Sir John Holmes, the former UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, shares his analysis of what lies ahead for South Sudan.
The results of the referendum in South Sudan confirm that 2011 will see the birth of a new state in Africa. Rejoicing in the south has been unconfined, as people see the goal they have long dreamed of coming to reality after so many years of suffering and war. The Government in Khartoum have said they will accept the result. They should be taken at their word and held to it, whatever our doubts about their long-term intentions. Elsewhere in Africa, there is concern about the breaking of the convention against changing colonial boundaries, but a warm welcome for the new state nevertheless.
I have been to Juba several times over the last four years, and talked to many southern leaders and ordinary people. I share their sense of achievement. The question now is whether fears of South Sudan as a failing or even already failed state at birth are likely to be realized or whether the enthusiasm and commitment we see now can be turned into a new drive for progress and development. So, what are the opportunities and the challenges?
The opportunities lie in a renewed sense of purpose and unity among the southern leadership; the commitment to make a success of this adventure from their people; the new influx of talent and ideas from those returning to their homeland from the north and elsewhere; and what I hope will prove to be a lasting determination of the international community to accompany the south on this final leg of their journey, even if it takes 10 years of hard struggle. They also lie in the size of the new country, its ample fertile land and water, and the possibility of undiscovered resources beneath that land. Juba has boomed in the last few years, even if much of the growth is not so soundly based for now.
The challenges are clear and multiple. This is a country starting from a very long way back, even after more than five years of effort since the historic Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Government capacity remains very low. Basic services like health and education are poor to non-existent, and those that do exist too often provided by international NGOs, not the government. Infrastructure is also virtually non-existent, with still less than 100 miles of paved road in a country the size of France. Travel around many of the states is difficult at the best of times and more or less impossible during the rainy season. Rates of child and maternal mortality are among the highest in the world. Agriculture remains rudimentary in many areas, with for example much of the food for Juba coming from neighboring Kenya and Uganda – a scandal in such a fertile country. Even the ubiquitous cattle are regarded for the most part as a way of amassing and demonstrating wealth, not an active source of income.
The unresolved issues with the north need to be tackled decisively before they fester –- Abyei, debt, borders, oil, citizenship, etc. The list is long and many of the items on it are highly sensitive. There are also tricky questions about those left in the north, in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, who are also supposed to be consulted about their destiny. Some risk feeling abandoned in a potentially hostile environment without international help.
Many still depend on humanitarian aid to survive, as they struggle with the legacy of old conflicts, and unfortunately new internal ones too, and with the consequences of an unpredictable climate prone to flood and drought. The risks of aid dependency are high. Meanwhile the presence of the Lord’s Resistance Army along the southern borders is continuing to cause huge suffering and displacement.
Success in any of these areas will only be hard won through dedication by all concerned. The government needs to show quickly that it can turn itself from a liberation movement into a fully responsible authority, deal with the demobilization of much of the army and private militias, and leave behind corrupt habits.
The international community must put resources and skill into this new venture and be prepared to go on doing so for a number of years, in a well coordinated way. The UN has a vital, leading role through its peacekeeping force, needed for some years yet, and the capacity of its agencies, as does the World Bank. But there must be no blank checks. Tough love needs to be the order of the day –- basic good governance is not too much to ask in exchange for generous aid. Private investment will also be vital if real jobs are going to be created. The government has to set up a favorable environment for this.
We must not forget also the wider context. The international community, not least its western members, has to find ways of working together with the Government in Khartoum more effectively. A hostile relationship and mutual denunciation will not serve anyone’s interests, least of all those of the new government in Juba. And if there is no progress towards a comprehensive peace in Darfur, the south’s chances of success will be so much less. Meanwhile if the south fails, the effects will be felt throughout the region.
On a note of optimism, southern failure has often been predicted in recent years, but ways have been found to muddle through and keep the peace process on track. Confronted with the prospect of failure and even renewed war, the necessary decisions have in the end been taken. Fear of the alternative may continue to be a powerful driver in both north and south.
Sir John Holmes is the former UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. He has served the British government for more than 30 years and has extensive experience on conflict. Having worked on the Lebanon and Middle East peace processes, he was awarded a knighthood in 1998 primarily for his role in the Northern Ireland Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement.