Tag Archives: South Sudan

Book Review: “Saving South Sudan”


Disclosure: I have been following the evolution and progress of Robert Young Pelton‘s work on Sudan for several months. I am quite pleased with what came of this trip for Robert and his filmmaker / photographer cohort, Tim Freccia. Enjoy!

“Violence and bloodshed can never have morally good results” – The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare

Saving South Sudan is an ambitious, multimedia event from World’s Most Dangerous Places, author Robert Young Pelton and master photographer/filmmaker Tim Freccia. VICE went big on Pelton’s quixotic journey with Nuer Lost Boy Machot Lap Thiep to “fix” South Sudan. The three enter the world’s newest nation, at a time of extreme crisis and bloodshed, creating a grand yarn with bold characters and high adventure set against sweeping, brutal savagery.

The story of South Sudan as viewed through a Western lens is unbelievably complex, but Pelton gives us an African perspective where the current crisis is demystified by those closest to it. South Sudan has plunged into another round of playground rivalry where the contested sandbox is the world’s newest country and the opponent’s bloody noses, busted lips and black eyes are dwarfed by the physical and emotional damage inflicted on its spectators.

Saving South Sudan gives us an intelligent summary of the history, religion, cultural anthropological aspects, militarism, oil economy and “baksheesh-ocracy” that makes South Sudan tick. Serious students of the subject are encouraged to consider all of these facets while reading / viewing this oeuvre: No actions are promoted, no outcomes are predicted- and this is how it should be. This is Africa.

Pelton’s 130 page print piece and 40 min documentary grants the viewer unparalleled access into an Africa where there are no orange sunsets framed by acacia trees. A place where war is irregular, ferocious and unpredictable. In THIS Africa even the “rebel leader” bristles at being identified as such. In an earnest conversation, ousted Vice President Dr Riek Machar relays his desire isn’t to incite violence but to have a seat at the table in order to discuss options and opportunities to end the conflict. Pelton takes the filter off: behind the rhetoric, the violence continues in real time and we know that securing a seat at the table and successful negotiations (see recent media reports) bear little impact on the battle for oil on the ground. If fighting has indeed ceased, most roving bands have yet to receive the memo.

I can’t exit this review without mentioning the main reason to take the time to get briefed on the region through Pelton’s Saving South Sudan. The human touch interviews with the rulers, rebels and raconteurs would be reason enough. So would Freccia’s breathtaking portraits of the people, landscape and conflict. But taking you along this expedition is Machot- an affable, handsome (still) young man and former lost boy. His story is one of sorrow, success, and optimism. His is perhaps the best lens of them all.


Finding the print issue of the magazine can be a challenge but distribution sites are posted at the VICE website. The entire article can be found at: http://www.vice.com/read/theyre-all-coming-here-0000283-v21n4

The “Saving South Sudan” world premiere documentary can be found on-demand here: http://www.vice.com/en_us

Stephanie Chenault is the COO of Venio Inc, a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business which focus on plans, policy, architectures and problem-solving across the Department of Defense for multiple clients.

Sea Control 17 – Rob Young Pelton plus Federal News Radio

seacontrolemblemJames Bridger interviews adventurer extraordinaire, Rob Young Pelton, about his upcoming crowd-funded journey to find Jospeh Kony and further updates on the situation in Africa. Jim and Rob discuss civil wars, and piracy amongst others.

The episode finishes with an interview done on Federal News Radio, 1500AM, for their series “In Depth with Francis Rose.” Sean McCalley interviews our NEXTWAR Director, Matt Hipple, about his thoughts on what to watch in the coming year. They discuss Africa, China, drones, and informal military innovation/networks.

Please enjoy Sea Control 17: Rob Young Pelton plus Federal News Radio (Dowload).

And remember… we are available on Itunes and Stitcher Stream Radio! Tell a friend, leave a comment, and rate 5 stars!

East Asian Geopolitics: Not on Holiday

No Rest for the Wary

MCAS Futenma
Rough Landing: MCAS Futenma

While many look to the year’s end as a time of respite, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may have looked to the end of this year as a time to maneuver. On December 26th, Abe visited the Yasukuni Shinto shrine, honoring the spirits of 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including over a dozen class-A war criminals. The Economist’s Banyan blog details the sharply negative regional reaction (notably from China, South Korea, and somewhat unprecedentedly, the United States), and also points to the speculation that this visit not coincidentally occurred on the same day as the announcement that Okinawa’s governor had tentatively agreed to an internal relocation of the USMC Air Station (MCAS) Futenma – a long-sought U.S. goal.

So who are the winners and losers of these moves?


Shinzo Abe: In buying bilateral political capital with the U.S. through the Futenma deal, Abe was able to visit the Yasukuni shrine to shore up support among his conservative and far-right supporter base. Although he still provoked a public rebuke from the U.S., it is unlikely to cause any lasting damage to the relationship. The same cannot be said for those with the PRC and ROK. The moves to watch are whether Abe tries to mend these relationships, or continues to revisit the shrine on an annual basis. Although there are indications Abe is attempting to “normalize” the visits as akin to a trip to Arlington National Cemetery by a U.S. president, without a (highly unlikely) large-scale war apology PR effort by the Japanese government such visits will always send the wrong signal regionally.

China: Roughly a month ago China committed the unforced error of including Socotra Island in its ADIZ declaration. Since the “island” (really a submerged rock) is disputed with South Korea, the move thereby nipped the burgeoning PRC-ROK ties in the bud and caused South Korea to make common cause with Japan. With yesterday’s moves, Japan has given China the diplomatic advantage by displacing it as the more worrisome neighbor.


Regional Cooperation: As my colleague Kyle Mizokami says, Abe is now “radioactive.” Even before the shrine visit, the South Sudan ammo cooperation fiasco highlighted the difficulty of boosting the Japanese-ROK ties. But whether Abe has killed all hopes of progress for the duration of his time in office is largely contingent on his moves in the coming year(s) – whether he makes sincere efforts at damage control or instead unapologetically continues to visit the shrine. The smart money is on the latter, but the former is not impossible.

United States: While the MCAS Futenma deal is a nominal victory, forestalling the need to relocate the Marines to another Asian facility, the setback to Japanese-ROK ties outweighs the win. Much of the U.S. Asia-Pacific strategy relies on leveraging its key regional allies, and there is little that would shore up U.S. grand strategy more than robust cooperation between Japan and South Korea. While greater ties can appear quixotic at the best of times, Abe’s visit has ensured that the most wonderful time of the year this is not.