Why South Sudan fails politically and economically

South Sudan’s Kiir. Photo: Reuters

By James Tot Mathiang

June 30, 2017 (SSNA) — South Sudan is a country created after 50 decades of brutal civil war, that ravaged the whole region. During the war, more than 2 million people were killed and enormous destructions left the country disabled. In January 2011, an overwhelming number of Southern Sudanese around the world voted to create a new and a sovereign country in East Africa. In its process to become independent, many countries, including the United States of America played major roles in South Sudan’s journey to independence. For South Sudanese in the country and in the diaspora, having a country after decades of civil war was extraordinary. The people of South Sudan were hoping for a bright future while thinking that the decades of chaos was over. But, 3 years before the national election in 2010, some warning signs were begun to surface in the country, massive corruptions, nepotism, and patronage politics were skyrocketing.

In the course of the national election campaign, the ruling party (SPLM) mistreated the oppositions and frustrated the competition across the country. With all those indicators, some South Sudanese experts began to call for the halt of the country’s independence. Among those experts calling for the halt of South Sudan independence was Professor Dr. David De Chand. Dr. De Chand believed that South Sudanese were not ready to rule themselves given the unusual corruptions, brutality and other human rights violation in the country. With the frustration over crime following the outbreak of civil war in late 2013, and economic problems mounting, South Sudanese people, ask themselves individually, is this the country we were longing for? Why the country falls apart politically and economically? The main reasons for political and economic failure are corruptions and power domination. The lust for power and corruptions make the stability impossible in the country. Both power struggle and corruption are the major problems leading to the total failure of South Sudan. To get a sense of what we mean by corruption and power control in South Sudan, this article will examine each of these aspects separately.

Economic Failure

Corruptions: everyone would argue that corruption is everywhere in the world, including the most democratic countries, but when analyzing the corruption in South Sudan, it would be completely safe to use the term “survival of the fittest”. Following the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the former guerrilla fighters who want to be millionaires for a short period of time have been competing over the resources of the country. Some want to buy luxurious houses in foreign countries and others want to control the country revenue within. Due to lack of political orientation, and education, the ex-rebels leading the country have created a unique style of systemic corruption in South Sudan. The economic downfall in South Sudan is essentially a severe version of absolute corruption, consisting of misuse of the country resources, high level of political patronage, and nepotism.

Misuse of resources: from the perspective of high ranking officials and ex-rebel leaders who were in the bush for more than two decades, buying a house in a foreign country is necessary and a reward for their families. The business of buying houses in foreign countries is prevailing at all levels, including the presidency. Even before the independence, the images of the country have been ruined and gone down beyond recovery. As a government policy in South Sudan, all cabinet ministers and public servants are accommodated in hotels, and the hotel fees and all the financial-related costs are paid for by the national government. With that, a large number of scams involving national ministers, administrators and the state government officials came to light. For example, President Salva Kiir Mayardiit and many national ministers bought houses in Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Ethiopia, UK, USA, Australia and Canada. In the Sentry report by Enough Project (2016), Salva Kiir family, including his 7-year-old son was found to be the major shareholder in big business in the country including oil and mining industries. Salva Kiir has bought many houses in East African countries, such as Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Sudan. The president also has residences in South Africa, UK, and Australia.

If not all. 99% of the government officials have their families in neighboring countries and Western nations like the United Kingdom, Australia, the United States and Canada. To make the matter worse, each one of these officials has more than two wives. Paul Malong Awan, the former chief of general staff of South Sudan Army is leading the way with seventy (70) wives and more than 100 children. In order to feed all his wives and children, general Paul Malong used the civil war as a tool to loot millions of dollars. Some multiple sources in Juba alleged that each month Paul Malong go to the bank or to the ministry of finance to demand millions of dollars for what he called “budget for ammunition”. Last week, Paul Malong step son in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, was on live video showing 50, 000 US in cash, while millions of South Sudanese are dying of hunger. In South Sudan, the real salary for a minister is equivalent to $50 US dollars, but yet he/she is able to feed a family of more than 20 members. Where do they get the money from? Well, the billions of dollars that went missing is invested by the big fish in Juba. Big businesses in South Sudan, including luxury hotels, are either run by foreigners, or by the top government officials, including national security personnel or cabinet ministers. The minimum cost of a hotel room in Juba was $150 US dollars, that put Juba on the top of the most expensive city in Africa. The reason why the hotels in Juba were very expensive is that most government officials and all the guests they receive each night live in hotels. Since the government of South Sudan spends millions of dollars on accommodations, 50% of the Country budget is spent on unnecessary things. The essential things like roads, schools, health care facilities are all underfunded because all the money goes into individual pockets. Since the government officials’ kids live in foreign countries, nobody really cares about hospital or school or roads. Only the weak and poor South Sudanese visit the poor health facilities or attend the ill–funded schools.

It would be impossible not to address the exchange rate of South Sudanese Pounds (SSP) to US dollar back in 2012, compared to the effects of the US dollars against SSP, in this year of 2017. Before South Sudan civil war, the SSP was the strongest currency in African. $100 US dollars was 2.5 South Sudanese pounds. With the war-ravaged in every corner of the country, $100 US dollar is almost 20,000 SSP.

Nepotism or political patronage is something that South Sudanese people are born with. In South Sudan, the most qualified people, or those who possess a visionary leadership were not employed or hire in their area of expertise. This is the representation many people have in the country. The issue of favoring and promoting of one’s relatives is widely practiced across the country, but many people seem to be reluctant or fail to acknowledge the danger of nepotism. Nepotism and political patronage create excess damage to the country development and growth. Political patronage and nepotism usually lead to less production. Those who are rewarded and promoted because of their relationship with the high-ranking officials are likely to be unqualified for the positions they are expected to fill. Subsequently, this nepotism can lead to a wearing down of leadership skills at the senior level of an institution and also contribute to the disheartenment of more deserving candidates.

A lay South Sudanese man, who happens to be a relative of the South Sudan first lady, narrated to the writer that the First Lady Ayian Kiir Mayardiit gave him a 2 million contract per month. That unnamed man from Calgary, Alberta, Canada who never went to school, was given a 2 million contract a month to buy food for South Sudan army. The man proudly narrated that if it wasn’t because of the current civil war, he would be one of the richest men in South Sudan. However, my most powerful emotional response to the narrative is that Salva Kirr and his wife have turned the country into their own property.

The anti-corruption commissions and judicial system at all levels of the government are full of flaws, and the perpetrators got away with the misappropriation charges. For the sake of media attention, President Salva Kiir came out and told the whole world and South Sudanese in particular that 75 individuals at the national level were accountable for the embezzlement of 4 billion US dollars. However, Mr. Kiir and his government have never revealed the names of those suspects or arrest anyone of them. Most interestingly, the office of the president, the ministry of finance, the ministry of Petroleum and mining, banks, immigration, the ministry of humanitarians, military, the ministry of trade and other unnamed departments are the centers of the corruption. Each year, millions of dollars get lost in the office of the president.

Political Failure

South Sudan is a country consisting of 64 tribes and its politics is practiced along tribes lines. The burning issue that led to the current war and genocide was the debate over the future of the country and how the country should be run. The disagreement over the reform and dictatorial ideas have led to the death of 20,000 Nuer civilians in Juba, the capital city of South Sudan. Tribal politics and the lack of political will to reform the current institutions, and the country constitutions were complicated by the lack of a unified voice. The critics argued that as the corruption and the domination of small tribes are concerned, South Sudan needs a governing system which gives the citizens equal rights, freedom of expressions and more autonomy. Nevertheless, those who were calling for reform and fresh election were seen as threats by the supporters of the president who predominantly come from his tribe. The former chief of South Sudan army, General Paul Malong Awan interpreted the call for reform as a threat to the Dinka tribe because Salva Kiir is a Dinka. General Malong took the matter into his own hand, by recruiting thousands of young men from Dinka tribes to form a group called “Dot Ku Bany” that means rescue the president. As a fresh ideology that has been preached by Dinka elites materialized, any call for South Sudan reform is an attack on Dinka as a tribe. Likewise, other tribes in South Sudan see the failure of Salva Kiir leadership as a Dinka failure, because every decision the president makes is review and approve by the Dinka Council of Elders.

When the war broke out in Juba in 2013, the militia group called “Dot Ku Bany” went door to door searching for Nuer men and women, whom they considered as “prime enemy”. In less than one week, 20,000 ethnic Nuer civilians were summarily killed by Dot Ku Bany, and thousands of others escaped to the United Nations Camps in the year 2013. Initially, the war was thought to last only for a few days, but after the fighting spread to Jonglei state, Upper state and Unity state, it was clear that the fighting would last for months, possibly even years. War ravaged as Salva Kiir attempt to silence his critics by killing them The target killings appear to be making the war unstoppable. For the first two years, the fighting in South Sudan was only concentrated in three states of the Greater Upper Nile, but Salva Kiir and his tribe made a wrong decision by Killing Equatorians and the people from Western Bhar el Ghazal. Although most South Sudanese and international community thought the central reason behind the killing of 20,000 Nuer was a power struggle between Dinka and Nuer, it was not Salva Kiir was trying to consolidate his power by killing anyone who criticizes his government. In 2015, Salva Kiir declared war against Shilluk people, and the Shilluk tribe decided to join the opposition. In 2016, South Sudan army massacred hundreds of people in both Western Bhar el Ghazal and Greater Equatoria, that lead to mass defections from the government to the opposition. This year, the South Sudanese army SPLA behind the so-called “Bor Youth” attacked the Murle tribe, that resulted in the burning of several villages and killing of almost one thousand civilians. After such a provocation, the war-ravaged and spread to every corner in the country. As a result, the government loses the control of most territories in the country, and notably, the majority of the people are now questioning Salva Kiir’s ability to interact with other tribes as a president.


We have examined how the power struggle and corruption affect the growth and the much-needed development. Generally, South Sudan failed because of the lust for power and greediness to accumulate wealth. The article addressed the root causes of the country failure by proposed a structure for understanding and highlighted political facts about South Sudan. Also, the article identifies how the corruption is institutionalized in the country and how billions of dollars got lost. The systemic corruption in South Sudan has an effect on the growth and the livelihood of ordinary people. Most importantly, corruption has affected a country’s development, economically and politically.

The author is a civil services advocate and human rights activist. He can be reached at [email protected].

Previous Post
Letter to Congress from Former Special Envoys for Sudan, Throwing Their Weight Behind Lifting of Sanctions on Sudan: A Critique
Next Post
An open second letter to H.E. First Lt. General and President of the Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.