Nation #196: Prospects for the Republic of South Sudan
July 6, 2011
On Saturday, July 9, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan will become Africa’s 54th country. At a ceremony in Juba, the fast-expanding capital of what will be the world’s newest nation, a proclamation of independence will be read out at the burial place of John Garang, the man who symbolized Southern resistance to the Northern regime during the civil war. The flag of Sudan will be lowered, the flag of South Sudan raised in its place, and the new national anthem, “Oh God Bless South Sudan,” will be sung. For many Southern Sudanese, independence is something that they dreamed about but only the most optimistic thought would ever come to pass. Excitement has been mounting since January’s referendum, when nearly 99 percent of Southern voters opted for secession.
The international community has pledged its support for the new nation. The African Union, which has traditionally resisted attempts to alter the borders of its member states, has endorsed Southern independence. The United States has said it will recognize the new nation and is likely to name an ambassador to Juba without delay. Other nations have promised to follow suit. Even the government in Khartoum has promised not to stand in the way; President Omar al-Bashir said that Sudan would be the first to recognize the successor state of South Sudan. The United Nations is expected to swiftly admit South Sudan.
The small cadre of technocrats in the government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) is scrambling to complete all the preparations, large and small, that come with nationhood. A new constitution has been drafted (amid considerable acrimony), plans are being finalized to open 34 consulates and embassies worldwide, and applications have been filed for a new international telephone code and Internet domain.
But some of the most important tasks will not be finished in time, complicating relations between the South and the nation it leaves behind. Many of the negotiations over the terms of their divorce are yet to be concluded; indeed, both sides have agreed to postpone discussions until after independence. These include:
Revenue sharing: Since the 2005 peace deal that ended the civil war, South Sudan’s oil revenue—the mainstay of its economy—has been split evenly between the North and South. As an independent nation, South Sudan is holding out for a deal that reflects the fact that approximately three-quarters of known oil reserves lie within its boundaries. Khartoum’s determination to resist a more generous agreement is strengthened by the knowledge that it possesses most of the oil infrastructure, including the pipelines, refineries, and export terminals. The key to any future agreement is likely to hinge on how much the South is willing to pay to use the North’s oil pipelines. For the time being, both sides have agreed to stick with the current arrangement—but only for the month of July.
Borders: South Sudan is set to become a nation without an agreed border. Five areas of the 1,300-mile boundary remain in dispute. In addition, the future status of the border enclave of Abyei has yet to be determined. Fighting between Northern and Southern-aligned forces in the region has ratcheted up tensions in recent weeks. An Ethiopian peacekeeping force has been dispatched to help demilitarize Abyei, but the fate of the territory remains unresolved until agreement can be reached on who has the right to vote in a referendum on whether it should remain part of the North or join the South. Positions on both sides are entrenched, and the risks of future conflict are high.
Debts: Sudan’s national debt is fast approaching $40 billion. Securing debt relief is a complicated task because bilateral and commercial creditors account for the vast majority of Sudan’s debt, meaning that onerous negotiations would have to be undertaken with multiple lenders. In the meantime, Khartoum is expecting the South to take on its share of the financial burden, but the GOSS is dragging its feet, arguing that much of the debt was accrued buying military equipment to kill Southerners during the civil war and build infrastructure in the North while neglecting other regions of the country.
Citizenship: The unresolved question of who qualifies for citizenship in the two Sudans is of particular concern to the estimated 1 million Southerners living in the North, who run the risk of becoming stateless. Khartoum’s position is that these people, many of whom have lived in the North for years, will become foreigners on July 9 and face deportation unless they obtain visas. Southern ministers in the Northern government and hundreds of civil servants working in the North have been told they will be dismissed, adding to the atmosphere of anxiety.
Currency: The GOSS has resolved to establish a new currency in the South, but this ambition is far from being realized. Economists warn against rushing the process for fear of destabilizing the existing currency, the Sudanese pound. But panic is already beginning to set in. Some businesses in the South are refusing to accept Sudanese pounds, placing extra strain on a currency that is already tottering.
For all these reasons, South Sudan’s independence celebrations are being staged against a backdrop of anxiety and uncertainty. Tensions have been aggravated by serious violence a stone’s throw across the border in Southern Kordofan, a northern state with a long history of resistance against the government in Khartoum and a population containing many who fought alongside Southern rebels during the civil war. Fighting began in early June when Northern troops tried to disarm some of these forces and quickly descended into a wider campaign that has been characterized as ethnic cleansing by some observers on the ground. A framework agreement to end the fighting has had little effect. President al-Bashir has threatened to continue the offensive, which has included heavy aerial bombardment, until the state’s deputy governor, a member of the main Southern party he accuses of launching a rebellion, gives himself up.
Even if the South can resolve its numerous outstanding disputes with its northern neighbor, it faces an equally challenging set of internal issues. The task of building a new nation requires political skill, competent and accountable government, inclusive decisionmaking, strategic planning, adequate resources, and a compelling national vision that its citizens can buy into. Without these ingredients, establishing legitimacy in the eyes of its people will be an elusive goal. South Sudan lacks nearly all of these prerequisites. It is sharply divided along ethnic, regional, and cultural lines. Its government is narrowly based and widely perceived as corrupt. It is desperately short of skilled professionals and civil servants. It faces an urgent task to diversify its economy, which is hopelessly dependent on oil. At the same time, its citizens have dangerously unrealistic expectations of their government’s ability to run the country effectively and deliver public services, such as schools, clinics, and roads. These hopes could quickly turn to disillusionment, even violence, if they are not properly managed.
The internal security situation in the South is a cause for particular concern. The GOSS will be unable to establish adequate control over its own territory for many years to come, leaving many of its citizens to fend for themselves. The Southern police service is in an embryonic state, and the army is frequently abusive and widely distrusted by the public. Meanwhile, an upsurge in armed rebellions, many of them led by former senior officials in the Southern army, has claimed the lives of at least 1,400 people since the start of 2011.
The most important institution in the South is the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA), but it is an ineffective, ill-disciplined force in urgent need of reform. A coherent demobilization program is essential in order to cut its bloated payroll and lessen the strain on the national budget, but this is highly risky unless soldiers can be provided with jobs and training programs when they rejoin civilian life.
In spite of these formidable challenges, South Sudan should not be written off as a “pre-failed” state, as some of the more pessimistic assessments have done. Southerners have made immense sacrifices to achieve independence and do not wish to squander the legacy of those who did not live to see this day. Most people are proud of their new nation and determined to prove the naysayers wrong. Furthermore, South Sudan will embark on the independence era knowing that it enjoys high levels of international goodwill and support. The United States alone is putting $300 million of development assistance a year into ensuring that South Sudan is a viable, peaceful, and prosperous nation. Achieving that objective will take years of effort, good management, and a degree of good fortune. It will be a tough task, but not an impossible one.
Richard Downie is deputy director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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