South Sudan and the inconvenient truths of independence.

Picture the scene, it’s midnight in Juba (South Sudan’s new official capital) a historic countdown has just reached zero, and brought with it the legitimisation of the world’s newest country and the 193rd member state of the U.N. The ensuing celebrations are steeped in jubilation and hope as independence sets in. No more governance from Khartoum, self-rule, self-determination, a bright future.

But when the dust soon settles and independence becomes the norm, will a harsh reality inevitably strike? Will the deep social problems facing South Sudan prevent the world’s newest state from surviving?

The path to independence first emerged in 2005, with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (also known as ‘The Naivasha Agreement’) by the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). A defining feature of this process was the creation of a timetable for a referendum on the independence of South Sudan. In January, the realisation of this referendum occurred, with 99% of South Sudanese voters favouring independence.

The scale of this result can leave little doubt as to the desires of the South Sudanese and on Saturday they saw Salva Kiir sworn in as their first president. Importantly, Salva Kiir stood beside Omar al-Bashir throughout these proceedings. In fact, al-Bashir’s presence arguably shows an acceptance towards the partitioning of Sudan. Although, this remains to be tested in coming months, as border disputes are likely to continue and debates on oil resources are expected to intensify.

A woman in Juba with South Sudan's new flag celebrating independence.

Regardless of the future, with mass poverty and a population of between eight and ten million, South Sudan’s independence has formalised its position as one of the world’s least developed states.

A brief analysis of South Sudan’s socio-economic profile highlights the worrying nature of these problems. 84% of women are illiterate, the state has one of the worst maternal morality rates worldwide, one in every seven children dies before their fifth birthday, the facts go on, all painting an ever bleaker picture of the difficulties this state now faces. In all honestly, there is an arguable case that no country has ever been born out of such ongoing insecurity and unfit circumstances for statehood.

However, South Sudan is now liberated from the north. And, while there remain very real doubts concerning the purity of the new government, with many fearing corruption within, investment opportunities are now likely to present themselves.

Step forward America.

Previously, U.S. investment in Sudan has been limited by Khartoum but with the separation of Sudan this is no longer an issue. In fact, USAID is already planning to hold an investment conference later in 2011. Here, potential American investors are likely to evaluate business opportunities and in the process propel South Sudan into a period of prosperity.

Once again, one can debate the motives of Western investment and in particular American investment. Obvious fears that South Sudan could become a puppet state seem justifiable and it is only fair to question whether American investment will help to resolve any of the deep social problems within the state? These worries seem especially pertinent if South Sudan’s government becomes welcoming to American investors while also being deeply corrupt. If this reality was to transpire, American investors are unlikely to be too bothered about the poor socio-economic profile of South Sudan and it is beyond idealistic to suggest they would pressure the South Sudanese government to pursue much needed social policy if profits were hitting their pockets.

Therefore, for the sake of the people of South Sudan, the utmost should be done to ensure stability and security, even if this means rejecting some offers of investment. Nobody is naive enough to expect poverty to be eradicated in the state but what is needed is good governance, with wisely spent aid and proper management of the country’s vast oil resources.

If such objectives are achieved, perhaps one day the people of South Sudan will have whole new reasons to be jubilant, as they proudly see their country as a beacon of success having emerged from the darkness of a fifty-six year bloody struggle for freedom.

Kenneth Way.


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