By Eric Reeves
July 13, 2014 (SSNA) — My views about the undeniable shortcomings and errors of the current government in Juba, South Sudan, have been seriously misrepresented in a post on The East African by Kevin Kelley (July 12, 2014). Although I was interviewed by Mr. Kelley, there were critical omissions in his questions to me, and it was an error on my part not to demand greater specificity about the "lobbyists" that he suggested have been hired to help President Salva Kiir and the Juba government. In the course of the brief article (350 words) I am invoked in a three-sentence section:
Eric Reeves, a university professor and leading US critic of the South Sudan government, said that Juba’s spending on Washington lobbyists is “very difficult to justify.” South Sudan has enough expertise in-country and within its diaspora to advocate effectively for its interests in the US, Prof Reeves said. In addition, paying lobbyists nearly $1 million “looks terrible in the midst of a bloodbath,” he added. [the complete text of the article appears below]
I had no idea that among the "lobbyists" Mr. Kelley was speaking of were Independent Diplomat, an organization that is not given to advocacy and which I admire greatly for providing extremely useful diplomatic capacity to many struggling nations, including South Sudan. Some of those who work and have worked for Independent Diplomat are extremely knowledgeable and effective. The organization’s self-description is entirely accurate:
Independent Diplomat provides confidential advice and practical assistance in diplomatic strategy and technique to governments, political groups, international organisations and NGOs. We work to amplify the voices of those who have most at stake in diplomatic processes. Our work thus promotes greater inclusiveness in diplomacy, and contributes to more just and sustainable solutions to international problems and conflict.
To conflate Independent Diplomat with the typical "K-Street lobbyists" is not simply poor journalism, it is potentially harmful to one of the most important resources helping to augment critical diplomatic efforts around the world.
Notably, in his interview with me, Mr. Kelley did not once mention the name Independent Diplomat, and it was carelessness on my part not to demand that he be specific about the lobbying efforts he was setting up to be criticized by individuals with some standing on issues related to governance in South Sudan. Political lobbying by Juba would at present indeed be extremely difficult to justify, given the horrific conditions that prevail throughout much of the country. I do not know the details of payments to the Podesta Group or KRL International; the latter was likely hired to facilitate business cooperation between the United States and South Sudan, not to burnish the reputation of the current government. There are still serious questions, however, and lobbying for political support in Washington—if that is what was entailed in payments to the Podesta Group and KRL International—would be highly inappropriate, especially under prevailing circumstances.
It is true that I suggested to Mr. Kelley that capacity, including potential diplomatic capacity, in the South Sudanese diaspora has been under-utilized. This is hardly controversial or even newsworthy. Many have been making the same point, including myself, since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 2005. The challenge has been to attract South Sudanese back to their homeland, not competition from Washington lobbyists. I certainly did not claim that current in-country capacity was adequate; moreover, the likelihood of returns by educated South Sudanese has diminished very considerably in the wake of the terrible violence stalking the country at present.
Mr. Kelley presumes to describe me as "a leading US critic of the South Sudan government." This may be true in some sense, although I cannot presume to judge. But such a claim is deeply misleading presented in such terse fashion. I did, for example, sign a letter to President Salva Kiir with three colleagues last summer (Mr. Kelley was sure the letter was from 2012—so much for research authority). In it Ted Dagne, John Prendergast, Roger Winter and I pointed to a number of issues that required urgent attention, particularly human rights and governance issues. The letter is dated July 8, 2013 and may be found at http://wp.me/p45rOG-14g. The letter was also discussed at some length in an article by Sudan Tribune.
Our primary concerns were expressed in the following paragraphs:
Some of us have communicated our concerns with you individually and confidentially in the past, always as friends. At this moment, our friendship dictates that we express our concerns about the increasingly perilous fate of South Sudan. From our various vantages, we have all come to conclude that without significant changes and reform, your country may slide toward instability, conflict and a protracted governance crisis. As friends, it is our responsibility to express our serious concerns directly and to offer constructive suggestions for the way forward.
We must first state that over the past several years—but the last six months in particular—South Sudan government security forces have engaged in a campaign of violence again civilians simply because they belonged to a different ethnic group or they are viewed as opponents of the current government.
This violence is shocking and has included rape, murder, theft, and destruction of property. We are particularly concerned about the evidence emerging of abuses by government forces in Jonglei. These terrible crimes occur because government forces believe they have the power to act with impunity.
Tragically, our warning about "a slide toward instability, conflict and a protracted governance crisis" has proved all too prescient. Does that make me—or Mr. Dagne or Mr. Prendergast or Mr. Winter—"a leading U.S. critic of the South Sudan government"? Obviously in the context of our letter to President Kiir such characterization is absurdly inadequate. Moreover, our publicly expressed concerns makes hash of the claim cited by Kelley and reflecting the views of journalist Alan Boswell:
“[T]he activists made a critical mistake.” [Boswell] added. “They seemed to think that the SPLM rebels represented a virtuous mirror image of Khartoum’s evils.”
Reporting on the extremely difficult and manifold crises in South Sudan is not helped by inaccurate and inflammatory journalism. South Sudan has more than enough problems in responding to impending famine, a stalemate over governance reform, and ongoing violence that has taken on a terrible ethnic character. Those are the issues in need of sustained, accurate, and well-researched journalism—not tendentious 350-word space-filling pieces.
Juba faulted for paying lobbyists in Washington, The East African
By KEVIN J KELLEY, July 12, 2014
Activists who helped persuade the US government to back Independence for South Sudan are now criticising the country’s rulers, in part for spending nearly $1 million to retain three lobbying firms in Washington. The beleaguered government of President Salva Kiir agreed earlier this year to pay $480,000 to the Podesta Group, an influential representative in Washington for a variety of countries. South Sudan is also paying $240,000 to KRL International, a consulting firm that is helping the authorities in Juba communicate more effectively with US policy makers.
Independent Diplomat Inc, a Washington lobbying group that has worked for several developing countries, is receiving $100,000 this year for its services to South Sudan. The firm has also been paid at least $100,000 for its advocacy on behalf of President Kiir’s administration in previous years.
“It’s a good argument to say the government should be spending its money on its people and reconciliation and peace-building,” said Akshaya Kumar, a South Sudan specialist at the Washington-based Enough Project.
Although they had long urged US officials to support South Sudan’s quest for independence, leaders of Ms Kumar’s group have now shifted in rhetorical tone and political alignment. In a 2012 commentary, Alan Boswell, a Nairobi-based correspondent for a US newspaper group, said that in supporting the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement’s military campaign for independence from the Sudan government in Khartoum, “the activists made a critical mistake.” He added: “They seemed to think that the SPLM rebels represented a virtuous mirror image of Khartoum’s evils.”
Eric Reeves, a university professor and leading US critic of the South Sudan government, said that Juba’s spending on Washington lobbyists is “very difficult to justify.” South Sudan has enough expertise in-country and within its diaspora to advocate effectively for its interests in the US, Prof Reeves said. In addition, paying lobbyists nearly $1 million “looks terrible in the midst of a bloodbath,” he added.
Meanwhile, as South Sudan officials write cheques for expensive lobbyists in Washington, United Nations humanitarian agencies are scrambling to raise funds in a desperate effort to avert a calamitous famine in the country.
Eric Reeves’ new book-length study of greater Sudan (Compromising With Evil: An archival history of greater Sudan, 2007 – 2012; www.CompromisingWithEvil.org)