South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, has spent the past year shaping its economy and society, with mixed results. Katie Richardson looks back over the country’s first year as it tries to build on 50 years of tumultuous history
“It will be a state of prosperity. We are so happy and so excited. People are going to work very hard. I know that there are very high expectations,” were the words of self-confessed rebel and South Sudanese advocate Aquil De’chut Deng on the day South Sudan’s secession from Sudan was confirmed.
She had come to the Juba Grand Hotel for tea before rushing off to a meeting for the official inauguration, and said she was relishing the electric atmosphere. “People are thinking you can have a child today and then it will walk,” she said. “Yes, there are children who can walk straight away, if they are animals, but for God’s sake, they have to take some time in order to walk nicely. If we don’t walk nicely, please don’t say it’s not because we don’t know what to do. It’s just a procedure.”
The fiscal picture in South Sudan is terrible, the socio-economic stress is harsh, there are protests in Sudan, there are border tensions
One year on from being recognised by the international community as an official state, South Sudan is a country still very much finding its feet. Its economy is fragile and vastly underdeveloped, and it has the worst social indicators in the world. A troubled relationship on the border of its northern neighbour Sudan still endures, which manifests itself in sustained daily violence that shows little sign of coming to any resolution soon.
Recent violence saw South Sudanese troops take the Sudanese town of Heglig in April, and ethnic conflict in the Jonglei state has killed hundreds.
Difficult first steps
The IMF and the World Bank have warned global leaders that the new nation is on the brink of war and, if it keeps depleting funds from the foreign exchange reserve, on the verge of economic collapse. Initial jubilation at independence has turned into a daily struggle for survival. There are huge weaknesses in macroeconomic management and fiscal governance, particularly when it comes to oil revenues, and in a recently released World Bank report, it is expected that the number of people living in poverty will rise to 83 percent in 2013 from 51 percent in 2012, due to a basic lack of commodities and social development.
“The fiscal picture in South Sudan is terrible, the socio-economic stress is harsh, there are protests in Sudan, there are border tensions,” associate fellow at the Africa programme at international affairs think-tank Chatham House Jason Mosley told The Guardian. “The economic picture is so bad it could push both sides towards some sort of compromise.”
Religious differences and a civil war spanning decades were one of the major reasons South Sudan elected to secede from the north, and a total of 99 percent of the country’s voters were in favour of the split. In 2005, a treaty for peace was signed, ending a long and bitter civil war spanning over two decades, that saw over two million people slaughtered in the pursuit of land and oil ownership.
On 7 July 2011, South Sudan’s interim constitution was ratified, which established a presidential system of government and its leader, President Salva Kiir Mayardit. The country was divided into 10 different states, and appointed a unicameral legislative assembly and judiciary. It became a UN member state and a member of the African Union. Two days later, the newborn nation saw the raising of an independent national flag in its new capital city, Juba.
“We expected the government to start the new country on a right footing by doing everything according to the book – the constitution – and to nurture a sense of rule of law in people’s hearts and minds,” Deng Riek Khoryoam wrote in the South Sudan News Agency. “We didn’t need the government to do miracles and erect skyscrapers like in London and the US overnight; or perhaps, build roads connecting all the 10 states of South Sudan. Rather, we wanted the government to first fulfil those basic social services before talking about luxury or preferences.”
“We don’t have roads, we don’t have hospitals,” Peter Gazulu, a member of the Murle tribe told Reuters in July. “Why are we denied representation? Why are we denied development? [...] We fought 21 years for democracy and freedom for all, so why has it become a democracy for the few?”
Aside from the dire domestic situation, where there is little affordable healthcare and education, and little access to safe drinking water, South Sudan has also been plagued by separatist rebellions, poverty and accusations of government corruption. Alfred Taban, editor in chief of Juba Monitor, said independence hasn’t lived up to his expectations at all. “Security is very bad; not a day passes without you hearing someone has been killed,” he said. “Services are extremely poor, there is no electricity, there’s very little water, there’s very little transport, and when you go to hospital, there are no medicines. Things are very bad.”
There are still a number of outstanding grievances pressed by both sides of the border, none more disconcerting than the oil dispute. Oil is the main resource in South Sudan, and its oilfields drive the economy. Volumes of other natural resources like teak, iron ore, copper and gold don’t even come close to the cash flow created by crude: 98 percent of South Sudan’s total export revenue.
Halting the oil has ensured there is also no revenue for building hospitals, water systems or roads, leaving the 9.7 million people in the country without any access to basic amenities
When South Sudan broke away from its union with the north, it took 75 percent of the oil reserves with it. However, the country can only export the crude oil through pipelines that run through land owned by Sudan. A bitter row ensued over how much Juba should pay Sudan’s capital Khartoum for use of the pipeline, and how revenue from the oilfields will be split, with South Sudan claiming they were being deceived into paying exorbitant fees.
In January, South Sudan made the unilateral decision to shut down its oil pipes, a move that was to sentence the country to economic demise, and shock aid institutions and donors across the globe. Prices for staple foods have quadrupled since oil was siphoned off, and an exponential rise of inflation has seen acceleration from 29.5 percent in April to 79.5 percent in May. The depreciated value of the South Sudanese pound against the dollar has seen imported goods’ value plummet, and the queues outside petrol stations stretch for miles in the summer heat. The harsh terrain of South Sudan adds to its isolation from economic development. When it’s hot, the ground bakes and cracks, and during the seasonal downpours, it streams and turns to thick mud. Without solid industrial infrastructure, farming in the rural villages is rudimentary and there is huge disparity between the lives of people living in these areas and the bustling capital, Juba.
Halting the oil has ensured there is also no revenue for building hospitals, water systems or roads, leaving the 9.7 million people in the country without any access to basic amenities. Consequently, South Sudan’s inaugural year has seen a monumetal rise in malnutrition in children, and a drop in school enrolments to little over 20 percent in 2013, according to statistics from the World Bank. There is a very realistic possibility the country could run out of money very soon, with teachers and health workers looking to be hit first as the government struggles to deal with the implications of economic crisis.
“The World Bank has never seen a situation as dramatic as the one faced by South Sudan,” said the World Bank’s Director of Economic Policy and Poverty Reduction Programmes for Africa, Marcelo Giugale, to donors including the UK, EU and IMF, at a briefing in March. He said that neither Mayardit, nor his cabinet, “were aware of the economic implications of the oil shutdown,” and even if Juba were to triple its revenue with different means, the impact would still be “negligible”.
At the time of the report, Giugale said there was a very real risk South Sudan could collapse as a state. At the current rate of spending, the government’s fiscal reserves are only expected to last until October, “even if some of the more draconian measures which are being discussed are adopted.”
A deal is needed
The US special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan told Australia’s ABC news that one alternative to negotiate would be “to open the so-called magical southern corridor and get the oil out through other countries to the African coastline and not through Sudan,” but he stresses it could be between two and three years before a pipeline of that magnitude could be in place.
Jonathan Temin, Director of the Sudan programme at the US Institute of Peace, said the biggest economic help would be to strike a deal: “If the oil can get back online using these existing pipelines and there’s some kind of sharing deal, that can hugely help the cash flow, as they are probably going to run out of money.”
Religious leaders on both sides of the border are calling for a reconciliation to be reached between the two countries to get the oil flowing again, and try to reverse the ongoing collapse of GDP. In May, the UN ordered the sparring nations to resume negotiations and resolve all their issues within four months, as security still poses a major threat to the overall stability of both regions.
Everybody wanted South Sudan to gain independence after this long war, but all these other issues that hadn’t been dealt with, that were supposed to be dealt with in this first year, have not happened
In an interview with Voice of America, Daniel Sullivan, Director of Policy and Government Relations at United to End Genocide said there is still a strong South Sudanese armed presence along the border that divides South Sudan and Sudan, and there have been cases of the Sudanese army crossing the periphery into the south. “There is a risk of returning to war, now that the south is an independent nation,” he said. “The first thing is to get humanitarian access in. Diplomatic pressure has not moved the government in Khartoum. People could die in large numbers, so we need to find ways to get the food in. We can’t allow food sanctions to be used as a weapon of war.”
Fighting has continued because there is so much unfinished business, believes NPR News’ west African correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. “It’s over borders, boundary, oil revenues, wealth sharing, citizenship, and identity. Everybody now says there was too much of a rush. Everybody wanted South Sudan to gain independence after this long war, but all these other issues that hadn’t been dealt with, that were supposed to be dealt with in this first year, have not happened.”
A climate of fear
Hundreds of children scrabble barefoot in the dirt, adorned in rags, collecting water from dirty puddles rather than queue for 12 hours; just some of thousands displaced in the UN camps set up for refugees fleeing the border violence of Sudan and South Sudan. Food is scarce in these settlements, amid concerns there have been deliberate blocks to international aid coming into the country, and it’s crowded, but people have said it’s a much better alternative living in these conditions than hiding in the Nuba Mountains from religious and political persecution.
Camps like Jamam, and a recently opened one in the Upper Nile, have seen tens of thousands of people crossing over into South Sudan from the desperate region of Sudan’s Blue Mile state, seeking refuge from widespread famine and death. Because of heavy fighting there hasn’t been a chance to plant crops this season, and a climate of fear, rather than prosperity, is entrenched in its citizens.
The daily bombing from the Sudanese warplanes that blight the skyline have forced the inhabitants of these camps to cower in fear in one of hundreds of three-foot foxholes dug into the earth, mini shelters that offer minimal protection. Since the summer floods, disease in the camps is rampant, and human waste lies scattered next to the mud piles in which children play.
“People are coming just as heavy rains make it virtually impossible to access these areas to provide aid, Save the Children’s South Sudan Country Director Jon Cunliffe told the BBC in July. “The worst-case scenario is now a reality – we are witnessing a full-blown humanitarian crisis in one of the most remote places on earth.”
According to a report from NTV Kenya, the camp mortality rates are rising. “It’s estimated that half of South Sudan’s 9.7 million people are facing food shortages – the severe drought and ongoing conflict is doing little to help,” it said. “Expectations for infrastructural development for the country and its future generations are still far from being met. Vital spending on infrastructure and services such as new roads, schools, healthcare and water systems is being scaled back as the country faces economic catastrophe.”
The security of women in these camps is also of great concern due to South Sudan’s maternal mortality rate being the highest in the world. A recent report from the UN found that for every 100,000 live births, 2,054 wouldn’t live to see their fifth birthday. “One in every seven women dies in pregnancy or childbirth and it’s largely due to the lack of access to medical practitioners and facilities, particularly in rural areas,” it said. “In a culture where the number of offspring is one of the most important indicators of a man’s success in life, the pressure is high on women to produce as many children as possible, often regardless of the risks to the health of mothers.”
Democracy for the few
Recently, Vice President of South Sudan, Riek Machar Teny, has blamed the nation’s institutions for blighting the country with allegations of internal corruption, and has asked for international help to instil effective systems of accountability and transparency. South Sudan’s president has also accused around 75 former and current officials of stealing state funds, totalling around $4bn in stolen public money, according to a report from Al-Jazeera’s Inside Story. Mayardit has set up a special bank account in Kenya to deposit the money, under assurances of anonymity and amnesty from prosecution, but a further $1.5bn obtained from oil revenues since 2005 remains unaccounted for.
“It’s been spent on arms,” says Paul Moorcraft, Director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Analysis. “There’s been corruption, a diversion of money, fat cat guys putting money into bank accounts … and now he wants money to be put into Kenya, an even more corrupt country. It will be interesting to know how much money Mayardit has in his own bank account.”
Moorcraft believes there are a number of reasons why investment into South Sudan is a disincentive, and doesn’t think many countries will be interested in investing or insuring it. “There are lots of problems with credibility,” he said. “The oil; you can’t just turn it on – it takes at least six months to get the pipelines running. The fighting in Heglig – conflict on both sides destroyed infrastructure. The government is corrupt from top to bottom. I wish it well, but nobody in the west or in America is going to say: ‘You’ve spent all this money; you’ve wasted it to a large extent, or put it in Switzerland. We’ll give you more.’ South Sudan must look at the senior leaders and ask: what are their records, what money have they put abroad and how much of that money is going to come back?”
Information Minister for South Sudan, Dr Barnaba Marial Benjamin maintains the ‘lost’ $1.5bn was traced to Khartoum, and that Transparency International has records confirming so. “As a young state, I can assure you we are moving as a democratic country, something that anybody who visits this country can see,” he told Al-Jazeera. “We are here to stay; we will contribute our bit to the African Union and to the UN. The fact that we are tackling the issue of corruption face-on is an indication this young country is serious about putting its records right within a period of one year. I believe this is a challenge, but it’s a challenge that we will surmount.”
In defence of the corruption charges, Benjamin insists ministers aren’t suspects. “The letters were written due to the fact that so many companies were involved, so the government thinks senior officials might have made it easier for these people to take this money; we need to clarify that,” he said. “That’s why the president is asking if anyone has benefitted from this type of money. There is no running out of cash, and I can assure you this country will continue to manage.”
There is evidence the government is taking steps to ensure progress. According to Benjamin, it has just released $100m to try and solve the issue of the release of imported food into the country, and in 2011, a development plan was published, where key points for economic growth were delineated in five programmes designed to address changes and improve service delivery. The report highlighted the building and upgrading of public facilities; rapid infrastructural development; security stabilisation; the resettlement and reintegration of returnees; and food security initiatives like micro finance and the availability of financial institutions and investors, as the main focus for the coming years.
Learning to walk unaided
USAID believes the transition from recovery to sustained economic growth will come from “the resumption of growth-producing and job-creating private investment.” The organisation said it was likely the progression from peace to sustained economic growth could take up to a decade, but the risk of a return to conflict could be as high as 40 percent. “There remain major challenges ahead, and the risk of violent conflict restarting cannot be ruled out. The danger will be heightened as the general elections and the national referendum approach, and more so if the macroeconomic imbalances and instability worsen,” it said.
“Despite the many, many problems and challenges, South Sudanese are still very, very happy that they gained independence,” said Quist-Acton. “They say they now have freedom, that they are masters of their own destiny. They’re no longer second-class citizens. And for them, that is absolutely number one.”
Whether South Sudan will learn to walk unaided is still very much to be determined, and its initial hopes are yet to be realised. It still has a long way to go to find economic stability within its borders. With a strong ethos of compassion fatigue in the West at present, and the numerous internal problems, South Sudan may have to go back to the drawing board.