South Sudan’s Unsteady Start

John Siebert Armed Conflicts, Defence & Human Security

John Siebert

The Ploughshares Monitor Autumn 2011 Volume 32 Issue 3

The world welcomed its newest state on July 9, 2011. The Republic of South Sudan became the 54th country in Africa, in the culmination of the six-year process outlined in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in January 2005 between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M). The celebrations by South Sudanese at home and abroad have been exuberant, but it is hard to shake a lingering sense of foreboding.

The act of creating a new country from the territory of an existing country is generally a recipe for more conflict rather than part of the resolution of a decades-long civil war. In this case, however, there can be no argument with the outcome. In January the people of South Sudan overwhelmingly voted to create their own country in an internationally recognized referendum on self-determination. With considerable international pressure being applied to Sudan to recognize the referendum outcome, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir complied and subsequently attended the independence ceremonies in Juba, the capital of the new Republic.

Even if the prospect of war between the two states has receded, both still face disruptive internal conflicts.

Sudan’s President, who came to power in a coup, stands indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes committed against civilians in Darfur. While continuing to engage in violence in Darfur, Al-Bashir’s government recently renewed armed assaults in the Sudanese states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile. The majority populations of these states are aligned tribally, politically, and militarily with the SPLA in the south. The border state of Abyei, claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan, was recently overrun by Sudan’s military. Behaviour in Sudan is no longer moderated by southern participation in the national government, which marked the six-year interim period of the CPA.

South Sudan starts life as an independent state as one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Despite a pressing need for social services, roads, schools, and hospitals, emerging government structures are weak and still unable to deliver. An estimated 40 per cent of the annual national budget is committed to military and police forces. Such a concentration of funds on security is not compatible with longer-term sustainable development.

The government and military of South Sudan are dominated by one ethnic group, the Dinka, but long-held resentments and tensions with the Nuer and other groups threaten internal coherence. Tensions, earlier checked by focusing on a common northern foe, have increased over political representation and the negotiation of an interim and then a permanent constitution. Former SPLA generals recently launched rebellions in outlying areas. Intensive pastoralist raids continue between communities, leaving hundreds dead and countless uprooted as people flee for safety.

Sudan and South Sudan, now separate countries, have no choice but to continue to work together as neighbours. They are inextricably linked together by oil, which is primarily extracted in South Sudan, but shipped through Sudan’s pipelines and dependent upon Sudan’s refining and shipping infrastructure. Oil accounts for the vast majority of revenues of both governments.

Negotiations continue between Sudan and South Sudan on such crucial matters as shared oil revenues, border demarcation, and citizenship. But many difficult issues remain unresolved. What status will Sudan’s currency have in South Sudan? Many people from Sudan in the north live in South Sudan and vice-versa. In which country will they have citizenship?  How will property ownership be recognized, trade patterns adjusted, and countless social interactions maintained along what is now an unmarked but potentially lethal international border?

The peace promised in the wake of the birth of the Republic of South Sudan is most assuredly welcome. It also is fragile. The international community will need to stay alert and active in support of stability and development in both Sudan and South Sudan if this is to remain a good news story.

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