South Sudan Buying Guns Rather Than Butter

Late last month, the South Sudanese government and three United Nations agencies declared that famine had hit two counties in South Sudan. The direct result of the prolonged civil war and an entrenched economic crisis has continued to ravage the war-scarred East African nation. When the crisis was announced, more than 100,000 people in the two counties of Unity State were experiencing famine. Also troubling was the potential risk for the crises to rapidly deteriorate as an additional one million South Sudanese are on the brink of starvation.

While this situation is certainly troubling, a confidential United Nations report has come to light, which accuses the South Sudanese government of continuing to spend its oil revenue on the procurement of weapons rather than desperately needed aid. The 48-page report, which was seen by the AFP and Reuters news agencies on Friday, identifies that “Weapons continue to flow into South Sudan from diverse sources, often with the coordination of neighbouring countries.” The panel of experts responsible for the report found a “preponderance of evidence (that) shows continued procurement of weapons by the leadership of Juba.” The panel of experts conclude the report by calling for an arms embargo on the country, however, the United Nations Security Council rejected this measure during a vote, back in December 2016.

The panel estimates that at least half, “and likely more,” of South Sudan’s expenditures are devoted to security, which includes the purchasing of arms. The report argues that given the current dire situation of famine, the ratio of public spending should be altered to a more humanitarian focused policy. The report estimates that South Sudan derives 97% of its budget revenue from oil sales and those sales totalled $243 million in 2016. The report also connects the famine in Unity State to the conflicts that continue to plague the region. “The bulk of evidence suggests that the famine in Unity state as resulted from protracted conflict and, in particular, the cumulative toll of repeated military operations undertaken by the government in southern Unity beginning in 2014.”

On Friday afternoon the South Sudanese government rejected the allegation contained in the report. Government spokesman Michael Makuei Lueth stated “We have not bought arms for the last two or three years… We have rights to buy arms for self-protection or self-defence… So this idea of the UN saying the government of South Sudan doesn’t care about its people and they are fan of buying arms all the time is not correct.”

After gaining independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan descended into war in December 2013, which has left tens of thousands dead, and 3.5 million people displaced. Since July last year, there has been a surge in fighting, which has devastated food production areas that had been stable areas for farmers. In such a situation, there is no easy solution. While the government evidently feels compelled to provide security through hard power, it is worth remembering that without a domestic population, a country stops being a country. Thus, a shift to refocus on addressing the famine crises is drastically needed and can no longer be left on the backburner. More butter, rather than guns are needed in South Sudan.