South Sudan celebrates the first anniversary of its formal independence and nationhood on July 9. Though hopes for progress remain high, the young nation is struggling on several fronts—internal security, relations with Sudan, development, rule of law and statebuilding. The specialists at the U.S. Institute of Peace who work on conflict management and peacebuilding programs in South Sudan examine the gains made and the many challenges ahead.

USIP’S Specialists on South Sudan

South Sudan celebrates the first anniversary of its formal independence and nationhood on July 9. Though hopes for progress remain high, the young nation is struggling on several fronts—internal security, relations with Sudan, development, rule of law and statebuilding. The specialists at the U.S. Institute of Peace who work on conflict management and peacebuilding programs in South Sudan examine the gains made and the many challenges ahead.

How does South Sudan’s process of statebuilding compare to that of other African nations, and what are the hopes that it can become a stable nation? 

David Smock: South Sudan celebrated its long sought independence confronting two of the most serious challenges that any African country has faced at its moment of independence. First, its independence was the outcome of a decades-long civil war that generated enormous hostility between the north and south. Although independence was based on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), many issues between Sudan and South Sudan remained unresolved. These unresolved issues have generated bitter feelings on both sides, with each threatening to attack the other. That tension is reminiscent of the separation of Eritrea from Ethiopia, particularly in terms of unsettled border issues. The second challenge has been the lack of institutional development in South Sudan. South Sudan had virtually no functioning institutions at the time the CPA was initiated in 2005, and the situation was not much better in 2011. The closest parallel regarding the lack of institutional development is the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) at the time of its independence. The instability of the DRC in the decades since its independence can be traced in large part to the underdeveloped state of its institutions at that time. USIP’s activities on the ground in South Sudan, in part, aim to foster the development of some of its national institutions so that it will not face similar instability in the coming decades.

Interethnic violence and lack of effective government response continue to fuel insecurity in South Sudan. What are the essential steps to mitigating such violence and improving police response?

Linda Bishai: USIP’s current focus on community policing in South Sudan is meant to help build trust between the police and the local communities that is necessary to deal with interethnic violence. The police need to be seen as a source of assistance—as people whom individuals will turn to when they are in trouble rather than as unpredictable sources of force that might victimize instead of protect. Without taking the necessary steps to communicate their mutual capacities and priorities, citizens will not provide information and cooperation and the police cannot effectively provide security and protection. USIP is helping to foster these relationships with training programs and curriculum materials in police-community dialogues and is sponsoring facilitated dialogue sessions between police and local communities.

An economic crisis looms on South Sudan’s horizon. Based on your recent meetings across South Sudan, how are communities coping with the austerity measures and how can the government of South Sudan respond as the situation worsens?

Andrew Blum: Although oil accounts for 98 percent of South Sudan’s income, the government has shut down oil production, accusing Sudan of stealing significant quantities of oil. With this harsh reality as a backdrop, I recently visited six of the ten states within South Sudan. Officials in these areas are accustomed to receiving little support from the capital, Juba, to help them govern their states. However, draconian budget cuts have diminished that support to virtually nothing. Of even greater concern is whether the national government will be able to continue paying soldiers and police officers. In the longer run, South Sudan will need to diversify its economy away from oil, and mechanized agriculture will be an important sector in that effort. In the short run, though, there is no substitute for reaching an agreement with Sudan to get the oil flowing again.

The constitution-making process is only just getting off the ground. How can the international community support this endeavor to ensure an inclusive and participatory process in such a challenging environment?

Jason Gluck: The government of South Sudan has, in the words of its president, pledged a constitution-making process that is “for all the people of South Sudan.” A commitment to this principle will require great resolve and strategic vision. A carefully planned civic education campaign is necessary to prepare the public. Consultations will need to reach every corner of the nation to ensure that all voices are heard, and a communications strategy will be integral to maintaining the transparency and legitimacy of the process, as well as managing people’s expectations in a difficult environment. The international community must stand ready to assist South Sudanese officials and civil society as they try to lay the cornerstone of their new nation.

The borders between Sudan and South Sudan remain contested, and the livelihoods of pastoralists who cross these borders are disrupted by violence and elite-level politics. How can peace conferences and other peacebuilding mechanisms help address this instability?

Jacki Wilson: Those who straddle the world’s newest international border between Sudan and South Sudan have borne the brunt of war, displacements and violence for several decades. If there is a silver lining to this instability, it may be the interdependent livelihoods and resilience of these communities. Pastoralists from Sudan who graze south of the border continue to honor a long-standing tradition of annual peace conferences to resolve conflicts, such as cattle raids, and to coordinate grazing—an important conflict prevention and resolution mechanism. Civil society entities including peace committees also fill the voids where government has little presence. Many border communities are hopeful that their zone of “intermingling” can become a demilitarized zone of shared resources and a model of neighborly interdependence and peace. 

South Sudan’s policy focus remains fixed on tensions with Sudan. What are the prospects for relations between the north and south normalizing, and what negotiated arrangements are most tenable?

Jon Temin: Negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan on a host of issues are continuing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, under the auspices of the African Union. But those negotiations have been proceeding in stop-start fashion for about two years with little tangible progress. In the past, many have assumed that both countries needed to strike a deal because neither could afford to forgo the oil revenue that a deal would bring. But in January, South Sudan voluntarily shut down its oil production (amid accusations that Sudan was stealing a portion of it), and both countries remain locked in a battle of attrition and are trying to survive without much of their previous oil revenue. Without the presumption that an oil deal is a must, the likelihood of such an agreement—and the normalized relations it could bring—seems lower than in the past. On the other hand, the recent African Union communiqué and United Nations Security Council resolution say that the two countries must strike a deal by August 2 or face possibly significant consequences. That may inject some urgency into the talks.

South Sudan continues to have difficult relations with its northern neighbor Sudan. How are South Sudan’s relations with its other neighbors and its efforts to join the East African Community progressing in this context?

Veronica Eragu: South Sudan maintains close ties with and has been leaning toward the East African region for many years: The CPA was brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African organization, and signed in Kenya; there have been formal and informal economic, political and social relations with Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi; and most notably, South Sudan has been eyeing the East African Community (EAC) and has submitted a formal application to join upon independence. The EAC has set up a process for examining the application and is due to visit South Sudan to ascertain its readiness to join. It is expected to come to a decision later this year, and the presumed acceptance will be a welcome step forward both for South Sudan and for the EAC. Nonetheless, the EAC has voiced concern over the deteriorating relationship between Sudan and South Sudan and has advocated a peaceful settlement. The EAC countries recently declared their commitment to continue playing a positive role in resolving conflicts in neighboring countries in hopes of promoting peace in the region. 

Civil society in South Sudan is struggling to develop its capacity to provide oversight of the government and advocacy on a range of critical issues. How can civil society groups improve these functions?

Elizabeth Murray: Local civil society groups have risen above enormously challenging circumstances to fulfill a variety of important functions during South Sudan’s first year as an independent state. To increase their effectiveness, civil society groups must commit to coordinating with each other, both regionally and within sectors. Improved coordination allows groups to build on each other’s work, avoid duplication, learn from each other’s mistakes and where possible speak with a more unified voice to the South Sudanese government and to the international community. South Sudanese civil society organizations will need to seek funding from international donors in the coming years. In addition to supporting discrete projects around advocacy, service delivery and conflict management, international donors should work to build the capacity of South Sudanese organizations to report their finances transparently and to communicate effectively with stakeholders. This will build citizens’ trust in civil society and will increase the likelihood that civil society organizations are perceived as credible representatives of the South Sudanese people. USIP is currently supporting the development of one South Sudanese civil society organization, the Sudd Institute, which intends to become a leading policy institute focusing on security, justice and rule of law issues.

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