Analysis, Africa

South Sudan facing unsteady future after civil war

Refugees, country at large face severe challenges as world's newest nation attempts to get back on feet

South Sudan facing unsteady future after civil war

By Addis Getachew


The creation of a transitional government in South Sudan after more than two years of fighting promises a glimmer of hope for more than 3 million people displaced by the violence.

However, aid workers, officials, academics, politicians and refugees who spoke to Anadolu Agency said the struggle to get the country back on its feet is likely to be a long one, with rebuilding the economy and forging a stable political system topping a long list of priorities.

The return to capital Juba last week of rebel leader and former deputy president Riek Machar -- now returned to his position in government -- was heralded as the first step towards reconstructing the world’s youngest nation.

On the day of his return, Machar resumed his role under President Salva Kiir, whose accusations of a coup attempt in December 2013 led to the war that saw tens of thousands killed and millions flee their homes.

According to the UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, around 2.4 million have been displaced within South Sudan’s borders by the conflict while UN figures from April show more than 930,000 living as refugees in Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda and Kenya.

The UN says 6.1 million need humanitarian aid.

Lam Akol Ajawin, chairman of the main opposition party Democratic Change, said reuniting the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement -- which split during the conflict into factions led by Kiir and Machar -- would be the central test of the transitional government.

Akol, who has been named agriculture minister in the transitional government, warned that the “deep mistrust and rivalry” between Kiir and Machar could undermine the transition.

“The war is the outcome of a deadly cocktail of personal ambition, state failure, high-level corruption and neglect of service delivery to the people, political manipulation of negative ethnicity and failure to transform a revered liberation movement into an accountable ruling party,” he told Anadolu Agency.

“If the two men failed to reconcile and continue to fight for power, then things are likely to get out of hand again and nothing will change.”

Refugees who fled the fighting are understandably upbeat about their future prospects.


In Nairobi’s Zimmerman estate, Patrick Aguer was eager to return home.

“I have two homes, one in Nairobi and the other is South Sudan,” the businessman said. “I was living is South Sudan when the violence started. I ran away from my country to seek shelter in Kenya, my second home.

“Now that peace has returned I can’t wait to go back home. My relatives were affected greatly by the fighting. I can’t wait to meet them again.”

In the same district of the Kenyan capital, Ngouth, a 22-year-old student who asked that only his surname be used, was equally optimistic.

“Peace in South Sudan -- that is what we have all been praying for,” he said. “It is up to us the youth to build South Sudan. My country is not like Kenya or other nations in Africa. We are young. I can’t wait to go back home and rebuild my country.”

Refugee workers, however, temper this optimism with hard reality.

“Following the return to Juba of their leader, Riek Machar, South Sudanese refugees were literally euphoric about prospects of peace in their country and also about their return,” Sulaiman Momodu, UNHCR spokesman for Ethiopia’s Gambella region, told Anadolu Agency.

The region borders eastern South Sudan and has seen a huge influx of people over the last two years.

“It does not mean, however, the refugees are expecting to go right to where they came from straight away,” Momodu added.

“You have to remember that some of them have lost their loved ones and most of them have been traumatized. They cannot just immediately go; there are issues that need to be resolved -- you have to have reconciliation and you have to have development activities.


“The mood among refugees is one of jubilation over the return of their leader… they have even been slaughtering cows and celebrating ever since.”

In Uganda, Momodu’s counterpart Charles Yaxley said the initial hope that August’s peace deal between Kiir’s government and Machar’s rebels would lead to a fall in the number of refugees arriving in Uganda had faded.

“Continued militia activities, particularly in Jonglei and Eastern and Western Equatoria have prompted large numbers of South Sudanese to flee to Uganda in 2016,” he told Anadolu Agency.

“Our initial planning figures for 2016 anticipated around 35,000 South Sudanese refugees seeking safety in Uganda during the course of 2016. However, with close to 30,000 having arrived already [this year], it is clear that if current trends continue, the influx for 2016 is set to be far higher.”

Uganda continues to play a vital role in South Sudan, having sent troops to fight on the side of the government during the war and providing the country with up to 80 percent of its food.

To the north, Sudan is one of the main routes for international aid to South Sudan, is helping feed hundreds of thousands of refugees, particularly in the northern Upper Nile and Unity states.

Machar, who was sworn in as first vice president on April 26, has recognized the work that needs to be done before South Sudanese refugees can return home.

“The new government will discuss together with the UN about what should be done,” he told supporters in Juba two days after he took his official oath.

He added: “It requires intervention by the new government, the UN and the international community to repatriate people to their places of origin.”

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011 after what was then Africa’s longest-running civil war and leaving the new state with the bulk of the country’s oil reserves.

Ruined economy

The economy now lies in tatters. Productivity plummeted during the conflict, further impoverishing what remains one of Africa’s least developed nations.

Abebe Aynete, a senior researcher at the Ethiopian Foreign Relations Studies Institute, said the transitional administration needed to focus on utilizing the country’s resources for the benefit of its people.

“The state wealth in South Sudan is owned by political and military elites, which was the cause of the war in the first place,” he said. “There is no state structure for equitable wealth distribution.”

He also warned that the global dip in oil prices would further hamper redevelopment.

“The slump in the global price for oil and an up to 15 percent increase in the toll levied by neighboring Sudan for the pipeline largely undermines South Sudanese revenues,” he said.

South Sudan relies on its northern namesake for exporting oil, which contributes the bulk of government revenues. Oil production fell to 135,000 barrels per day during the war and the government pays $25 per barrel to Sudan in fees for transporting its crude.

Mohamed Ibrahim Kabag, a Sudanese economist, said the interdependence of the two economies would aid South Sudan’s recovery.

“If the two countries go for honest and transparent security and political relations, they can both get huge benefits from the opening of the borders and flow of the goods in the future,” he said.

“South Sudan is in need of huge amounts of maize and wheat from Sudan and the northern neighbor can play decisive role in the food security of south Sudan as well.”

He added: “If regional countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan, put aside their conflict of interest to dominate the market and resources of South Sudan and deal more wisely with the situation in South Sudan, they can get more benefits [than with] the current competition.”

Lual Acuek, a South Sudanese lawmaker and the managing director of the Ebony Center for Strategic Studies, said: “South Sudan’s economic recovery at this point only depends on the agenda of the transitional government.

“The government must therefore plan viable long-term strategies, drawn from the expertise of financial savvies, to pull the country out from this economic mess.

“If Machar and Kiir can agree to forge unity and work together, put forward a constructive economic plan, they can move the country out of the crisis it is in.”

Neighbor Sudan

Another major hurdle facing the Juba government is its relationship with its northern neighbor Sudan.

Since independence, relations have been tense with mutual accusations of support for rebels and frequent economic rows, mostly over oil revenue.

Khartoum lost around three-quarters of its oil revenue when South Sudan split from Sudan but its control of the pipelines to the Red Sea gives it a huge say in the south’s economic welfare.

According to Sudanese political analyst Salah Aldoma, President Omar Bashir’s administration sided with Machar’s rebels during the South Sudanese conflict.

“The normalization of relations with Khartoum will be one of the most difficult challenges for the new transitional government,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour welcomed the formation of the transitional government and promised Khartoum’s full support for the peace agreement.

“We welcome the new government and we are ready together, in the interests of the two countries… to build a model relationship in the region,” he told the Sudanese parliament this week.

However, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali Alsadig told Anadolu Agency that it was too soon to talk about the reopening the border between the two countries and reiterated calls for Juba to end its support for rebel groups in Sudan.

“The security and stability of South Sudan also means the security of Sudan, so we are keen to maintain the security of South Sudan and this is why we hope that they will stop their support to the Sudanese rebels,” he said.

The United Nations Security Council today called on the newly formed transitional unity Government of South Sudan to end the cycles of violence and suffering and fully implement the peace agreement signed by warring parties in August 2015.

The world will wait to see what happens in this young but troubled nation. On Wednesday, the UN Security Council released a statement welcoming the transitional government and called on it to “bring an end to the cycles of violence and suffering”.

* Parach Mach in South Sudan, Magdalene Mukami in Kenya, Halima Athumani in Uganda and Mohammed Alameen in Sudan contributed to this article.

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