Back in July 2011,after a long civil war, South Sudan split from Sudan to become an independent country. However, even though statehood was achieved and a new country was born, the efforts to transform South Sudan into a proper nation-state seem to have come to a standstill.
Is South Sudan a failed state? Even worse, is the country almost on the brink of collapse? In this article, I shall attempt to answer these questions.
Undivided Sudan was Africa’s largest country. It surely had its share of issues, such as 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, and it ended in 2005 when a peace deal 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 also had a negative impact on the economy of both the nations: most of the oil-rich regions are now in South Sudan, whereas 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 knew no limits. 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 such as resuming oil production, withdrawal of troops from the borders as well as a possible official visit to South Sudan.
South Sudan: A Dismal Picture
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 nothing to be proud of. Financially, the country is shattered and one blow short of collapse. Additionally, services such as public health and progress are unheard of. Even more importantly, South Sudan currently suffers from deep-rooted corruption which makes growth unlikely and worsens the matters for its residents.
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. Due to such unrest, hundreds have been killed, whereas thousands have been forced to seek refuge in bases established by the United Nations.
The two major groups at the heart of this violence are both former rebels 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 been very kind with 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 too seems to be taking sides: one section 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 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). Here is Toby Lanzer, UN Assistant Secretary-General, currently stationed in Juba, offering a live account of events.
Almost all the foreign governments, especially USA, Britain, Uganda and Kenya, have organized special evacuation flights to pull out their nationals from the war-torn South Sudan. There have been appeals to end violence, and USA 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 marching towards failure, and there seems to be no cure. A military power grab, or a motion in favor of Machar (who has hinted at the formation of a military government), kills all possibilities of a democratic setup in the country, whereas a nod to Kiir results in additional unrest due to his vicious execution of political opposition.
Ironically, the resultant 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 into pieces. South Sudan does not have 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 junction, one is forced to question: was breaking up Sudan really a wise thing to do? As far as I get it, 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 newer nation of South Sudan has not impressed anyone.
Sufyan bin Uzayr is the author of “Sufism: A Brief History”. He writes for several print and online publications, and regularly blogs about issues of contemporary relevance at Political Periscope. You can also connect with him using Facebook or Google+ or email him at email@example.com