United States “humanitarian diplomacy” in South Sudan

Autesserre, Severine

This essay studies the manipulation of food aid to South Sudan, and its interplay with US politics: the US is the major donor of relief aid to Sudan, and at the same time it appears as one of Khartoum’s major opponents on the international scene. This essay argues that humanitarian aid, and especially food aid, is not a substitute for political action, but that it has become the main channel of the US’s Sudan policy for the past ten years. Torn between its conflicting economic, political, geo-strategic, and moral imperatives, the US has had to adopt a difficult strategy: supporting the rebels, but not openly, and not enough to enable them to win the war. In this situation, humanitarian aid, with its reputation of neutrality and its moral appeal concealing a fundamental vulnerability to all sorts of manipulation, is a very efficient tool. Food aid is especially useful: it directly counteracts Khartoum’s strategy (starving the South into submission) and directly helps the rebel movement and army in a number of ways (bringing them resources, as well as domestic and international legitimacy). Food aid also has the crucial advantage of fitting perfectly into western prejudices about Africa – a starving continent dependent on the West – so that no one thinks about questioning the underlying motives of US relief aid to Sudan.


Also Published In

Journal of Humanitarian Assistance

More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science (Barnard College)
Published Here
April 16, 2014


Preferred citation: Severine Autesserre, “The United States’ ‘Humanitarian Diplomacy’ in South Sudan,” Journal of Humanitarian Assistance, January 2002.