South Sudan’s military state is Creating a Bandit Economy

Since South Sudan seceded to form the world’s youngest nation, the country’s military leadership has evolved into one of the most rapacious and nepotistic military regimes in Africa. Based largely on a bandit economy, the military elites are notorious for abusing state resources to such absurd levels that a huge percentage of state resources must be siphoned off so that military commanders and politicians can maintain their dominant position by rewarding their tribal-based patronage networks. 

The systematic anarchy that South Sudan has witnessed since its creation is not coincidental, but rather, it is a case of warlords fermenting anarchy in the sole quest to gain hegemonic rule and private gain.  

The deepening crisis, illustrated by the protracted civil war, and the predatory military elites, have deliberately created institutional deterioration in virtually all sectors of the economy in order to extract rents from it. This is why despite the unity and peace deal between the various factions, we cannot in any way envisage any real possibility of lasting peace, since president Salva Kiir, and his rival Riek Machar, personal interests can only thrive in a political environment rife with endogenous corruption and anarchy.

The normalization of violence and anarchy occasioned by the quest of warlords to achieve hegemonic rule and rent seeking opportunities means that South Sudan is inevitably poised to have unfavorable conditions in which it is almost impossible to raise and sustain ethical values needed to create a new state. Plainly, what is emerging is a situation where ethnic warlords under the guise of protecting community interests use loot-seeking mutinies and rebellions as a means of having unlimited access to plunder state resources.

South Sudan is an impoverished country materially, notwithstanding its natural oil wealth and huge agricultural potential. This impoverishment is in large part due to the massive resource capture that has created a visible ostentatious South Sudanese military and political elite, who mainly live in the opulent suburbs of Nairobi and Kampala. 

According to the now much-publicized Sentry Report, titled, “Making a Killing”, these senior South Sudan People’s Defence Forces elites survive by getting into criminal relationships with foreign capital. This flamboyant class of military generals and politicians untroubled by insatiable greed have thrived on international corrupt networks of oil traders, money launderers, arms dealers, and local politicians, mainly in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda.

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Further, this report notes that “nearly every corruption scandal in South Sudan features significant international connections in the form of foreign business partners, funds transiting through international banks, property purchased abroad, and/or immediate relatives—many holding shares in the same companies—living outside South Sudan. International shareholders come from such diverse countries as China, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, and the United Kingdom”.

Evidently, what is emerging a process of kleptocratic class formation, that is largely distinguished by a vulgar display of wealth, and entrenched nepotistic and patronage networks, whose raison d’être is to achieve political hegemony through systemic corruption and buying of political legitimacy through highly transactional political machinations.

However, the highly transactional nature of politics in South Sudan should not come as a surprise, since looted state assets ultimately become criminal goods that are distributed to potentially mutinous clan-based clients and tribal proxies, who can only be loosely controlled from the top. 

With the protracted civil war drastically escalating factional divisions between the Nuer and the Dinka tribes, satisfying this vast patronage network is bound to fail since chaotic ethnic “warlordism” cannot guarantee the internal cohesion and self-monitoring required to run mafia-like cartels. 

Ultimately, vast military patronage costs money, and there are signs that with the massive drop in oil prices, the kleptocratic military rule and loot-seeking factions will collapse under their own weight, once the threat of violence ceases to be used as a bargaining chip to pay and obtain loyalty payments. 

Charles Waiganjo holds post-graduate qualifications in philosophy and political science. He completed his studies at the Université Michel de Montaigne, and at the Université de Bordeaux. Charles is an African Liberty contributor.

Photo Credit: Al Jazeera English on Flickr.