The announcement Tuesday of $180 million in food aid to South Sudan, accompanied by a strong statement of impatience from Secretary of State John Kerry, should be the final warning to warring elements there to make peace.
South Sudan has already received $456 million in aid from the United States this year. Now an estimated 3.9 million of the country’s people are said to be facing famine unless more help is furnished immediately. It is in response to that appeal that the United States has responded on humanitarian grounds.
The fundamental problem, however, is that South Sudan’s principal leaders, President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, refuse to settle their differences and create a transitional national unity government. They have promised one to all negotiators, including the African Union and the United Nations. The peacemaking effort is being led by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, spearheaded by a troika including Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States, all major aid donors to South Sudan.
The quarrel between the leaders of two of the country’s major tribal groups, the Dinka and the Nuer, preceded the independence from Sudan that was brokered by the United States and other parties in 2011.
Talks have been underway in Ethiopia for six months and the two leaders were given six months to move forward. Instead, the talks have gone nowhere, their militias have continued to fight and millions of South Sudanese have been displaced, disrupting food production and creating the famine threat.
The bottom line is that the United States and other donors are feeding the South Sudanese people while their leaders spend the country’s revenues, some of it from oil, fighting each other. It is hard to turn away from suffering, but America has done enough. The IGAD troika should tell the South Sudanese to settle or all aid will be cut off.