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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Is President (elect) Donald Trump Good for South Sudan?

There is this general feeling in South Sudan that the Republican Party is the party whose policies are good for South Sudan. This is not a general, historical trend of course. It's merely a feeling of, perhaps, desperation. The only Republican president, who had a significant influence in the materialization of Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which saw South Sudan becoming an independent state, was George W. Bush. But Bush's influence was merely an accident of history given the fact that Clinton had already started to assist SPLA given the importance of Sudan in war on terror after Osama Bin Laden lived in Khartoum for a while. Late Dr. Hassan El Turabi had made Khartoum a center of Islamic fundamentalism.

Until the late 1990s, when global terrorism focused the spotlight on Sudan, the western world didn't care much about the South Sudanese problems. With Osama resident in Sudan under the auspices of National Islamic Front (NIF), an Islamic fundamentalist movement, Khartoum entered into the bad side of the American foreign policy. With the increasing bombing of churches in  the late 1990s and the branding of Sudan as one of the sponsors of 'international terrorism', Sudan was booked.

As a result, President Bill Clinton issued an Executive Order in February of 1997 that severed economic ties between US and Sudan. That new reality was exploited by SPLA and Dr. John Garang, who presented themselves as an alternative to Khartoum. They were supposedly a partner America could work with. Besides, Garang unleashed his propaganda machinery by exploiting the persecution of Christians in Sudan. No doubt, this helped rally the Christian fundamentalists in America by reflecting the war in Sudan as the persecution of 'Christian brothers and sisters' by Muslims. These polico-religious Christian rallies would later become instrumental during Bush's administration. Bush, a pious Christian, would eat up SPLA propaganda.

However, history Junkies know that Roland Reagan and George H. Bush (both republicans) didn't do anything for South Sudan. In fact, Reagan supported President Nimeri against SPLA. While the historical place President Bush (junior) played in the peace process in South Sudan is undeniable, there is no ground to conclude that republicans are the ones better suited to solve the problems in South Sudan. CPA was rather successfully signed because of the strength of the relationship and the in-depth understanding of the national problems by the principal negotiators. So there's nothing that suggests, besides Bush's incidental help, that Republicans are good for South Sudan.



So why do some South Sudanese think that the newly elected President, Donald Trump, is good news for South Sudan? It’s hard to understand! I don’t know how the just-shoot-them war philosophy Trump has been singing can help end the South Sudanese war?

To conclude that a group of people is good given the historical accident of one leader or administration, is naiveté of the first order. I admit, Trump might be good for South Sudan given the fact that we don’t know any of his policies yet; however, given the isolationist and protectionist tendencies of President (elect) Trump, it's highly unlikely that South Sudan would be one of his top priorities. Trump's focus is America, America and America! Any significant countries Trump would deal with are states that have significant socioeconomic and sociopolitical benefits to America.

It's even important to note that Trump has no clear policies in any of his promises leave alone any foreign policy agenda. Isolationism dictates not being involved in wars. There's nothing in his policies (if he has any), which indicates a positive shift in American policies towards South Sudan.

Trump isn't a career politician so it'll take time for him to know the workings of both the American governance system and the operation of the foreign policy. There are a number of things he has to learn before he fixes his priorities regarding foreign policy. It'll be years before Trump thinks about states like South Sudan. Given the racist nature of Trump's win, fixing South Sudan will the least of Trump issues.  His nationalist leaning and the fervor with which his supporters took issue with American diversity and global outlook, will be an impediment to Trump foreign policy in Africa.

While it's possible that Washington's relations with Juba might change, any euphoric celebration of Trump's victory is misplaced. I’m still open, however, to the idea that I could be wrong, however remote.