Viewpoint: South Sudan has not lived up to the hype

Celebrations following South Sudan independence referendum

As South Sudan prepares to celebrate the first anniversary of its independence, blogger PaanLuel Wel discusses whether the world's newest country has lived up to the hopes of a year ago.

There were great celebrations and high expectations when South Sudan finally seceded from the Sudan on 9 July, 2011.

Yet barely a year into South Sudan's much-hyped independence, the country has failed miserably to live up to expectations.

It has been gripped by both external and internal problems that are threatening to tear it apart in its infancy.

Nevertheless, there is hardly any regret among South Sudanese citizens for the overwhelming 98% vote they gave for South Sudan's independence from Khartoum.

South Sudan's independence was greatly welcomed because it not only heralded the end of more than 50 years of bitter conflict between the two Sudans, but also the beginning of political reconciliation among South Sudanese.

It was also expected to offer South Sudanese an opportunity to embark on the path of much-needed economic development and political democratization.

For the many oppressed South Sudanese, it was to be a new era to finally enjoy those economic privileges, democratic rights and civil liberties that they had long been deprived of by Khartoum.

Sadly though, disillusionment, bitterness and uncertainty now reign large and wide across the young country.

Economic free-fall

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The government reneged on its promise of free university education as crippling austerity measures were introduced to save money”

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Two kinds of problems confront the world's newest independent nation: Unresolved issues between Khartoum and Juba, and internal issues surround corruption, insecurity and the failure of leadership among South Sudan's ruling party, the SPLM.

The contested issues between Khartoum and Juba - border demarcations, the contested region of Abyei, the disputes over oil and the accusations of harbouring and supporting each other's rebel groups - have doggedly undermined the socio-economic and political development of South Sudan.

Disputes have led to deadly fighting in the border town of Jau and the disputed oil-rich town of Panthou/Heglig.

The government of South Sudan has done little since independence to diversify the economy and reduce South Sudan's dependency on oil revenues, currently at 98% of the national budget.

Although South Sudan took with it more than 75% of total oil reserves after separation, it still needs Khartoum's oil facilities and port in order to export it to international markets, yet the two countries have repeatedly failed to agree on transit fees.

South Sudan is now calling for international arbitrations over contested borders while Khartoum is demanding that the agreement must be based on the 2005 peace accord borderline, as opposed to the 1956 borders.

The stalemate over the negotiations, coupled with accusations of oil theft and arbitrary oil diversion by Khartoum, prompted South Sudan to shut down all oil productions, sending the economy into free-fall.

Inflation soared to more than 80% in May.

The government reneged on its promise of free university education as crippling austerity measures were introduced to save money.

Sudan People's Liberation Army soldiers With all the security problems, military spending remains high

Making matters worse, South Sudan failed to get any short-term loans from international partners to shore up its dwindling national reserves.

China, the main buyer of South Sudan's oil, has refused to fund the much-publicised alternative oil pipeline for South Sudan through Kenya.

While the government may not be entirely blamed for all the external problems bedevilling the country, it bears the blame for its internal woes.

Since independence, the SPLM has failed to restore law and order within the country.

Armed rebellions and inter-ethnic violence - fuelled by alleged political marginalization, vote rigging, cattle rustling and land disputes - is widespread across the new nation.

In December 2011, the fighting between the Nuer and the Murle tribes of Jonglei State reportedly killed more than 600 people.

Of the 10 states that make up South Sudan, seven of them are directly involved in either armed rebellions or inter-tribal disputes.

'Global problem child'

Moreover, South Sudan has not lived up to its expectations because of rampant corruption and wanton mismanagement within the government.

In the wake of the loss of oil revenue, the president was compelled to acknowledge that more than $4bn (£2.5bn) has been lost within the past seven years.

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Tune in to the BBC World Service at 1900 GMT on Friday to listen to The Africa Debate broadcast from Juba - South Sudan: Has independence lived up to your expectations?

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For example, about $200m (£128m) was lost in botched grain contracts and a ministry charged with purchasing government vehicles ended up paying an inflated price of $400,000 (£256,000) per vehicle.

There is a strong perception that top government positions and job promotions are determined by whom you know, not what you know.

The failure by the government of South Sudan to stem the cycles of violence and to eradicate corruption and tribalism has effectively stalled economic development and disrupts social lives.

There is hardly any substantial investment in agricultural productivity, social facilities, infrastructure, trade or development.

This failure has left more than half of the country's population at the mercy of abject poverty, chronic diseases and violent crimes.

The United Nations Population Fund reports that South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.

This is mainly due to the inadequacy of health care and educational facilities in the new nation.

Nonetheless, it is possible for South Sudan to overcome its major problems.

The government should diversify the economy to reduce over-reliance on oil revenues, while striving to curb corruption and combat tribalism.

Tackling corruption and tribalism would enable the government to invest in sorely needed economic infrastructure and social amenities.

Although people's expectations were not met and despite the fact that South Sudan is being regarded as "a global problem child" in its infancy, the people of the republic of South Sudan are not regretting their overwhelming vote for independence.

South Sudanese citizens are grateful that they now have an independent state of their own.

PaanLuel Wël is the managing editor of PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers

Map showing position of oilfileds in Sudan, source: Drilling info international

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Satellite image showing geography of Sudan, source: Nasa

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Map showing Ethnicity of Sudan, source:

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

Map showing infant Mortality in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

Map showing percentage of households using improved water and sanitation in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Map showing percentage of who complete primary school education in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Map showing percentage of households with poor food consumption in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, depend on food aid. The UN said about 2.8m people in South Sudan would require food aid in 2013. The northern states tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    It's unfair to expect a region with such an unfortunate history to have accomplished much in the first year as an independent nation. That said, given stone-age tribal culture prominent amongst South Sudan's varying people's, I expect the nation to look pretty much the same 25 years from now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    The Africa Debate
    I plan to tune in to the BBC World Service at 1900 GMT on Friday to listen to The Africa Debate broadcast from Juba - South Sudan: Has independence lived up to your expectations?
    I want to hear the voices of the people. In a way, their disappointments are my disappointments because they are there, and I am not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    hey....journalist let's be fair here just after 12 months and you are judging harshly like that am sorry to say that...but look at other countries in Africa after 50 years of independence but still lagging behind development of all sectors....south sudan is very young but its able confront aggressions from pround because i can at least drive in tarmac roads for the first time....

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Such a pity that Sudan cannot combine and be at peace with itself.

    I fear too much interference from the West (for its own ends) has destroyed a beautiful country full of inspiring diversity (including religeous!)

    I feel for the people and hope for less interference from outside in the pursuit of oil and strategic influence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Please, let us not be too hasty after barely 18 months to judge Salva Kur's Country harshly when there are Countries, not literally baptized by fire starting from an even better base, which are still struggling even after 2 - 3 decades on to pronounce themselves successful. South Sudanese were grudgingly allowed to secede and the promptly destabilized as was promised.They will triumph Uhuru

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    my fellow citizens and the readers, please just gives us a break, you well that we have been fighting for years and merely a year , you are saying we have fail, that is not the way it is , we are working and you know there is economy crisis in the world so we can't move forward without the world economy moving too, we have try our best , there were no institutions ,we are putting them in place

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    It is amazing South Sudan has survived given the continued hostility from the north.Only when they can export oil without depending on Sudan will they be able to really start reforming their economy. The contested border areas also need rapid resolution. Their final problem is Muslims living south of the new border and Christians living north of it because that is leading to continued unrest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    South Sudan will take a long time to get to be a good country. I not sure what is expected on South Sudan but with most of the world in crisis to say they have underperformed is harsh. Corruption is always problematic with EVERY country in the world and if they can stop that well good luck to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Even though the leaders fight, steal, cheat and lie the county still makes some progress, mainly through the efforts of the people. Bit like here, except I think we are going slowly backwards...

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    This writer/blogger or the BBC cannot be serious, how can a new nation, with no infrastructure, ravaged by war diversify its economy in twelve months.

    Look at other countries around the world, especially in Africa and tell me how many countries have really diversified their economies for over half a century of independence, typical case: Nigeria.

    Be reasonable and not sensational please!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    You're telling us: in a year of global economic crisis, a year old African country, plagued by civil war, with a total lack of infrastructure, and a highly belligerent neighbour, has failed to impress both you and the international community?

    If you take into consideration the hand they've been dealt, they're certainly not doing as bad as they could be doing.

  • Comment number 7.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    The author is unreasonable. South Sudan is less than a year old. Yet he expects the new country to be run like Sweden.

    At independence South Sudan inherited nothing:no roads; no railways; no airports; no hospitals; no schools; no functioning civil service. On top of this Sudan is constantly undermining the new state.

    Mr author, please be reasonable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    We are still in the phase of gaining experience, creating our own identity, & still shifting from the guerilla ideology into the civil lifestyle and it's never an easy transition. Yet, a single year is so immature to judge a progress of a COUNTRY

    We have every reason to celebrate and be grateful. I know things are not yet on track. But we're still in a process of creating identity,

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Lived up to the hype? The headline makes South Sudan sound like a new Lady Gaga album being reviewed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Whose "hype" has it failed to live up to? It's not doing badly for a country that is only one year old, that is still trying to repair the fall-out from decades of war and is being under-mined by its northern neighbour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Their first priority should be agricultural development. Their friendship with Israel could help them with this. Even if they do not copy the miraculous transformations Israelis accomplished in the semi-arid Holyland, they should see big improvements in nutrition and well-being. Then their oil revenues can be used for investment in infrastructure, not consumption.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Rome wasn't built in a day. Give South Sudanese time to build their economy which will only happen if they get rid of the corruption. The secession was the best thing that ever happened to South Sudan, you should see hopes in the faces of young South Sudanese. Hopes and dreams that should not go down the drain. The international community should rally behind SS at this critical time.


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