Celebrations for South Sudan?

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July 9th 2012 will be the first birthday of the global family’s newest nation, the Republic of South Sudan. But what kind of party will they be having? Is there reason to have any party at all?

The Republic of South Sudan (RSS) was born out of more than 40 years of conflict between the north and south of what had been Africa’s largest country. The colonial shortcut of trying to unite two regions which had vast historical and cultural differences left a legacy of bitterness and mistrust that proved to be irreconcilable. The talks which concluded in 2005 with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) included the option of a referendum on self-determination, a step embraced with open arms by Southern Sudanese. 98% of those who voted in the January 2011 elections opted for separation. Thus, just 6 months later, the new State came into being at a boisterous ceremony in Juba: flags were lowered and raised and promises of good neighbourliness pledged. Celebrations ensued across the whole of South Sudan – a vast, landlocked area where the majority of the population are dependent on agricultural and pastoral skills handed down though many generations. However, Southern Sudanese friends of mine told me just weeks before independence that although they were happy and relieved that they were about to achieve a long-cherished dream, they had serious concerns around some of the unfinished business outstanding from the CPA. Their concerns have proved to be justified.

One of those unresolved issues was the alignment of the border between the new state and the now much reduced Republic of Sudan, a fairly fundamental requirement for the identity of the RSS. It had been agreed by both states that the border would be the one in place at the time of independence in 1956, but the records of where this actually lies are far from clear. The alignment of the border is critical, as it will determine whether valuable oil-fields will lie in Sudan or South Sudan. Another related issue is the amount to be levied by Sudan for allowing South Sudan to use its pipeline for exporting crude oil. The two governments are so far apart in their expectations of what this amount should be that the Government of South Sudan halted the flow of oil completely in January. The economy of the RSS has taken a big hit by this decision as 98% of its revenue came from oil exports. In addition, Sudan’s economy had been suffering since last July as the majority of the productive oil fields are located within South Sudan and with independence of the South, Sudan lost its main source of foreign exchange. Hence the attempts made by the government of Sudan to claw back some of this loss through attempting to levy excessive pipeline charges. 

A more human issue that was still up in the air last July was the status of nationals from each country who were resident in the other – whether or not they would be allowed to continue to reside and work where they were at the time or if they would have to return to their “place of origin”. The term “place of origin” is contentious in itself, as many of the estimated 2 million people classified as southerners living in Sudan were second or third generation who had no direct personal ties with South Sudan at all. The RSS government declared that northerners living in South Sudan would be free to remain: there would be a process of registration established but there would be no forced removals. On the other hand, life for southerners in Sudan became much more difficult. Although a document was drafted that protected some of the rights of southerners resident there, it was never ratified. Consequently many have lost their jobs, as few, if any work permits have been granted people of southern origin. The rhetoric is that southerners living in the north voted for independence, therefore they should go to “their country” in the south. The UN estimates that since October 2010, more than 400,000 people from the south have relocated to the RSS with a similar number still in Sudan who may choose – or be pressured – to move in the coming months. This combined total represents around 10% of the population of RSS and the influx is already putting huge strains on the limited infrastructure in the south where health, education and other basic services are rudimentary at best. Despite its huge agricultural potential, South Sudan is perennially food insecure and the arrival of so many more people into the region is inevitably increasing the need for food aid.

Added to the problems created by the return of southerners from Sudan, the RSS has received more than 160,000 people fleeing fighting in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions of Sudan. These two regions had been given special consideration in the CPA, but the promised popular consultations about their future status were not held – instead, fighting broke out between the Sudanese army and fighters who had formerly been allied with the southern army, the SPLA. It is almost certain that the number of displaced will increase over the coming months, as access by humanitarian agencies to the two regions has been denied and food supplies there have already run out.

Not all of RSS’s problems can be blamed on the actions and policies of their neighbours to the north. Inter-ethnic rivalry, especially amongst pastoralist groups in Upper Nile and Jonglei provinces has frequently been the cause of localised fighting. Late last year however, fighting between Dinka, Nuer and Murle peoples escalated into major conflict and in Jonglei province alone, it is estimated that more than 6,000 people have died as a consequence. The SPLA has undertaken to pacify the area and remove weapons, but this process in itself is stimulating abuses of civilians and more unrest.

Corruption is another issue which appears to be an impediment to development in RSS. Even President Salva Kiir has stated publicly that billions of dollars have been stolen from the nation by a number of (unnamed) individuals and has appealed to them to return the money to the state. Not only is this having a negative impact in terms of further impoverishment of this desperately poor country but is also creating a negative image of South Sudan amongst its friends and potential investors. Even when the oil revenues return, RSS is going to be heavily aid dependent for many years to come, but if it earns itself a reputation as a country where the rich and powerful only help themselves, the donor community will be reluctant to continue to give aid.

(end of part1.)

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2 Responses to “Celebrations for South Sudan?”

  1. South Sudan: One Year After Becoming World’s Newest Nation · Global Voices Says:

    […] Rees identifies problems facing South Sudan. He says that not all problems can be blamed on actions of her neighbors: […]

  2. South Sudan: One Year After Becoming World’s Newest Nation | News4Christians Says:

    […] Rees identifies problems facing South Sudan. He says that not all problems can be blamed on actions of her […]

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