South Sudan: Growing Pains or a Failed State?

12.23.13
Dave Stanley
World News /23 Dec 2013
12.23.13

South Sudan: Growing Pains or a Failed State?

In July 2011, after a long civil war, South Sudan split from Sudan and became an independent country. However, even though statehood was achieved and a new country was born, the efforts to transform South Sudan into a functioning nation-state seems to be stalled. Is South Sudan a failed state? Even worse, is the country almost on the brink of collapse? Until the creation of South Sudan, Sudan was Africa’s largest country. It experienced its share of disasters like the famines in the Darfur region, but overall, its primarily agrarian economy was doing well. Around 1999, Sudan also started exporting oil, thereby adding to its GDP.

The civil war lasted for nearly 23 years, ending in 2005 when a peace agreement was signed between the Sudanese state and the southern rebels. However, the separation occurred in 2011, when South Sudan decided to break away from Sudan and form a separate country. This had a negative impact on the economy of both nations. Most of the oil-rich regions are now in South Sudan and almost all the refineries are in Sudan.

Oil is not among the easiest commodities to live without, and coupled with issues such as border disputes, the tensions between the two countries grew. It was only in September 2012 that the leaders of both Sudan and South Sudan reached an agreement about oil trade and security matters after their meeting in Ethiopia. And then, in March 2013, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir suggested measures like resuming oil production, withdrawal of troops from the borders as well as a possible official visit to South Sudan.

While reconciliation between Sudan and South Sudan might be a possibility, resolution of South Sudan’s internal instability seems highly unlikely at the moment. Ever since its formation in 2011, South Sudan has been trying hard to find its feet, with extremely disappointing results.

To begin with, in spite of the oil resources, South Sudan’s economy is suffering. Financially, the country is shattered and one blow short of collapse. Additionally, services such as public health are unheard of. Even more importantly, South Sudan currently suffers from deep-rooted corruption, which makes growth unlikely and adversely affects its residents and foreign direct investment.

Since South Sudan is barely two years old, it needs support from the international community. However, owing to South Sudan’s internal tensions, most countries are having a hard time trying to justify their association with this Central African nation. Britain, for example, has advised its citizens not to travel to Juba. Sadly, gun battles have become common in South Sudan and hundreds have been killed and thousands have been forced to seek refuge in bases established by the United Nations.

The two major factions at the heart of this violence are both former rebel groups who once fought together for the independence of South Sudan.

President Salva Kiir, who comes from the powerful ethnic group named Dinka, sacked Vice President Riek Machar in July 2013, accusing him of organizing coups against his government. Machar, a member of the Nuer tribe (the second largest ethnic group after Dinka), in turn accused Kiir of trying to establish his dictatorial control over the entire country.

It is indeed true that ever since coming to power, Kiir has not acted kindly toward his political rivals. However, Machar himself does not seem to be someone sans ambition — he has often publicly claimed that he is aiming to be the next President, and even called on Kiir to step down and offer him the chair.

What began in July as a conflict of political ambitions has now led to country-wide unrest. The South Sudanese military also seems to be taking sides: one faction remains loyal to Kiir, whereas the other group has pledged allegiance to Machar. Bentiu, an important city and a provincial capital, was captured by army units loyal to Riek Machar, thereby implying that unrest has transformed into a full-fledged civil war. It is worth noting that Bentiu also happens to be the country’s most oil-rich region.

Machar’s forces are claiming that they are just 200kms from reaching the country’s capital, whereas Kiir’s troops are stating that they have eliminated all possible rebels from Juba (though the latter has acknowledged that Bentiu has been lost). Toby Lanzer, UN Assistant Secretary-General, currently stationed in Juba, has been tweeting events on the ground.

Almost all foreign governments, the United States, Britain, Uganda and Kenya, have organized special evacuation flights to pull out their nationals from war-torn South Sudan. There have been appeals to end violence, and the United States has made it clear that it will not side with a government that grabs power by the use of military might, as noted by Al Jazeera: “Any effort to seize power through the use of military force will result in the end of support from the United States and the international community.”

The fighting in South Sudan does not seem to be ending anytime soon. This conflict between Machar and Kiir has both political and ethnic dimensions, and with the military being involved in the fray, chances of peace are highly unlikely.

South Sudan was formed by partitioning Africa’s largest country, and this partition was justified by being termed as a recognition of the mutual aspirations of the South Sudanese people and their right to prosper without any hindrances. Apparently, those in favor of South Sudan have now been silenced in the harshest manner possible.

The country is facing failure, and there seems to be no solution. A military power grab, or a motion in favor of Machar (who has hinted at the formation of a military government), ends the possibility of a democratic form of government, whereas a nod to Kiir results in additional unrest due to his vicious execution of political opponents.

Ironically, the northern state of Sudan was described as a potential doomed country by supporters of South Sudan. While Sudan now hardly has any oil resources and is being forced to rely on its agrarian economy, it has managed to prevent its broken house from crumbling. South Sudan does not have a Darfur famine in its resume: instead, the tagline describes it as a failed state that could not remain peaceful for even two years.

At this point, one is forced to ask the question: was breaking up Sudan really wise? In my view, an undivided Sudan would have been better off. Attempts should have been made to quell the southern rebels and bring prosperity to the entire undivided Sudanese country as a whole. Sadly, we decided for the rather questionable choice of creating two countries, and the outcome is far from praiseworthy, because the nation of South Sudan is failing.

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