For the 98.83% of southern Sudanese citizens who voted for independence from the North in a referendum held on January 9th, secession will mark a new, hopefully peaceful beginning to the decades of conflict in which some 4 million people have been displaced from their homes and an estimated 2 million people killed. The overwhelming result of the referendum, held as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005, will see south Sudan become an independent country on July 9th of this year. However, south Sudan faces a vast array of economic and political issues such as the ongoing dispute over the region of Abyei (ownership of which is being contested by north and south), security arrangements, an agreement over oil revenue, and the formation of a stable government. If these issues cannot be adequately settled they will continue to present major obstacles to Sudan’s long search for stability, peace and development.
The biggest threat to a peaceful transition to independence is a return to civil war. Aside from a temporary break between 1972 and 1983, Sudan has been engaged in war since 1956. The signing of the 2005 Peace agreement has brought with it another episode of relative peace. However the possibility of violence remains (with both sides retaining large weapons supplies which they have been stockpiling since 2005). One likely source of violence are the tribal and ethnic rivalries in the south. Such tensions were the cause of various atrocities during Sudan’s most recent civil war (1983-2005), particularly between the Dinka and Nuer tribes. There are legitimate concerns that problems could resurface as the 40-plus tribes in the region wrestle for power in the newly formed state. The government’s creation of a police force is therefore welcomed. However it will require further investment to ensure security. An even more pressing security concern is the need to arrive at a settlement over the much disputed Abyei region situated on the north-south border. Abyei is yet to have its own referendum to decide whether to join the north or south as the north’s President Omar al-Bashir and the leader of southern Sudan Salva Kiir have been unable to agree on which tribes should be eligible to vote. The delay of the referendum has intensified the conflict between the Dinka Ngoc tribe and the nomadic Misseriya groups. Increasingly violent clashes between the tribes could result in the involvement of the northern and southern armies which would immediately disrupt the peace process and throw Sudan back into a state of civil war.
The future of Abyei is crucial not only because it straddles the border but because it is home to a large proportion of Sudan’s oilfields upon which both the north and south are deeply reliant. Oil contributes to 60% of the north’s revenue and 98% of the south’s. Prior to the referendum there was an agreement that oil revenues would be split between the two nations. However, as 90% of Sudan’s oilfields are in the south, the government in north Sudan’s capital Khartoum are concerned that the resource which keeps its economy afloat may escape their control. The north will have to be assured that secession will not lead to oil becoming monopolised by the south and that they will continue to receive sizeable revenues from production. Should President Bashir receive no such assurances he would be well placed to exploit the south’s instability- he has already been the subject of allegations of arming rival tribal groups to destabilize the south. Coming to an agreement over oil that the north considers appropriate will be the biggest challenge in the coming months before independence is official.
Although a settlement over oil revenues is crucial to ensuring that President Bashir accepts the freedom of the south and doesn’t begin to exploit its instability, an over-reliance on oil revenues will be a major economic challenge for the government of south Sudan post-independence. Oil output in the south is expected to peak in 2011-2012, which leaves the government in urgent need of diversifying its economy in order to become less dependent on oil which could run dry in 20-30 years. It is a region rich in minerals such as gold, copper, and iron and has large areas of fertile and cultivable land. The government will need to invest in such areas to ensure that it retains a flow of revenue when its oilfields become less profitable. Moreover the government of south Sudan must do more to ensure that economic growth is equitable and benefits its own people. Since 2005, a rise in a variety of companies in South Sudan such as motorbike taxi-firms and stalls charging mobile phone batteries for people without access to generators has been made possible by light regulation. However most of these companies are owned by foreigners, mainly Ugandans and Kenyans. The people of the south have seen little of the profit. In the coming years the government will have to do more to ensure that it includes its own citizens in its economic growth.
Even if issues surrounding Abyei and oil revenues are resolved, on July 9th, south Sudan will still be one of the world’s poorest and least developed countries. Decades of fighting and minimal assistance from the government in Khartoum have left it with little infrastructure with only around 62 miles of paved roads in a region the size of France. The healthcare system is almost non-existent, as is the education system. A south Sudanese girl is more likely to die in childbirth than learn how to read and write. In order to develop the new nation’s general infrastructure, public services and alleviate the vast poverty, the south needs a fully functioning government. It is estimated the government of the south has received around £1.3 billion in revenue annually since 2005 from oil, which if it had been well invested would have gone some way to developing the region. However the government’s capacity to use such money to provide for its citizens has been heavily questioned. Corruption is believed to be rife within the government, most of whom are semi-literate with a military, rather than a political background. The capacity of the government to deliver prosperity and peace is further undermined by the inadequate civil service in the country, half of whom lack primary education.
The split of Sudan is undoubtedly a step towards peace in the region. For too long the south had been neglected by the government in Khartoum. However the success of secession will depend on the government’s ability to deal with the serious issues facing the new country. With one baby in six dying before their first birthday and only 30% of people having access to health care, it is vital these issues are addressed quickly and effectively. All eyes will be on the government of south Sudan, as they should be.