While not formally ranked in the "2012 Fund for Peace Failed States Index, the available data suggest that only three countries in the world score worse on indicators of state failure. This is also borne out in the latest “Report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission in South Sudan'', from March, which documents continuing anti-government and inter-communal violence, serious human rights violations, massive economic problems, widespread food insecurity, tense relations with Sudan, a steady stream of refugees from the North and high levels of internal displacement. While the report also notes some improvements compared to last year, South Sudan clearly has a long way to go on the road to stability.
Yet, the pattern of developments over the past two years does not suggest that there will be any significant improvements anytime soon. This is primarily because South Sudan’s problems are of a long-standing, systemic and regionally embedded nature. Resolving them will require concerted local, regional and global efforts, and the conditions for this to happen simply will not materialize for the foreseeable future.
To begin with, South Sudan continues to face multiple security challenges. The government has been able to deal quite effectively with some of the insurgencies it faced, aided by the significant efforts of a fledgling but increasingly important civil society. However, at least one rebel group, led by David Yau Yau, has remained a potent challenger.
At the same time, significant inter-communal violence, often related to localized resource disputes or connected to the migration patterns of nomadic tribes along the now international border between the North and South has been persistent. In addition, the unresolved dispute between South Sudan and Sudan over the oil-rich territory of Abyei has repeatedly led to local flare-ups of violence. None of these conflicts has yet led to a renewal of all-out war between the two sides, but, amid regular mutual recrimination about support for rebel movements on the respective other side of the border, major military hostilities between North and South remain a possibility.
None of these security challenges emerged at, let alone because of, South Sudan’s independence. Indeed, they predate not only independence in 2011 but also the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005, which was meant to provide the institutional mechanisms to find solutions to them within a unified Sudan. Yet, as soon as political leaders in the North and South began to set their agendas toward establishing firm control in their respective territories, these problems were at best temporarily contained so that they would not stand in the way of power consolidation and, for the South, independence.
The volatile security situation that South Sudan thus inherited—and has so far been unable to improve much—is further exacerbated by, and contributes to, an economic and humanitarian crisis that has engulfed the country also since before independence. Highly uneven economic development between North and South during the colonial and post-colonial period, two civil wars (1963-1972 and 1983-2005) and an economy highly, if not almost completely, dependent on oil have all contributed to a situation in which food insecurity and poverty are widespread. Public services—from healthcare and sanitation to education and utilities—are, despite some improvements, at best poorly performing, and at worst absent from significant parts of the country.
South Sudan, a landlocked country that inherited the pre-existing South-North refinery and export infrastructure, depends entirely on Sudan for oil exports, which make up the vast majority of government revenues. A yearlong dispute over transfer fees, beginning in January 2012, had only just been resolved when Sudan threatened to block oil exports again a few weeks ago.
The massive loss of revenue as a result of the 2012 dispute, and the demands on the budget as a result of the protracted security challenges that South Sudan continues to face, have left very little government funds to spend on addressing either the humanitarian crisis—caused in significant part by the influx of refugees from Sudan and by the internal displacement of people as a result of violent conflict in South Sudan—or dealing with the broader social and economic development agenda, including education and public infrastructure. While donors have, to some extent, filled this gap, they are unable to resolve the underlying issues simply by pumping aid into the country, currently to the tune of $1.3 billion annually.
The international community has, however, been instrumental in containing various crises in the post-independence period. The African Union and the United Nations, in particular, have been key brokers in preventing the escalation of violence between South Sudan and Sudan—especially over the Abyei dispute—and humanitarian agencies, such as the U.N. Refugee Agency and the World Food Program, have made significant contributions to alleviating the worst of the human suffering. Valuable as such interventions are in the short term, they remain stopgap measures with little or no contribution to sustainable long-term improvements.
South Sudan was born out of the desire of its people to become an independent state and break free from what was widely, and correctly, perceived as Northern domination and exploitation. Yet independence has not addressed the many underlying problems that still beset the country two years after it gained statehood, nor could it have.
What is, above all, required to break free from the ongoing vicious cycle of interlocked and mutually reinforcing security and development challenges is leadership on both sides of the still-contested border established in July 2011, to enable both countries to establish levels of security and economic cooperation that will allow their citizens to prosper.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
African Affairs Expert
Photo-Credit: AFP: Photo of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir & South Sudan President Salva Kiir