South Sudan’s Socio-Economic Path Out of Fragility


Challenges And Prospects For Nation Building In South Sudan

By:Constantine Obura Bartel


South Sudan is regressing because of the profound lack of vision by its leadership, and the severe meddling by its neighbours. Fragility and post-conflict are not new to South Sudan. The then Southern Sudan had the opportunity to govern itself under a semi-autonomous structure between 1972-1983. There are valuable lessons to learn about the successes and struggles with governance that led to the ultimate demise of the autonomous regional government of Southern Sudan and the relapse to war in 1983.

Constantine Obura Bartel
Geneva, January 2018

A fair number of the prominent elites who once ran the affairs of the then Autonomous region of Southern Sudan, are mostly still around to testify to the historical facts that bedevilled their performances between 1972-1983. Besides its neighbours, an ill-equipped international community still has to get to grips with fragile and conflict-ridden states. It is not until 2011 that the international community recognised that its interventions in fragile states as South Sudan must be fundamentally different from their engagement with “normal developing countries”. Success requires that the international community and national authorities in fragile states “do things differently”. A typology that best explains the visible symptoms of South Sudan’s fragility is one described by Colliers four categories of traps: (i) conflict trap, (ii) availability of natural resource trap, stemming from the tendency for a wealth of resources to undermine productive and other economic activities, (iii) the trap of being landlocked with poor neighbours, and (iv) the trap of bad governance (Collier 2009).

The international consensus is that the central driver of fragility in Africa is weak state institutions and the lack of legitimate and resilient institutions that can prevent conflict and fragility (AfDB 2013). In the case of South Sudan’s fragility, these appear to be secondary drivers. The primary trigger of country’s fragility lies in the motivations that have prevented leaders from making popular public choices. Opting instead to use oil revenues to promote disunity, disintegration, sectarianism, and violence rather than as a catalyst for nation building and development. Failure to address these motivations, the concern is that any institutions and structures of governance will meet the same fate, being used as instruments of oppression instead of liberty.
The primary driver of fragility in South Sudan has to do with the lack of a “coherent political ideology”. First proposed by Prof. Peter Adwok Nyaba, this debate is increasingly resonating among his critics as well sworn enemies. It calls for serious reflections so that people should learn to live with their differences whether gender, political ideas, facial marks or body complexion. It is the essence of democracy that may lead to the unity of ideas. It is on these reflections that an inclusive state can be built on.
It is a debate that IGAD and its development partners must bring to the centre stage as it negotiates and designs interventions that reflect the unique history and context of the country’s fragility, so it does not just address the obvious pitfalls of fragility but also the obscure ones.
The paper does not delve into historical milestones of the 1955-1972 war or John Garang’s SPLA’s unified secular and democratic Sudan; the SPLA `Nasir faction’ abandoning a unified secular Sudanese state in favour of the principle of `self-determination’ which ultimately carried the day or the roles played by the international community. All of these events explain in varying degrees the current realities including the collapse of governance, raging political disputes, President Kiir’s parochial politics and the lack of vision, neglect and aversion of the SPLM/A leadership to state building.
Instead, the aim is to highlight the challenge of fragility in South Sudan as a consequence of economic and institutional problems and the role of the neighbours and international community and to suggest a strategic approach and sustainable policy interventions for exiting fragility. This requires functional analysis of the political economy to design policies and programmes that are grounded in political realities. The paper is divided into sections showing the culmination of economic and political events that led to the creation of the autonomous southern region and its subsequent abolition – the search for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding supported by endogenous growth and development.

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