South Sudan: a joyous one-year-old country needs our support
8 Jul 2012 | Blog | Long-term Development | Sudan
By Mary Wachira, Africa Programs Coordinator for Caritas Australia
One year ago, if you visited Juba, the capital of South Sudan, you would have to sleep in a tent or find lodgings with friends. You would also have little choice in what to eat.
Yet, just a year after the birth of this nation, you can book yourself into a hotel, take a shower, get a meal and go to sleep, relatively safely. Because security has also improved in Juba. Now you can walk the streets during the day, free to work or wander.
It’s still wise to take care and get behind closed doors by about 6 or 7pm. That will change in time, but not just yet.
Remember, this is a country whose Christian majority has been through decades of conflict borne out of religious tensions with the majority Muslim north as well as internal ethnic disputes. Much blood has been lost in the fight for independence which was finally realised on July 9, 2011.
South Sudan is now free but it is also among the poorest nations on Earth with little infrastructure – roads, running water, agriculture. But as much as there are still weaknesses, there is already a functioning government, military and police forces.
Roads are being built and new buildings are popping up. Communication has improved dramatically. It’s not perfect, but having a mobile phone was once a waste of time and now people use them every day to get in touch and do business. The internet has arrived and more people have access to the things those, in developed nations, couldn’t live without.
Most importantly, the South Sudanese have a positive attitude. They have hope. You can see it in their faces, you can see it when you walk along Hai Malakal and Tong Ping roads to the centre of Juba. There are also big changes in some remote regions where people live with less fear, more stability and resources.
South Sudan hums with celebration and a sense of joy in the hearts of locals. Not just now because this young nation is about to celebrate its first anniversary, but throughout the entire past year.
There is now interest from all over the world. Yes, some of it is because we care about the world’s youngest citizen. Some of it is because of the huge oil reserves upon which the South Sudanese walk.
Australia’s interest was reinforced with a recent visit by a team of delegates lead by former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer.
This is excellent news for South Sudan which can benefit from improved infrastructure and trade links to make use of its resource wealth, which will be critical for it to transcend debilitating poverty.
Good approaches to sustainable development will see the poorest of the poor - even in the most remote communities - have food security, clean water, education and incomes from local markets.
Yet, there are still issues for South Sudan. Not the least of which are border conflicts with Sudan. Sudan disputes rights to various territories and lays claim to oil reserves and pipelines.
International diplomacy is much-needed. Ethnic disputes are ongoing in places like Jonglei, Northern Bahr Ghazal and Unity State. This year the two countries came close to war over disputed oil fields and pipelines along the border. Thousands of families remain displaced from Abyei, South Kordofan, Blue Nile and the Nuba Mountains. They take refuge inside camps in Unity State.
The international community is already assisting landlocked South Sudan to build new pipelines through Kenya and Ethiopia, but this will mean losing substantial income in the meantime.
There are also internal challenges. The government already stands accused of corruption and nepotism. Officials and bureaucrats are alleged to have misspent money and given families and friends jobs when there are so many still looking for work.
Corruption is insidious. It disheartens people and could lead to conflict. The issue of employment has also lead to a level of protectionism. People trying to enter South Sudan are restricted to one month visas. Some long-term workers are being asked to leave.
This is potentially unwise because the South Sudanese could use expert support to develop the oil sector and build infrastructure. Many foreign officials, workers and businesses entering South Sudan are not trying to take over.
All that said, there is still much promise and hope.
South Sudan is a very young nation which has achieved a great deal in a short time. Still, the international community must watch carefully and continue to support South Sudan.
Truly standing in solidarity with South Sudan means sustainable development, diplomacy and expertise that rests upon a foundation of care and respect. Most of all, South Sudan should be empowered to lead the way.
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