The civil war and associated humanitarian disasters in South Sudan is reawakening Congressional interest and concern for South Sudan. A bipartisan group of seven congressmen have introduced a bill, HR 2989, “to encourage the warring parties of South Sudan to resolve their conflicts peacefully.” The congressional sponsors are Thomas Rooney (R-FL), Michael Capuano (D-MA), Michael McCaul (R-TX), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Maxine Waters (D-CA), James McGovern (D-MA), and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE).
The bill recalls the involvement of the United States in South Sudan coming to independence. It then chronicles the dreary history of the fighting that started in late 2013 between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president Riek Machar, and the resulting humanitarian disaster. It also recalls the numerous efforts to broker a peace, especially by South Sudan’s African neighbors. The bill calls on the Department of State to develop a South Sudan strategy and would require the department to report regularly to Congress on developments in South Sudan.
Salva Kiir and Riek Machar have now both signed a peace agreement that would involve power sharing between their two factions and a cease-fire. Both parties, however, are already claiming that the other has broken the cease-fire. While friends of South Sudan can only hope that this peace agreement will stick, the numerous failures in the past provide little ground for confidence that Salva Kiir and Riek Machar are committed to making it work. Hence, in part, the revival of Congressional interest that HR 2989 represents.
The events leading up to the 2011 separation of South Sudan from Sudan were a focus of intense American popular interest. The “lost boys of Sudan,” orphans of the fighting between the South Sudan liberation forces and the Khartoum government of Omar al-Bashir, became a focus of humanitarian concern and congressional engagement. Since South Sudan’s independence, however, U.S. popular interest in South Sudan has waned, and the most recent congressional hearing took place in February 2014. It is too early to say what the future of HR 2989 will be. As yet, no hearings have been scheduled. However, the bill’s introduction with bipartisan sponsorship is a sign of congressional reengagement.