South Sudan: Allegations of Missing Dutch €500 Million and the Facts

The recent accusations that after six months of civil war in South Sudan at least €500 million of the Dutch government’s development aid went missing and more than ten years of diplomacy failed almost overnight, are likely to erode political support for any further aid to the fledgling state. However, these accusations rest on several misperceptions, which will be addressed here.

This commentary should not be read in any way as a plea against the cost-benefit analysis of the aid program ordered by Minister of Development Aid, Ms. Lilliane Ploumen. Surely, the money has to be traced. However it is emphasized here that two important facts are predominantly lacking in the parliamentary debates.

Firstly, the evaluator of the effectiveness of Dutch development aid, IOB, rightly indicated that it can only estimateamounts of aid provided to fragile countries including South Sudan. It can hardly present the actual figures on the exact amount spent on aid to all fragile states. A complicating underlying factor is that funding to South Sudan, moreover, is often given only indirectly such as viathe UN system and large multilateral programs. Nonetheless, IOB explains that together with Afghanistan, South Sudan is the largest recipient of Dutch development aid.

Secondly, IOB outlines that most development aid in South Sudan has been spent on humanitarian relief instead of state building. The money that went missing initially allocated towards (re-)construction of state institutions and civil society as well as strengthening of governance, peacebuilding and security measures is therefore likelymuch less than the cited sum.

Despite these two aforementioned facts, the aid given to South Sudan could certainly have been better spent on nation building instead of state building. After the relatively peaceful transition to independence, much of the aid was politicized – or rather might have been political in nature from the outset. A lack of understanding of the economics in transitional justice and the importance of oil incomes, which no longer were available after a renewed political dispute with the northern neighbor of Sudan, are an important cause for the current lack of aid effectiveness. When South Sudan’s economy declined by an estimated 90% the oil revenues no longer flowed to the army and political elites.

Another relevant factor is that the successive peace processes repeatedly failed to hold perpetrators of serious abuses accountable for their actions. The latter includes the IGAD-led mediations that culminated in the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 and negotiations with the numerous rebel movements that arose during the six-year interim period that followed thereafter. The peace talks are typically initiated with explicit or implicit amnesties and the promise of political and military appointments for belligerent parties. Perpetrators of serious crimes are thus rewarded for acts of violence, irrespective of the toll that the conflicts have taken on innocent civilians. While this approach may facilitate the negotiation of agreements among a small group of high-level actors, it also gives rise to perverse incentives, in that political and military leaders are encouraged to wreak havoc in the hope that they will be personally rewarded for their actions in the context of a peace process.

Accordingly, it is important that development aid pays proper attention to accountability and justice in the peace processes, which also failed to address the hatred and resentment that permeates relations among opposing communities. When victims of human rights abuses see the people that have harmed them not only going free without sanction, but also being rewarded for their violent actions, it deepens the rifts among groups and further entrenches longstanding tensions. In this respect, the escalating cycles of revenge killings that characterize inter-communal and politically motivated conflicts in South Sudan are a direct consequence of the culture of impunity that pervades governance institutions. Since people do not have confidence in the state to provide justice, they take matters into their own hands and attack opposing groups to deter violent acts against their own communities and seek retribution against those they perceive as having wronged them. Furthermore, since impunity is the norm, individuals that engage in such revenge killings can be confident that they will not be punished for their actions.

South Sudan urgently needs support, particularly also on documentation of gross human rights violations, as a topic that was also addressed during the Transitional JusticeFellowship last week. Justice and accountability can serve to delegitimize the aforementioned conduct and contribute to political stabilization by helping to defuse inter-communal tensions. By coordinating such efforts with other truth, justice and reconciliation initiatives and broader justice sector reforms, criminal prosecutions of those responsible for international crimes send an important signal to the population that the government is making a genuine effort to combat impunity and build a culture of respect for human rights, thereby reinforcing state legitimacy and setting the stage for a renewed commitment to the social contract.

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