Huge challenges for South Sudan leaders

NAI researcher Redie Bereketeab recently returned from Juba in South Sudan. In this interview he reflects on some of the difficulties that the world’s newest state is currently dealing with.
- People have high expectations on their own government to address their short-term and long-term needs and have already begun making demands. The government’s capacity to deliver is however limited, which may very soon lead to popular dissatisfactions, he says.

You can find more information about South Sudan in “A Guide to Africa on the Internet”, a research-oriented link collection compiled by NAI library staff. The South Sudan section has just been updated.

In your opinion, for how long will the excitement over independence last? Are there already complaints about the government's lack of delivery to its people?
– People’s feelings are divided between exhilaration of ‘at last independence’ and the awareness of the harsh reality of daily life in the new nation. The emergent nation faces enormous problems in terms of food provision, housing, employment, healthcare and education. Sharply rising prices on basic goods, mainly due to the closure of the border between Sudan and South Sudan, have further aggravated the already tough situation. People have high expectations on their own government to address their short-term and long-term needs and have already begun making demands. The government’s capacity to deliver is however limited, which may very soon lead to popular dissatisfactions.

How is the country coping with the influx of southerners from the north?
– The new nation’s capacity to deal with the influx of returnees is somehow constrained. So far aid organizations are providing basic needs. This takes the burden off the state. Many of the returnees have resettled in their places of origin which means returning to farming or pastoralism. Those who have changed their life style may not find their old life attractive and therefore prefer to live in urban centres. This puts strains on the already (non-existent) social services. In Juba, the capital city, you can see returnees living in extremely primitive makeshift shelters. Many of them are unemployed which considerably increases the risk of criminality.

What attempts are made to deal with the local wars that have broken out in several parts of the country?
– The local wars could be divided in two groups. One group is politically motivated, and the other is inter-communal and intra-communal strives driven by resources-based conflicts. Cattle rustling are the main problem of the intra-communal and inter-communal wars which is taking its toll on human life and cattle, as has been the case in Jongelei State and Lakes State. The politically motivated wars are between dissident officers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the Government of South Sudan. Some of these dissidents have returned to the negotiating table while others are still pursuing the military option.

Is Khartoum trying to keep South Sudan dependent on the north?
– The unresolved post-Comprehensive Peace Agreement issues are still taking their toll on the relation between Khartoum and Juba. The border is closed, hindering movement of people and goods which has meant that prices have skyrocketed in South Sudan, particularly in the states that border with Sudan. This has also caused inflation. Another issue is oil. The parties have not been able to agree on the payment of the use of the pipelines and port facilities by South Sudan. South Sudan is dependent on these for its export of oil. Further, both governments trade accusations of supporting the other’s opposition groups, which makes it difficult to normalise relations.

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