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article imageOp-Ed: South Sudan is a classic failed state

By Ryan Hite     Jul 20, 2014 in Politics
South Sudan has faced a lot of problems since independence about 5 years ago, and it seems like there is not much that international aid organizations can do to help the people being affected, which runs in the millions.
Malnutrition is already severe in South Sudan and is predicted to become famine in parts, including southern Unity State where the village of Leer is located. The United Nations said that 50,000 children could die in the months ahead as South Sudan’s political leaders are entangled abroad with fighting at home.
Famine is usually manufactured, but there’s usually some climatic input, some bad weather, drought, or failed harvest involved with it. In South Sudan, however, last year’s harvest was above average and the weather has been just fine.
“It’s hard to find any natural, non-social factors for this crisis,” said Sue Lautze, the head of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in South Sudan.
The US-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET) says that more than one million already face emergency food insecurity and expects famine in some parts of the country unless more humanitarian assistance is delivered immediately.
“This is a man-made humanitarian disaster,” said Susan Page, the US ambassador to South Sudan. “It has set South Sudan back years.”
“Even if famine is staved off, 4 million people are still at risk of hunger,” she continued.
The dispossessed languish in camps in South Sudan or have become refugees in neighboring Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. Almost nobody there is living a 'normal' life by any means.
In the village of Leer, families are trickling back into town to find charred outlines where their homes used to be and their larders and grain stores completely looted. Even if they have seed to plant, it is too late because the rains have started, inundating roads, isolating communities, and cutting off what little trade survived the fighting that ravaged Sudan over the past two decades.
To reach the village of Leer, you either fly to the northern town of Bentiu and drive south for 75 miles, crossing the frontlines between government and rebel forces, or you can fly into the town’s airstrip on a plane chartered from the capital city.
Juba International Airport, the gateway to the nation of South Sudan, hums with activity. The new terminal, intended to welcome dignitaries to independence celebrations in July 2011, is three years late and largely incomplete. Ilyushin-76 and C130 cargo planes chartered by the World Food Program (WFP) are parked on the apron and will be loaded up for food drops. Scores of UN and aid agency light aircraft and helicopters line the runway, which is guarded by tanks and even an anti-aircraft gun.
South Sudan exceeded even the more dire predictions of a “pre-failed state,” since almost the beginning of the nation.
Huge crowds greeted independence from Sudan. The nation was born with immense international goodwill, generous foreign support, and a wealth of natural resources, including reserves of oil. It was also hampered by unresolved disputes with Khartoum and internal strife ignored in the race toward independence.
Those internal tensions exploded on Dec. 15 of 2011, when President Salva Kiir, a member of the majority Dinka tribe, accused his former deputy Riek Machar, a Nuer, of attempting a coup on the nation. Both men rallied their ethnic voters and the political rivalry quickly devolved into armed, tribal conflict that affected across half the country.
Both sides are accused of massacres, brutal rape, forced recruitment of child soldiers, deliberate targeting of civilians, and other war crimes. UN peacekeepers have been killed and wounded all over the country. Political leaders have been meeting in Addis Ababa since January, paying lip service to peace while their soldiers violate cease-fire agreements.
Few believe that Kiir and Machar are serious about ending the internal conflict.
“Negotiating in good faith is too much to expect of them,” Jok Madut Jok said, who is the executive director of the Sudd Institute in Juba.
Meanwhile the people of the country suffer.
“The hunger gap will be stronger and longer, and in places where agencies are not we will see a high mortality. For some it’s already too late,” said Raphael Gorgeu.
“This humanitarian crisis is because of the conflict and they have to take responsibility for that and stop the fighting,” said Gorgeu.
Kiir has acknowledged the inevitability of famine as a direct result of the conflict but blames Machar for it.
The massive movement of a population fleeing war is only part of the problem. In Leer and elsewhere, basic infrastructure has been wrecked. Being one of the world’s least developed countries, many of the state’s responsibilities were taken on by foreign aid and development agencies. Much of the progress made over the nine years since a 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war has been reversed in the last six months.
“We’re back to square one,” said Ettie Higgins, head of UNICEF in South Sudan.
“It’s not so much about the infrastructure. It’s the cohesion of the nation that has been destroyed,” said Esteban Sacco, deputy head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “How do you rebuild this nation?”
To make matters worse, the crowded, unsanitary conditions of UN bases in Juba have triggered a cholera outbreak. Pre-emptive vaccinations and the quick provision of clean drinking water and better toilets has kept cholera cases within the UN camps to a few dozen, but in the surrounding city there have been more than 1,700 cases and 37 deaths.
Disease, war, famine and death. It is the result of four years on from independence and South Sudan is likely to feel the ravages of all four of the Biblical horsemen of the apocalypse before the year is out.
“People are now so divided and so determined to destroy each other, the brutality of the violence has been so extreme,” said Jok of the Sudd Institute. “South Sudan has reached the lowest point in its entire history.”
It seems that things have been a lot worse than they usually have been, but the new government is not doing much about it and, unfortunately, many do not know where to turn.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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