Relief workers are outraged at the state, despite operating in ways that exacerbate the problems they entered the country to remedy.
South Sudan has hiked work permit fees 100-fold for “professional” foreign aid workers to US$10,000, officials said, as the war-ravaged country is struggling with the political implications of an influx of famine aid.
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The world’s youngest nation has been mired in civil war since 2013, when President Salva Kiir fired his deputy Riek Machar, sparking a conflict that has increasingly split the country along ethnic lines. The U.N. recently declared the world’s first famine in six years, affecting up to half of the the South Sudanese population.
After non-profits were found breaking the NGO Act that required them to hire locals, South Sudan will charge US$10,000 for foreigners working in a “professional” capacity, US$2,000 for “blue collar” employees and US$1,000 for “casual workers” from March 1, the labor ministry said in a decree. The plan still has to be approved by the Ministry of Finance.
Humanitarian workers have been questioned for the role they play in exacerbating ethnic division and helping perpetrate political repression of the local population. They say they often face restrictions in South Sudan; in December, Juba expelled the country director of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
An IRIN News report published last week pointed out that aid groups “have consciously privileged humanitarianism over alternative action – to the detriment of peace, security and justice efforts that might actually address the causes of the aid crisis.”
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It first explains that Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites, set up by the U.N. Mission in South Sudan — outraged by the latest decree — sequester about 200,000 ethnic minorities in expensive camps that go along with a state ethnic cleansing campaign. The closed-off PoC “ghettos” give the refugees a false hope of returning home rather than facilitating their safe move to neighboring countries, writes IRIN News. Meanwhile, soldiers “regularly” rape women in the camps, restrict information and supplies, and, in at least two cases, attack and massacre those inside.
Humanitarian groups also support segregated services like ethnic-based radio stations and “emergency education” schools that separate students based on their ethnicity, often to the disadvantage of those leading the rebellion.
When relief groups operate in South Sudan, they also help perpetrate a dual exchange rate system that “enables war profiteering,” with generals and officials charging exorbitant prices for the U.S. dollar, bumping it up to five times higher than the official rate in 2015.
Their work in government-controlled areas has also allowed the state to redirect investment to its military, and its soldiers to loot food packages meant for civilians. They subsidize civil services to prevent their collapse, encouraging a dependent state that IRIN News writes is more unhealthy in the long-run.
“From a political economy perspective, the aid industry in South Sudan is in many ways just an extension of the country’s patronage-based civil service that has President Salva Kiir at its apex,” writes IRIN News. A report from the Overseas Development Institute also called it “predatory rent-seeking behaviors.”
Still, the news on Thursday ushered in a flood of indignant comments from non-profits, like the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, which told The Guardian that the move signaled a “callous disregard for the welfare of their own people.”