An Inauspicious Welcome to South Sudan

Published June 20, 2012
By Kendall Lawrence
The Failed States Index
Holding the title as the world’s newest nation, South Sudan gained its independence on July 9, 2011. With only a half year of data belonging to the new country, it was scored but not ranked on this year’s Failed States Index (FSI). Had it been ranked, it would have come in 4th on the index, just better than its parent to the north, Sudan.

It represents only the third occasion that the Fund for Peace has divided a country for the purpose of analysis. Most recently, Serbia has been divided twice since the beginning of the FSI: in 2007, Serbia and Montenegro were analyzed separately after the previous union was dissolved. More recently in 2011, Kosovo was removed from analysis on Serbia (though Kosovo is not analyzed as part of the Failed States Index as it is not a UN-recognized state). As countries split, pressures will shift, historically reducing, though that may not be the case with Sudan and South Sudan. Despite the split, active conflict between the neighboring states has continued.

South Sudan’s contemporary history as a nation is short and is focused primarily on its separation from the north. This year, more than any other, the scores of the two nations are intertwined. Because the split happened halfway through the year, the consequences and reactions are reflected clearly. It is important to look at where there are differences in the scores of the two countries. South Sudan has inherited many social and political problems from the older nation.

With only five months of independence, the country faces some of the worst health and education indicators worldwide. Widespread violence has brought politics, the economy, and transportation and public service to a halt. Indeed, South Sudan’s rampant insecurity has forced the government to spend its resources combating threats instead of promoting overall growth and development. Because of its youth, it hasn’t had the time to develop into a fully formed system. This accounts for its scores in Public Service and External Intervention being worse than Sudan’s. On the other side of the scale, South Sudan has scored far better in Human Flight, and slightly better in State Legitimacy and Human Rights.

It will be important to watch these scores next year to see how the division affects both states in the future. For example, much of Sudan’s high Human Flight score can be attributed to post-partition cross-border population movement, as people on the Sudanese side of the border move south to the state they feel better represents them. As these populations resettle, such cross-border movements between the two neighbors will likely calm down. Further, future scores will help identify whether the current State Legitimacy score in South Sudan is artificially low due to the hope South Sudanese have vested in their new government – the January 2011 referendum passed with 98% voting for independence – versus its actual fitness. Comparisons with future years FSI scores will be necessary to fully understand the impacts of such post-independence phenomena.

It is also important to look at the other potential pressures. After engaging in a civil war that lasted over 20 years, cost more than 2.5 million lives and displaced more than 5 million more, many of the underlying causes for the conflict were not solved. Religious, ethnic and regional divisions were all highlighted and exploited during the war and have continued to exhibit a large influence over South Sudan’s politics. Since the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), several violent struggles between the Janjaweed militia and the Sudan People''s Liberation Army (SPLA), a former rebel group that is now the official military of South Sudan, and others have occurred, which have resulted in death tolls between 200,000 and 400,000, with another 2.5 million people being displaced. All of these factors have led to this year’s score.

Amid the celebration that has surrounded independence, there is recognition that, from the start, the world’s newest country is guaranteed to face colossal pressures both from within its territory and from across the border. Testing its legitimacy, the Government of South Sudan has begun the challenge of accommodating minority groups struggling for representation and power within the new structure. At the same time, the state needs to establish control over the whole territory without violating the human rights of those groups which are loathe to integrate politically and militarily. Border skirmishes between the SPLA and northern forces have taken place, which could implicate affinity groups that straddle both countries, further complicating the internal pressures. These political and security issues have occurred in the context of ethnic tensions, poverty, drought, disease, population displacement, rudimentary infrastructure, and inadequate essential service delivery. The success of the new country relies heavily on the international community’s help and support.

Religious and racial violence led to the split from the north, however ethnic and tribal conflict could be a source of violence within the newly formed county. The SPLA, the force that has dominated the south for decades, and is now the formal army, is formed mainly from the Dinka tribe causing a power imbalance with the other tribes of South Sudan. The SPLA faces multiple short-term challenges, including problems regarding accountability, logistics, a lack of mobility, and poor tactical communications. The urgent need for training and new equipment, as well as insufficient funds to support development, will continue to hamper the security services. The SPLA, which has a history of committing human rights abuses, will be the professional army of South Sudan. A significant challenge exists in creating a lasting, professional army out of the militia that has been the de facto security provider in the South for decades. Restoring the monopoly of force to an unstable South Sudanese state presents obvious difficulties.

In addition to issues of governance and military stability, there will be challenges in building capacity. The government will need to encourage broad- based economic development through fair and transparent management of the oil money (on which the nation depends) and the provision of basic services. Historically, about 85% of oil coming from Sudan comes from the South. Although oil revenue will be split with the North as part of a negotiated agreement, it will continue be a large resource for the new Republic of South Sudan. As much as 98% of South Sudan's governmental income is derived from oil revenues, making it the most oil dependent nation on earth. The SPLM will need to be able to work constructively with opposition parties while managing ethnic, regional and political diversity within the new country. Foremost in the long list of challenges faced by the government of South Sudan is the task of creating an inclusive and representative administration among different tribes with a history of bitter enmity.

With support from the international community, South Sudan may succeed. But there is the possibility that, at least in the short term, it will become less stable than before. One dynamic that needs much more attention from policy makers and practitioners is the stability of Sudan, post- independence. Like South Sudan, Sudan will likely come under increased pressure. It is unclear how the independence of South Sudan will affect the calculations of the Darfur rebels, for instance. Southerners living in the North could be targeted with violence. Sectarian divisions and the repression of minorities could increase. If Sudan is destabilized, it could affect the entire region.

While they have become two countries, the futures of Sudan and South Sudan are highly connected by their shared history and geographical proximity. It will be very important to watch as South Sudan begins making its own history to see if it can successfully overcome its past.