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South Sudan’s unhappy birthday

12 July 2013

It faces big challenges over its borders, oil, and infrastructure, says Anthony Poggo


Refugees: a family from Southern Kordofan in Yida camp, South Sudan

Refugees: a family from Southern Kordofan in Yida camp, South Sudan

ON TUESDAY, South Sudan was two years old as a nation. It became independent on 9 July 2011, after conducting a referendum earlier that year. The vote was a cardinal part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which marked the end of a 21-year second civil war, during which more than two million people died, and more than 4.4 million were displaced.

The CPA, signed in 2005, specified an interim period of six years, after which the people of South Sudan would choose between unity with or secession from north Sudan. On 7 February 2011, the referendum commission published its final results, announcing that 98.83 per cent had voted in favour of independence. As a result, the Republic of South Sudan came into being.

There was joy and celebration throughout the country on attaining independence. Two years later, however, it faces significant challenges. One of the main issues remains the relationship between South Sudan and Sudan. This is mainly because of the failure to resolve pending questions by the end of the interim period, including the border, the status of the Abyei region, and the processing of oil.

The South Sudanese government closed down oil production in January 2012, alleging that the government in the north, in Khartoum, had stolen some of the oil due to South Sudan, and that it was demanding unrealistically high transit fees. At the time, oil represented 98 per cent of government revenue. The government has pursued austerity measures, cutting its expenditure drastically.

This has greatly affected the public services that are so badly needed. South Sudan has some of the worst social indicators in the world. The maternal and infant mortality rate in particular is sky-high. Many areas do not have primary or secondary schools. Human resources are crucial in developing the country. Functioning tertiary colleges and universities are vital, but the few universities that do exist face severe funding constraints.

Shortage of revenue also affects the construction of infrastructure. In 2012, there were 198 km of paved highways in South Sudan. The late leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), Dr John Garang, used to say that there have been no tarmac roads in South Sudan since the time of Adam and Eve. It takes seven hours to cover the 75 miles from my diocese to the capital, Juba.

On 27 September last year, the presidents of South Sudan and Sudan signed an agreement, after negotiations brokered by the African Union. They agreed to restart oil production and to create a demilitarised zone along the border.

After a long delay, oil production resumed at the beginning of May this year, but on 8 June, the Sudanese President Omar Bashir abruptly ordered the pipeline to be shut, after warning Juba over its alleged backing for rebels in Sudan. South Sudan denies supporting such insurgents.

If implemented, such a shut-down will happen within 60 days of the date of President Bashir's order; such a closure will hurt the economies of both nations. As I write, the Vice President of South Sudan, Dr Riak Machar Teng, is in Khartoum for talks with the Sudanese government to resolve the stalemate.

ALSO unresolved is the issue of Abyei. According to the CPA, a referendum should have been held in Abyei at the same time as the one in South Sudan, to give the Dinka Ngok people and other permanent residents the chance to decide whether it would be included in the North or the South. Among the reasons for stalled progress, Sudan cites the composition of Abyei's administration, and the rights of Mesiriya tribes.

Inter-ethnic conflicts persist in some parts of South Sudan. The Church is leading efforts to help communities to be reconciled. Last year, the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, the Most Revd Dr Daniel Deng Bul, led a committee that brokered peace in Jonglei State; but the rebellion of a group led by David Yaw Yaw is of continuing concern.

Again, in April this year, the President of South Sudan appointed a 25-member committee, headed by Dr Deng, to spearhead a national process of reconciliation and peace (News, 19 April).

THE Church continues to meet the spiritual and physical needs of the people in other ways, including by providing educational and health services.

There is a need to improve agricultural production, instead of relying on imported food. In 2012, local food production increased in most parts of South Sudan; some areas, however, were affected by floods, which destroyed crops before they could be harvested.

There is no reliable source of electric energy in most areas. Generators are commonly used; the shortage of fuel has meant that many towns have been without power. The government has talked of plans for hydroelectric generation on the Nile. I believe that this would be the best way forward.

Over the border in Sudan, the humanitarian situation in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions is reported to be worsening because of the refusal of the Khartoum government to allow humanitarian access to these areas.

It is important for the international community to exert pressure on the two governments to implement the September 2012 agreement, so that the pending issues of the CPA are concluded.

The situation in Darfur, Southern Kordofan, and Blue Nile continues to cause concern. Many people from these areas have been displaced internally or have crossed into neighbouring countries as refugees. Pressure should also be exerted on the government of Sudan, the SPLM-North, and other groups fighting in Sudan to hold negotiations to bring an end to the suffering of the people in these regions.

The Rt Revd Anthony Poggo is the Bishop of Kajo-Keji in the Episcopal Church of the Sudan (ECS). The ECS covers Sudan and South Sudan.

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