The Genesis of Cordial Relationship between SPLM and Washington: What Went Wrong?

Posted: June 19, 2019 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Dut Deng Kok

By Dut Deng Kok, Juba, South Sudan

President Bush with President Salva Kiir at the Oval Office, White House

Wednesday, June 19, 2019 (PW) —- The SPLM and South Sudan more broadly, always ask questions about the role of the West and the United States in particular during the war of 2013. Beginning in the 1980s, a small group of SPLM backers in Washington helped Dr. John Garang assemble a diverse and bipartisan coalition that would grow to have an outsize, and arguably unprecedented, impact in shaping U.S. foreign policy.

The coalition mobilized popular support for the South’s freedom fighters, punished the Sudanese government for its abuses, and engineered legislation to aid the Southern cause. Bite-size messages helped solidify a narrative about Sudan’s war North versus South, Arab versus African, Islam versus Christianity, and of course abuse: slavery, racism, and the domination of helpless and hungry victims. The themes were based in reality, as no one could deny the horrors being perpetrated against Sudan’s marginalized people. But the complexities of the war and Sudan’s turbulent postcolonial experience were smudged out.

With a Washington consensus established, the SPLM lobby was fashioning solutions with little resistance. Scores of members of Congress, advocates, and journalists piled on, excoriating an oppressive Islamist government and extolling the virtues of a freedom-loving Christian underdog. It was easy to score points, and there were essentially no consequences to joining the righteous chorus.

This phenomenon was possible precisely because Sudan was not China, or Russia, or Iran, or the Middle East. This was Africa, and it was far away. Sudan didn’t concern energy, or nuclear weapons, or strategic defense. Had the stakes been higher, or had matters of geopolitical import been at hand from a U.S. perspective, Washington’s policy might have been shaped by a more diverse and rigorous debate, one that reflected the complexity of Sudan’s crisis and its range of political constituencies. But Sudan simply didn’t matter enough.

The plight of South Sudan’s people had helped earn the SPLM many supporters in the West and it was a righteous cause. But supporters failed to grasp the consequences of adopting their cause with such singularity and zeal. Firmly in the corner of the “good guys,” many willfully ignored the worrisome trends taking root in South Sudan. In time, the rebel vanguard became accountable not to the South Sudanese people, but to a constituency of Western supporters too ready to back them at any price.

Over more than two decades, this uncritical embrace, simple moral narrative, and sentimental attachment created a moral hazard. “We lost objectivity,” one repentant champion of the partnership told me in 2017 when I took refuge in Uganda, I met him during world refugees’ day, he recognized my face and start asking me. “You can become close to someone but still be a tough friend … we were never a tough friend.”

South Sudan’s historic independence was celebrated around the world a triumph for global justice and an end to one of the world’s most devastating wars.  But the party would not last long; South Sudan’s freedom fighters soon plunged their new nation into chaos, shattering the promise of liberation and exposing the hubris of their foreign backers. Chronicling extraordinary stories of hope, identity, and survival. This character-driven narrative follows a cast of liberators who rally around a common idea and achieve the unthinkable. 

Mobilizing on their behalf is an unprecedented coalition of Americas: Democrats and Republicans, ideologues and activists, evangelical Christians, and Hollywood celebrities. This righteous alliance helps deliver South Sudan from tyranny, only to watch in disbelief as it comes dramatically undone.  Finally, a war-weary people must pick up the piece and start over again an uncertain quest to salvage a republic from the shards of a broken dream.  Weaving together narratives local and global, this is first a story of power, promise, greed, compassion, violence, and redemption from the world’s most neglected patch of territory.

So what went wrong along the way between SPLM or Washington? I think SPLM should hold back and see what happen between Juba and Washington.

The author, Dut Deng Kok, is a south Sudanese opinion writer and he can be reachable visa email: dutmanyang@gmail.com for comments.

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website. If you want to submit an opinion article, commentary or news analysis, please email it to paanluel2011@gmail.com. PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website do reserve the right to edit or reject material before publication. Please include your full name, a short biography, email address, city and the country you are writing from.

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