Plundering in South Sudan: The Achilles’ heel of the world’s newest nation

Seth Wepener
The South Sudanese National Flag. Source: News24

South Sudan has entered the peace process and aims to bring stability back to the country and its people. Although the civil war has passed and steps to move forward have been made, the country still struggles with the threats of corruption and the effects thereof. This significantly affects efforts to provide humanitarian aid to civilians who have not only suffered the horrific consequences of civil war, but also extreme flooding, continued displacement, malnutrition, famine, and low standard of living. A recent UN report on the plundering of public resources by government officials indeed indicates that this phenomenon continues to hamper recovery, reconciliation, and political stability in South Sudan.

The United Nations CoHRSS Report on South Sudan

CoHRSS members holding a press conference at UNMISS HQ. Source: OHCHR

On September 23, 2021, the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CoHRSS) presented a report from the Conference Room Paper to the Human Rights Council which found that South Sudanese political elites diverted US$73 million from public coffers over a period of two years. The diverted US$73 million included transactions worth an astonishing US$39 million, which were made in less than eight weeks. In fact, this noteworthy amount is merely a fraction of the estimated total of US$4 billion, which “President Salva Kiir himself admitted as far back as 2012.”

Dr. Martin Elia Lomuro threatens a lawsuit against the U.S. Source: The City Review

The report found that the recent plundering is “merely the tip of the iceberg” and that there are indeed patterns and trends that involve government officials, politicians, military personnel, and various multinational banks. However, the participation of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning, the National Revenue Authority, and external actors has not been excluded.

Dr. Martin Elia Lomuro, the South Sudanese Minister of Cabinet Affairs, dismissed the UN’s report and stated that it was in fact part of “an international campaign against the government” and that there are “organizations that are sponsored not to see political stability in South Sudan.” Lomuro strongly believes that this is the cause of interference by external actors, and only the people of South Sudan can hold the government accountable. However, Lomuro made no further comment in support of his accusations, nor did he name the accused.

Corruption, plundering, and war are continuously connected to South Sudan’s resource curse – i.e., its abundance of oil reserves. The government’s “highly informal system of oil revenue collection” lacks supervision and transparency, thus making way for the misappropriation of revenues deriving from oil trades. The abundance of oil reserves has attracted foreign interests, which puts the South Sudanese government under pressure and has, in turn, created a “global web of corruption,” Foreign Policy reporter Robbie Gramer wrote in 2019.

Oil pumps in South Sudan. Source: Pumps Africa

Gramer’s report suggests that the main actors in this global network of corruption include “American arms dealers, British business tycoons, and Chinese oil giants.” This indeed reflects that corruption in South Sudan is rife, both transnationally and locally, proving the country’s public coffers to be increasingly vulnerable to plundering or the diversion of funds.

South Sudan amidst Civil Strife, Humanitarian Crisis, and Extreme Weather Events

A group of women received WFP rations in South Sudan. Source: ReliefWeb

The Republic of South Sudan has recently come out of a devastating civil war that began in 2013, shortly after gaining independence in 2011. The last ceasefire was signed in 2018 after “nearly 400 000 were killed” during the civil war. President Salva Kiir has since pledged that he will not return to civil war. However, the recent human rights violations and military actions put the efforts to maintain peace at risk. The civil war has left 70% of the country’s population in need of humanitarian aid to counteract famine and malnutrition, as well as the urgent need for drinking water, sanitation, housing, and healthcare.

There are 8.4 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, 5.5 million of which are in need of food assistance. In September 2021, US$4.39 million in cash-based transfers for food assistance were made. This amount successfully reached 83.5% of the targeted 3.64 million people by the World Food Project (WFP). Thus, 16.5% of the targeted population remained undernourished.

Considering that US$4.39 million in cash-based transfers for food assistance were made in September 2021, the plundered US$70 million could pay for US$4.39 million in cash-based transfers for just short of 17 months. Alternatively, it could be deducted from the US$456 million required for the WFP’s 6-month net funding requirements, reducing the total 6-month net funding requirements to US$383 million.

South Sudanese refugee tries to repair his hut in floodwaters. Source: Aljazeera

The food crisis has been exacerbated by the recent floods, which have been the worst in “nearly 60 years” affecting more than 700,000 people, with this number continuing to grow. The effects of heavy rains and flash floods have left people homeless, including people in refugee camps and recently reintegrated displaced persons. The recent humanitarian efforts to return displaced persons back to their homelands and deliver food to those in need have been tremendously set back in both time and funding.

Cuts Made in Donations to South Sudan

South Sudan receiving aid from Christian Aid. Source: AllAfrica

Many organizations, governments, and commissions have made donations and funded humanitarian efforts. Among others, the European Commission has donated $2.3 million in humanitarian aid to South Sudan to assist those affected by the recent flooding. However, there has also been a decrease in donations and funding. This was the case of the United Kingdom, which cut its aid to South Sudan by 59%. Christian Aid, one of South Sudan’s most committed donors, has called for the 59% cut to be reversed as the cut has resulted in the termination of Christian Aid’s work in South Sudan. Christian Aid has spent £800,000 per year in assistance, amounting to a total of £2,4 million ($3.2 million USD) over the past three years in its efforts to assist South Sudan.

Both the $2.3 million donated by the European Commission (EC) and the $3.2 million spent by Christian Aid could have been covered by the diverted $73 million if not used for the food program. This would leave an excess of $67.5 to add to funds that are allocated for humanitarian projects to reach those who are in desperate need. Nevertheless, the recent plundering of public finances in South Sudan poses a huge threat to humanitarian assistance, the peace process, and political stability. Corruption in South Sudan, whether it has a direct or indirect impact on the state of the country, might be the Achilles’ heel of the world’s newest nation.

  • Is there an international campaign against the South Sudanese government that stands against political stability in the country?
  • To what extent does corruption in South Sudan undermine the peace process and humanitarian aid?
  • Will this impact the willingness of donors to assist in the dire humanitarian situation?

Suggested Readings

EU provides $2.3mn for flood victims in S.Sudan (2021). Daijiworld.com.

Gramer, R. (2021). Foreign Investors Fueled Violence and Corruption in South Sudan, Report Finds. Foreign Policy.

OHCHR (2021). South Sudanese political elites illicitly diverting millions of US dollars, undermining core human rights and stability – UN experts note.

South Sudan dismisses UN report on corruption (2021). Aljazeera.com. Retrieved 20 December 2021.

South Sudan. ReliefWeb. (2021).

South Sudan’s Salva Kiir vows no return to war in independence speech | Africanews. (2021). Africanews.

South Sudan | World Food Programme. Wfp.org. (2021).

Spending Review must reverse aid cuts to South Sudan following unprecedented floods, Christian Aid warns – South Sudan (2021). ReliefWeb.

‘Unimaginable’ South Sudan violence could amount to war crimes (2021).. Aljazeera.com.

World Food Programme (2021). South Sudan: Country Brief

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Plundering in South Sudan…

by Seth Wepener time to read: 5 min
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