Five years after South Sudan’s founding, its conditions are arguably worse than those that initially led Americans to push for the territory’s independence from Sudan.
Reflecting on the situation for The Boston Globe, Stephen Kinzer writes about how a coalition of Americans, which included Christians, human rights activists, the Congressional Black Caucus, and movie stars, lobbied for U.S. intervention in a country where military forces, mostly Muslim Arabs, periodically raided their southern Christian neighbors. As a result, Washington pressured Sudan’s former President, Oman al-Bashir, to allow the south to secede.
As Kinzer writes, “well-meaning Americans thought they were rescuing the oppressed and delivering them into freedom” but today, South Sudan is plagued by “deep rival animosities” resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of its citizens, a demolished decrepit economy, and a population among the poorest in the world.
Furthermore, Kinzer observes that “by crashing into a country about which they knew painfully little, the interventionists ended up intensifying human suffering rather than alleviating it.” According to Kinzer, moral idealism drove the intervention rather than a “clear-eyed recognition of national security interests. Yet dividing Sudan served no US interest.”
Finally, Kinzer concludes that the lesson of South Sudan is that “crashing into other countries often leads to tragedy—even if we do it with policy instead of guns.” South Sudan’s devastating current conditions serve as another example of the unintended consequences that stem from the United States’ overconfidence in its own ability to effect change in other nations, even when well-intentioned.