S Sudan fingers still crossed a year after independence

By Lillian Aluanga-Delvaux

South Sudan marks its first anniversary Monday July 9 against the backdrop of internal strife, economic and social hurdles, and national integration challenges.

A year ago, the John Garang Mausoleum – the venue of the independence celebrations – held thousands, whose frenzied celebrations marked a historic moment.

But while a celebratory mood will no doubt envelop the same venue Monday, it will be accompanied by some sobering truths of expectations that many South Sudanese nationals held 12 months ago.

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Frosty relations with Khartoum, border disputes and intermittent conflicts in Jonglei, Northern Bahr el Ghazal and Unity State, are among challenges the new nation has had to contend with since independence.

A referendum that was to determine the status of the oil-rich Abyei province remains in abeyance, as are unresolved conflicts in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states. A year after the birth of the world’s youngest nation, dozens are still stranded at borders, corruption stalks the new government, and months of a shutdown in oil exports from Juba to Khartoum is fanning economic hardship.

High inflation

The shutdown was occasioned by a dispute over transportation costs and is estimated to cost Juba losses of more than $30 million. It has led to the depreciation of the South Sudan Pound and a raising inflation rate of more than 70 per cent.

The past year has also seen longstanding hostilities between South Sudan and Sudan resurface. In April, a war of words between the two countries erupted over Heglig, an oil rich town in Southern Kordofan, which lies along a poorly defined border between the two States.

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The spat led to a brief takeover of the oilfield, which is among Sudan’s biggest revenue sources, by South Sudan troops. While South Sudan claims the oil field falls within her territory, the North maintains that there was no clear border demarcation of the area at the time of the South’s independence.

In Abyei, an oil rich region at the centre of a territorial dispute between the two countries, thousands are beginning to trickle back home after being displaced in the wake of persistent raids by Sudan’s troops. The date of a referendum that was to be held in January last year to determine Abyei’s status remains indefinite, amid differences between Sudan and South Sudan on the extent of borders and eligibility of voters.

Besides territorial disputes between Khartoum and Juba, pockets of rebels continue to cause instability in parts of the country. South Sudan has maintained Khartoum is funding such groups, a claim Sudan denies. According to the United Nations Mission In South Sudan, more than 800 people were killed in Jonglei State alone between December 2011 and February.

In his book, The Birth of South Sudan, author James Shimanyula refers to the ‘ferocity of tribal fighting’ in Jonglei State and cites ‘skyrocketing dowry demands’ referred to by the State’s Governor Kuol Manyang Juuk’, as a catalyst to the conflicts. The troubled State has since witnessed the signing of an inter-communal peace deal in May.

Ismail Noo, a member of the General Assembly of the Economic Social and Cultural Council of the African Union (AU), cites implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in Nairobi in 2005, as the root of many challenges facing the young nation.

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“That is where the problem starts. The issue here is that the person who signed it is no longer alive to carry through the ideals, even though the feeling at the time the agreement was signed was that the two countries would co-exist,” Mr Noo says.

“Former SPLM/SPLA leader John Garang, who co- signed the agreement with Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, may have had some intuitive strategies that could have proved handy in the document’s implementation,” he adds.

Garang died in a helicopter crash in 2005 while returning to Juba from Uganda, just weeks after he had been sworn in as Vice President. Don Bosco Malish, a South Sudan programme officer with the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa describes the relationship between South Sudan and Sudan, a year after independence, as ‘a bad divorce that left the couple’s children suffering’.

He cites management of high expectations, internal conflicts and lack of institutions and mechanisms to allow for democratic governance as among challenges faced by the young nation.

“The masses expected a lot from the Government, and there is a growing frustration when this is not forthcoming. People need basic services and an environment that allows them to earn their livelihoods. Hosting Sudanese refugees and supporting the integration of returnees has been a challenge. There have also been tensions between Sudan and South Sudan and internal conflicts within South Sudan, creating too many war fronts to be controlled,” says Malish.

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Common issues

USIU lecturer David Kikaya says while there was a common enemy before that united the southerners, there was need to identify common issues to rally around for nationals of the new State.

“National integration of the people of South Sudan remains a key challenge. Other hurdles are infrastructural development, proper management of oil resources, and clear demarcation of boundaries between South Sudan and Sudan,” says Prof Kikaya, an international relations lecturer.

Yet despite the challenges, Africa’s 54th nation still has something to smile about. “The country has joined membership of regional and international bodies like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, UN and AU. There is increased access to information, especially through the licensing of more than 90 FM stations and there is open talk and admittance of graft in government,” says Malish.

He also cites efforts to streamline taxation, reverting to non – oil revenues as well as peace conferences and disarmament programmes in Jonglei State as efforts made by the new nation that are worth acknowledging.

Perhaps well aware of the consequences of graft bedeviling other nations on the continent, President Salva Kiir is seen to have taken a tough stand on the vice. In his speech during Independence celebrations on July 9, last year, Kiir pledged to do all in his power to remove the ‘cancer’ of corruption, which, if unchecked, would undermine the country.

Shimanyula, refers to Kiir’s address during the first joint sitting of the National Assembly, a month after South Sudan’s independence, and the president’s reiteration to fight the vice with ‘dedication, vigour and commitment’.

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South Sudan independence John Garang Mausoleum