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South Sudan at a crossroads

An Op-ed by Tobias Ellwood, Minister for Africa and the Middle East, on the occasion of his visit to South Sudan

Tobias Ellwood

In August 2015 I attended the signing of the peace agreement that we hoped would start to repair the damage of almost two years of civil war in South Sudan. But as we now pass the third anniversary of the outbreak of that war, the situation for the country and its people is more perilous than ever. 3.3 million people have had to leave their homes, half the population don’t know where their next meal will come from, the economy is collapsing and the fighting is spreading and shows no sign of stopping.

That this is all happening in the world’s youngest country, one that was founded with such joy and hope in 2011, makes the current situation all the more tragic. It starkly highlights the abject failure of the leadership in South Sudan to live up to the aspirations of its people.

On my first visit to South Sudan I have told the leadership that the eyes of the world are on them. The international community expects them to do all that they can to stop the violence and get the peace process back on track. There is no excuse for inaction. The suffering of the South Sudanese people cannot continue simply due to a lack of political will to change the status quo. Hate speech and incitement to violence cannot and will not be tolerated.

There can be no military solution to the current crisis. A political agreement, difficult as this is to achieve and make work, is the only viable way forward. The 2015 peace agreement, agreed at the time by all parties, remains the best option on the table. We welcome the President’s recent call for a national dialogue and of an inclusive process of reconciliation. We must now see the government deliver on its promises urgently: stop the violence and reach out to all South Sudanese, in order to reach a consensus on the future of the country.

And our own support to South Sudan goes beyond just words. As part of the Troika (UK, Norway and US), the UK helped support the IGAD–led peace process. We will also deploy up to 400 troops to UNMISS. UK troops will perform vital engineering and logistical tasks which will strengthen the security and accessibility of the UN’s Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites.

UK Aid has contributed £342m to the humanitarian crisis since the outbreak of conflict in December 2013. For those who have been forced out of their homes by the current fighting we have provided an additional £93m to support South Sudanese refugees in the region. For the more than 200,000 people in PoC sites across South Sudan, UK Aid is supporting a range of partners to provide essential services, including food, water and sanitation. For the 1.5 million people displaced outside their normal homes but not in PoC sites, our partners, such as the ICRC, WFP, and UNICEF continue to deliver lifesaving support where access is possible. But the current escalation in fighting puts all this at risk, as well as our longer term programmes that provide education and health programmes to thousands of people.

The UK is committed to supporting the people of South Sudan. The commitment of South Sudan’s leaders to peace and to their own people needs to be just as dedicated. At the moment they are falling short. They must do better.

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Published 21 December 2016