The last bottle has been emptied; the bulls have been devoured to the tail; almost everyone has gone back to work. Now let’s have some reality check. All aboard. The new Republic of Southern Sudan is on the runway ready for take-off into the horizons on economic growth, peace and stability. Unfortunately, the weather outlook points to some serious navigation challenges especially for the pilots. I have tried to capture and greatly compress these challenges into four main ones that pose the greatest impediment to a smooth flight.

1. A Lousy northern neighbor (and the Small Matter of the Border)

The Khartoum ruling elite are an unhappy lot. They just lost the goose that laid the golden egg and for the first time in many years, they have to think of an austerity plan to avoid a serious economic downturn marked by dwindling fortunes. The South has no intention of continuing with the oil revenue sharing. Political dissent is rising and major opposition parties are more daring in their

Pres Bashir

call for reforms and even regime change in the North. Pres Bashir is still wanted by the ICC. So, how do they survive in the face of all this? They will do all they can to squeeze maximum concessions from the South for the next few years, at least until the major economic artery (oil exports from oil fields in the south going through the north) North is completely cut off. How will they do this? Grandstand on Abyei, dig in in South Kordofan, support armed groups and militias in the south and stoke tribal animosity, etc.

The over 2000km border is going to be the most contentious border in Africa for the next decade. It will not be resolved soon. In fact, I expect the two parties to engage international bodies like the Permanent Court of Arbitration (like they did regarding Abyei) and the UN, thus stalling the finalization of the demarcation. We should also expect plenty of conflicts along this line. Abyei, as some observers have opined, may become the Kashmir of Sudan yet it’s not even as ‘oil-rich’ as many journalists write.

2. Poor Capacity to build:

The task of nation- and state-building is in itself, even in the hands of experts and lots of funds, a most arduous task. The World Bank suggests at least two decades just to arrive at state stability (or ‘breaking even’ in business terms). The problem of weak leadership will be the Achilles’ heel in ROSS’s attempts at state-building. Add to this, UNICEF puts illiteracy as over 80% of the population with only one in four school children being a girl.

Because of this weak capacity to build, there will be numerous models of development and growth that will be forced down the throats of South Sudanese from donors and sadly, this will be like experimentation ground for hitherto untested concepts in development. ROSS leaders should listen to Shanta Devarajan, World Bank’s Chief Economist for Africa; “While welcoming the advice and support from the international community, South Sudan stands a greater chance of success if they can adapt this assistance to local conditions, listening to their people.”

In other words, the international community should only come in to build the capacity of South Sudanese and must not dictate models. The solutions must be indigenously bred and developed if they are to be sustainable.

3. Arms everywhere!

In a recent Small Arms Survey, the presence of militias and numerous armed groups continue to constitute a severe threat to security in post-independence South Sudan. Despite numerous disarmament campaigns (most of them SPLA-led and very bloody in nature), the number of arms in the hands of civilians remains extremely high.

In my own observation, communities that have been marginalized in resource allocations and/or generally perceived as warlike by their neighbours almost always exhibit high saturation of arms. A case in point is the Murle and Mundari of Jonglei state as well as the Lou Nuer in Jonglei and Upper Nile states. Communities refuse to disarm because they feel they are being exposed to enemy communities as the government is not able to provide adequate security. I witnessed a case in Akobo, Jonglei State where 8 SPLA soldiers were killed by a community as they attempted to disarm the latter in December last year. Most communities, however, do want to disarm; but they need guarantees from government and UN that they do not become exposed.

ROSS, in conjunction with UNMISS and other relevant agencies involved with community security like Safer World must work together to design a practical and holistic model for peaceful disarmament and effective DDR.


4. Leadership Deficit:

It is only until recently that almost the entire government leadership cabal was composed of former generals, brigadiers, colonels, lieutenants, majors and other military top brass. Anyone who did not carry a rank was deemed as an outsider; government belonged to those who fought. Since Jan 2005 when the CPA was signed, the GOSS has been heavily accused of mismanagement and high level corruption as well as nepotism. Government jobs and tenders are unashamedly awarded to kith and kin. Resources are channeled to particular leaders’ home areas. This has bred fierce animosity between tribes, marginalization and discrimination of whole communities, some of which are branded as ‘militia tribes’ like the Murle in Jonglei. Community security and programs like disarmament and economic development have all but failed to kick off, further exacerbating a bad case of insecurity and underdevelopment.

In the face of these and many other challenges facing the nascent state, there is a dire need for a new breed of leaders. This must be forward thinking, educated, not loyal to tribe, progressive and responsive to needs of the people. Interethnic conflicts must be resolved through negotiations; civilian disarmament should be done peacefully, preferably under supervision of UNMISS. Educated returnees must be welcomed into government. SPLM must relax its stranglehold on South Sudan politics and allow other parties to thrive without intimidation. A new constitution and followed by democratic elections must be top on government’s list of to-do things.

In short, the new Republic’s leadership needs a complete paradigm shift in its way of thinking.

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