After US journalist killed in South Sudan, a quest for answers

MARCH 15, 2018

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Christopher Allen, self-portrait at unknown location in South Sudan. (Photo by Christopher Allen)

The call came just before noon on August 26, minutes after we had crossed a hilly range that separates northern Uganda from South Sudan. Earlier that morning, I had embarked on a four-day embed with South Sudan’s main opposition movement, the SPLM-IO, traveling on foot through rebel-held parts of the country to shed light on the latest surge of violence in the four-year civil war.

We had just passed a pile of rocks atop of a hill that marked the border when my phone rang, hanging onto the last sliver of cell phone coverage. Through the crackling line, I could hear the high-pitched, distressed voice of a rebel official, whom I had met just days before in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. An American journalist had been shot in South Sudan, he yelled through the phone. At first, with lack of details on the incident or the journalist’s identity, I thought the dreadful news would turn out to be a rumor. It wasn’t until the next morning that the rebel commander I was with confirmed the death of freelance journalist Christopher Allen, a dual British-American citizen and the first foreign journalist to lose his life reporting on South Sudan’s conflict.

Allen was killed in the early hours of August 26, while covering a rebel offensive in the town of Kaya, located near South Sudan’s border with Uganda. The aftermath of his death was marred by confusion and controversy, the full extent of which I only began to grasp days later, when I returned to cell coverage in northern Uganda and found my phone inundated with messages about the incident. The sequence of events that led to Allen’s final moments remained blurry and subject to conflicting statements. The South Sudanese government, believed responsible for firing the fatal shot, labeled him a “white rebel” and threatened other journalists who traveled to rebel areas with similar consequences. The rebels, in turn, deployed a carefully crafted narrative aimed at diverting attention from their own failures to protect the journalist.

Questions of what went wrong, and whether Allen’s death could have been prevented, echoed among the small community of journalists who reported on South Sudan. When a journalist dies, such questions, while on everyone’s mind, are often asked in a whisper amid fears of upsetting grieving relatives or tarnishing the legacy of the deceased. But not searching for answers, I felt, would be to fall short of my journalistic duties to establish what, exactly, had happened. It would also mean foregoing an opportunity to draw important, albeit painful, lessons for other journalists and editors covering South Sudan’s war.

THROUGHOUT SOUTH SUDAN’S most recent conflict, the government has treated journalists with scorn. Since fighting broke out again in 2013, South Sudan has steadily slid down the World Press Freedom rankings published by Reporters without Borders (RSF). In 2012, South Sudan ranked 124, but by 2017 it had dropped to 145. Local Journalists risked harassment, arbitrary arrest, and even death for criticizing the government. In 2014, the country’s Minister of Information warned journalists against reporting from opposition areas, threatening that they could face arrest for “disseminating poison.” It was as if the rebels-turned-ruling party had forgotten that not too long ago, the foreign press had covered their own insurgency against Khartoum, contributing in minor part to galvanizing international support for the independence struggle.

When a journalist dies, such questions, while on everyone’s mind, are often asked in a whisper.

Things took a turn for the worse in the latter half of 2016, especially for foreign correspondents, who had thus far largely evaded censorship and harassment. In July 2016, fresh fighting erupted in the capital of Juba, marking the collapse of a US-backed 2016 peace agreement. As the war unfurled across the previously peaceful region of Equatoria, the government banned 20 foreign journalists (including this story’s author) from entering the country, accusing them of writing “unsubstantiated and unrealistic” stories that “insulted or degraded South Sudan and its people.” Press freedom groups and journalist associations denounced the crackdown. “This ban on foreign journalists is aimed at creating a blackout on what is happening within the country,” said Clea Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. Journalists who were still able to secure visas had to accept mounting restrictions of movement. The result was that very little information on the events in Equatoria reached the outside world, even as the UN warned that ethnic killings could spiral into genocide.

AGAINST THIS BACKDROP, Christopher Allen reached out to South Sudan’s rebels in the summer of 2017 to arrange an embed. “My goal is to spend time with the opposition forces in the field to try to understand them,” the then 26-year-old (Allen would have turned 27 this past December) wrote to the SPLM-IO’s deputy military spokesperson, Lam Paul Gabriel. Allen was a freelance journalist who had dedicated himself to covering what he felt were invisible wars. Filing mostly for Al Jazeera English and The Independent, he reported from the trenches in Ukraine and interviewed Kurdish guerilla fighters in Turkey. South Sudan would be his first war on the African continent.

ICYMI: “She identified herself as a reporter. He then walked behind her and punched her in the side of the head” 

Allen arrived in Kampala on August 1. Three days later, he and Gabriel boarded a night bus bound for the northern Ugandan town of Yumbe, just 20 miles from the border with South Sudan. On August 5, Allen entered Kajo Keji county. He was only the seventh journalist to set foot in rebel-held Equatoria since the re-escalation of fighting in July 2016. In February 2017, independent reporter Nick Turse briefly snuck across the border near Kajo Keji to verify allegations of a gruesome killing at the hands of government forces. In April, an Al Jazeera TV crew paid a day’s visit to rebel forces near Kajo Keji. A couple of weeks later, reporter Jason Patinkin and I spent four days inside rebel-held Kajo Keji, filing reports for IRINForeign PolicyFrance24, and Vice News.

But Allen’s trip to rebel-held South Sudan would be unprecedented in its duration. A freelance journalist who had the time and appetite for delving into his stories, he intended to stay with the rebels for several weeks. “His only motivation was to find out exactly the truth about the war in South Sudan,” Matata Frank, the rebel governor of Yei River state, told me during a meeting in Kampala this past December. Frank was one of the most senior SPLM-IO commanders in the Equatoria region and the first of a dozen people I would interview in order to piece together Allen’s final days.

For two weeks, Allen stayed with Frank at his headquarters in Panyume, sleeping in neighboring mud huts and sharing meals of posho (a doughy ball made of maize flour and water) and beans in the evening. The rebels, yearning for international news coverage and unaccustomed to hosting a journalist for such a long period of time, quickly grew to appreciate him. “We had really a lot of hope in him,” Frank told me. “Everybody was banking on him when he gets back [to tell] their real, actual stories that people are going through.” During his time in Panyume, Allen took extended walks to surrounding villages, accompanied by a couple of guards and his minder and translator, to speak to civilians about the impact of the war and their life under rebel rule.

But the young journalist wanted more. “From the very first day, he wanted to cover the actual fighting,” Frank told CJR. “He kept on asking me especially, when are we going to the war? Where are we going to attack?”

Frontline reporting from South Sudan has been scarce. A country with one of the lowest population densities on the continent, South Sudan has too few fighters and too much land for frontlines to exist. Unlike in Iraq, for example, where journalists board Humvees with American-trained special forces to be ferried within yards of combat, South Sudan’s war is remote and unpredictable. Clashes take place mostly in underdeveloped rural areas that are difficult and dangerous to reach, with few options for extraction in case of an emergency. Fighting is highly asymmetric, a factor that further complicates frontline coverage. The government, equipped with tanks, 12.7mm machine guns, and practically unlimited ammunition, controls the towns and main roads. The rebels, armed with AK-47s and the odd PK machine gun or Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG), lay ambushes along main roads and occasionally raid army barracks. Even when the rebels attack and overrun towns, they hardly ever hold ground.

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These ground truths make embedding with the rebels a precarious undertaking. Not only are they outgunned—they also consistently overestimate their own military prowess. When I traveled to Kajo Keji in April 2017, the rebels took us within three kilometers of the frontlines, to a place called Loopo. On the way to the embattled hamlet, Brigadier General Moses Lokujo boasted that his men had surrounded government forces in Kajo Keji town to the extent that they couldn’t even fetch water from a nearby borehole. But as we bounced along the dirt track, Lokujo also pointed out a spot where the government had attacked rebel positions just two weeks earlier, clear proof that they were able to venture well beyond said borehole. On the same trip, Lokujo promised he would capture Kajo Keji town within three months, a goal that never came to fruition.

The rebels’ inferior yet overstated military capabilities, coupled with Allen’s limited knowledge of South Sudan to critically examine their propositions, proved to be catastrophic during the battle of Kaya.

The SPLM-IO’s Brigadier General Moses Lokujo (front) and his troops as pictured in Kajo Keji in November 2017. (Photo by Simona Foltyn). Link to image.

KAYA IS A SMALL, sleepy border town nestled between undulating, green hills and the Kaya river, which marks the boundary between South Sudan and Uganda. The dusty main drag curves around the hills and cuts through the center of town, abutted by one-story concrete buildings that house shops and restaurants. Thatched mud huts extend from the main road onto the flanks of the hills.

Facing Kaya, just a hundred meters from the river where the dirt track ends and the paved road begins, lies the Ugandan border town of Oraba. Trucks bearing fuel and other commodities destined for South Sudan park near the customs checkpoint to clear paperwork. Ugandan forces, the most important ally of South Sudan’s government since the onset of the war, are deployed on the other side of the border.

Throughout the conflict, Kaya has remained firmly in government hands. Though it dwarfs the main border crossing of Nimule in traffic and customs revenues, Kaya remains an important entry point for goods and a source of government income. The town also bears military significance. The government sometimes channels reinforcements through Kaya brought from other parts of South Sudan via Uganda, a route that avoids travel through rebel held areas where they risk being ambushed.

The border town of Kaya as seen from the Ugandan side. (Photo by Simona Foltyn) Link to image.

It was the strategic nature of Kaya that prompted the rebels to plan an assault on the town and other government positions along the 16-mile road toward Morobo. The objective of the operation was to capture ammunition, cut off supply routes for the government, and, according to the rebels, preempt an impending attack. “The government was building troops there, and the intention was to increase the capacity of the fighting force in Kaya so they come after us in Panyume,” said rebel governor Matata Frank. For Allen, the waiting had finally paid off. He would cover one of the most significant military operations in the region that year.

Major General John Mabieh, a Nuer who hails from the same tribe as the SPLM-IO chairman Riek Machar, was to lead the battle. Around 250 rebel troops, half ethnic Nuer and half Equatorians, would attack Kaya and nearby government outposts at Bindu, Kimba, and Bazi. The rebels would assault the barracks, raid their ammunition stores, and chase their enemy toward Uganda. “Our intent was [to] capture Kaya. We wanted to have that border so [it] cannot be used again,” the SPLM-IO’s chief of intelligence for the area, whose name cannot be disclosed for security reasons, told CJR.

Related: Deaths, detainments mount as media environment worsens in South Sudan

While the rebels procured medical supplies and mobilized troops from nearby areas, Allen joined a team of rebels conducting reconnaissance missions aimed at collecting intelligence for the forthcoming battle.

But the rebels’ ability to plan, let alone execute, such an operation fell short of their ambitious goals. Information of an impending attack had leaked weeks before. Rebel intelligence officials had imprecise information about the number of government troops based in Kaya, Bindu, Kimba, and Bazi, with estimates ranging from two to 800 troops. The very idea of capturing Kaya was unrealistic, according to one former SPLM-IO intelligence officer who had been part of previous assaults on Kaya. None of the operations had been successful. “We cannot take the town,” said Col. Emmanuel Augustino, who defected to a rival rebel group in 2017. “If you want to control Kaya, you need many ammunitions and machine guns.”

In what would turn out to be the most serious of miscalculations for their mission, the rebels had banked on raiding ammunition stores to top off their limited supplies during the battle. But the government, wary of a potential assault, had distributed all supplies to soldiers. Rebel commanders were made aware of this at least a day before the attack, according to one officer who took part in the battle. “I was thinking that going to Kaya, we will never succeed because of limited ammunition,” said the officer, who asked not to be named because he spoke outside of the chain of command.

The rebel commanders knew their mission could fail. During a pre-battle briefing in Yondu on August 25, the chief of intelligence said he advised senior commanders to not let Allen and two other Reuters journalists who had arrived that day join the troops. “Journalists shouldn’t go direct to the frontline. Maybe [the forces] could not take the town,” he told CJR. The intelligence officer said he tried in vain to convince the three reporters to remain behind with Mabieh and spokesperson Gabriel until the town was cleared. “They refused, all of them,” he said. “I was like, what can I do?” The commanders, wary of upsetting their visitors and eager for media exposure, let the journalists have their way. Reuters declined to allow their two journalists to speak about their time with Allen for this article.

In the evening hours of August 25, the troops and the three journalists left Yondu and advanced southwest toward Kaya, trailing northwest of the Uganda South Sudan border. They walked through the night along bush paths surrounded by tall elephant grass, until they reached Kaya in the early morning hours. Then, they waited for the break of dawn.

Christopher Allen with fighters from the SPLM-IO in Yondu, a few days before the battle of Kaya. (Photo courtesy SPLM-IO). Link to image.

AT TWILIGHT ON AUGUST 26, the rebels, equipped with, on average, two magazines each, launched a multipronged attack on Kaya and surrounding government positions. The three reporters, none of whom wore body armor, according to rebel sources, moved with a large group of more than 100 soldiers, who looped toward Congo and descended onto the town from the northwest. The journalists were assigned a group of fighters to protect them, and were instructed to remain behind as the front moved ahead.

Dressed in a colorful array of military fatigues and civilian clothing, the rebels each wore a bright red piece of cloth around their heads to identify fellow fighters. Their ragtag appearance mirrored their clumsy combat etiquette. A Reuters video of the battle shows fighters haphazardly lurching toward buildings that appear to be on the town’s edge. There was no apparent formation. Some soldiers casually dangled their AK-47s by their sides, even as bullets whizzed past. Others emptied their precious magazines in a matter of minutes, surprising conduct for a force that prides itself in efficient marksmanship.

Many soldiers seemed disoriented. Originally from the northern Upper Nile region, the Nuer fighters were alien to this land, almost certainly entering Kaya for the first time in their lives. “We have to be careful! We don’t know where they are hiding,” one soldier calls out in the video. The chaotic nature of the assault raised concerns even within the ranks of the SPLM-IO. A rebel officer from the Equatorian region who took part in the attack expressed dismay at the reckless behavior of the Nuer forces. “After the first person starts [shooting], immediately everyone is running to the enemy,” he told me.

Chaos continued to unfurl as the battle went on. Allen was embedded with a group that was supposed to target the barracks, perched halfway atop a hill to the northwest, to secure ammunition. The soldiers found none, but continued their assault, even though they risked running out of bullets. The government troops deserted the barracks and fled south toward Uganda, with rebels in hot pursuit. But urban warfare wasn’t the guerillas’ strong suit. Passing mud huts and concrete structures, they neglected to clear the buildings along the way, making themselves vulnerable to attacks from government soldiers who had taken up positions inside the houses.

In the course of the battle, Allen separated from the other two journalists and advanced with a group of soldiers headed south, in direction of the Ugandan border. The last sequence of photos found on his camera shows the advancing front: He was running a few yards ahead, capturing images of rebel fighters facing the camera as they charged onward. “Chris is very fast. Even me, I was getting tired running after him,” his minder said of the event.

Much of what happened next remains a blur amid conflicting accounts of Allen’s killing, provided by two fighters who were in close proximity when he died and four others with firsthand knowledge of the incident. There are contradictory statements, for example, about the precise type of gun that fired the shots. It’s also difficult to establish whether Allen was targeted, and whether he was the only person killed in his group. What is certain, however, is that the journalist was shot several times at close range. According to two witnesses, a soldier from the SPLA fired a large-caliber machine gun at Allen’s group from one of the concrete buildings on the main road, just 30 to 50 meters away. What is believed to be the fatal shot hit him in the head from the left. A total of five gunshot wounds were later found in his body. The timestamp of the last photo believed to be taken by Allen reads 6:52am, suggesting he may have died around that time.

ICYMI: Conducting interviews with kids: Do’s and don’ts

The rebels reportedly attempted to extract Allen’s body, but failed amid sustained gunfire. Upon orders from the chief of intelligence, they grabbed his camera, backpack, and jacket, and emptied his pockets. Soon after Allen was shot, and only 40 minutes after the battle had begun, the rebels ran out of ammunition and retreated toward Yondu. In the afternoon, a government helicopter brought Allen’s body to the capital of Juba, where his identity was confirmed. News of the journalist’s death spread like wildfire through social media, fanned by inflammatory remarks from government officials who labeled him a “white rebel.”

The rebels were quick to give their own version of events. “SPLA IO Captured Kaya, Bindu, Kimba and Bazi,” reads a press release posted on Facebook on August 27 by spokesperson Gabriel. “The enemy forces are confined at the Uganda border.” The statement was published long after the rebels had been forced to withdraw. Beneath such efforts to save face, the SPLM-IO reeled from their embarrassing defeat. “Fighting without proper tactics and considering size of enemies with their equipments, it’s a disaster,” said one member of the SPLM-IO in an internal WhatsApp group, according to a transcript obtained by CJR. Some worried their incorrect accounts of the battle would reflect poorly should the US investigate Allen’s death. “We need to stop looking foolish by spreading false propagandas when we are the one being defeated,” said another rebel official.

 

IT WAS THE FIRST TIME a foreign journalist had been killed in South Sudan. But it was the government’s reaction to Allen’s death that turned the event into a dangerous precedent, causing international outrage and instilling fear among those who reported on the country. In calling him a “white rebel,” the government denied Allen the status of a civilian he deserved under international law, thus absolving its soldiers of responsibility. And officials further threatened other journalists who embed with rebels. “Anybody who comes attacking us with hostile forces will meet his fate,” a government army spokesperson told reporters not long after Allen’s death. Though the government has since toned down its rhetoric, calling Allen’s death “unfortunate,” it has no plans to conduct an investigation into the incident. “There is nobody that can be accounted because he is at the frontline with rebels and he entered South Sudan illegally,” Deputy SPLA Spokesperson Santo Domic recently told CJR.

In the absence of an independent investigation, one important question remains unanswered: Was Allen targeted for being a journalist?

The information available at the time of publication is inconclusive. Contrary to initial reports, Allen wasn’t wearing a flak jacket or any other apparel that identified him as press, according to several rebel sources. A picture of his body shared on social media shows the same red band worn by the rebels tied around his left arm, which means government soldiers could have confused him for a fighter. (One rebel claimed the government later planted the band to fuel allegations that Allen was a mercenary, but other evidence, including this video of journalists wearing such bands during past embeds, casts serious doubt on those claims.) According to one Ugandan intelligence official who spoke to government soldiers shortly after the incident, the SPLA genuinely believed they had killed a mercenary fighting alongside the rebels. While such claims could be a conscious attempt to sidestep responsibility, they could also reflect a genuine, if unfounded, belief about foreign fighters that the government has previously tried to cultivate.

Related: The thorny ethics of embedding with do-gooders

Other details, however, suggest Allen may have been intentionally killed. It’s difficult to imagine that a soldier shooting from 30 to 50 meters away couldn’t have properly identified Allen, who carried two cameras and was snipping pictures until what may have been his last moment. Having separated from the other two journalists, he was also the only white man in his group, and presumably the only one not carrying a weapon. The fact that Allen was shot several times could point toward an intentional killing, especially given that the rebels suffered few casualties (seven fatalities, according to the rebels; 15, according to the government).

Finally, there’s the uncomfortable question of whether Allen’s death could have been prevented. It’s unlikely that a helmet and bulletproof vest could have saved his life, in light of the multiple, large-caliber rounds that entered his body. For journalists covering war zones, the decision of whether to wear body armor always comes as a trade off between mobility and protection. In this instance, the tedious, long walk from Yondu to Kaya made carrying a 20-pound flak jacket  impractical, especially given that the rebels don’t wear body armor and are already difficult enough to keep up with.

 

There may have also been an element of competition that drove him forward. After all, reporting is often about who gets the story first, and who gets it best.

 

But should the journalists have covered the battle at all? Allen appeared to be driven by a genuine desire to shed light on an undercovered conflict. He told rebels that he wanted to report the war itself, not just the immense suffering left in its wake. “Very little has been done to try to actually articulate who [the rebels] are, what they are fighting for,” Allen told Gabriel in June while planning the trip. It was his newness to South Sudan that made it challenging to weigh the risk of such endeavors.

There may have also been an element of competition that drove him forward. After all, reporting is often about who gets the story first, and who gets it best. When the Reuters journalists unexpectedly showed up, rebels say Allen first reacted with disappointment. A freelance journalist who had yet to place his stories, he knew he’d struggle to compete against the wires. “Allen, he didn’t want rivals around, so he was not very happy when he saw [them],” said Gabriel. “Their presence gave him that pressure, that he wanted to cover something more.”

Such sentiments, if true, wouldn’t be uncommon in a cutthroat industry in which journalists compete for an ever-declining pool of finances. I felt the same desire to protect my turf when Allen first reached out, asking for rebel contacts three months before his trip. I provided the contacts, but I didn’t volunteer any other information on how to navigate rebel-held South Sudan, a mistake that has been a great source of guilt. The same desire for exclusive coverage may have also stopped him from divulging details of his plans when he wrote again at the end of June to let me know he’d be traveling to South Sudan soon. In the end, we were both freelancers pitching stories to the same few outlets that still cover international conflict, and a war that commanded little attention amid reports on Iraq, Syria, and the Trump administration.

At the same time, the bar for what the industry considers noteworthy coverage of conflict continues to rise, pushing young freelance journalists looking for a break beyond what many experienced media professionals deem safe. “There’s obviously some pressure to take what I would consider unacceptable risk to get ahead,” said Tim Freccia, a veteran filmmaker with more than 30 years of experience covering conflicts. To reporters working in South Sudan, Freccia is particularly well-known for a groundbreaking documentary shot during the first and most violent months of the war, portraying an audacious journey deep into rebel territory to meet rebel leader Riek Machar. The film, Freccia admits, may have sent the wrong message to young journalists. “On the surface, you know, it may have seemed like we just rocked up in South Sudan and hooked up with Riek Machar,” Freccia told CJR. “But it was a lot more complicated than that. It was something we set up over months through a lot of intimate, trusted contacts.”

Allen reached out to Freccia a week before he entered South Sudan. “First, let me say that I respect your work and particularly appreciated your South Sudan stuff,” the young journalist wrote. “I’m headed down to South Sudan on Monday to spend a couple months with the rebels. I was wondering if you had any thoughts or advice.” Freccia replied with words of caution. “I’d be especially wary of the Juba regime. They operate with complete impunity,” he wrote. Freccia offered to speak on the phone, but the conversation never took place. Allen sent a final message just before he entered South Sudan. “I leave for the rebels in a few hours anyway so I guess we will just have to see how it goes.”

This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

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S Sudan appoints new finance minister to revive economy

2018-03-16

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Juba – South Sudan this week got yet another finance minister as it struggles to halt the free fall of a war-ravaged economy, but analysts warn prospects are bleak as long as conflict and corruption go unaddressed.

President Salva Kiir named Salvatore Garang Mabiordit, a former undersecretary in the finance ministry, to head the portfolio after sacking Stephen Dhieu Dau on Tuesday.

“We have lost the value of our currency… this is a challenge that is ahead of you and you must see very hard how to get out of this,” Kiir told Garang at his swearing-in ceremony.

Garang is the fifth finance minister since the oil-rich nation achieved independence in 2011.

After more than four years of civil war, the government is broke and hyperinflation – which peaked at around 500 percent in 2016, decelerating to 155 percent in 2017 – has sent prices soaring.

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While at the start of the conflict in 2013 a US dollar was worth five South Sudanese pounds, today it is equivalent to 240 South Sudanese pounds.

A 50kg sack of flour, which cost 120 South Sudanese pounds before the outbreak of the conflict, is now 7 000 pounds – roughly double the monthly salary of a senior civil servant.

‘The revenue is not there’ 

A drop in oil prices, combined with conflict in oil-producing areas, has severely impacted revenues in South Sudan, the most oil-dependant country in the world.

Economists say that Kiir’s habit of re-shuffling finance ministers has often misfired, recycling politicians accused of corruption, and failed to address the real problem.

“If you want to control the economy, you have to address the spillovers of the war, the insecurity that results in lack of confidence on the part of the private sector and development partners,” said Kimo Adiebo, an economics professor at the University of Juba.

“Most of the budget has been going to the security sector, more than 50 percent. So even if you change (ministers) and these other parameters have not been addressed, it is very difficult to control the economy overnight.”

Oil production has dropped to about 120 000 barrels a day, from a peak of 350 000 barrels before independence, according to the World Bank.

At the same time security-related spending has risen, increasing the fiscal deficit and sending inflation soaring.

Last month, United Nations agencies in South Sudan warned that 5.3 million people – about half of the population – were in dire need of food aid.

Corruption 

Economists told AFP that Dhieu had tried to clean up the finance ministry and clamp down on corrupt practices, and had stopped issuing money to officials to travel abroad.

Shortly before he was fired he suspended a top finance ministry official on suspicion of embezzling 317 million South Sudanese pounds.

Augustino Ting Mayay, an analyst with South Sudan’s Sudd Institute thinktank highlighted the difficulties facing Garang.

“The revenue that the country needs to operate is not there. You have civil servants not being paid for months. You have corruption that plagues the economy and the ministry of petroleum is littered with that,” he told AFP.

Earlier this month, an investigation by watchdog group The Sentry showed how South Sudan’s elite was using funds from state oil company, Nile Petroleum Corporation (Nilepet), to “fund militias responsible for horrific acts of violence” and enrich themselves.

The probe revealed that more than $80 million  was paid to politicians, military officials, government agencies, and companies owned by politicians and members of their families, for services such as military transport and logistics to forces implicated in atrocities.

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South Sudan president admits treasury out of cash

THURSDAY 15 MARCH 2018

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March 14, 2018 (JUBA) – South Sudan President Salva Kiir has openly admitted his country has run out of cash and there was nothing that could be done to fix the economy unless war stops for peace and stability to return to the country in order for investors and other money-generating activities to resume.

The South Sudanese leader attributed the cause of being a cash-strapped nation to the war sparked by the power struggle which resulted into a more than four-year conflict with no resolution in sight despite global and regional efforts to salvage the situation.

Speaking at the swearing-in ceremony of the new finance minister following the sacking of the predecessor Stephen Dhieu Dau on Monday, Kiir said nothing could be done to salvage the loss value of the local currency.

“I want you to work together with other colleagues and institutions to do whatever you can to minimize the current situation. I know we have lost the value of our currency, and there is nothing we can do soon to regain our currency’s value unless we produce, but we should not fold our hands and allow the situation to go out of hand like that. We must try whatever we can,” said President Kiir at a function broadcast by the state-owned South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday.

“The forceful taking of power has brought us now to this stage where we have no money in our bank,” he confessed, confirming what said several government officials at the bank and the ministry of finance.

Finance sources told Sudan Tribune that the central bank was no longer keeping the foreign currency acquired through the sale of the proceeds of the oil, claiming the office was now in charge. The bank, according to the sources, was only receiving and keeping local currency which is acquired from the direct sale of foreign currencies in the parallel market.

Kiir also admitted that the new nation has become a ’laughing stock’ worldwide because of the ongoing conflict.

Observers believe the conflict could be stopped and political differences with various armed and non-opposition groups resolved if the president and his confidants make compromises or demonstrate a willingness to accept and implement the 2015 peace agreement in good faith.

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UN set to threaten arms embargo on South Sudan

15.3.2018 12:30 am

The United Nations has 12,500 troops and 1,500 police in its South Sudan mission, which is tasked with protecting civilians caught up in a brutal war between President Salva Kiir’s forces and rebels. Link to image.

The UN Security Council is expected to adopt on Thursday a US-drafted resolution that threatens to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and sanctions against those blocking efforts to end one of Africa’s worst wars.

The strongly-worded text is aimed at piling pressure on South Sudan’s warring sides as they head into a new round of peace talks in Ethiopia next month to end the four-year war.

The council “expresses its intention to consider all measures, including an arms embargo, as appropriate, to deprive the parties of the means to continue fighting,” according to a final draft resolution.

Demanding an end to the fighting, the council will “consider all appropriate measures… against those who take actions that undermine the peace, stability, and security of South Sudan,” said the text seen by AFP on Wednesday.

The draft resolution would also renew the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission for a year and maintain a regional force in Juba that was deployed after fierce fighting broke out in the capital in July 2016.

The United Nations has 12,500 troops and 1,500 police in its UNMISS mission, which is tasked with protecting civilians caught up in a brutal war between President Salva Kiir’s forces and rebels.

Negotiations on the US-drafted text began last week with Russia, China and Ethiopia raising objections to the threat of an arms embargo, diplomats said.

That stance was in line with the African Union, which has backed sanctions as a way to pressure the parties but has not endorsed an arms embargo.

The United States failed in late 2016 to garner enough support for a ban on weapons sales after eight countries including Russia, China, Angola, Egypt and Senegal abstained.

Nine votes are required to adopt a resolution in the 15-member council.

Despite the defeat, the United States has continued to call for an arms embargo, with the support of Britain and France.

– Time for action ? –

Human Rights Watch’s UN deputy director Akshaya Kumar said an arms embargo and sanctions are the “missing pieces of the puzzle” to shore up peace efforts in South Sudan.

“It’s good that the Security Council is threatening these steps but they have made these threats many times before, and what we are waiting for is action,” she said.

The measure would push the council closer to action but another draft resolution would have to be approved for the actual arms embargo to be imposed.

The war in the world’s youngest nation has killed tens of thousands of people, uprooted four million — roughly a third of the population — and raised the risk of famine.

South Sudan won independence from Sudan in 2011, with critical backing from the United States, which remains Juba’s biggest aid donor.

With the war now in its fifth year, Ethiopia is leading a regional peace effort, hosting talks between the government and rebel groups that have yet to produce a breakthrough.

A ceasefire deal agreed in December has not taken hold, even though the level of violence has decreased.

The Ethiopia-led diplomatic effort has been billed as a last chance for peace as frustration grows over the ongoing war that has seen horrific levels of brutality.

A UN rights commission last month said there was sufficient evidence to charge at least 41 senior officers and officials with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The commission’s report documented extraordinary cruelty. Some victims were beheaded, burned alive or had their throats cut, others had their eyes gouged out or were tortured.

Addressing a recent African Union summit, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres dropped his usual reluctance to criticize leaders and bluntly said of South Sudan’s leaders that he “had never seen a political elite with so little interest in the well-being of its own people.”

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Arab Fund to grant Sudan economic reform loan

March 15, 2018 (KHARTOUM) – The Arab Fund is scheduled to grant Sudan a loan earmarked for restructuring the country’s economic reform programme.

U.S. dollar notes (Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha Photo). Link to image.

The fund, which held its 186th meeting of the Executive Directors in the United Arab Emirates last week, reviewed the status of new loans provided for its Arab member states to aid them in their economic restricting programme and to help sustain a steady development as well as the provision of work opportunities.

The Arab League Council, in a circular published on its website, stated that the meeting also discussed the provision of a loan to the Sudan, in response to a submission by the government of the Sudan.

The loan will also help boost the economic reform programmes and create the climate for small and medium size projects in the country.

The Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD) is a Kuwait-based pan-Arab development finance institution.

All member-states of the Arab League are members of the AFESD. As of 2003, however, AFED reportedly held an estimated up to US$7.3 billion in assets.

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S.Sudan rebels disown pastor accused of recruiting Ugandan youth for them

WEDNESDAY MARCH 14 2018
Jorom Opio. Link to image.

In Summary

  • According to him, the SPLA IO holds the Ugandan government with high esteem “for not only hosting and protecting millions of South Sudanese refugees who fled the country due to the current conflict but also for tirelessly working hard to bring peace to South Sudan through the HLRF.
  • Currently, the rebel group is fighting to overthrow President Salva Kiir’s government.

“Besides the SPLA IO does not recruit foreigners nor does it operate abroad. The South Sudanese who joined the SPLA IO do so voluntarily to bring about reforms to South Sudan under the leadership of Dr Riek Machar. This requires personal sacrifice,” reads of part of the statement issued by Col. Lam on Wednesday.
The statement comes a day after the UPDF 4th Division commander, Brig Emmanuel Kanyesigye told Daily Monitor that the pastor was arrested a fortnight ago from his home in Lira Town during a joint operation by the UPDF 4th Division intelligence unit and the Police Flying Squad on allegations of recruiting Ugandan youth into the SPLM-IO.

“The SPLA IO strongly refutes the accusation made by the UPDF 4th Division Commander, Brig. Emmanuel Kanyesigye linking a Ugandan pastor Jorom Opio to the people’s movement (SPLM/A IO)……Furthermore, Brig. Kanyesigye in his accusation continued alleging that the so called Pastor Jorom Opio represented the SPLA IO last year in the peace talks that resulted to the signed cessation of hostilities (COH) on 21/12/2017. This is completely false. The government of Uganda, being a member of the IGAD, knows exactly who represented the SPLM/A IO in the HLRF since it started on 18/12/2017,” adds Col. Lam.

According to him, the SPLA IO holds the Ugandan government with high esteem “for not only hosting and protecting millions of South Sudanese refugees who fled the country due to the current conflict but also for tirelessly working hard to bring peace to South Sudan through the HLRF. Thus, the SPLA IO has nothing to do with the aforementioned pastor.”
Currently, the rebel group is fighting to overthrow President Salva Kiir’s government.

The conflict has displaced more than 1.2 million people who are living in refugee settlement centres of Palabek- Kal, Palabek-Gem and Palabek Ogili, all in Lamwo District.

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S Sudan appoints new finance minister to revive economy

16/03/2018

Juba – South Sudan this week got yet another finance minister as it struggles to halt the free fall of a war-ravaged economy, but analysts warn prospects are bleak as long as conflict and corruption go unaddressed.

President Salva Kiir named Salvatore Garang Mabiordit, a former undersecretary in the finance ministry, to head the portfolio after sacking Stephen Dhieu Dau on Tuesday.

“We have lost the value of our currency… this is a challenge that is ahead of you and you must see very hard how to get out of this,” Kiir told Garang at his swearing-in ceremony.

Garang is the fifth finance minister since the oil-rich nation achieved independence in 2011.

 After more than four years of civil war, the government is broke and hyperinflation – which peaked at around 500 percent in 2016, decelerating to 155 percent in 2017 – has sent prices soaring.

While at the start of the conflict in 2013 a US dollar was worth five South Sudanese pounds, today it is equivalent to 240 South Sudanese pounds.

A 50kg sack of flour, which cost 120 South Sudanese pounds before the outbreak of the conflict, is now 7 000 pounds – roughly double the monthly salary of a senior civil servant.

‘The revenue is not there’ 

A drop in oil prices, combined with conflict in oil-producing areas, has severely impacted revenues in South Sudan, the most oil-dependant country in the world.

Economists say that Kiir’s habit of re-shuffling finance ministers has often misfired, recycling politicians accused of corruption, and failed to address the real problem.

“If you want to control the economy, you have to address the spillovers of the war, the insecurity that results in lack of confidence on the part of the private sector and development partners,” said Kimo Adiebo, an economics professor at the University of Juba.

“Most of the budget has been going to the security sector, more than 50 percent. So even if you change (ministers) and these other parameters have not been addressed, it is very difficult to control the economy overnight.”

Oil production has dropped to about 120 000 barrels a day, from a peak of 350 000 barrels before independence, according to the World Bank.

At the same time security-related spending has risen, increasing the fiscal deficit and sending inflation soaring.

Last month, United Nations agencies in South Sudan warned that 5.3 million people – about half of the population – were in dire need of food aid.

Corruption 

Economists told AFP that Dhieu had tried to clean up the finance ministry and clamp down on corrupt practices, and had stopped issuing money to officials to travel abroad.

Shortly before he was fired he suspended a top finance ministry official on suspicion of embezzling 317 million South Sudanese pounds.

Augustino Ting Mayay, an analyst with South Sudan’s Sudd Institute thinktank highlighted the difficulties facing Garang.

“The revenue that the country needs to operate is not there. You have civil servants not being paid for months. You have corruption that plagues the economy and the ministry of petroleum is littered with that,” he told AFP.

Earlier this month, an investigation by watchdog group The Sentry showed how South Sudan’s elite was using funds from state oil company, Nile Petroleum Corporation (Nilepet), to “fund militias responsible for horrific acts of violence” and enrich themselves.

The probe revealed that more than $80 million  was paid to politicians, military officials, government agencies, and companies owned by politicians and members of their families, for services such as military transport and logistics to forces implicated in atrocities.

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Israeli aid in South Sudan greeted with joy

9 March 2018

Locals dance and sing in celebration as Israeli humanitarian delegation distributes 20 tons of food relief to refugees affected by civil war plaguing the country.

Israeli Ambassador to South Sudan giving aid. Link to image.

Some fifty townswomen in a remote community in South Sundan greeted an Israeli Foreign Ministry delegation with singing and dancing after it distributed 20 tons of food to refugees affected by the civil war plaguing the country.

A team from the Foreign Ministry headed by Ambassador to the South SudanHanan Godar distributed 20 tons of food to refugees affected by the civil war plaguing the country. In the remote town of Jebel Dinka, outside of Jouba, 50 townswomen greeted the Israeli delegation with singing and dancing.

South Sudan has been suffering in recent years from a severe humanitarian crisis caused by a combination of serious violence and climate change in the region. The country is now considered one of the world’s worst disaster areas. Two million of its citizens are defined as refugees (1 million internally displaced persons and 1 million refugees in neighboring countries).

Israel enlisted in a campaign to alleviate the suffering following an international appeal for urgent assistance. Each food package handed out by the delegation, headed by Ambassador to the South Sudan Hanan Godar, was divided into 100 kilograms of food for each family, and the food was distributed to the village women who are in the most acute nutritional distress.

Goder also announced that the State of Israel will receive 60 students from southern Sudan for agricultural training in the coming year as part of the Israel Foreign Affairs Assistance Mission. The students will stay in Israel for year and will work for five days on farms and one day a week will study agriculture at Kinneret College.

Twenty students from South Sudan studied this year in Israel and the government has since decided to triple the number from the African country to be participate in the program.

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Goder’s announcement was widely covered in the local media where Israel is viewed as a giant contributor in foreign aid and is advancing many building projects in South Sudan.

 

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UN in talks with S Sudan to keep radio station open

2018-03-10 11:53

New York – The United Nations on Friday was in talks with South Sudan’s government after it ordered a UN radio broadcaster be shut down.

Flags from all countries outside of the UN building in Manhattan. Link to image.

The decision to close Radio Miraya would be another blow for press freedom in South Sudan, where foreign correspondents have been forced to leave and authorities have targeted other media outlets.

Radio Miraya was ordered to end its broadcast because of “persistent non-compliance and refusal to be regulated” under domestic laws, said Elijah Alier, who chairs South Sudan’s media authority.

Alier told reporters in Juba that the request to withdraw the frequency allocated to Radio Miraya would go into effect on Friday.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric, however, said talks were ongoing with Juba about the decision.

UN officials are “in touch with the South Sudanese authorities to clarify the situation. At this point, the UN radio station is still broadcasting,” said Dujarric.

Run by the UN mission in South Sudan, Radio Miraya started broadcasting in 2006.

It bills itself as an independent radio station that provides impartial news and information.

South Sudan this year entered its fifth year of war, with nearly four million people uprooted and millions more in dire need of humanitarian aid.

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US pushes UN to consider arms embargo on South Sudan

2018-03-08

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New York – The United States on Wednesday circulated a draft UN Security Council resolution that threatens to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and to take “all appropriate measures” against those blocking peace efforts.

The draft text obtained by AFP demands an end to four years of fighting in South Sudan and urges the warring sides to uphold three ceasefire deals agreed since July 2016.

The council “expresses its intention to consider all appropriate measures, including an arms embargo, to disable the parties’ ability to procure weapons and ammunition so that the peace process can proceed,” said the draft resolution.

Diplomats said Russia and China are likely to raise objections to the draft, which takes a tough line on punishing those who refuse to end the war, now in its fifth year.

 Negotiations are to begin Thursday on the proposed measure ahead of a vote at the council scheduled for March 15.

 

The African Union has backed sanctions as a way to pressure the sides to end the war in South Sudan but it has not endorsed an arms embargo.

The United States failed in late 2016 to garner enough support for a ban on weapons sales to South Sudan but is again making the case for an embargo as fighting continues.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley told a council meeting in January that a ban on weaponry would “actually help the people of South Sudan – to slow the violence, slow the flow of arms and ammunitions and protect innocent lives.”

Last chance for peace

The war has killed tens of thousands of people, uprooted nearly four million – roughly a third of the population – and raised the risk of famine.

Ethiopia is leading a regional peace effort for South Sudan, hosting talks that have yet to produce a breakthrough.

That diplomatic effort has been billed as a last chance for peace as frustration grows over the ongoing war that has seen horrific levels of brutality.

Addressing a recent AU summit, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres dropped his usual reluctance to criticise leaders and said he “had never seen a political elite with so little interest in the well-being of its own people.”

The draft resolution would also renew the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in South Sudan for a year, maintain a regional force in Juba and request that the blue helmets be fully-equipped with tactical helicopters and drones to help them carry out their mission.

The United Nations has 12 500 troops and 1 500 police in its UNMISS mission.

The draft urges Guterres to ensure the mission is at full strength, reaching its authorized ceiling of 17 000 troops and 2 000 police.

It calls on Juba to sign an agreement with the African Union to allow the establishment of a hybrid court in South Sudan to try those responsible for serious crimes.

South Sudan descended into war in December 2013 when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of plotting a coup.

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