The Republic of South Sudan has barely reached its six-month anniversary of independence but is already bleeding to death. The peace that came about as a result of the end of Sudanese rule is fractious at best. At once complex and grim, the already difficult humanitarian situation in the country is poised to go from bad to worse.
Coming off the heels of one of the longest and most destructive conflicts in human history, the region has seen over a million killed and millions more displaced. A once-unimaginable peace came to fruition as national independence was declared in July of 2011. This was an end to almost 60 years a bloodshed, the abolition of slavery, and the promise of oil wealth created a brief shimmer of optimism in the blighted land. It didn’t last. Almost as a harbinger of things to come, Benedict Sannoh, the UN’s human rights chief for the country, was brutally beaten by South Sudanese police a little over a month after independence
The country’s meagre resources are already stretched thin; a massive influx of former expats threatens its utter depletion. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs predicts that over 2.7 million people will require food aid in 2012. To make matters worse, interethnic divisions within the country are being exacerbated by Khartoum-backed militia raids. According to a recent article in the New York Times by Jeffrey Gettleman more than a 1000 have been killed in the South in the recent months as a result of ethnic clashes. The Sudanese parliament recently rattled its sabre by describing its southern neighbour as their greatest security threat. However, not everyone in the nascent republic is sounding the alarm.
Flying in the face of fresh reports of refugees fleeing the fighting between the Lou Nuer and Murle peoples, some living in the capital of Juba chose to accentuate the positive. Koss Sato, a tech-savy city-dweller, plasters his Facebook page with news stories from around the world. On the subject of his country, however, his optimism is almost stainless.
“South Sudan is now great,” said Sato via email. “There is a need to tap resources since it’s a virgin land. NGOs are now working closely with the government to initiate necessary projects but there is still much to do.”
A similar message comes from representatives of the government. Jihan Deng of South Sudan’s embassy to the United States acknowledges the need for development while saying that self-determination is its own reward.
“The first and major benefit from [the] independence of South Sudan is the suppressed and marginalized population attained self-Identity as first-class citizens of a sovereign nation,” she said. “The government […] has developed a national development plan […] focusing on the priority of delivering basic services to its constituents and food security across all the ten states.”
Former Liberal MP Glen Pearson has seen these overtures closer than even some South Sudanese. As a national representative of Canadian Aid for Southern Sudan (CASS) he has lobbied hard for Canadian aid to be more directly targeted to the vulnerable outlying rural areas where water and food security are at their direst. Furthermore, he’s seen the devastation firsthand, as CASS used to fly aid there despite a ban from Khartoum. He has lobbied presidents, prime ministers and secretaries-general on behalf of the South for decades.
“When it came to human rights, South Sudan was the flavour of the year,” says Pearson. “Most foreign aid and development NGOs left after peace. Now that peace has come, we need to protect human rights once we’ve gotten them. It might crumble again.”
Pearson contends that Canada is in a perfect position to help the country. We do give a good amount of foreign aid — it is the application of that aid at issue. Donations to UNICEF and the World Food Program hit the tree but not the target. Bureaucratic intractability doesn’t help either. Unlike many US politicians, few Canadian ones have visited the new country. Time and again, South Sudanese government members have been denied Canadian visas. Pearson feels the opportunity to teach them the Canadian model for a federal, multiethnic government would go a long way to providing much needed stability.
“We need Canada to show the way,” he says. “The west became midwives to give birth to this new nation, and now it’s pulling back. Now the biggest concern that many of us have is the conflict within the South. Will it hold together?”
Despite its independence from the North, the Republic of South Sudan has still not seen the end of conflict and bloodshed.