Friday, March 9, 2012

Update on South Sudan

John Ryle, Executive Director of the Rift Valley Institute in Kenya, and Jok Madut Jok, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture and Heritage in South Sudan, provided an update on the situation in South Sudan at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington on 9 March 2012. They also introduced a new collection of 18 essays published by the Rift Valley Institute titled The Sudan Handbook edited by John Ryle, Justin Willis, Suliman Baldo and Jok Madut Jok. You can access a digital version of the book here.

Jok Madut Jok offered an especially frank and enlightening analysis of the situation in South Sudan. I apologize in advance if my summary below misrepresents any of Dr. Jok's remarks.

He noted that South Sudan took over the government with no users manual to guide it. South Sudanese had excessively high expectations. The country was awash in arms and had minimal infrastructure. There were long standing differences among Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) commanders that had been masked in their collective goal to achieve independence. The euphoria that existed at independence on 9 July 2011 has now disappeared. Jok said South Sudan must overcome 4 huge challenges if it is to be successful.

First, political unity existed at independence but has subsequently unraveled. South Sudan achieved its immediate goal of self-rule but has not been able to instill continuing unity in the country.

Second, South Sudan needs a strong and disciplined military. But the SPLA now consists of the original organization along with numerous individual militias that at one time fought against the SPLA. The SPLA now lacks an institutional culture and has a limited capacity to pursue agreed upon goals. There is too much disunity, a limited chain of command and lack of discipline.

Third, South Sudan had a vibrant civil society during the struggle for independence. Much of civil society has lost its power or transitioned to service delivery in lieu of advocacy because the former is more acceptable to the government of South Sudan. The government of South Sudan no longer encourages advocacy from its civil society organizations.

Fourth, government service delivery and fiscal responsibility has been disappointing. The most daunting challenge today is ethnic violence. The government has not yet demonstrated that it can deal successfully with the problem of ethnic violence. The state has not been able to prevent conflicting groups from taking up arms and South Sudan now faces a multi-layered conflict situation. There is the possibility of a renewed North-South conflict and internal conflict at various levels within South Sudan. South Sudanese do not feel any more secure now than they did before independence. There still tends to be a stronger allegiance to ethnic groups than to the nation.

My comment: While these brutally frank remarks are no doubt painful for South Sudanese, the fact that a South Sudanese official is willing to make them publicly is encouraging. If others in the government will speak out and take action to address these problems in South Sudan, there is still hope for the world's newest nation.

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