South Sudan’s Post-Natal Struggles

By Flora Mory

Exactly one year after the referendum for independence, can we say that South Sudan is a failed state?

This January, many South Sudanese celebrated the one-year anniversary of the internationally supported referendum for the independence of South Sudan. Last January, 3.2 million people streamed to the polls, where 99% voted for the independence of South Sudan, giving way to the birth of the world’s 193rd state. Independence was officially declared on July 9th, 2011 and was internationally accepted soon after. However, independence did not signify peace and stability for the people of South Sudan. Internal fighting between rival tribes continues to yield high death tolls, as well as the fighting between the North and the South in the disputed border area. The consequent refugee crises and famine seem to confirm those voices that during last years referendum called South Sudan a pre-failed state.

Never throughout history has South Sudan existed as a similar political entity. Until the rise of new challenges in the 19th and 20th century, multiple Southern local, cultural, tribal and social heritages existed in the area of today’s South Sudan and could be retained, as natural borders prevented Northern influence (for example Islam) from spreading in the South. However, when Mohammed Ali ordered Egyptian forces to expand into Sudan in the 1820s, this held consequences for the South: an opening of the area to European merchants and to slave trade, which especially flourished and lasted in South Sudan, and which encouraged increased confrontations between people from the South and North.

When Britain and Egypt abolished the Anglo-Egyptian condominium of Sudan (1899-1956) and granted independence to Sudan in 1956, the demands for more self-determination of the Christian/Animistic, non-Arab South of the country were not met, fuelling the civil conflict between the South and the predominantly Islamic and Arab North.

A peace deal in 2005 formally ended the second of the two long-lasting bloody civil wars between the Sudan’s People Liberation Movement (SPLM) and Sudan’s armed forces (1962-1972 and 1983-2005). The deal contained the agreement of the 2011 referendum on the independence of the country’s south. After this long period of domination and brutal conflict, independence is more then justified, says Richard Dowden, director of the British “Royal African Society” to Al-Jazeera, however, it is undoubtedly a failed state: significant infrastructure is lacking and there is no such thing as South Sudanese national identity, a key in state-building.

More than 350,000 people have been forced to abandon their homes in three states in Sudan and South Sudan (UNHCR). Further complicating the status of refugees in the two states is Sudan’s announcement on Thursday that starting from April 8, all South Sudanese will be treated as foreigners by the state.

One of the major causes forcing people to flee their homes is the inter-tribal violence. The cause for the bloody fighting of rival tribes– for example the tribes of the Lou Nuer, Murle and Dinka– are often acts of revenge for cattle raids. The tightened conflict for scarce resources has caused thousands of casualties, among them many children and women: while resources are scarce, weapons are not after two decades of civil war.

Also in the oil rich province of Abyei, where ethnic violence tightens, they are to decide whether to join South Sudan or Sudan by referendum. Abyei is not the only disputed border area, almost 80% of the border is still disputed.

Rebels of the SPLM “northern sector”, a separate political party since the independence of South Sudan operating in Sudan, are determined to continue their guerrilla warfare against Sudan’s armed forces. The rebels protest against the status of those who do not fit Sudan’s historical definition of national identity based on religion and ethnicity, states the chairman of the SPLM (northern sector, in the Blue Nile State), Malik Agar, himself “a Muslim, but not an Arab.”

Sudan was the largest state in Africa previous to the split and has since lost a third of its territory, and two thirds of its oil resources.                                                         With South Sudan’s independence, it faced revenue cuts of one third, says Egbert Wesselink, the director of the European Coalition on Oil in Sudan. Could the new oil revenues be a stabilizing factor for the South? It is more likely that the money flowing through the new public institutions will leave the nation vulnerable to corruption. And although South Sudan has the oil resources, it is the North that has the necessary infrastructure.

By the end of January, South Sudan announced that it is shutting down its oil production to protest against Sudan in a dispute over pipeline fees. South Sudan signed an agreement to build an oil pipeline through Kenya, both sides confirmed Wednesday, a move that will very likely increase tensions.

According to Mr Wesselink, from an economic point of view the construction of an alternative pipeline makes no sense, taking the oil reserves and the costs and loans related to the pipeline construction into consideration. However, an alternative pipeline through Kenya may be the only chance for stability, as well as a chance to take away the North’s leverage on the South.

Experts warn that the dangerous situation for civilians has not reached its climax yet: protection of civilians in danger relies heavily on the actions taken by the international community to avoid the mass extinction of certain ethnic groups and the massive casualties caused by tribal and border conflict. The weak “monopoly of power“ relies strongly on the army and cannot be seen as body that is capable to maintain order and exert authority over the state’s territory. This poor infrastructure is, by definition, one of the criteria for a failed state, as well as the presence of intense brutality and violence, witnessed excessively in South Sudan one year after the referendum for self-determination.

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