9 July 2014

South Sudan: Five Reasons Why South Sudan Got Off to a Bad Start


Three years after the declaration of independence, South Sudan is entrenched in an internal conflict from which there appears to be no escape. Early signs of trouble were easily recognizable.

1. Not all parties to the conflict were included in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement

South Sudan became independent on July 9, 2011, ceding from Sudan. This was the will of the population as expressed in a referendum. The beginnings of the new state can be traced back to 2005 when the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed a peace agreement. "The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in spite of the word 'comprehensive' didn't resolve other disputes between regional groups and the central government," said Jason Mosley from the UK's Chatham House think tank. The Dafur crisis was not solved. Internal conflicts between rebel groups in southern Sudan were also not covered by the deal. Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, before they became President and Vice-President of South Sudan respectively, had fought each other for decades as members of various rebel groups.

More than half of the population of South Sudan live in extreme poverty

2. A border on its own doesn't solve any problems

With South Sudan's declaration of independence, the SPLM, the strongest rebel group, acquired part of former Sudan. Peter Schumann, former head of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), said there was the euphoric belief at the time that "come independence, all problems would be solved," He told DW external actors had fostered this euphoria. "The feuding parties had been separated by a border and one believed one could ignore the roots of the conflict," Schumann said. The CPA had been drawn up under the assumption that Sudan would not be divided, but reformed. When SPLM leader John Garang died in 2005 shortly after the agreement was signed, Salva Kiir took his place and the vision of a reformed, united Sudan was abandoned. This explains why so many contentious issues, including the delineation of the border, were not settled in the agreement.

'Highly traumatized, militarily armed population'

3. Oil

It has yet to be resolved who will profit from the vast oil reserves which lie under what is now South Sudan. It didn't take long for newly independent South Sudan to discover that oil could be used as lever against its northern neighbor, Sudan. South Sudan temporarily shut off oil flowing to the north in order to weaken Sudan.

4. Poverty won't go away

South Sudan may be rich in oil but the population remains mired in poverty. The government has so far failed to satisfy the basic needs of the people. There are deficiencies in education and health care. "If people remain poor, there will always be political leaders who will try to play one section of the population off against the other in order to maintain their grip on power," said Abraham Avolich from the SUDD Institute, a South Sudanese think tank. He believes one of South Sudan's biggest challenges is forging a national identity.

President Salva Kiir and Rieka Machar at a ceremony in Addis Ababa after signing a peace agreement which failed to stop the fighting

5. A traumatized society is armed to the teeth

There were too many unresolved problems mitigating against the successful birth of a new state. Civil society and the churches tried to help the country cope with its brutal past - decades of civil war - but they repeatedly ran up against the limits of their abilities or resources. Meanwhile international donors were focusing on the formation of a powerful army despite analysts' warnings. "It is a highly traumatized, militarily armed population and people are turning on one another," is how Peter Schumann describes South Sudan's present status.

Author Philipp Sandner / mc

Editor Susan Houlton

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