South Sudan: How will history remember the first decade of the World’s newest country?

23 March 2018

“May this day mark a new beginning of tolerance, unity and love for one another. Let our cultural and ethnic diversity be a source of pride and strength, not parochialisms and conflict…”

   President Salva Kiir at South Sudan’s official independence July 9, 2011

As civil war rages on into its fifth year in South Sudan, the world watches as growing political, cultural and economic instability erupts into violence, starvation and mass evacuation. Stemming from a fusion of armed conflict, economic collapse and an increasingly unstable climate, South Sudan is on the brink of another famine, with UN officials claiming that without assistance, over 7 million people –two-thirds of the population- are set to become severely food insecure over the next few months.

Refugees fleeing their villages

Where did it all start?

In January 2011 -after decades of civil war stretching back to 1955- the people of South Sudan took part in a referendum, gaining independence from neighbouring Sudan. Despite hopes of a peaceful and stable future, longstanding disputes over vast land, oil and water resources in South Sudan meant peace only lasted until December 15th, 2013.

Igniting a deep-rooted ethnic conflict between South Sudan’s two largest ethnic groups, President Salva Kiir (Dinka tribe) appeared on national television accusing his former vice-president, Riek Machar (Nuer tribe) of plotting a military coup (Dessalegn, 2017).  In response, fighting broke out between the SPLM (Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement) and the SPLM- IO (in opposition) after Machar fled the government to become leader of the opposition force. What followed was a proliferation of military expenditure at the expense of social spending, sparking the humanitarian crisis that has swept through the nation over the last four years.


How have the citizens been affected?

Since the war began, three quarters of the population have been forced to flee their homes, over 50,000 people have been killed and every second person in the population of 12 million is hungry. UN Officials have claimed that widespread ethnic cleansing, burning villages, looming starvation and gang rape is “so prevalent that it’s become normal”. With deepening divisions amongst the 64 tribal ethnic groups that call South Sudan home, Yasmin Sooka –the head of the UN commission –  has warned of a likely repeat of the Rwandan Genocide.

Historically, South Sudan boasts widely fertile land, capable of feeding millions on rice, corn, millet and fruits. However, since mass evacuation has cleared the region, vast cultivated areas stand abandoned, resulting in a sharp rise in commodity prices and a fathomless fall in food availability.


What’s in store for the future generations of this young state?

With 72% of children out of school and over 4.2 million children in need of humanitarian assistance it is hard to foresee a prosperous future for the youth of South Sudan. The raging civil war has not only restricted access to crucial food, sanitation and education during the formative years of its children, but has forced 3,000 children to flee their homes in search of food and work. Leaving the children vulnerable to crime and assault, the UN now believes that almost 19,000 children have been recruited to fight by armed militant groups offering food and protection. With the government allocating just 3% of its 2017-2018 budget to education compared to more than 50% going to security and administration, there is little hope that South Sudan’s children will avoid the fate of the adult population, three quarters of which are illiterate.


What next for South Sudan?

In a country with more weapons than food, the biggest refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide and several failed ceasefires, many fear that South Sudan is on the brink of becoming a failed state. With each year of conflict, hope and survival rates in the world’s newest country continue to deteriorate, with figures showing a 40% increase in the number of severely food insecure people from January 2017 to January 2018. Without urgent international response and increased access to humanitarian assistance for those most in need, even more South Sudanese lives will be lost. At present, the UN is taking steps to improve the state of food security through working with farmers on missions such as cattle migration, livestock vaccination and aquaculture development.

Unless government and opposition forces resolve their deep-rooted issues, history will only remember South Sudan as yet another country that allowed corruption and violence to hinder its prosperity at the cost of its citizens.


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