After the patriotic song and dance, the real task: building Africa’s new nation

Sunday July 10 2011

South Sudanese celebrate ahead of the Saturday ceremony. Picture: Phoebe Okall

After the patriotic songs and the drumbeats announcing the new nation have died down, the reality will dawn on South Sudan’s leaders: Building African’s newest state will be a rocky state.

Though the leaders lifted their champagne glasses and toasted with their fellow countrymen and dignitaries last Saturday, to celebrate the partitioning of Africa’s largest country, all were well aware of the mammoth task of putting together a stable nation.
“It is a huge challenge for the leaders and the international community as well. It will take a lot of commitment, patience and huge investments to build the new nation,” says Ian Bannon, World Bank acting country director for Sudan.

The task is even harder, given the fact that South Sudan is coming from decades of conflict in which more than two million people died, before the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) — the deal that ended the war between the North and the South in 2005.

According to Mr Bannon, top on the list will be creating a democratic government, which will encourage residents to participate in decision making.

The preparation of a strategic plan, to act as a blueprint for economic and social development goals, will need the citizens’ participation. The fear, however, is that there is always a tendency for new nations to be centralised.

“The problem is that governments that come from rebel movements tend to think they know better, which in reality might not always be the case,” adds the World Bank official.


The majority of the country’s top leadership were members of the rebel outfit, SPLM, that fought protracted battles with Khartoum for almost 50 years. Many of the former members are yet to shed the military mentality of command and order for the civilian style that champions participation.

SPLM security have come under criticism of being a trigger-happy lot both inside and outside the country, an image they need to work on.

Kenya’s former foreign affairs minister, Moses Wetangula, who has worked with both the North and South, says the leadership has no choice but to embrace democratic principles.

“The leaders and the general public must now move from the war to a civilian lifestyle, where democracy and the rule of law prevail,” says Mr Wetangula.

Sudan is one of the most oil dependent countries in the world, with about 80 per cent of its revenue coming from oil exported to Asia and Europe.

Oil revenues, split evenly between Khartoum and Juba since 2005, represent 98 per cent of revenues in the South and 90 per cent of hard currency in the North. However, with the declaration of self-rule, South Sudan will now have to play a greater role in the exploitation and collection of oil revenues.

Diplomats are concerned that the current stalemate on how to share revenues between the North and the South, after July 9, can easily spark another round of war, with devastating effects in economic and humanitarian terms.

China’s saving role

The North, home to the pipelines, refineries and an export terminal, has threatened to halt Southern exports, while the South, which produces three-quarters of Sudan’s oil, has said it is prepared to halt production and fight for its rights.

Analysts hope China, which has invested heavily in the industry, will intervene to ensure production continues. Chinese companies CNPC and CPECC are critical to the industry on both sides of the new border.

Sudan is sub-Saharan Africa’s third largest oil producer, behind Angola and Nigeria pumping out some 470,000 barrels of oil a day and raking in billions of dollars every month.

Despite its benefits, oil has been a curse for Africa, and there is fear in the international community that the “black gold” will bring pain instead of happiness to the region if not well managed.

“Countries dependent on oil have tremendous governance problems and we hope it will not be the same in South Sudan,” Mr Bannon said.

Despite Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea raking in billions of dollars from oil exports, the majority of their citizens still languish in extreme poverty, making nonsense of the notion that oil discovery is a quick route to riches.

There is also a tendency of over-reliance on oil once it is discovered. Many oil-rich countries in Africa, have failed to diversify their economies, leaving themselves exposed to fluctuating global oil prices.

“South Sudan must diversify its economy and agriculture is its best option,” Mr Wetangula said.

About 80 per cent of the country’s 644,329 sq km of land is considered arable and home to permanent rivers, which many of its neighbours lack.

“The potential for irrigation is limitless, better than even Kenya and other East African countries. However, for it to succeed, it will need political will and huge investments,” added Mr Wetangula.

Oil aside, agriculture will definitely play a key role in determining the success of the new nation, given that 83 per cent of the 8.26 million-strong population is rural.

Currently, a chunk of its foodstuff and other household items come from neighbouring countries, namely Kenya and Uganda, since the sector is still underdeveloped.

However, if used well, revenues from oil exports can be a quick solution to the country’s development priorities.

South Sudan, Mr Bannon added, will need millions of dollars in infrastructure development. According to the World Bank studies, South Sudan is one of the most expensive countries to construct a kilometre of road.

This is partly because most of the raw materials — and labour — are imported from neighbouring countries.

The culture of dependency on humanitarian aid has to a certain extent weakened the work ethic among locals, making it expensive for investors to acquire labour.

Infrastructure is one area where South Sudan will have to work closely with the North to ensure the whole country is connected.

A diplomat at the Sudanese embassy in Nairobi, Magdi Mofadal, says the Khartoum government is ready to offer expertise in infrastructure development.

“The two governments have already begun consultations on how to help to put up key infrastructure in the South,” says Mofadal.

The diplomat added that the oil-rich Abyei ownership controversy, is being handled by the African Union, which has mandated former South African president Thabo Mbeki to broker peace between the two nations.

Mr Mofadal is confident the issue will be resolved amicably, saying war is not an option.

“We are not going to war in fact President Omar al-Bashir will open an embassy in South Sudan after the independence celebrations to show his commitment to good neighbourliness,” said the diplomat.

Mr Mofadal said South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his team of bureaucrats will have to work extra hard to provide the necessary social amenities to its population.

Juba, for example, is still a place of mud huts and plastic-bag roofs, as 51 per cent of the nation’s population lives below the poverty line. Landline telephones, electricity and public transport are almost non-existent. It has a small police force, a handful of schools and no proper functioning hospitals. Some government departments and offices are still housed in containers.