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US sanctions South Sudan officials

Waakhe Simon Wudu Reuters, afp
September 7, 2017

Three South Sudanese officials have been slapped with economic sanctions by the United States over profiting from the country’s civil war. Meanwhile, South Sudan released its new budget with a heavy military bias.

South Sudanese government soldiers sit in the back of a truck
Image: Reuters/G. Tomasevic

South Sudan's information minister, Michael Makuei, the former head of the army, Paul Malong, and the deputy chief of defense for logistics, Malek Reuben, are the three men on whom the US has imposed economic sanctions, freezing their US assets and assets tied to the US financial system. The three are accused of having been complicit in attacks on civilians, including an attack on the United Nations base. 

The US Treasury also warned banks "that certain South Sudanese senior political figures may try to use the US financial system to move or hide proceeds of public corruption." The treasury said that Reuben was heavily involved in weapons procurement and helped to plan an attack in Unity State in April 2015, which led to several human rights abuses. The US sanctions also targeted companies owned or controlled by Reuben.

Former army head Malong was sacked by President Salva Kiir and put under house arrest in May, 2017. The US said that he was allegedly involved in plans to kill Kiir's political opponent Riek Machar and did not discourage the killings of civilians around the northwestern town of Wau. Via phone, Malong's wife, Ayak Lucy, told the news agency Reuters that her husband did not have any assets in the US.

Former army chief Paul Malong shaking hands with President Salva Kiir in 2015
Ex-army chief Paul Malong (left) was sacked by President Kiir in May 2017Image: Reuters/Jok Solomun

Reacting to the move, South Sudan's ministry of foreign affairs said the sanctions undermined peace efforts.

No end to the conflict

Nathaniel Oyet, a senior official in the opposition SPLA-IO, welcomed the sanctions and said they should have come earlier. "We wanted it yesterday," he said. "This now gives us the confidence that the Donald Trump administration will fix the crisis in South Sudan." said Oyet.

James Okuk, a political lecturer at the University of Juba, noted that South Sudan's leaders have been warned time and again and that these warnings fell on deaf ears. "It used to be confined to people who carry arms, but now it has gone to touch the politicians," Okuk said. "It tells you that nobody is left out. As long as they see that you are obstructing peace in this country they can go after you."

South Sudan's Informations Minister Michael Makuei Leuth
Information Minister Michael Makuei is one of the officials sanctioned by the USImage: Reuters

The sanctions come just days after USAID administrator Mark Green visited the capital Juba and the northwestern town of Wau, where he met internal refugees. Green had urged Kiir to restore a permanent ceasefire, end obstructions of humanitarian access, put a stop to the high fees levied on aid agencies and engage in an inclusive peace process. 

The US State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, emphasized that her department believed that South Sudan's crisis was man-made an that the government had the power to end it. "Six million people in South Sudan, half of the population, face life-threatening hunger while more than four million people have been displaced from their homes, including two million refugees," she said.

New budget

While South Sudan's current civil war has raged on for four years, with only a short break in the fighting in 2015, the country's economy has taken a nose-dive. In December 2015, the government devalued the currency and by mid-2016, hyperinflation had  reached 730 percent, according to the World Bank.

New tensions between South Sudan government and UN

The new 2017 to 2018 budget of 300 million US dollars (249 million euros) which was released last week raised eyebrows amongst both politicians and economists. Opposition politician Peter Mayen, who heads the People's Liberal Party (PLP) described the budget as unrealistic. "South Sudanese civil servants haven't received their salaries for five months and the salary does not even cover the basic needs of the citizens for a week," Mayen said. "The government often spends funds on unbudgeted items. They have not been transparent on the expenditure."

From the total budget, over 40 percent is slotted to go into security and defense. Sectors such as health and education have been allocated 2.2 percent and 4 percent respectively. "Even if you find that 40 percent is budgeted for security, why is the insecurity continuing?" asked Mayen. "The very people that keep security, the subordinates and the soldiers, are suffering, " he went on. "They go without salary … and those who are deployed in operations are not taken care of. Their children are suffering and they have no access to healthcare or education.”

Wani Buyu, undersecretary of South Sudan's ministry of finance, says his ministry expects to raise part of the money from  revenue, which in South Sudan mainly comes from oil. "We also go around to look for loans,” Buyu said. "But this particular time very many friends have pulled out from supporting us."

Marial Awou , who teaches economics at Juba University said unless government improves its management of scarce resources, the country's economy will not stabilize. "Since 2013, the budget has not been promptly executed. Oil production was cut down by almost 50 percent, so resources shrank. The few resources that were there were spent on a first come first served basis."