For pictures of the brutal regime in Khartoum, click here.
Juba, South Sudan, is one of the few places in the world where American bipartisanship seems to be alive and well. One year ago today, President Barack Obama's envoy to the United Nations, Susan Rice, sat near former Republican Secretary of State Colin Powell as Rev. Franklin Graham, a harsh evangelical critic of the U.S. president, cheered what White House officials were claiming as a major foreign-policy success -- the birth of an independent South Sudanese nation. Diplomats and African heads of state took turns congratulating the new government from a podium overlooking tens of thousands of sweating South Sudanese gathered under the midday sun for the occasion.
This was the miracle of South Sudan, a U.S. foreign-policy darling welcomed onto the world stage in a burst of optimism on July 9, 2011. The new country's birth was the crowning achievement of one of Washington's most effective campaigns of the past 20 years. The campaign to support the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) -- a rebel movement founded in 1983 in Sudan's marginalized southern lands by John Garang, a U.S.-educated officer who wanted to transform Sudan's minority-ruled northern government into an inclusive democracy -- began with Rep. Donald Payne, an African-American Democrat from New Jersey, and Frank Wolf, a conservative evangelical Republican from Virginia.
Payne described to me on that hopeful day a year ago how he first visited southern Sudan in 1989 and met South Sudan's now-president (then rebel commander) Salva Kiir for the first time in the field in 1993. He worked across party lines ("many of the members I had very little in common with") to build the SPLM's fan base. Its ranks grew in Washington every year, expanding beyond the Congressional Black Caucus-evangelical alliance to three consecutive presidential administrations. "We were able to get a bipartisan effort. That's really what made this sustainable," said Payne, who died in March.
Without the United States' heavy-handed engagement, it is doubtful South Sudan would today be its own country. But Washington's love affair with the SPLM looks likely to end in heartbreak.
One year on, the jubilation that accompanied South Sudan's independence has vanished. Its first year as a nation has been a disaster by all but the lowest of standards. Sure, worst-case scenarios of sustained full-blown war with Sudan or a complete implosion of the state have not yet materialized. But good luck finding many other silver linings: South Sudan is already the target of a sanctions threat by the United Nations for military aggression along its border with Sudan; its internal strife has already resulted in thousands of civilian casualties; and the country's oil -- its sole source of revenue -- stopped pumping in January as part of dangerous brinkmanship in negotiations with Sudan. The country desperately needs visionary leadership: It has only one paved highway, three-quarters of its adults are illiterate, and extreme poverty is widespread.
The SPLM isn't directly to blame for the dire conditions it inherited in South Sudan, but its dismal governance has stopped most progress before it even had a chance to begin. South Sudan has been run mostly autonomously -- with its own budget revenue and standing military -- since 2005, and the SPLM used that time to loot its way to personal riches, leaving development projects penniless. In May, South Sudan's government acknowledged that South Sudanese officials had "stolen" $4 billion of missing funds that were supposed to go to developing the war-torn state -- the equivalent of roughly two entire years of official revenue. Worse, this money was looted directly under the noses of the international community, which agreed to supervise the peace process and even provided consultants to do South Sudan's own bookkeeping.
U.S. officials are quick to pay lip service to the problem of corruption, but there is so far no bite behind the muffled whimpers of protest. Unlike the tough, targeted U.S. actions against leaders in countries such as Kenya, Washington has not threatened travel bans or publicly frozen bank accounts of leading government officials, U.S. officials say. Despite providing military support -- to the tune of about $300 million in taxpayers' money -- since 2005, the United States does not seem to have a strategy in place to induce South Sudan's leaders to reform their ways.