This week, South Sudan marks its 1-year anniversary of independence, and it’s a bittersweet moment. This is an incredibly exciting time for the people of South Sudan. After decades of violent struggle for self-determination, they now have this inalienable right and are bravely charting a bold course as the world’s newest country. At the same time, internal and external challenges have created strong headwinds that must be grappled with in the immediate and medium-term –- including securing a stable and hopefully productive relationship with their northern neighbors.
For those who have been following South Sudan with us on the ONE Blog over the past year, you know that we commended the nation for a violence-free democratic election — but things turned sour quickly. The past few months for the Southern Sudanese have been dominated by saber-rattling with Khartoum over oil, borders, and a range of other contentious issues. Moreover, significant corruption has been uncovered –- calling into question the government’s commitment to delivering core services for the South Sudanese people, such as health, education, security and infrastructure. Collectively, these hurdles have made the country’s transition from independence to prosperity more difficult.
To help explain the situation in a deeper context, ONE Global Policy Director Ben Leo has joined me in a podcast interview on South Sudan. Ben is an expert on Sudan, particularly around the issues of debt and private sector growth. Last year, he was part of the African Union’s facilitation team on the secession negotiations between Khartoum and Juba.
In our discussion, he provides a brief history of North and South Sudan, the reasons why the South decided to split from the North, and the issues the South is currently facing. He also provides a development analyst’s perspective on the relationship between the two countries.
Listen to the podcast in the player below, and read the transcript beneath for important highlights of our conversation:
Malaka: Just as a refresher for our listeners, what led to the split between Sudan and South Sudan?
Ben: When Sudan became independent from colonial powers, the south of the country immediately pressed for greater autonomy. This led to decades of civil war, near complete destruction of infrastructure and human capital, and several million deaths.
It’s a really fascinating time for South Sudan — extremely exciting and extremely challenging. It’s the newest country in the world with lots of external sympathy and lots of human desire. People are coming back to southern Sudan, to Juba, and other parts, to start businesses, to work in the government, to do what is necessary to become a prosperous country.
Malaka: What has the past year been like for S. Sudan?
Ben: A lot of challenges — this has frustrated many S. Sudanese. With very few exceptions, there has not been a sustainable solution reached with the North to deal with borders, security, currency, etc. Still don’t have border they agree on, essentially a currency war, highly combative oil situation (complex reasons). Ninety-eight to 99 percent of the revenue in the South that the government collects has evaporated due to the halt of oil production.
What does this mean for the ability to building this new country in terms of health and education, making all the necessary investments to make the country thrive?
Malaka: Why can’t South Sudan and Sudan work together?
Ben: 1. Significant mistrust between North and South (due to history) 2. People don’t like to hear this: The political dynamic in the North has really constrained what the Khartoumgovernment can do in terms of negotiations — as such, it has been more aggressive and dogmatic in the way they deal and negotiate with the South. 3. Pure economic fundamentals on both sides.
Malaka: What is S. Sudan’s current relationship with Sudan? Is it getting better or worse?
Ben: Depends on perspective. The South would probably stay better, at least in historical terms — they are peers now of the North. The North would say opposite – with the loss of oil, a steeply depreciated currency, and budget austerity, relations have gotten much worse.
Malaka: As a development analyst, what kind of insight can you share with our listeners? Any recommendations for S. Sudan country growth/peace efforts?
Ben: 1. S. Sudan will not thrive in a security vacuum. They need to resolve the border and the other related issues. 2. Agriculture needs to be supported and invested through donors, governments, etc 3. Corruption — $4 billion has been stolen – more robust measures need to be put into place to stop corruption. 4. Government capacity remains very weak – donors must patiently work with them to build a cadre of professional technocrats that can government the nation effectively.
If you liked this podcast, please let us know in the comments below and we’ll be sure to post more like these in the future. And stay tuned to the ONE Blog for more updates on South Sudan.