What are the geographical challenges facing the world’s newest nation?
There are now 196 nations* in the world. The creation of South Sudan by the division of Sudan (previously Africa’s biggest country) took place in July 2011, six months after over-whelming popular support was given for an independence vote.
After 50 years of conflict, including the humanitarian crisis of Darfur, it is to be hoped that a more peaceful era has arrived for this troubled region of Africa. This article examines the background to the split and explores the range of challenges that South Sudan’s new rulers face. These include maintaining smooth international relations (with neighbouring Sudan and major investor states such as China), managing the return home of a large diaspora and finding a development pathway that is less reliant on oil money.
[* There are generally agreed to be 196 sovereign states. These comprise 192 UN members; also Vatican City, Kosovo and South Sudan; and the more controversial case of Taiwan. Some countries such as Wales are not counted because they are not fully independent states.]
The background to South Sudan’s independence
South Sudan’s geographical challenges
South Sudan used to be part of its northern neighbour, Sudan. Ever since it became an independent state in 1955, Sudan lacked internal cohesion, partly due to its large size. An ethically and culturally diverse nation, Sudan suffered a strong sense of internal separation between its northern and southern regions from the outset.
In 2011, after 50 years of internal strife and two million lives lost to conflict, Sudan finally abandoned the struggle for unity. It divided in half when the new state of South Sudan broke away. To the north, the remainder of Sudan, shrunken in size, retained its name and capital city of Khartoum.
Following secession (separation), South Sudan finds itself home to many different Black African peoples, such as the Dinka. Some cultural unity is achieved via a network of Christian churches. In contrast, its northern neighbour state - which remains named Sudan - has a government dominated by ethnic Arab people and a strongly Islamic society (97% of people are Sunni Muslims).
A basic sense of cultural distance always existed between the two regions prior to independence. This lack of unity was exacerbated - and eventually driven towards conflict - by two further key factors: population growth and natural resource availability.
Population growth For the past 50 years, the rate of natural increase has averaged 2.5% per annum, which is very high. In 1956, the state of Sudan was home to 10 million people; by 1990 the figure stood at 25 million and in 2010 it passed 40 million. In the Darfur region, this triggered the escalation of long-standing tensions between nomadic Arab tribes and their ethnic African neighbours. Both groups were increasingly in competition for finite supplies of water and farmland.
Natural resources Sudan began exporting oil in 1999; by 2008, it accounted for 95% of all exports, making it the main source of national income. Power struggles in Sudan became linked to ownership of this lucrative commodity
The Darfur conflict
The semi-arid Darfur region of western Sudan (on the fringe of the Sahara desert) is home to many different Black African and Arab groups, creating a potential for ethnic conflict that flared up in 2003. Following Sudan’s independence in the 1950s, members of ethnic Arab tribes came to dominate the national government based in Khartoum. As a result, the Black African groups living in Darfur (settled farmers of the river valleys, such as the Fur and Zaghawa people) began to feel politically and economically marginalised. Some formed the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and began attacks on government targets. The SLA claimed that the Khartoum government had oppressed Black African farmers in Darfur while simultaneously providing support for the local Arab cattle-herding people.
Shortly afterwards, Arab militia groups known as Janjaweed began to attack Black villages in Darfur. The Janjaweed were widely believed to be supported by the Khartoum government. Huge displacements of people resulted, with hardly a village in Darfur left intact.
Following intervention from the African Union and the United Nations, a first peace agreement was reached in 2005. However, conflict in Darfur continued sporadically until 2009. In total, two million people were displaced from their homes as a result of armed conflict in Darfur between 2003 and 2008. As many as 300,000 people may have died.
In 2009, the International Criminal Court for war crimes issued an arrest warrant for Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir for war crimes allegedly committed in western Darfur. Three counts of genocide were later added when the Court concluded that: "There are reasonable grounds to believe that (Omar al-Bashir) acted with specific intent to destroy in part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups in the troubled Darfur region."
During 2011, efforts continued to be made to try and bring lasting peace to the region. Recent discussions have centred around possible compensation for victims of war crimes and proposals for regional government.
Map showing villages destroyed in the Darfur Sudan – Source: Wikipedia
South Sudan’s parliament met in Juba for the first time in July 2011. It is the world’s newest country, and by some measures one of its least developed. The new government already faces many tough challenges. These include continuing border conflicts, managing migration and tackling some formidable Millennium Development Goal targets.
In July 2011, the UN reported that around 2,500 people had been killed since January in disputed border areas of Sudan, principally South Kordofan, where government forces are accused of involvement in ethnic cleansing. Immediately following South Sudan’s independence, the Khartoum government’s army and militias began driving large numbers of refugees from South Kordofan across the border (Financial Times, 07 July 2011).
South Sudan is already home to many internally-displaced people, a legacy of conflict. Now it can also expect a steady stream of returning refugees and diaspora members, following disturbances in South Kordofan and elsewhere.
People who fled the country (e.g. to Kenya) during the worst years of conflict now want to return home (see chart).
People born in South Sudan who have been working north of the border are nervous and are returning in large numbers. The government of Sudan in Khartoum has agreed on a draft law that removes Sudanese nationality from anyone the authorities consider South Sudanese. This might mean that property rights are taken away and they lose their homes. It is estimated there are one million South Sudanese in Sudan, half of whom are expected to return by the end of 2011 (BBC News, 19 July 2011). But where will they live?
Oil and international relations
Oil accounts for about 98% of South Sudan’s revenues, based on production of 375,000 barrels a day. South Sudan began exporting oil one week after independence, despite no formal agreement being reached with Sudan. To the north, the Sudanese government in Khartoum believes it has lost the equivalent of US$15 billion by 2015 as a result of secession and the end of the old sharing agreement. As a result, Sudan wants to claw back US$9 billion through transit taxes imposed on the movement of oil along its pipeline (Financial Times, 07 July 2011).
However, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has independently estimated lower losses of US $5 billion. Believing that to be a more realistic figure, negotiators from South Sudan have offered US $3 billion in "assistance" to the north so long as transit fees are reduced in line with international standards (Financial Times, 17 October 2011). Clearly, there is a great deal of negotiation ahead! Sudan’s economy reels from loss of south.
Also, the difficulties with managing oil do not end there. For oil to benefit both Sudan and South Sudan, good international relations need to be maintained. For instance, the local oil sector is already 40% Chinese-owned. China has been involved in the region since 1996, with China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) helping build a refinery, export terminals and the pipeline that transports much of the South Sudan’s oil exports across the new border and oil towards Port Sudan on the north-east coast of Sudan.
As a result, this part of Africa is one of China’s six biggest oil suppliers. However, China’s oil investments now straddle a new national border that has become a highly risk-prone region, as the recent conflict in Kordofan shows. Recently, some Chinese oil workers were kidnapped; some contractors have not been paid. "Our people are risking their lives," observed one senior Chinese oil official. "This is far from a society running by law" (Financial Times, 21 January 2011). The new Juba government may have to take steps to ensure Chinese investors are not scared away.
Other foreign investors in oilfields who could get caught in the middle of any disagreement between Sudan and South Sudan include:
Malaysia’s Petronas Carigali Overseas (an oil company)
India’s ONGC Videsh (an oil company)
Japan’s Toyota Tsusho (an engineering company that plans to build a new pipeline running south to Kenya, thereby avoiding the border with Sudan)
Some estimates suggest that the region’s oilfields may have little more than one decade of commercial production left to offer (the IMF thinks output levels will decline after 2013). Some foreign TNCs - including Sweden’s Lundin company and OVL of India - have already abandoned the Sudanese oil fields after disappointing finds. According to the Guardian newspaper (23 November 2010), "prospects remain low that South Sudan is resting on an ocean of oil". This could have a huge impact on the long-term viability of South Sudan as an independent state, especially given the difficulties that need to be overcome in order to boost other sectors of industry:
The country is hopelessly over-dependent on oil exports for revenues (98%).
Being a land-locked country, foreign direct investment (FDI) can be hard to attract.
Infrastructure is very poor - South Sudan has barely 50 km of tarmac roads.
Agricultural progress is hindered by land mines - a legacy of warfare in many parts of the country. Farming communities in border regions are afraid to till their land, due to the risk of landmines remaining high after years of conflict.
Meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)
South Sudan is acknowledged to have some of the worst health and development indicators in the world.
The under-five infant mortality rate is 381 per 1,000.
Maternal mortality is the highest in the world at 1,989 per 100,000 live births.
Less than 1% of girls attend primary school.
The table below shows how poor the quality of life remains in many respects, and highlights the level of progress that needs to be made before 2015. How likely is it that MDG targets will be met, do you think?
Finally, it is worth noting that South Sudan’s new rulers lack experience in political office. The new government is formed of men who served in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Indeed, some diplomats argue the government "is more like a welfare system for former SPLA fighters than an administration designed to deliver public good" (Financial Times, 08 July 2011). The first order given by the speaker of the new parliaments was, apparently, for MPs to leave all their weapons at the entrance gate.
South Sudan Map: The World Factbook 2009. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009
Map showing villages destroyed in the Darfur Sudan – Wikipedia
South Sudan needs our support to succeed Financial Times 07 July 2011
Forced to choose between Sudans. BBC 19 July 2011
Sudan’s economy reels from loss of south. Financial Times 17 October 2011
Beijing and troubled nations: Signals of a shift. Financial Times 21 January 2011. (Paper edition).For full text of paper edition see International Rivers blog
Oil on Sudan's troubled waters. The Guardian 23 November 2011
UN Development programme: Status of MDGs in Sudan 2010
Violent birth stokes fear for Sudan’s future. Financial Times 08 July 2011
Sudan's South Kordofan: 'Huge suffering from bombs' BBC 14 June 2011 For Geographical Maps of Sudan
South Sudan: How do you set up a nation? BBC 08 July 2011
BBC South Sudan profile
South Kordofan ceasefire declared by Sudan's Bashir. BBC 23 August 2011
Written by Dr Simon Oakes, a Geography Chief Examiner who teaches at Bancroft’s School, Essex
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