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Reflections on South Sudan’s Ten Years of Independence

Ten years after South Sudan achieved independence, more children there are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance than ever before, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said on July 6.

A child carries empty jerry cans to fill water from a nearby tap providing untreated water from the Nile river in Juba, South Sudan. Credit: UNICEF/Phil Hatcher-Moore

JUBA, South Sudan, Jul 12 2021 (IPS) - The declaration of independence of South Sudan was a great historic moment that gave hope to South Sudanese on July 9, 2011. It brought a sense of satisfaction, indicating achievement of a life-time dream for which millions of our people across generations paid the ultimate price.

Now, after the celebrations marking 10 years of independence, we need to reflect and recommit to how to move forward together.

Following the declaration of independence South Sudanese who were internally displaced and those in refuge in neighboring countries returned to the country, settled, and started rebuilding their lives. Many built houses, produced their own food, and engaged in business.

Local governments were operational throughout the country. In most parts of the country, movement of people, goods and services were safe, day and night. The country had resources and international good will to support development in all sectors.

The country had legal frameworks necessary to govern itself. The laws attempted to address historical gender injustices and imbalances by providing for 25% affirmative action for women at independence, which has since been raised to 35%.

In summary, South Sudan at independence had resources, institutions, professionals and legal frameworks to govern itself, deliver basic services and set the country on the path to development.

Unfortunately, all these potentials were quickly squandered, leading to increased state fragility and failure.

Aspiration Betrayed

Power struggles among South Sudanese political leaders led to an outbreak of a civil war in December 2013, barely two and a half years after declaration of the country’s independence. Whereas literature on South Sudan presents many reasons, I attribute the crisis and lack of progress in the country to two main reasons.

First, it was ineffective political leadership at delivering on the mandate of government. This caused a meltdown in all other sectors including politics and governance, security and the economy.

Leadership is almost everything a country needs in order to make progress. It defines a unifying national vision to set a direction for a country, provides the means and creates the environment necessary for realization of the vision.

Firearms laid down by child soldiers associated with armed groups in South Sudan. Credit: UNICEF/Rich

This has been grossly lacking in South Sudan since the country became independent and as it stands now, there is no clarity as to where the country is heading.

The second was complete neglect of principles that guided the struggle for South Sudan’s liberation and independence. South Sudan is a product of decades of liberation struggles with clearly defined purpose and principles.

The text of the declaration of our independence recalled that our people led a “long and heroic struggle for justice, freedom, equality, human dignity and political and economic emancipation.” The declaration further states that we, the people of South Sudan “resolved to establish a system of governance that upholds the rule of law, justice, democracy, human rights and respect for diversity.”

However, these principles were not meaningfully pursued and realized, causing our country to descend into the civil war and consequently multiple conflicts.

The net effects of the leadership failure and neglect of the principles that guided our struggle for liberation and independence are severe. At the top of these effects is state failure.

The South Sudanese state is unable to perform its basic functions of government, like maintaining security for itself and for all citizens, enforcing law and order, delivering services to the population, and meaningfully resolving the multiple conflicts in the country.

The status of the Peace Agreement

The Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) provides a reasonable framework for peace in our country. Consistent and full implementation of this peace agreement would enable South Sudanese to restore peace, security, and stability; address the humanitarian crisis, reform and strengthen effectiveness of public institutions, deliver transitional justice, write a permanent constitution and conduct credible elections within the agreed implementation schedule.

Unfortunately, 33 of the 44 months of the original timeline of the peace implementation have elapsed without achieving key milestones of the peace agreement. Transitional Security Arrangements, which were supposed to have been accomplished in the first eight months of the peace agreement are collapsing.

Not a single soldier of the initially agreed 83,000 necessary unified forces, has been graduated. Due to acute shortage of food and medicines, the forces have been deserting their cantonment sites and training centers. Needless to say, the functioning of all the security mechanisms created by the peace agreement is severely impaired due to lack of funds.

While these delays persist, civilians continue to pay the price of insecurity in the country. It may be noted that women have been among the main victims of this situation. In a nation-wide public consultation with women in all ten states of the country in March this year, they strongly expressed concerns about the slow implementation of the peace agreement and poor delivery of basic services like health, education, and water.

They felt that implementation of the 35% affirmative action would help increase the voices of women in the public decision making that would result in a resolution of the crisis in the country. However, most of the parties to the peace agreement have not been meeting their share of the 35% in the institutions of the unity government.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is the mediator and main guarantor of the peace agreement, but its effectiveness with regard to the peace agreement, appears to be diminishing.

First, almost all the member states of IGAD are more involved in their internal issues rather than regional response to conflicts in the last twelve months. Second, the South Sudanese parties to the R-ARCSS have become fairly immune to pressure from IGAD.

For example, IGAD called on them to dissolve the parliament within two weeks, but it took over 10 months for this to happen.

Expectations Moving Forward

The current situation of ineffective leadership and deliberate neglect of the purpose of our independence have maintained our country in crisis for the last ten years. Without a change in this status, the future can only be expected to remain the same or even worsen.

The volatile political, economic, security, and humanitarian situations are likely to remain mutually reinforcing. This will further complicate the situation for civilians in the country and stifle efforts to address the crisis and restore peace, security, and stability.

It is also highly likely that the civil population, civil servants, and political groups will get increasingly frustrated. These public frustrations risk causing instability of their own, in demand for improvement especially in the security, economic, and humanitarian situations in the country.

IGAD member states are likely to remain occupied in their internal national issues. This will only leave the parties on their own, without robust regional oversight and support.

The Way Forward

Learning from the past decade, South Sudan needs to chart a new and clear path for the next ten years.

First, South Sudanese, who genuinely represent the suffering masses need to be at the core of the solutions moving forward and not just those who wield power by the barrel of the gun.

On this note, the full spectrum of civil society – civil society organizations, faith-based leaders, women, youth, professional groups, and business community – must demand of the leaders in the unity government, effective discharge of their mandates as stipulated in the constitution and the peace agreement, or accept a reconfiguration of the political order into one that is capable of meaningfully resolving the problems in the country.

Second, the South Sudanese in their diversities should demand and ensure that South Sudan is governed by the principles that informed the struggle for the liberation and independence of the country. These initiatives must be deliberate, concerted, and sustained to ensure the next ten years is not another wasted decade of our independence.

The UN Security Council (UNSC) should support the efforts of South Sudanese from the categories outlined above, in any initiative to address the crisis in the country. The support from the United Nations may be in many forms.

The UNSC may work jointly with IGAD, the African Union and other actors in the international community, to raise the cost of willful sabotage of peace implementation, including perpetuation of violence, human rights abuses and restrictions on the civic and political spaces.

Rajab Mohandis is the Director for the Organization for Responsive Governance and the Civil Society Representative to the R-ARCSS peace process and Coordinator of the South Sudan Civil Society Forum (SSCSF).


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  • Aldo Ajou Deng-Akuey

    This article is articulated. I agree with the writer on: (a) sticking to the 12 September 2018 Revitalised Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS), and to be implemented by the Revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU), in “letter and spirit.” And (b) The UNSC intervention to support the R-ARCSS implementation in accordance with the R-ARCSS. These should be within the time table set for institutional transformation, promulgation of permanent constitution and conduction of general elections, supervises by UNSC and AU.