War in Africa
A Country Caught Under the Treads

President Obama’s plate already looked full for his visits to Kenya and Ethiopia, but after the release of a Human Rights Watch report earlier this week, his team will now be faced with another unsavory after-effect of American disengagement in Africa.

According to the group’s newest report, South Sudan’s ethnic violence is no longer resulting in just widespread starvation, but is also leading to systemic killings and deliberate displacement of women, children, and the elderly. From the HRW report:

A woman from Koch told Human Rights Watch she had seen fighters from government aligned Bul militia throw three elderly men into a burning hut. One elderly woman who had also fled Koch town said that Bul fighters attempted to hang her from a beam in her hut and that they killed an old man in this way in another hut. A 22-year-old woman from Koch described another attempted hanging, this time of her mother: […]

One man reported seeing a man shot as they fled the town, the bodies of a woman and two children, and the broken bodies of two brothers he knew, both in their 50s, who had apparently been crushed by tanks. He also reported seeing the bodies of six other men and women in the town after the SPLA had taken control of the area. A 30-year-old woman said that her nephew had been crushed by a tank. “He has no gun … I saw him … he was crushed before he reached the river.

The above is just a brief snippet of the forty-two page report, which includes countless accounts of lurid killings, beatings, sexual assault, abductions, and forced labor. The tragedy of the South Sudan is that it was built with the best intentions of American policy-makers and human rights activists—but hardly ever stood a chance. As Armin Rosen wrote for TAI, South Sudan’s struggles weren’t inevitable, but weren’t unforeseeable either.

The inability of the world’s youngest country to mature into a strong member of the African community was at first masked by the astounding growth seen in Juba. But when President Salva Kiir Mayardit fired his Vice President and “reshuffled” his cabinet in the summer of 2013 in what analysts called an “ethnic power grab”, the honeymoon of unity in South Sudan was over. In the time since, skirmishes have developed into all-out rebellion, and the HRW report now joins other reports in shining a light on Kiir’s war against the rebels.

As President Obama meets with the leadership of a few of South Sudan’s neighbors in East Africa, the discussion will surely turn to the region’s newest neighbor who just can’t seem to keep its house in order. When the topic comes up, the President will have the choice to try his hand as peace maker in East Africa—or continue with the limited sanctions already in place and keep the administration’s distance from yet another African problem.

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