South Sudan is not a failed state yet, but an emerging one: A Rebuttal to Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy Magazine’s Report

By: John Bith Aliap, South Australia

July 13, 2013 (SSNA) — In recent days, a brief reflection of the major themes dominating our local headlines in the streets of Juba and other major cities in South Sudan – that South Sudan has joined the list of African’s failed states could lead us to throw our tongues on high gear. Talks of South Sudan being a failed have long existed in different domains. Khartoum for instance, has been a champion of such faulty claims that South Sudan is not yet ready to stand on its own feet; and if allowed to become an independent nation, it could easily crumble.

Historically, way back before the independence, the international community, regional blocs and other concerned citizens in South Sudan have long anticipated that South Sudan would soon likely join the list of failed states if things remain unchanged, but the SPLM-led government has always been swift to dismiss these speculations – assuring these folks that South Sudan won’t acquire a failed state’s rank. But recent bombshell report by Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy (Sudantribune 26th June 2013) reminds us to critically look into what’s happening in our country. Marial Benjamin, the Mouth-piece of South Sudan’s government reacted angrily to this report – dubbing it as a ‘random and meaningless’. Not only him, Mark Nyipouch- a former Governor of Western Bahr el Ghazal state joined the podium – saying ‘the SPLM ruling party worked very hard since 2005 to achieve its promises of peace, stability and prosperity; and that South Sudan still lacks behind because all resources were controlled by Khartoum that Could not provide a chance to South Sudan to have enough services to its people’.

In fact, the anger could boil high in South Sudan – labelling a newly founded country as a failed state is unfair and it could highly attract a closer scrutiny. However, for those who are quiet familiar with South Sudan’s system, these people might be easily misled to believe that South Sudan would likely rank fourth on the list of African failed states, but such thinking could be seen as barbaric, unwanted and unpatriotic.

According to Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy’s definition of a failed state, a failed state is a state which has a weak central government, non-provision of public services, wide spread corruption and criminality, refugees and involuntary movement of populations, sharp economic decline. While we can partially admit that South Sudan is facing multiple issues in different fronts, the assertion that it’s a failed state is highly premature and inconclusive in nature.  However, before we can confirm Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy’s report on South Sudan as a failed state, this article aims to walk you beyond Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy’s scope of understanding of what would be regarded as a ‘failed state’.  Based on Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy’s report,  I will  only highlight some issues which  i think if not addressed – will lead South Sudan to acquire a rank of a failed state sooner rather than later. To waste no time, there is no need here to rehash the narratives which describe a stuttering economy, levels of crime and unemployment, infant education system, public and private sector corruption – notably within the government backyard. The fact alone that the levels of corruption, human rights abuse, inequality, and the list goes so long, shouldn’t be enough to lend South Sudan a failed state status since it’s in the transitional phase in which  issues mentioned in Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy’s report are regarded as normal experiences of an emerging country.

Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy’s report should have only confirmed that South Sudan is showing worrying symptoms of illness, but on the highway to becoming a failed state if the government in Juba does not take bold steps. I would argue here that the signs of State’s failure are there in South Sudan, but understanding them requires a nuanced approach. To understand how far along the road of failure South Sudan is, I would holds that a holistic, three-pronged analysis is required. The three spheres that I am inviting you to share with me in this article so that we’re able to clearly understand and determine if South Sudan has failed are societal, international and political.

Not only in South Sudan, but every state is continuously in a dynamic position of interaction with domestic, regional and international spheres, as well as with itself as a set of political institutions. In this way, the societal sphere is concerned with the state’s ability to secure a centralised form of power.  State’s failure in this context as in the case of South Sudan, would occur with the emergence of notable armed or subversive strong men or warlords which pose a threat to state stability as they seek to secure some form of territorial independence. Yau Yau is our latest example, but his rebellion in my opinion is not a nationwide issue. It’s being contained and it doesn’t qualify South Sudan to be labelled as a failed state. 

State’s failure and [South Sudan is not an exception here in this case] in the international sphere, relates to a state’s paradoxical dependence on international aid and a simultaneous need to remove itself from international involvement. In the most extreme situation, a state’s inability to ensure the security of its borders from foreign interference or in the face of war could lead to an acute breakdown of functionality. With respect to the international and societal sphere’s South Sudan has in fact shown relative instability since its independence. It has not been able to secure a centralised power framework, and it has been at war with a quiet number of rebel groups; and this has not allowed it to relatively integrate well with the international community. While worrying signs have already started to show in South Sudan, pointing toward some deterioration in South Sudan’s functionality in the societal and international spheres, it is in the political sphere where we face the greatest threat of state’s failure. For example, Riek Machar quest of leadership overnight could potentially undermine South Sudan’s stability; and risks throwing the country into anarchy. 

In addition, a pronounced risk of state state’s failure in South Sudan is also manifested in the arena of political institutions and the apparatus of the state itself, where patrimonial rule appears to be the order of the day. Patrimonial rule here in this situation implies that a ruling party for example [SPLM] governs a country as paterfamilias’ property. Power is entirely personalised through complex and disperse networks of favour and patronage and authority no longer emanates from political institutions, but from politicians themselves, as the party chairman becomes more powerful than anybody else in the country. This dynamic may harbour fatal consequences for the functionality of South Sudan as a country. The practice of cadre employment has decimated expertise and capability in state institutions, from municipalities to para-statal enterprises.

In recent years, virtually overnight, accumulated knowledge was replaced with political ideology under the banner of struggle for freedom, justice and equality, Dr. John Garang’s famous ideology which attracted a good number of people in all corners of Sudan, but now the independence has been achieved, the resultant decay is staggering, as evidenced by last month’s corruption scandal that recounts the scandalous mismanagement of public funds in the government. In contrary, the mismanagement of public funds by government officials in South Sudan is at least coming to an end.

On the 28th of June 2013, president Kiir relieved finance Minister Kosti Manibe and his cabinet affairs counterpart, Deng Alor, lifting their immunities so they can be investigated over the request and transfer of $7 million to a private company without knowledge or authorisation of the president or cabinet (Sudantribune 28th of June 2013). However, the suspension of these heavy-weights, die-hard SPLM members on allegations of corruption confirmed that zero tolerance policy – ‘Kiir’s John Kudusey song’ – is in motion.  But do not give up yet.  The deterioration of physical infrastructure – electricity, roads, sanitation- in both rural and urban areas could also contribute to South Sudan being ranked as a failed state in the future if Juba’s government does not show seriousness to provide these lifeline public services.

The sustained nature of this squandering of state resources, coupled with the lack of political will to act decisively in remedying corruption will likely prompt a public backlash in the form of violence, most likely centring on the issue of service delivery – a major prospective fault line of South Sudan being labelled by foreign predators as a failed state. Another major concern in South Sudan is the systemic manner in which the common good, ‘public interest’ has been subverted for private interest.

For example, the current factionalism within the SPLM party (Riek Machar, Pagan Amum and Wani Igga versus Kiir) could potentially cause violent, as political assassinations will become more regular-hence leading the state to fail. As such, the true test for the integrity of South Sudan state will be when simmering party-political and public discontent boils to the surface and exacerbates the fault lines of failures that currently lay dormant. However, if such a disruptive dynamic emerges, South Sudan’s already-troubled domestic, regional and international spheres may themselves turn into arenas of conflict more violently than what we are currently witnessing.

In conclusion, South Sudan is not a failed state yet as labelled by Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy Magazine, but it’s still in the transitional period where, weak central government, lack of public services, corruption, refugees movement, economic decline and crimes are regarded as normal experiences of an emerging nation, but the flipside of the same coin is that the disquieting manner in which the SPLM and the state have become one, the latter seen as the personal domain of the former. This development allows us to ask this important question: will the SPLM-led government rescue the country from being labelled in the future as a failed state?

John Bith Aliap is an Adelaide-based political commentator and can be reached at [email protected]

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