Peter Biar Ajak and family from South Sudan safely in USA

Church of England Newspaper July 31

The CEN reported on June 26 that Dr Peter Ajak, the chair of South Sudan Young Leaders forum had escaped from South Sudan but was still at risk in Nairobi hoping for a visa to settle in a secure location. He wrote in the Wall Street Journal of July 24 that he arrived safely in Washington on Thursday 23rd from Nairobi, Kenya. He had received word from senior government officials in South Sudan that President Salva Kiir had ordered the National Security Service, either to abduct him from Kenya or murder him.

Peter had been a political prisoner in South Sudan, convicted in a show trial for “disturbing the peace” and sentenced to two years in prison. His real offense had been to criticize Mr. Kiir’s failed leadership. In January 2017, two other dissidents were abducted from Nairobi and murdered, leading the U.S. to impose sanctions on six South Sudanese officials.

He writes that President Kir has never faced the voters of independent South Sudan, building instead a repressive security apparatus to keep him in power. Ajak urges the U.S., which has invested more than $12 billion in humanitarian assistance since the country’s independence in 2011, to insist on free, fair and transparent elections no later than December 2021.

Mr. Kiir has led South Sudan since John Garang’s 2005 death in a helicopter crash. At independence, Mr. Kiir’s appointment was extended and elections were planned for 2015. In late 2013, a power struggle between Mr. Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar plunged the nation into civil war. Almost 400,000 South Sudanese were killed, and another 4.3 million—about a third of the population—fled their homes due to widespread rape and ethnic massacres.

Mr. Kiir exploited the chaos to delay elections, from 2015 to 2018, and then to 2021.

South Sudan’s leaders reached a peace agreement in 2018 but failed to create a government until February 2020. The cease-fire is fragile, and intercommunal violence flares. The people are desperate to vote for new leaders who can secure a just and lasting peace. Ajak argues that this requires three steps.

First, the U.S. should impose additional targeted sanctions against South Sudanese officials who have committed atrocities. The U.S., UN and EU must demand that Uganda and Sudan enforce the existing arms embargo which multiple armed groups are violating.

Second, the U.S. should insist on improving peacekeeping. The U.N. Security Council needs to amend the peacekeeping mission’s mandate. There are 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers in South Sudan, but to ensure voters' safety in December 2021, the U.N. should surge 5,000 more. Further, the African Union should replace the Intergovernmental Authority on Development—a group of East African countries that have indulged Mr. Kiir’s despotism— as mediator.

Third, holding presidential elections will require a new constitution and amended electoral laws. A new independent National Elections Commission must be appointed. Election results reported at the county level would make fraud more difficult. A national census must be conducted and the national voter registry updated. Hundreds of international election monitors need to be present.

In 2011, conventional wisdom was that the world needed to support President Kiir for a time before elections could be held. Nine years later true democratic institutions don’t exist. South Sudan is still waiting for its independence—from a ruthless, unelected and corrupt elite in Juba .If nothing changes, the world will have squandered billions of dollars to create another African failed state led by a brutal dictator. But if the people of South Sudan elect their own president, their dreams for peace, development, human rights and a real democracy may finally come true.