WASHINGTON — Salva Kiir, the president of South Sudan, spent decades in the bush of Central Africa outfitted in dusty army fatigues and an army beret. Since becoming president in 2011, however, the rebel leader-turned politician is rarely seen without his black cowboy hat. It signals his ascent to statesmanship. But more importantly, it’s a cherished gift from an old friend – George W. Bush.
The former president has largely escaped the public eye since leaving office in 2008, but on Wednesday, Republicans in the House of Representatives encouraged the Obama administration to reach out to him to help end a bloody conflict in a country he helped create.
“President Bush is very well thought of in Africa and the president absolutely loves Africa,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va. “If I have a serious problem, I want to bring in the best doctor I can, I don’t care if he has a different political ideology than me.”
South Sudan’s ambassador in Washington welcomed the idea. “When you have a deadlock, you need someone to break the ice and bring the people together,” Akec Khoc Aciew said. “I don’t know his stance, but as somebody who personally loves South Sudan I think he would answer the call.”
South Sudan became the world’s newest country in 2011, six years after Bush and his foreign policy team crafted a peace agreement that led to South Sudan’s break from northern Sudan. In December, civil war broke out among competing South Sudan politicians.
Whether Bush would be willing to act as a mediator was unclear. Calls and emails to the Bush Library in Dallas were not returned. But Bush’s secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice, has spoken to both Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar in an effort to mediate a deal, according to Ambassador Daniel Booth, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan.
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