How well did South Sudan prepare for independence from Khartoum?
Posted Sunday, January 9 2012 at 14:42
Although I had been to Southern Sudan many times during the civil war, I
tried to come to the new state of South Sudan with an open mind and a simple
question. Having become independent some 50 years after most African states,
has South Sudan learned from the mistakes of other countries on the
Ask anyone if they are happy to be an independent country and you are
rewarded with a huge smile and an overwhelming yes! It is not just the end
of an almost 50-year-long civil war.
The great irony is that the Sudan People's Liberation Movement had fought
since 1983 not for Independence, but for a united, democratic, secular
Sudan. That at least was the official position. But after its founder, John
Garang, was killed in a helicopter crash in 2005, his friends said that
Independence was always his ultimate aim.
The question now is how well has the Movement prepared for it? There is a
flag, a presidential palace, an international airport and a massive memorial
to Garang. But they have not yet agreed on the new country's name.
The "Republic of South Sudan" is temporary. There is - as in most African
countries - huge potential: Oil, water, millions of hectares of fertile land
and forests and rich mineral deposits.
Independence Day on July 9 was the mother of all parties, lasting several
days. Recovering from the hangover, people are beginning to realise that
this infant state should be in emergency post-natal care.
Decisions taken now are critical to the stability, indeed the very survival
of the country. But there is no national development plan. No agreement has
been reached on how to share the revenue of 500,000 barrels of oil per day
with the North.
Most of it is under the South but the pipeline to the coast goes north so
Khartoum gets the cheques. Khartoum has not paid the South anything for
months. There is no agreement on the border or the status of the disputed
The SPLM is convinced that once agreements are reached with Khartoum, its
former imperial power will no longer have an interest in destabilising it.
But a successful South Sudan would be a threat to it. Its very success in
achieving Independence might encourage Darfur and other parts of Sudan to
rise up or break away. A strong South may back the rebellions in Darfur and
the Nuba mountains, the latter a solid SPLM area that ended up on the wrong
side of the border but has gone on fighting.
From Khartoum's point of view, it is better to keep South Sudan weak and
dependent. Juba is 1,500 kilometres from the nearest port, Mombasa, with a
single lane pothole ridden road for much of the way. There is no railway,
the oil pipeline runs through the North and the cost of building one
southwards is probably prohibitive.
Not even the Chinese are interested.
And glance around South Sudan's other borders. To the east, the poorest and
most disrupted part of Ethiopia. To the west lie Congo and the Central
African Republic. But the borderlands are unplaced and infested with the
deadly remnants of Uganda's rebel movement, the Lord's Resistance Army.
No hardtop road links Juba to these borders. Southeast lies Kenya but with
no road to that border either, and south is Uganda, an ally and the main
link to the outside world but with its own hot politics. This is not a nice
neighbourhood for an infant to grow up in.
The lack of clear strategy may be explained by three post-natal emergency
crises, each of them horrendously complicated:
First, the largest ever mass movement of people in peacetime, the vindictive
expulsion of all Southerners from the North. Some four million Southerners
lived in the North in 2005 when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was
signed. Since then an estimated three million have headed South but another
million are still to come.
Thousands are making their way down the Nile from Khartoum to Renk in packed
buses, then squeezing onto cramped barges for the three-day journey to Juba.
The UNDP is trying to hire more barges that will take 1,000 people at a
At Juba, the International Organisation for Migration tries to provide
shelter and arrange transport onwards to their original homes.
Second, local wars have broken out in several parts of the country. At Pieri
in Jonglei State, some 600 men, women and children were slaughtered in a
revenge raid on Nuer people by Murle fighters.
For the past week, the world has been watching the reprisals by the Nuer as
columns of fighters march from village to village killing and burning. Other
murderous attacks are funded by the Khartoum government to weaken and
destabilise the new country. And other warlords create havoc as a strategy
to force the government to pay them off or give them positions in the new
This may encourage other greedy barons to do the same. Elsewhere local
groups are indulging in old-fashioned tit-for-tat cattle raids. Previously,
these raids would have resulted in a few deaths and wounds from spears and
swords. These days, scores die in gun battles.
Third, when the new government was finally announced on August 25, the most
prominent leaders of two of the three most powerful ethnic groups, the Nuer
and the Shilluk, were not included. Riek Machar who had rebelled against the
SPLM leadership during the war, switched sides and took posts in the
Khartoum government was included in the government.
Unsurprisingly the Dinka, who controlled the SPLM and now the government, do
not trust them but cannot find sufficiently influential new leaders to bring
into government. The danger is that under-representation in Cabinet may
alienate these very important groups still further.
The SPLM is ill-prepared for government. An air of lackadaisical ease hangs
in ministry offices and among Juba's chattering classes. You would not think
that South Sudan's Independence was agreed six years ago. Is it that they
never believed this day would dawn and so they think they are still
The contrast with the frenetic activity at the UN offices could not be
When President Salva Kiir Mayardit announced the new government, this
impression was confirmed. It was largely a list of loyal and long-serving
SPLM members receiving their rewards.
The US ambassador is reported to have handed him a list of Cabinet members
with details of their surprisingly large bank accounts. The president chose
to ignore it.
In the fraught transition to independence, loyalty was understandably the
The president has always been good at keeping the peace in his fractious
party but what he needs now is dynamic managers to deliver the fruits of
Independence. Instead he chose the old faithful, more suitable to an upper
chamber than an effective Cabinet.
Those who were dropped were leading members of the SPLM who had started to
become vocal about the government's lack of delivery to the people. And
parliament is unlikely to provide the impetus.
It will retain its interim members, including appointees as well as members
elected under the old regime, until an election four years hence.
Two days before Independence, leaders of the tiny but main opposition party
in parliament were arrested and badly beaten up by soldiers.
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Received on Mon Jan 09 2012 - 09:52:06 EST