When South Sudan was born in July 2011, it was like “literally going to sleep in one country and waking up in another without moving,” according to former Senator Tom Andrews (D-ME) in a Aug. 31, 2015 interview with BBC News. It was the success story the United States always wanted for Africa democracy in action. 

The birth of Africa’s “success story” would dismiss the stereotypes, particularly those that labelled Africa as a continent of only war and poverty. 

Six months prior, the people of South Sudan voted in a referendum to seek independence from its violent neighbor to the North. According to the South Sudan Independence Commission, 98.83 percent of voters supported the cessation of South Sudan from Sudan. This addendum or right to referendum was part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the Second Sudanese Civil War, a two decade war that resulted in the deaths of 2.2 million people. 

Violence in the country has since tarnished this once pristine image. In Dec. 2013, the ex-vice president of South Sudan, Riek Machar, allegedly hosted a coup against the government after President Salva Kiir deposed his entire cabinet that summer. This, as well as a history of ethnic division in the Sudan’s two wars, sparked the South Sudanese Civil War. In short, two politicians could not agree on who should take power, so instead, they decided to corral their country into ethnic conflict to even the score and attempt to gain the upper hand.

Despite this, the United States still remains quite involved in South Sudanese affairs. In 2015, the United States is one of the most significant funders in foreign aid to the ailing country, according to the Department of State. We have since used our political power to influence the country’s flawed peace deal. We were there for the creation of the state that former President George W. Bush helped cement with the CPA in January 2005.

We should use our political power and relationship with the new state to ensure it’s fragile peace remains a reality and this can only be done by holding those responsible for the violence and near dissolution of the state accountable. 

As of now, our largest responsibility seems to be to the governments and militias fighting more than two years of civil war. Rather than siding with the government and the militias by providing resources irresponsibly, the United States should instead be on the side of the people — by holding leaders accountable for their actions — democracy and independence after a history marred by violence and inequality. 

The South Sudanese people are subject to an unspoken reality civilians are hiding in the swamps from their own governments and militias alike. In a Mar. 12 New York Times op-ed, Nyakier Gatluak, a displaced person, expressed, “Even if you die in the water, it’s better to be killed by snakes or crocodiles than by government soldiers.” In a country that is supposed to be a symbol of progress, women and girls are raped, men are castrated, and aid groups and journalists are targeted. 

A March 11 United Nations report reveals evidence suggesting war crimes and crimes against humanity. There are instances in which government soldiers burned and cut civilians to pieces, but this perpetration of violence is not confined to government soldiers alone, according to a Feb. 24, 2014 article in Human Rights Watch.With all of this violence against civilians, how can we begin to mitigate conflict and help those suffering from food insecurity? How are militias and government soldiers alike able to continue to finance these grievous atrocities? 

First, U.S. legislators must work toward cleaning up the illicit and lucrative trafficking and poaching networks. H.R. 2494: the Global Anti-Poaching Act passed on the floor of the House last November. The bill targets some of the greatest abusers of human rights who utilize the illicit funds to finance terrorism. It would make it a “predicate offense” to participate in these networks and would improve governmental systems’ abilities to dismantle these networks. 

According to the text of the bill, “poaching and illicit trade in endangered and threatened wildlife are among the most lucrative criminal activities in the world, worth an estimated $7 to $10 billion annually.” South Sudan’s government soldiers and militias are no stranger to this network, and as a result, it directly funds violence by enabling them to purchase arms. Members of the Senate must pass this bill in order to better mitigate violence in conflict-riddled areas. 

South Sudan is also the victim of a kleptocratic regime that operates on a patronage network, according to the Sentry, an initiative of the Enough Project. The oil industry, the most essential portion of the South Sudanese economy, is corrupted. The resource serves as a central driver for sustaining conflict by providing funds. Therefore, during the current war, this specific resource is targeted by armed groups. 

However, oil revenue also significantly opens the door for corruption, according to the Sentry. A 2007 audit report found that “$114 million in oil revenue was unaccounted for.” The funds are likely like caught up in state coffers or in the hands of the kleptocrats. This serves as just one example of how illicit money laundering provides the framework for funding conflict. The U.S. must take forward steps in tracking and targeting these abusers. 

Conflict in the world’s newest state shows the United States that it perhaps needs to look for another success story, but the country should not give up on South Sudan so quickly. Approaching accountability through targeted sanctions has the unique power of stemming conflict without affecting the civilians on the ground. In 2011, overnight, South Sudan became a new country. In 2013, overnight, it did again. In 2016, over several nights, South Sudan could have a lasting peace.