By AFPU.S. President Barack Obama listens to comments during a working session at a G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, where world leaders were discussing Syria’s civil war (AP Photo/Dimitar Dilkoff, Pool)
February 27, 2014(AFP) — President Barack Obama must take a more pro-active role in helping stop violent crises rattling Sudan and its restive neighbor South Sudan, experts told US lawmakers Wednesday.
With deadly attacks leaving thousands dead and nearly 900,000 displaced from their homes in South Sudan, and tensions flaring between the two nations, experts said the time is now for a new “diplomatic surge” to bring greater US leverage to democracy-building and stabilization efforts in the region.
Washington currently has one special envoy, Donald Booth, for both countries, but John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, said the engagement “pales in comparison” to what is needed.
“The wars in both countries are so complex they require their own envoys, and the interplay between the two conflicts and the broader region demands a deeper political team upon which the two envoys can rely,” Prendergast, a former Africa director for the National Security Council during Bill Clinton’s presidency, told a House panel.
“Given the escalating crisis being faced by the two countries and the threat posed by a regionalization of the wars, a much more robust and proactive approach is needed.”
Prendergast said Washington should re-engage to its high level of involvement during the peace push that led to the partitioning of Sudan into two independent nations in 2011.
Counter-terrorism expert Walid Phares was more blunt: “The treatment of such a crisis needs direct involvement of the president of the United States,” he told the hearing.
Booth himself testified, stressing that Washington remains committed to regional stabilization and has earmarked an extra $60 million in humanitarian aid to South Sudan.
Washington has committed $393 million to South Sudan for 2014. Sudan is receiving $11.7 million.
But congressman Christopher Smith, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa which hosted the hearing, said the administration has focused too narrowly on individual Sudanese crises instead of coming up with a more helpful “panoramic view” of the situation.
“We must end this cycle of myopic policy formulation based on the crisis of the moment and adopt a long-term, holistic vision of what the best interest of the people of Sudan and South Sudan demands,” Smith said.
Phares said that would require Obama to step forward and issue a statement on the crisis in South Sudan, beyond the few paragraphs posted on the White House’s website.
South Sudan needs the “shock treatment” of Obama publicly saying he will hold people responsible for the atrocities being committed there, Phares said.