South Sudan- Where to from here?

Friday, August 19, 2011

It has been over a month since Africa's newest nation came to be. Tens of thousands of South Sudanese waved their country's flag with pride on July 9, marking the beginning of a new journey for Africa's 54th state.

President Jacob Zuma called it a historic moment and the beginning of a new journey.

Earlier this year, a referendum was held on independence. Close to four million people went to the polls to cast their votes and a whopping 98. 83 percent chose independence.

The referendum marked the final phase of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which ended 20 years of war between the northern-based government in Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SLPM) in the south- a war that reportedly claimed the lives of two million people and displaced millions more. Some 200 000 South Sudanese have been kidnapped into slavery.

Former President Thabo Mbeki played a key role in brokering peace in the East African country.

On July 9, at the occasion of the proclamation of independence, South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit, said their independence marked the beginning of tolerance, unity and love. All citizens, he said, would have equal access to opportunities and equal responsibilities.

"The challenges are great, but we must begin the task of facing up to them. We must build a strong foundation for our new nation," he said.

"We now have to focus on economic development as the key to prosperity and satisfaction of all human needs that make life worth living. Our success in achieving economic progress obviously lies in our hands." For now, he says, he, President Omar Al-Bashir and the international community will have to work together to find lasting peace and solutions.

Many remain doubtful whether the new state will be able to flourish and rebuild after many years of war and being left in tatters, but others believe that with political will, the country will be able to move in the right direction.

Professor Ufo Okeke Uzodike, Head of School of Politics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), says because the country has very little infrastructure in place, there is great pressure on the new government to get things right quickly.

"This entails a high level of transparency, accountability and openness. Socio-politically, democracy and democratic values, and inclusiveness must be the focal points," he explains.

Economically, says Uzodike, the government should identify fundamental priorities such as infrastructure development, the stimulation of industrial and commercial activities and job creation as the base around which to kindle a national development project.

"South Sudan needs a clear and visionary approach for its current challenges. A rushed and patchwork approach will be disastrous. Political stability is essential and central for development to be initiated and anchored.

"The current euphoria brought by political independence and emancipation from northern domination is actually matched by deep internal social cleavages which can be easily exploited by forces inside and outside South Sudan," explains Uzodike.

The new government should look for a way to contain individuals and social groups that are potential recruits for those that might embark on a destabilizing mission he stresses.

If energies are directed to political fights and conflict, he adds, South Sudan will be in danger of further disintegration and human tragedy.

"With political stability ensured, it then becomes possible to plan and execute national development projects, and to attract foreign investments and partnerships with respect to infrastructure and skills development.

"This is crucial since a tense political environment will discourage much economic development initiatives, and resources will be diverted to security," he explains.

Professor Dirk Kotze from the College of Human Sciences at the University of South Africa (Unisa) says the new government needs to build national unity after the long conflict period; develop a new state identity; address the very high expectations amongst the population and prevent maladministration and corruption.

"The prioritization of civil programmes must be done," he says. "Although it is impossible to do everything quickly, they must do it systematically and in a visible way so that the public can start to see the progress. It must also be done in an equitable way which means that it should not favour some regions while others are neglected," he adds.

Sudan is very rich in natural resources, including oil. While it exports billions of dollars of oil per year, Southern states produce more than 80 percent of it, but receive only 50 percent of the revenue.

"Oil will certainly be able to help them on the condition that they change their current practice and use it for the public interest and not only for the military. Some of the oil money cannot be accounted for, so corruption is a serious threat," points out Kotze.

Recently, African National Congress (ANC) Chairperson, Baleka Mbete, said there were a range of opportunities for South Africans in South Sudan. While there are many investment opportunities and many have entered the South, there are various challenges, explains Kotze.

"Many of them [investors] have already entered the South; the Chinese, the Americans and some Europeans," he says. "The challenges are lack of good infrastructure, the security situation in the east and an inexperienced government. But investors who are willing to take risks will certainly go to South Sudan."

Dr Petrus de Kock, Senior Researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs says there's definitely business opportunity and opportunity for investment.

"Things get really interesting when you look at the potential in terms of minerals in Southern Sudan. I've come across all kinds of indications of some iron ore deposits to gold to a lot of important minerals.

"There's also an opportunity for mining companies, especially exploration companies to start engaging with the government and I think the government will also be keen to attract that kind of attention," says de Kock. Both North and South Sudan, says de Kock, recognise the fact that the economy is more reliant on oil and they cannot afford major disruption to the flow of oil.

On the issue of infrastructure, de Kock says it is not a case of reconstructing South Sudan, but constructing- starting from scratch.

"There's been massive devastation as a result of the war. There's been so little development due to the instability over the years," he says. "Actually what you're looking at is starting fresh in many respects. In a strange kind of way, it's a bit like a plain slate. It also creates all sorts of opportunities and at least now, people can confidently engage with development that's needed," explains de Kock.

"A new state must be built and together with it a new infrastructure and new economy. It is the beginning of a new state and therefore it will take very much to build the country," says Kotze.

"The big positive for me in this whole story," adds de Kock, " that in a way, the independence of Southern Sudan brings an end to a historic conflict. In the face of incredible obstacles they've managed to achieve quite a breakthrough for themselves as a people."

"The positives are quite many," says Uzodike. "The wonderful political will and desire to turn things around; good sense of unity of purpose and history; ongoing investments in utilities and other infrastructure and high potential for agriculture development."

While the future certainly looks bright for the new state, Kotze says challenges such as the completion of the border demarcation between the north and the south, the Abeyi situation and the completion of the outstanding post-referendum talks, especially on security, citizenship and wealth sharing, still face the country.

"The new state and government needs to build national unity after the long conflict period, develop a new state identity, address the very high expectations amongst the population, prevent maladministration, corruption and a sense that the government only looks after itself. They need to start with a visible programme of infrastructural development, and develop good and peaceful relations with the North," he says.

"With political stability and oil resources," says Uzodike, "South Sudan appears to have good prospects for rapid transformational development. As such, it should be relatively easy for the country to attract partnership arrangements, particularly in the most glaring areas of infrastructure, education and skills development, and industrial and commercial sectors. The opportunities are immense for those with entrepreneurial spirit. But this is not without some risks."

"I think now the hard engagement from the government would be firstly reassure people in Southern Sudan that they will not just be a domineering force," explains de Kock. He stresses that a really substantive process is needed to address concerns that face people who have been displaced by war or who have land questions. By addressing problems and questions facing the people of the South, the new state will build a stable society.

"The government will have to show itself willing to engage in the toughest of tough conditions, to bring people together, to create a basis for common or mutual understanding and I think that's the big political challenge waiting there now."

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