and Garang, even to the point of engaging the presidents of Uganda and Kenya.[49]

Given the record of inter-tribal violence and reprisals among SPLA factions, church authorities intuitively grasped the profound need for reconciliation among the diverse peoples of South Sudan. To facilitate an end to fighting among the SPLA factions, ecumenical leaders of the NSCC created a people-to-people reconciliation process. In the late 1990s they brought together elders and chiefs of the Dinka and Nuer communities, along with clan leaders and women’s representatives, for a sustained process of trust building, truth telling, and forgiveness. With a mixture of traditional African conflict-resolution rituals and Christian rites of confession and forgiveness, the process remarkably mirrored that recommended by scholars of reconciliation.[50]

Building on the momentum of this process and drawing upon their moral authority, church leaders then challenged SPLA factions to join in the mediation process. Speaking directly to Garang and Machar their message was forceful: “We have made peace, but it is our sons who continue to encourage conflict”. Ultimately, “Dr. John and Dr. Riek” (as they were called) signed a peace agreement in 2002, which reunited the SPLA factions, at least tactically.[51] This occurred just as international pressure on Khartoum intensified to end its war on the South, leading to the signing of the CPA in 2005. The agreement granted greater autonomy to the South (with Garang as its regional president), but in a nod to Garang’s vision of a unified country he was also named First Vice President of Sudan itself (second to Omar al-Bashir). It also included provisions for an independence vote in 2011. The remarkable transformation of Sudan in 2019, with the ouster of the dictator Bashir and an agreement between pro-democracy protestors and the military council paving the way for civilian rule, leaves us to ponder an alternative fate of southern Sudanese society if some form of Garang’s federalist solution had held, rather than secession.[52] We will never know. On the other hand, the revolution in Khartoum could pave the way for rapprochement between North and South, which might have positive ramifications in the long run for the stability of South Sudan.[53]

The end of the civil war between the Khartoum regime and southern rebels left in its wake the enormous challenges of rebuilding the shattered fabric of the war-torn land. Absent of basic infrastructure, bereft of governing experience, and beset by widespread illiteracy, trauma, and exhaustion, the people of South Sudan needed time and help to prepare for self-government. Unfortunately, civil society actors, especially church leaders, were largely shut out of peace negotiations and underutilized in state-building initiatives. Most agreed, for example, on the need for a process of reconciliation to heal the wounds of ethnic conflicts that erupted during the long conflict with the Khartoum regime, and especially to build trust among the Dinka, Nuer, Murle, Shilluk, and other ethnic communities. Church leaders remonstrated with the government to establish a truth and reconciliation commission, and were ready to participate or lead, but delays and political infighting forestalled its realization.

These parlous circumstances rendered the transition to self-government precarious, but bad luck also played a role. Less than a month after the CPA was signed in 2005 John Garang was killed in a helicopter accident. Though autocratic and divisive, Garang enjoyed unique stature internationally and in Sudan. When he was sworn in as First Vice-President of Sudan, “up to a million well-wishers flooded Khartoum” to celebrate “a move that marked a turning point in Sudan’s troubled history since independence in 1956”.[54] The most educated and experienced of the South’s political leaders, he might have been able to form the rudiments of a functioning government. Moreover, because he maintained close relationships with American political and religious leaders, he may have been more open to advice and accountability than those who took his place.[55]

Garang’s successor, Salva Kiir, who ultimately became president of the new nation, evinced less sophistication. With only a military education, Kiir’s entire experience had been as an SPLA commander. He did play important roles in the field, such as his support and provision of security for the 1998 peace process. But he was also described as out of his depth as president and dominated by aids, especially the powerful Dinka council.[56] Others noticed the increasingly erratic and corrupt tendencies of SPLA leadership in general.[57]

Nonetheless, from the signing of the CPA in 2005 through the fall of 2013 the land enjoyed its first respite from widespread war in a generation (though serious ethnic violence continued to flare up). With a modicum of stability, the agriculturally rich land provided increasing food security (though a large humanitarian operation continued through this period), and global NGOs invested heavily in the new nation by partnering with local churches to provide essential services. My field research in August of 2013, on the eve of the December breakdown, revealed the prominence of such Christian groups as Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, Adventist Relief and Development Agency, Caritas International, and Samaritans Purse, as well as a host of secular NGOs. These groups, working through indigenous church networks and in cooperation with the USAID and the UN, provided a substantial share of the education, health services, and emergency relief that the fledgling government did not provide through its substantial oil revenue. Though aid can create problems, I was struck by the humanitarian cooperation of UN and U.S. aid operations, international NGOs, and indigenous Christian pastors, bishops, and local congregations that formed the heart of nascent civil society.

But the absence of adequate infrastructure and a functioning state were also evident. The capital city of Juba is a jumble of mostly rutted muddy streets and hovels, with no central electrical or water service but with large walled government compounds and mansions for leaders (with pilfered millions) largely unconnected to the people. With few miles of paved roads in a country the size of France, much of the land is inaccessible for months during the rainy season. When I asked one bishop what the country needed most, he replied simply, “roads”. Poverty is massive.

Here the failure of post-independence leadership became most glaring, as rampant corruption and ineptitude by government officials – mostly former SPLA commanders with no governing expertise – siphoned away billions in oil revenue and aid money to enrich themselves and families. As a key account summarized it, “Corruption nearly devoured the state before it was born”.[58] In addition to substantial aid money, from 2005-2011 oil revenues amounted to an estimated $12 billion, which in a country of 13 million people would have greatly contributed to roads, schools, agricultural projects, health clinics, electricity, and other public utilities. Instead, South Sudan became a kleptocratic land of vast inequality – of suitcases full of cash, private jets, villas, and prep schools for the SPLA elite, and no schools, roads, electricity, or running water for the rest.[59] Early in his administration the situation got so embarrassing that President Salva Kiir lamely issued a letter to some 75 recipients asking them to give back $4 billion in unaccounted funds. It was ignored, but it exacerbated political tensions.[60] In 2012 the country’s top Catholic and Episcopal bishops issued a joint statement which “sharply criticized the culture of corruption in high ranking officials”.[61]

From independence in 2011 to 2013, when the state collapsed into civil war, Kiir’s popularity, not surprisingly, “suffered from a perceived failure to end high poverty rates, lack of infrastructure, internal repression, and widespread official corruption”.[62] His lack of political acumen came out as the power struggle with Riek Machar intensified. Ambitious and cunning, Machar was positioning himself to defeat Kiir for the presidency, and Kiir was losing support. Faced with that threat, Kiir violated one of Machiavelli’s famous rules for governing a new state: “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. Instead, Kiir fired Machar and his entire cabinet in the summer of 2013, which effectively split the SPLM and pushed Machar into an independent position. Even some SPLA leaders who were close to Garang (but felt marginalized by Kiir) allied with Machar and set the stage for confrontation. Because Kiir never integrated the armed forces across ethnic groups, and the Nuer felt marginalized by his government, Machar commanded his own Nuer militia, people who were loyal to him and not the government.[63]

Outbreak of Civil War

“The cancer of Africa is tribalism” – Bishop Emeritus Max Gassis.[64]

It is not surprising that the political conflict between Kiir and Machar devolved into tribal war. When a state is absent or dysfunctional, as was the case in South Sudan, people fall back on clan and tribe for support. Kiir’s action in the summer of 2013 created a political crisis, which heightened ethnic tensions, fears, and outbreaks of violence. Just before the war erupted, one NGO official noticed that, amidst the increasingly fragile political environment, soldiers in the barracks of security forces were distinctly separated into Nuer and Dinka groups. At that point she knew it was going to explode.[65] On December 15 a fistfight and then a firefight erupted in military barracks in Juba between Dinka and Nuer soldiers. The next day President Kiir, claiming without evidence that Machar was planning a coup,[66] unleashed his guard in a campaign of ethnic cleansing planned well in advance.[67] Dinka forces swept through Juba, systematically killing Nuer men, assaulting women and children, and destroying property in Nuer neighborhoods. Refugees, numbering 16,000, nearly all Nuer, flooded into UN compounds within 24 hours of the outbreak.[68] Ultimately this campaign of ethnic cleansing was so extensive that Juba today “is a Dinka town”, which seriously complicates the task of national unification and reconciliation.[69]

Riek Machar escaped the crackdown and fled north to Bor, the site of the infamous massacre. There the Nuer White Army, which had reconstituted itself in response to the atrocities in Juba, joined Machar and began its own scorched earth assault on Dinka communities. The widening conflict thus took on a powerful ethnic character, with atrocities on all sides. The SPLA operated as a de facto Dinka force while Machar’s faction, SPLA-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) mobilized Nuer. Government forces often used scorched earth tactics, which resulted in massive ethnic cleansing in Nuer areas, and NGO representatives I spoke with talked of schools and clinics destroyed and tanks running over houses.[70] With so many other ethnic communities in the land, the conflict sparked multiple vortices, not just two sides. Marauding militias do not fight as armies, but they assault communities, producing a nightmare of pillaging, massacres, rapes, child soldiers, and famine.

In these conditions, starvation became a tool of armed combatants.[71] As a major report documented, “both government and opposition forces used starvation tactics, causing hunger, disease, social breakdown and heightened mortality”. Famine now stalks a land that “possesses some of the most agriculturally productive land anywhere in the world”, in which the people rarely experience hunger in times of peace and stability.[72]

As the conflagration spread, the economy virtually collapsed, making people dependent on international aid to survive. Indeed, the UN reported a need of $1.5 billion annually in aid to support people inside the country and another $2.7 billion for its refugees.[73]

When the civil war erupted, some western advocates seemed intent on picking sides with Kiir as the leader of the legitimate government against a nefarious Machar.[74] But the government itself quickly “ethnicized”.[75] Reports by the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan paint a picture of widespread atrocities and ethnic cleansing on all sides, including “rapes, gang rapes, sexual mutilation, abductions into sexual slavery”, use of child soldiers, and indiscriminate killings. Indeed, the Commission documented a catalogue of violations by government forces that amount to war crimes. In one example, more than 8,000 young men recruited by government security forces were given free rein with the invitation “to rape beautiful women”, loot properties, and seek revenge against a civilian population in Leer.[76] The Commission also documented how Kiir exacerbated ethnic tensions by splitting ten states into thirty in 2015, creating a Dinka gerrymander, which further marginalized the Nuer and strengthened Machar’s hand.[77] The sad irony is that the two antagonists are professing Christians – Kiir is Catholic and Machar a Presbyterian. Tribal passions, financial interests, power stakes, and fear seem to overwhelm Christian convictions, creating a situation of “zero trust”.[78]

            This fratricidal conflict has been “punctuated by multiple rounds of mediation followed by renewed bloodshed”.[79] International and regional actors have repeatedly pressed the parties to negotiations and ceasefires. A peace treaty signed in 2015 provided brief respite but it collapsed early in 2016. The most recent accord signed in September in 2018 has reduced the violence, but it remains fragile and flawed, as it shut out key civil society actors and has postponed benchmarks, particularly the thorny problem of providing security guarantees for contending troops.[80]

One reason for the fragility of negotiated settlements is that antagonists are insulated from the consequences of the strife they produce; indeed, perverse incentives operate. With international organizations spending millions of dollars on negotiations, large delegations of opposing parties fly into Addis Ababa, Arusha, or Nairobi, where they are feted in luxurious fashion. One NGO official observed in 2015 how delegations enjoy “highlife” in “five-star hotels”, sometimes spending money on prostitutes and often joining each other for sumptuous meals and drinks, completely disconnected to the violence and pillaging their troops commit. Disgusted church leaders have called for less elevated treatment. [81]

The Role and Potential Future of Churches in South Sudan

In contrast to the failure of the violent conflict between political rivals, Christian churches in South Sudan form the nucleus of a potential peaceful civil society.[82] During the conflict with Khartoum, when Christian congregations became cut off from their northern counterparts, leaders saw the need to create a broad ecumenical body, which they called the New Sudan Council of Churches. Co-founded by Catholic Bishop Paride Taban and Anglican Bishop Nathaniel Garang, it included all major church bodies – Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Orthodox, and other associations. It reunited with northern branches during the interim period – from the end of the war in 2005 to independence in 2011. After South Sudan’s independence, its name changed to South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC). What makes the body unique is that it maintains an affiliation with the World Council of Churches, which otherwise does not have Catholic members. Though fragile, it represents the foundation, of civil society, reconciliation, and development, as recognized by the work of Catholic Relief Services to anchor its peacemaking work with the SSCC.[83]

The ecumenical cooperation in the SSCC extends beyond fellow Christians, as Christian leaders maintain good relations among the Muslims, and often (though not always) show respect for traditional African religious practices. But the government of South Sudan did not provide a big enough role for such civil society actors.

That potential is represented in the figure of Bishop Paride Taban, who saw how a whole generation lost the opportunity for education during the war with Khartoum, and how the turmoil often exacerbated tensions between ethnic groups and delayed economic progress. As he recounted, because many Africans of South Sudan are a pastoral people, wealth and endowments are often measured by cattle. Ancient tribal practices, such as cattle rustling, might operate in a relatively benign way in times past – like counting coups among the Plains Indians in America – but, with the infusion of guns into the country, became untenably destructive. So, Bishop Taban envisioned a demonstration program – a peace village – where the people from diverse tribes would learn modern agricultural to move the economy beyond cattle farming, where children would receive a quality education, and where reconciliation practices were woven throughout. This Kuran Peace Village stands out as an island in the chaos of the surrounding countryside.[84]

Time and again, however, the failure of political leaders undermined this potential resource.

One of the things that makes indigenous churches effective is their links to western NGOs, whose staff work in some of the most parlous circumstances on earth. I observed the heroic work of these NGOs, building schools and universities, health clinics, agricultural projects, and micro-enterprise cooperatives. Catholic Relief Services, for example, currently has 700 staff across the sprawling country, working on food security, conflict early warning, schools, sanitation, reconciliation, and peacemaking. But the “Locust Effect” – in which predatory violence can wipe out years of development work – is an ever-present danger.[85]

As clashes between government troops and insurgents plunged the country into chaos, local bishops and pastors have provided singular moral voices, chastising the contesting political and tribal factions, striving to mediate the dispute, and offering their help in the long and painful process toward reconciliation and recovery. Andrew Natsios, former USAID administrator and special envoy to Sudan, described churches as “the most functional indigenous institutions”, going so far as to say they will determine South Sudan’s future.[86] Another observer concluded that “the churches are the only players left standing on the South Sudan stage who have any moral credibility and national recognition”.[87] A survey of South Sudanese people by the U.S. Institute of Peace found that over 80% of respondents considered religious actors and institutions “very important” to bringing peace in the country.[88] While decades of war have weakened church structures, strengthening and empowering this vital sector of civil society is imperative.

Pope Francis and Vatican Diplomacy

            The crisis in South Sudan has become a pressing concern for Pope Francis, who has engaged in personal mediation to help end the conflict. This culminated dramatically in a spring 2019 meeting at the Vatican with Salva Kiir, Riek Machar, and leaders of other factions, personally hosted by Pope Francis and Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury. With pivotal facilitation by the South Sudan Council of Churches, the “spiritual retreat for peace” at the Vatican focused on implementing the September 2018 peace accord, which called for a subsequent power-sharing government.[89] In a dramatic gesture, Pope Francis, on the eve of Holy Week, knelt and kissed the feet of each of the antagonists. As he pleaded with the leaders to work toward a unity government, he said, “I am asking you as a brother to stay in peace. I am asking you with my heart, let us go forward. There will be many problems, but they will not overcome us. Resolve your problems”.[90] This stunning example of Papal diplomacy may have spurred, or shamed, the antagonists to continue negotiations toward a power sharing pact. Salva Kiir said he “trembled” when the Holy Father kissed his feet.[91] The Pontiff kept pressure on the rivals to form a transitional unity government with an extraordinary 2019 Christmas day appeal.[92] These efforts helped propel a separate peace pact on January 13, 2020 between the government of South Sudan and opposition groups not party to the 2018 accord, clearing away that hurdle to the proposed power-sharing government.[93]

 As of this writing, halting progress has been made toward this power-sharing arrangement.[94] Given the lack of trust, the mutual grievances, and the intense pressures to defend their ethnic bases of support, it remains unclear whether the principal antagonists (Kiir and Machar) possess the capacity to run a genuine unity government. But in the short term, international actors may need to invest in the fiction that these men are potential leaders of the country, to prevent renewed civil war. This illustrates the theme of this chapter: that a world order framed around sovereign states needs new norms and mechanisms for dealing effectively with failed states or local leaders without genuine legitimacy.

Going Forward

In a major report to the Council on Foreign Relations, Kate Almquist Knopf, formerly of World Vision, called for a “clean break” from the current leaders, antagonists, and power structures of South Sudan. Her proposal envisioned an international transition administration to govern the country and build capacity for eventual self-rule.[95] Only the most extreme cases of state failure warrant such a choice, but because South Sudan “is a country in name only” an international transitional administration “remains the only viable option”, according to the report. Such a transition would require a negotiated exit for both Kiir and Machar, because neither of the major antagonists has the capacity or legitimacy to govern long-term.[96]

A key challenge of this option lies in the sovereignty premise of the international system: there is no way to force parties to accept such a trusteeship. After the signing of the CPA in 2005 and then after independence in 2011, former Ambassador Susan Page observed how SPLM leaders, deploying their “sovereign authority”, would not even listen to modest recommendations for how to create a financial system or a functioning state, with devastating results.[97] Having a trusteeship at the very beginning, she observed, might have ensured the proper development of South Sudan. Oil revenue, for example, could have been placed in a trust to build infrastructure.[98]

Other actors question the viability or practicality of a trusteeship or transitional authority in the case of South Sudan, particularly at this point. As noted earlier, multilateral transitional administrations are fraught with difficulties, and delicate relationships must align just right to work. Moreover, the sheer geographic size and ethnic diversity of the land, not to mention the deep wounds of division produced by the civil war, present formidable challenges to the best administration.[99]

Experienced observers, however, do agree with the premise of the trusteeship recommendation: the ultimate need for a clean slate to allow new leadership to emerge. Ambassador Susan Page mused that it might be best for both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar to step down, since neither leader seems to have the desire, or capacity, to implement the power-sharing agreement.[100] John Ashworth, who has worked in church communities in South Sudan for over three decades, similarly observed that while Kiir and Riek Machar cling to power, “they have little influence on what actually happens on the ground in the bush”. Kiir is dependent on his advisers and a powerful Dinka Elders Council, who “pull the strings and make sure they control the important positions in the country”. Meanwhile, Riek Machar “is merely a representative of his Nuer people and doesn’t represent the entire opposition as a whole. There are countless opposition groups who do not want to be governed by either the Dinka or Neur”. It will take time, however, to develop a new generation of leaders prepared to take their place.[101] The international sovereignty assumption, however, hamstrings efforts to prepare for this transition.

The Tragedy of South Sudan: A Living Lesson

In human history we have seen iterations of international order created in the wake of violent conflict and strife. After the 30 Years War, exhausted European leaders agreed at the Peace of Westphalia to create a system based on sovereign nations. At the end of the Second World War the United States helped to create and lead a new international world order based on international covenants, treaties, security guarantees, and trade. That system is breaking down, and no robust international system is in place to impose order or governance on a failed state, or to enforce responsibility on the part of advanced nations. R2P is not strong enough, trusteeship is too fraught, and the UN is structurally inadequate. The world clearly needs a new order not based solely on sovereign independence but also rooted in sovereign obligations. What that might be in full is beyond the scope of this paper. But the tragedy of South Sudan underscores the inadequacy of current international institutions and hints at some possible lineaments of a new system.

First, national and international leaders must explore better forms of trusteeship, matching nations with capacity to the interests of local people. The laudable principles of R2P and the idea of Sovereign Obligations also must be instantiated in real institutions with teeth. One example would be a much tougher and more transparent international regime against money laundering to prevent powerful outside actors – “tycoons, brokers, and multinational corporations” – from plundering the wealth of vulnerable nations with weak institutions, as occurred with South Sudan.[102]

In addition to these long-term goals, a broad consensus is emerging on the need to invest in fragile states.[103] Akin to the capacity-building prong of R2P, this aim seeks to prevent societies from descending into crisis by increasing international investment in the poorest and most fragile societies. Strengthening such societies requires changes in development strategies that emphasize governing capacity, conflict mitigation, civil society empowerment, and uplift for the poor. The World Bank, for example, emphasizes inclusive decision-making to foster participation of women and young people, “creating incentives for peaceful and cooperative behavior”, and “addressing structures that feed grievance”.[104] The U.S. Institute of Peace recommends helping fragile societies build resilience through increased funding for financial transparency, human rights, freedom of press and religion, and other democracy-building activities.[105] Finally, The U.S Catholic Bishops are pressing for more robust diplomatic and development-centered engagement that emphasizes reducing poverty, strengthening civil society actors, and mitigating climate change. With respect to the most fragile and conflict-prone states, the Bishops also recommend developing an “expeditionary development approach that is more rapid, nimble, and risk-tolerant”.[106]

 Unfortunately, the rise of nationalist populism renders nations less amenable or able to develop and coordinate such approaches.

But just because current international mechanisms are inadequate to address state failure does not mean that we should abandon the people of South Sudan. It does suggest a hard-eyed acceptance that no ideal solution to the current tragedy is on the horizon. Ameliorating the situation will take patience and sustained engagement, perhaps for years, doing what is possible and biding time for when windows open to new governing arrangements – to a new generation of leaders not compromised by corruption and atrocity.

Such international engagement must build upon the fragile peace accord of 2018, which has brought some respite for aid and development. Parts of the country have stabilized, allowing select local governments to function, NGO operations to resume, and some schools to reopen. The UN World Food Program has creatively negotiated with factional leaders to improve humanitarian access and food security.[107] The massive public appetite for peace is a positive resource.[108]

Because deadlines for the formation of a unity government continue to be pushed out,[109] international pressure on the antagonists must be maintained. A true unity government must reckon with, and check, Dinka domination of Salva Kiir.[110] Efforts to locate and freeze ill-gotten money must be intensified and arms shipments stopped. International actors, from the Troika to the African Union to IGAD and the UN, must continue to invest in stabilizing the country and providing security guarantees central to the peace accord (like cantoning rival troops, bringing them in from the bush where they are more amenable to discipline). Helping to expand areas of relative stability depends on such security guarantees.

Finally, religious and civil society leaders agree that sustainable peace hinges on “a robust reconciliation process” to heal divisions and restore trust among the people. Repeated religious initiatives at reconciliation, however, have been stymied by the “intensity of ethnic antagonisms” and a lack of will among political rivals, but also by “inadequate institutional and financial resources”.[111] Sadly, in 2019 the United States government suspended its funding of reconciliation initiatives of the South Sudan Council of Churches.[112] Such initiatives must be rekindled.

If there is a responsibility to protect, a sovereign obligation, it certainly belongs to the United States. Given its pivotal role in the birth of South Sudan, the U.S. bears a responsibility to do what it can to help stabilize this broken land and heal its shattered people. But this responsibility also belongs to those of us in the West (especially the United States) who were involved in the advocacy campaign that led to independence. Subdued responses to the complexities of internecine conflict must be replaced by vigorous, if sober, activism to press advanced nations and international agencies to help the people of South Sudan rescue their fledgling nation.[113]

The pleas of one insider, echoed in numerous ways by many others, underscore this responsibility: “Don’t abandon the people of South Sudan... Don’t turn your backs… Don’t make the people suffer for the failure of the leaders…”


[*] I am delighted to acknowledge the superb aid provided by two undergraduate research assistants at the University of Oklahoma: Gabrielle Degelia (formerly Skillings), who wrote her honors thesis in 2014 on peacemaking in South Sudan, and Grayson Kuehl, who supported final research for this chapter in the summer of 2019.
[1] “Figures at a Glance”, UNHCR, 2019:, accessed 7-23-19.
[2] Samuel Huntington, Political Order in Changing Societies (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1968).
[3] World Population Review, “Fragile State Index 2019”:
[4] Kate Almquist Knopf, “Ending South Sudan’s Civil War”, Council on Foreign Relations, Council Special Report No.77, November 2016. The quote is from the Forward by Richard Haas, President of the Council.
[5] This conclusion is underscored by two recent books: Peter Martell, First Raise A Flag: How South Sudan Won the Longest War But Lost the Peace (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019); Zach Vertin, A Rope From the Sky: The Making and Unmaking of the World’s Newest State (New York: Pegasus Books, 2019).
[6] Allen D. Hertzke, Freeing God’s Children: The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004, Chapter 7).
[7] Field research in South Sudan, conducted in August of 2013, was supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown University.
[8] I especially benefited from the insights of the following individuals with on-the-ground expertise: Casie Copeland (Carter Center referendum observer, PACT representative, International Crisis Group expert, now with the World Food Program); Susan Page (UN Negotiator and first U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan); John Ashworth (long timer leader of South Sudan church associations); Tom Purekal (Catholic Relief Services former country director); Deborah Fikes (Midland Ministerial Alliance and World Evangelical Alliance); John O’Brien (current country director for Catholic Relief Services), and Bishop Paride Taban (co-founder of the New Sudan Council of Churches and the peace village).
[9] Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect:; Fred Dews, “What is the ‘Responsibility to Protect’?”, Brookings, July 24, 2013.
[10] “The Responsibility to Protect”, Report of the International Commission on Intervention and Sovereignty, December 2001; “2005 World Summit Outcome”, Resolution Adopted by the General Assembly on 16 September 2005, General Assembly, United Nations, October 24, 2005:
[11] “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect”, Report of the Secretary-General, United Nations General Assembly, January 12, 2009.
[12] International Refugee Right Initiative, September 6, 2017. While the AU officially embraced responsibility, it does not have clear mechanisms to act on it.
[13] Former U.S. Ambassador Susan Page noted this problem. “If we had withdrawn humanitarian assistance, we wouldn’t have been hurting the government, we would have been hurting the people that needed it most. The leadership in the United States struggled with ‘what is our leverage?’ “Sudan & South Sudan with Amb. Susan D. Page Part 3”, On Africa Podcast, Podcast audio, Dec. 31, 2018 As to regional actors, Uganda at one point sent troops to help Salva Kiir stay in power.
[14] Interview with Eric Heinze, Associate Professor of International Relations, University of Oklahoma, April 2019.
[15] David A. Lake and Christopher J. Fariss, “Why International Trusteeship Fails: The Politics of External Authority in Areas of Limited Statehood”, Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions, Vol. 27, No 4, 2014, p. 571:
[16] A.H. McDonald, editor, Trusteeship in the Pacific (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1949). This is the definition provided: “Trusteeship marks a formal recognition of the moral obligation to administer dependent territories with justice and a sense of responsibility towards the inhabitants themselves and the world at large”, p. vii.
[17] A.H. McDonald, Trusteeship in the Pacific “Introduction”, vii.
[18] Witness the fraught legacy of the Mandate system that assigned vast areas of the Middle East to major European powers.
[19] My thanks for the insights of fellow Academy member Paolo Carozza, who served as Judicial Clerk for the Chief Justice for the Federated States of Micronesia in final stages of U.S. trust authority.
[20] Lake and Fariss, “Why International Trusteeship Fails”, 2014.
[21] Lake and Fariss, p. 11.
[22] Lake and Fariss, p. 2.
[23] Joseph Loconte, “The U.N. Sex Scandal”, The Weekly Standard, January 3, 2005; Owen Bowcott, “Report Reveals Shame of UN Peacekeepers”, The Guardian, March 24, 2005:
[24] Richard Haass, A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order (New York: Penguin Random House, 2017).
[25] This information provided by a veteran NGO representative.
[26] Haass puts the issue bluntly: “The cold truth is that the alternative to a U.S.-led international order is less international order”. Richard Haass, “Afterword to the Paper Edition”, A World in Disarray, p. 321. Unfortunately, not only has the Trump administration accelerated American retrenchment, it has contributed to the unraveling of existing mechanisms of order.
[27] Hertzke, Freeing God’s Children, Chapter 7.
[28] Daniel Sullivan, “Displaced Nation: The Dangerous Implications of Rushed Returns in South Sudan”, Refugees International, November 29, 2018:; “South Sudan Peace Deal ‘Fatally Flawed’, Country’s Bishops Warn”, The Irish Catholic, March 7, 2019.
[29] “Figures at a Glance”, UNHCR,; “Refugees”, United Nations, accessed 10/28/19.
[30] USAID, “South Sudan: Education”,
[31] Roland Werner, William Anderson, and Andrew Wheeler, Day of Devastation Day of Contentment: The History of the Sudanese Church Across 2000 Years (Nairobi, Kenya: Paulines Publications Africa, 2000).
[32] Martell, First Raise A Flag; Walid A. Phares, “Christian Minorities in the Middle East: Statehood or Assimilation”, a paper delivered to the Religion and Politics panel at the 1994 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association.
[33] Martell, First Raise a Flag, Chapter 2.
[34] Both the CIA Factbook and the World Atlas report these estimates.
[35] Andrew Natsios, Sudan, South Sudan, and Darfur: What Everyone Needs to Know (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
[36]U.S. Committee on Refugees, “A Working Document: Quantifying Genocide in the Southern Sudan 1983-1993”, October 1993, and “Working Document II: Quantifying Genocide in Southern Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, 1993-1998”, December 1998; The Committee of Conscience, Holocaust Museum, “Genocide alert”, issued in October 2000.
[37] Werner, Anderson, and Wheeler, Day of Devastation Day of Contentment, especially Chapter 14, “Death Has Come to Reveal the Faith: The Church in the South 1983-2000”.
[38] Hertzke, Freeing God’s Children, Chapter 7.
[39] The negotiations were hosted by the UN and IGAD in Kenya. Susan Page received commendations from the State Department for her pivotal work in producing the CPA. Sources: “Sudan and South Sudan with Amb. Susan Page”, On Africa Podcast, Dec. 19, 26, 31, 2018.; Phone interview, 6-27-19.
[40] As head of the Ministerial Alliance in Midland Texas (Bush’s hometown), Deborah Fikes developed personal relationships with John Garang and the Sudanese Envoy in Washington DC. She and others engaged in intense personal communications with the two sides and remonstrating and chiding when negotiations threatened to break down. See Freeing God’s Children, Chapter 7. Phone interview with Deborah Fikes, 7-25-19.
[41] The CPA was an extremely complex and lengthy document, over 200 pages, suggesting the thorny issues that had to be ironed out.
[42]John Young, The Fate of Sudan: The Origins and Consequences of a Failed Peace Process (London: Zed Books, 2012); Vertin, A Rope From the Sky; Martell, First Raise a Flag.
[43]; Matthew J. Delaney, “John Garang and Sudanism: A Peculiar and Resilient Nationalism”, Senior Project, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, June 2010.
[44] Delaney, “John Garang and Sudanism: A Peculiar and Resilient Nationalism”, 2010.
[45] Martell, First Raise a Flag, Chapter 7.
[46] Zach Vertin, A Rope From the Sky, 2019; David Blair, “Negotiator for Peace in South is Killed in Air Crash”, The Telegraph, UK, August 2, 2005;; “John Garang”, The Telegraph, August 3, 2000,
[47] Blair, “Negotiator for Peace”, 2005.
[48] Delaney, “John Garang and Sudanism”, 2010.
[49] Alberto J. Eisman, Peace Deserves a Chance: Bishop Paride Taban, A Sudanese Shepherd (Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2011), Chapter Eighteen.
[50] Daniel Philpott, Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012). For an account of the NSCC reconciliation process from 1998-2000 see John Ashworth, “The People-To-People Peace Process”, The Zambakari Advisory, Spring 2019:
[51] Ashworth, “The People-to-People Process”.
[52] Nada Rashwan, “Sudan Factions Sign Agreement Paving the Way for Civilian Rule”, The New York Times, August 4, 2019.
[53] Mohamed Aboelfadl, “Can Sudan Be Put Back Together Again?” The Arab Weekly, September 9, 2019:
[54] Blair, “Negotiator for Peace”, 2005.
[55] Deborah Fikes, formerly head of the Midland Ministerial Alliance, knew Garang personally and prayed with him when he visited Midland (Phone Interview, 7-29-2019); former Ambassador Susan Page, who worked closely with Garang during peace negotiations with Khartoum, also saw his potential.
[56] This was the assessment of a British consultant for the Troika but was echoed in different ways by a variety of observers, including in Vertin’s account.
[57] When Susan Page challenged a rash government decision to shut off oil flows in a dispute with Khartoum, which imposed hardship on the people, southern officials were dismissive of their own citizens. She found SPLM officials increasingly resistant to reasonable advice. “Sudan and South Sudan”, On Africa Podcast, Dec. 19, 26, 31, 2018.; Susan Page, Phone interview, 6-27-19.
[58] Vertin, A Rope From the Sky, 2019, p. 166.
[59] Vertin, A Rope From the Sky, 2019, Chapter 10. Vertin’s account merely underscored what others on the ground, such as Casie Copeland and Susan Page, observed.
[60] Vertin, A Rope From the Sky, 2019, p. 185.
[61] The statement was issued by Roman Catholic Metropolitan Bishop of Juba, Paulino Lukudu Loro, and Archbishop Primate of the Episcopal Church, Daniel Deng Bul, July 9, 2012. Catholic News Service, “Religious leaders challenge South Sudanese officials to end corruption”, The Catholic Sun, July 9, 2012
[62] Simon Tisdall, “South Sudan President Sacks Cabinet in Power Struggle”, The Guardian, July 24, 2013.
[63] Martell, First Raise A Flag; “Riek Machar: South Sudan Warlord and Peacemaker?” BBC News, June 21, 2018:
[64] Bishop Emeritus Macram Max Gassis of Diocese of El Obeid, as quoted in “Report on a Briefing on Sudan and South Sudan”, Africa Faith & Justice Network, July 11, 2018.
[65] Casie Copeland, working with the NGO PACT, was visiting security forces when she noticed the tribal divisions. Interview, May 24, 2019.
[66] Vertin, A Rope From the Sky, Chapter 16. Vertin’s account demolishes Kiir’s argument of a coup attempt, and Ambassador Page confirmed that she didn’t believe it at the time.
[67] Under a pretext of cleaning the streets of Juba, Kiir’s guard systematically demarcated Nuer areas for assault. Martell, First Raise A Flag, Chapter 12.
[68] Vertin, A Rope From the Sky, provides an hour by hour, day by day account of the outbreak of the civil war, Chapter 16.
[69] This was how former U.S. Ambassador Susan Page described the situation.
[70] Interviews with a Sudan expert for the International Crisis Group and a consultant for the Troika, May 2015.
[71] Report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, to the UN Human Rights Council, Geneva, March 12, 2019.
[72] “Accountability for Starvation Crimes: South Sudan”, Policy Brief No. 2 World Peace Foundation, June 2019.
[73] Peter Beaumont, “South Sudan’s War: A relentless Litany of Almost Unimaginable Horrors”, The Guardian, February 28, 2019.
[74] Marcus Riley, “Acrimonious Acronym: South Sudan’s SPLA Used to Mean Hope Against Sharia Law. Now Rebels Twist It”, PJ Media, March 3, 2018, One American advocate described the Kiir regime as the “legitimate, sovereign government” of South Sudan (e-mail March 16, 2018).
[75] This was the term used by an NGO leader on the ground when the civil war erupted (Interview, 2015).
[76]Report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, to the UN Human Rights Council, Geneva, March 12, 2019; “South Sudan: Government Troops and Militias Given Free Rein to Commit New Atrocities”, Amnesty International News, September 19, 2018; Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan: Statement to the Media, Nairobi, February 20, 2019.
[77] “Report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, to the UN Human Rights Council”, Geneva, March 12, 2019.
[78] “Report of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan”, 2019, paragraph 19.
[79] Philip Pullella, “Pope reactivates plans for South Sudan trip”, Euronews, Reuters, March 16, 2019.
[80] International Crisis Group, “Salvaging South Sudan’s Fragile Peace Deal”, 13 March 2019.
[81] Phone conversation with country representative for a large Christian NGO, July 2015.
[82] Werner et al., Day of Devastation, Day of Contentment, 2000; Elijah M. Brown, The Road to Peace: The Role of the Southern Sudanese Church in Communal Stabilization and National Reconciliation, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Edinburgh, 2008.
[83]Stephen Hilbert, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops foreign policy advisor, Washington DC, Phone conversation, April 29, 2019.
[84] Eisman, Peace Deserves a Chance: Bishop Paride Taban, A Sudanese Shepherd, 2011.
[85] Gary Haugen, The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence (New York: 2014). South Sudan is a vivid example of how predatory violence wipes out development initiatives.
[86] Andrew S. Natsios, Sudan, South Sudan, & Darfur: What Everyone Needs to Know (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
[87] James Jeffrey, “How Christian Churches Are Trying to Save South Sudan”, The American Conservative, Aug. 20, 2018,
[88] Jacqueline Wilson, “The Religious Landscape in South Sudan: Challenges and Opportunities for Engagement”, United States Institute of Peace, 148, June 2019, p. 11. Citation provided by R. Drew Smith, “Amidst Political Foot-Dragging, Religious Leaders Pursue Alliances Toward Peace in South Sudan”, Unpublished paper, 2019.
[89] Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, “South Sudan Leaders Will Head to Vatican Meetings, Retreat”, American Magazine, April 3, 2019:
[90] “Pope Kisses Feet of South Sudan Leaders, Urges Them to Keep Peace”, Reuters, April 13, 2019.
[91] Garang Malaak, “‘I Trembled’, Kiir’s Spiritual Retreat Experience in Rome”, Eye Radio,
[92] Philip Pullella, “Pope, Religious Leaders, Send South Sudan Rivals Christmas Peace Appeal”, Reuters, December 25, 2019, The appeal was co-signed by Anglican Archbishop Weldon and Rev. John Chalmers, former moderator of the Church of Scotland.
[93] The agreement between the government of South Sudan and the country’s Opposition Movements (SSOMA) was brokered by the Saint Egidio Community and signed in Rome on January 13, 2020. Linda Bordoni, “South Sudan Leaders: ‘How can we not bring peace if the Pope pushes us to do so’”, Vatican News, January 14, 2020:
[94] “South Sudan Rivals Agree to Meet Unity Government Deadline”, The New York Times, January 17, 2020.
[95] Knopf, “Ending South Sudan’s Civil War”.
[96] Knopf, “Ending South Sudan’s Civil War”, p. 18.
[97] On Africa Podcast, Part 3, Interview with Susan Page.
[98] On Africa Podcast, Part 2. Interview with Susan Page.
[99] I am indebted to Academy member Paolo Carozza for pointing out the problems of multilateral trusteeships. Casie Copeland commented on the logistical challenges of such a transitional authority in South Sudan.
[100] In Part 3 of the On Africa Podcast, Susan Page said she wishes they would both step down.
[101] John Ashworth, “Interview with a Catholic Missionary in South Sudan”, May 28, 2019, In commenting on a draft of this paper, Ashworth noted that no second tier of leaders is prepared to take over right now. However, John O’Brien, country director for Catholic Relief Services remarked that there is a new crop of leaders waiting in the wings (Interview, May 9, 2019).
[102] “The Taking of South Sudan: The Tycoons, Brokers, and Multinational Corporations Complicit in the Hijacking the World’s Newest Nation”, The Sentry, September, 2019,
[103] United Nations and World Bank, “Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict” (Washington DC: World Bank, 2008); United States Institute of Peace, “Beyond the Homeland: Protecting America from Extremism in Fragile States”, September 2018; Testimony by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, Chairman, Committee on International Justice and Peace, United States Conference of Bishops, House Appropriations Committee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, March 12, 2019; and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Framework for Foreign Assistance Reform”, May 14, 2009.
[104] World Bank, “Pathways for Peace”, 2018.
[105] United States Institute of Peace, “Beyond the Homeland”, 2018.
[106] Testimony by Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio, 2019; and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Framework for Foreign Assistance Reform”, 2009.
[107] Carol Van Dam, “WFP Executive Director Hopeful of ‘New Day’ in Sudan”, Voice of America, October 28, 2019. Casie Copeland, long-term champion for the people of South Sudan, now works for the UN World Food Program, whose director, David Beasley, has undertaken creative initiatives to deliver relief aid to remote areas of the country.
[108] John O’Brien, Interview, May 2019.
[109] Antagonists pushed their previous November 12, 2019 deadline forward 100 days, into February of 2020, and on January 16, 2020 took steps to meet that deadline. Benjamin Takpiny, “President, Opposition to Extend Talks in South Sudan”, Anadolu Agency, November 7, 2019,; “South Sudan Rivals Agree to Meet Unity Government Deadline, The New York Times, January 17, 2020.
[110] Dr. Francis Mading Deng, distinguished scholar and first ambassador the United Nations for South Sudan, observed that in the “polarizing conflict perceptions can overshadow reality”, so that “Dinka are being seen as having replaced the Arabs as the rulers of an ethnically unjust system”, which paradoxically leads the Dinka to see themselves as targeted by others for “a genocidal onslaught”,
[111] Lucy Poni Modi, Elias O. Opongo, and R. Drew Smith, “South Sudan’s Costly Conflict and the Urgent Role of Religious Leaders”, The Review of Faith & International Affairs, Vol. 17, Summer 2019. This study is based on dozens of interviews with South Sudanese religious and civil society leaders conducted in 2018.
[112] Stephen Hilbert, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops foreign policy advisor, Washington DC, Phone conversation, April 29, 2019.
[113] An example is American scholar R. Drew Smith, who has been helping facilitate peace initiatives in South Sudan by the African ecumenical group, African Council of Religious Leaders-Religions for Peace. Smith, “Amidst Political Foot-Dragging, Religious Leaders Pursue Alliances Toward Peace in South Sudan”, 2019.




Nation, State, Nation-State

Plenary Session 1-3 May 2019 | Concept Note – The world is facing today a growing... Read more

©2012-2017 The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences


Share Mail Twitter Facebook