Editorial: Uniting people of South Sudan through development work

By Jacob K. Lupai

July 16, 2015 (SSNA) — A lot has been sung about unity of people of South Sudan as though unity is all that is needed to address the mounting problems the country faces. There is hardly any mention of a mechanism that brings unity. Disunity is blamed on war as the only evil and peace is sung as the only way to achieve unity. However, there was peace before between 2005 and 2013. It is not clear whether there was then unity among the people of South Sudan. Nepotism, corruption and insecurity were rampant. Land grabbing was at its peak and marauding cattle keepers heavily armed to the teeth, terrorized peaceful farming communities with impunity. The rule of law was flagrantly violated. Murderers hardly faced the death penalty because they were on death row endlessly for unknown reasons.

From the above highlight the absence of war does not necessarily mean people are united. Even in peace time there may be bitterness beneath the surface in people when the system of governance is manipulated to favour others. How then is absence of war means people are at peace and united? In the absence of war the unity of people can be sustained through fairness and equitable development work. For example, the construction of a highway between Juba in Central Equatoria, Bor in Jonglei and Malakal in Upper Nile will encourage easy movements of people, goods and services, thereby promoting trade for mutual advantage and eventually unity of people.

Construction of a highway does not need to depend on the central government. The three states of Central Equatoria, Jonglei and Upper Nile can take the initiative to construct the highway. After all it is now ten years since the comprehensive peace agreement of 2005 and when has the central government constructed a highway in South Sudan linking the states. It is only the USAID that has constructed a tarmac highway linking Juba to Nimule in Central and Eastern Equatoria respectively. This brings us to the system of governance, either a centralized or decentralized one for effective delivery of services. This is discussed later in the article.

Uniting people through development work is not only limited to construction of highways. Development of trade between states is equally important and should be highly encouraged. For example, Western Equatoria and Lakes can develop trade on agricultural products and livestock respectively for comparative advantage and mutual benefit. Trade between states is likely to bring people closer together where contacts are increased. People will get to know each other better and this may promote mutual understanding and trust. In this way people from the different states will develop confidence in each other. This may act like catalyst for unity of people with the same aspirations to improve their living standards.

People of one destiny

There is a slogan that reads, “One Nation One People” highlighted on billboards and in the media. This is meant to reflect what South Sudan is, one nation and one people. However, it is not clear whether critical analysis of the slogan was made. I will strenuously disagree that South Sudan is “One People” and I am not even so sure whether South Sudan is “One Nation” as the slogan wants people to believe. For sure South Sudan will never be “One people” even if the prophets rise from their unmarked graves to preach once more, may be this time on the banks of the Nile. South Sudan is composed of 72 ethnic groups or nationalities. Arguably South Sudan is definitely not “One People” but it is composed of people of “One Destiny”.

The slogan, “One Nation One People” is only a dream that people may need to work very hard to realize it in practice. It is relevant to know that people in South Sudan are divided along regional, tribal, ethnic and clan or even family lines.

Liberation struggle for freedom

As people of one destiny South Sudanese in their different ethnic groups or nationalities were united in a protracted liberation struggle for freedom from oppression, marginalization and treatment as second class citizens. The different ethnic groups fought alongside each other against what was perceived as the common enemy.

Oppression, marginalization and mistreatment made the people of South Sudan to forge a common front of unity regardless of their different ethnic backgrounds. Basically the people of South Sudan did not struggle for freedom as “One People” but they jointly, probably with different agendas, struggled as people of “One Destiny” against the perceived common evil of oppression, marginalization and mistreatment. South Sudanese are people of “One Destiny” in contrast to the misleading slogan that they are “One People”. What happened next after freedom had been achieved is anybody’s guess.

Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972

After a protracted armed struggle that lasted 17 years, people of South Sudan at last got a breathing space. This was through an agreement called the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972 which granted the former southern provinces of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile a local autonomy. Under the agreement the three provinces became known as the Southern Region. Among other things the agreement was for efficient administration and the development of the Southern Region which was neglected for too long.

Barely 10 years into the agreement cracks began to appear in the leadership of the Southern Region. It seems Southern Sudanese then did not know how to manage the little freedom attained through the agreement. There were accusations of tribalism in the regional government. The challenge was how to attain unity in heterogeneous Southern Region. Attaining unity was to recognize and accept the principle of peaceful co-existence of people with diversities. However, this was not the case.

Accusations of tribal domination, hegemony and corruption became ever louder and there was also a louder call for decentralization of the Southern Region. Eventually the Southern Region was decentralized amid stiff opposition from those who had everything to lose in their easily acquired privileged positions in government and in business. The Southern Region was divided into three regions of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile which were the former three southern provinces.

Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005

As the Southern Region was being decentralized another armed struggle was taking place in Upper Nile Region. Those who were bitterly opposed to the decentralization of the Southern Region flocked in droves to join the new armed struggle. As the armed struggle gained momentum its rank and file was swollen up with the various ethnic groups in South Sudan. It was obvious that the various ethnic groups fought the enemy together as people of one destiny but not as one people. From the bitterness of decentralization it was clear that there was no question that the people of South Sudan were fighting the enemy as one people.

The new armed struggle lasted 22 years when a comprehensive peace agreement was signed in 2005. The agreement gave the former Southern Region now called Southern Sudan 6 years of interim period followed by a referendum. In the referendum the people of Southern Sudan would be asked whether to remain united with the North or to opt for an independent state of their own. In January 2011 the people of Southern Sudan spoke loudly. They voted overwhelmingly, about 99 per cent, for independence and in July the self-governing Southern Sudan declared itself the independent Republic of South Sudan.

The vote in the referendum was the real liberation of South Sudan by the participation of all its eligible citizens. The unfortunate noises made by some few misguided individuals that “we liberated you” are nothing but the advertisement of total ignorance and sheer ethno-centricism which is inherently anti-nationalism in modern day South Sudan.

Post independent South Sudan

The people of South Sudan voted overwhelmingly for independence because they wanted to be free at last. They had yearned for development and services. The alternative was to remain in shackles forever. Since the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement of 2005, the people of South Sudan did not fare any better. Poverty was high and insecurity was of major concern. South Sudan was not food self-reliant.

Urban and rural roads were in appalling conditions of utter neglect. Corruption became part of the culture difficult to eradicate. In all, the peace dividends expected were not forthcoming. It was a huge disappointment after so much protracted armed struggle with the loss of millions of precious lives.

The worse to devastate South Sudan was yet to come when an internal division within the ruling party in government, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), exploded enormously into an open armed confrontation in the city of Juba. The sheer greed for power and hence control of resources is to blame. Also, to blame is the impatience and insensitivity to the consequencs of the open armed confrontation on unity of the country.

There will never be any peace in South Sudan when the focus is only on power sharing. Fundamental is institutional reform in sustaining unity. Power sharing should be the second priority. However, there seems to be deep ill-feeling that the SPLM may never be the same again. In view of irreconcilable differences, the leadership of the SPLM may need to reconsider their positions in the best interest of the country.

System of governance

According to the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011 Artricle 47, South Sudan shall have a decentralized system of government with national, state and local government level. The question to pose may be, to what extent is the decentralized system effective on the ground. Article 48 (1) (d) on Devolution of Powers stipulates that the principle shall be the pursuit of good governance through democracy, separation of powers, transparency, accountability and respect for the rule of law to enhance peace, socio-economic development and political stability.

Article 48(2) (b) says that the national government shall respect the powers devolved to the states and local governments. This seems to be the reality in theory. In practice the national government may be so powerful that the system is virtually a centralized one. The national government can remove elected state governors with no warning.

National ministries may transfer staff to the states without the knowledge of the states concerned. National ministries also claim to be in-charge of what they apportion to themselves as national projects in the states with hardly any definition. Failure to develop projects of any significance, the existing projects in the states are now claimed to be national projects.

For decentralization to be meaningful it has to be exercised on the ground. Decentralization in theory is not helpful in sustaining unity. Decentralized governance has been accorded a central place in the discourse on development. This calls for improved people’s participation by way of effective decentralization through local self-governments. In contrast to a centralized system, decentralization is seen to promote efficiency, effectiveness and equity in delivery of services to people.

For South Sudan to be a successful story but not a failed state, the adoption of a federal system of government is essential, characterized by the principle of strict separation of powers and functions between the federal government and the states. Interference in state affairs should not be permitted. Both should be vested with the three branches of power, the legislative, the executive and the judiciary. Each level of government should be responsible and accountable for its own acts and decisions.

Currently the states in South Sudan do not have judiciary and this limits the power of the states to prosecute criminals, making the provision of justice to victims of crime in the states difficult. The states should also have the power to raise taxes for development. In addition the federal government can grant financial aid for particular important investments in the states.

Unity through development work

When the guns went silent as a result of the comprehensive peace agreement of 2005, the feeling and understanding of being people of one destiny appeared to have evaporated into thin air. As if they couldn’t believe it, the agreement brought freedom unseen of to the people of South Sudan. The South had its own army and self-government comparable to any government in Sub-Saharan Africa. Besides marginalization by the North was becoming a thing of the past.

The freedom seemed to have neutralized the people of South Sudan. There was no longer a magnetic pull strong enough to make South Sudanese to have another vision of people as of one destiny. Although poverty was glaringly evident and underdevelopment was felt everywhere, the people were oblivious. The political war was won but the economic war was yet to be won. One would have hoped this was enough to make the people of South Sudan to consider themselves as people of one destiny and the struggle continues.

Contrary to expectations naivety crept in at an alarming rate that greed for power and wealth turned people overnight to be traitors to Dr John Garang de Mabior’s vision of a New Sudan. It was like people had gone to war simply to come and loot public and private resources with impunity. However, during the interim period the perception of being independent through a referendum was so overwhelming that people put up with all the negative behaviors of the insensitive ones.

After the attainment of independence through the referendum the focus should have been on the prosperity of the country. Naturally the negative behaviors cannot be multiplied in independent South Sudan for the unity of the country will be in jeopardy. An appropriate way is to formulate a development programme that is focused on promoting national unity. For convenience there are two main cultures in South Sudan, farming and pastoralism. These two cultures always clash and the consequences are unlikely to foster national unity. National unity is at stake when one culture is greedy for power and control of resources for the sake of domination to rule.

The challenge is how to harmonize the two cultures for mutual advantage in promoting national unity. Development of infrastructures and promotion of trade between farming communities and pastoralists will go a long way to bring these people together and this may promote mutual understanding. Many may know which states are predominantly of pastoralists and farming communities. Linking all major towns in pastoralists and farming communities through highways, waterways and in the future through railways can do the trick of realizing national unity. Airways may be unaffordable to the poor of either culture.

Unity through development work can be real when people are development oriented and serious. States should pioneer investment in development projects to rip benefits with movement of labor across states to tap the knowledge, skills and experience of the highly qualified in South Sudan. They should not wait for the central government.


Uniting the people of South Sudan through development work is not a concept that cannot be realized in practice. It is something that can become real with some ingenuity. South Sudan is rich in various resources. The only challenge is that South Sudan is a nation of consumers who prefer individual development at the expenses of the country. This may explain the high level of corruption and theft of public funds with impunity. According to South Sudan Development Plan 2011 – 2013, corruption in some government institutions is prevalent. Nepotism as a form of corruption is also cited as a major hindrance to good governance.

Hardly any consideration is given to national development. For example, agriculture is always cited as the backbone of the economy of South Sudan. Agriculture therefore should have been developed for self-reliance in food production so that South Sudan should not have to spend millions of US dollars on food imports from the neighboring countries. However, in the National Draft Budget for Financial Year 2014/15 the budget for agriculture and forestry is 3 per cent of the total budget.

The budgetary allocation to agriculture is below what is expected given that agriculture is the backbone of the economy of the country. With favorable climatic conditions and multiple sources of water, South Sudan could be the breadbasket of the region. However, to increase production 10-25 per cent of the total budget should be allocated to agriculture.

In conclusion, South Sudan has every reason to be a strong united and vibrant country by uniting its people through development work when there is a vision and political will.  

Jacob K. Lupai is the author of the book: South Sudan, Issues in Perspective published in 2014. The book is available in St Joseph Bookshop and in JIT Supermarket in Juba, and at Juba International Airport. For students who would like to borrow the book, copies owned by Juba University are available in the library.

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