South Sudan - One Year On
Amid pomp and jubilation in Juba, the capital of Africa's newest nation, South Sudan celebrated one year of independence on 9 July 2012. Despite the disappointments of the first year of independence, South Sudanese appeared to be in an upbeat mood.
In the last one year the country has had to deal with both internal and external challenges. On the home front, ethnic conflicts have led to thousands of internally displaced people creating a humanitarian crisis. Skirmishes between forces of South Sudan and Sudan have also been rife.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005 left key issues unresolved, including the need for proper demarcation of the boundary between them, sharing of oil revenues and transit fees and the status of the disputed Abyei region.
Earlier in the year both countries came dangerously close to an all-out war following the occupation of Hegelig, an oil producing region, by South Sudanese forces.
South Sudanese leaders would appear to still be in liberation mode as if it hasn't dawned on them that they are now in charge of running a state. South Sudan is landlocked, relying on its northern neighbour for access to the sea. One of the thorniest issues in bilateral relations between them is to do with transit fees for South Sudan's oil exports conveyed through pipelines in Sudan. South Sudan accused the Sudan of charging exorbitant fees for the service and decided to stop oil exports until further notice. For a country that derived 98 per cent of its revenue from oil, it was a case of cutting its nose to spite its face.
An alternative export route through the port of Lamu in Kenya has been mooted but it will take some time for the project to be completed. In the meantime South Sudan has been grappling with a massive loss of oil revenue with dire socio-economic consequences.
One way of resolving the dispute over transit fees is for both countries to learn from the experience of countries in a similar position. For instance, Russia and Ukraine have also quarreled over transit fees for Russian gas exports to Europe from pipelines passing through Ukraine. There should be an international going rate for such services which can then be used as a benchmark in determining how much South Sudan should pay Sudan. South Sudan is also reeling from, arguably, the most intractable problem plaguing most countries in Africa: corruption. In an unprecedented move, the South Sudanese President, Salva Kir, recently wrote to 75 serving and former government officials asking them to refund a total sum of four billion dollars embezzled since 2005 following the signing of the CPA.
For a country that has only recently gained independence, that is a colossal amount. Corruption constitutes the greatest threat to development in most African countries and Salva Kir is right to ring the alarm bells before it gets out of hand.
However, it remains to be seen whether this method of 'naming and shaming' corrupt officials would be enough persuasion to get them to return their loot. Lack of security is the most pressing challenge facing South Sudan. Without peace there can be no development. Luckily in recent weeks there has been a thaw in the previously frosty relations between South Sudan and Sudan.
Tempers have cooled sufficiently for stalled talks to resume in Addis Ababa culminating in the meeting of both Al Bashir and Salva Kir on the sidelines of the recent AU summit just concluded in Addis Ababa. Both leaders committed themselves to the cessation of hostilities and to resolve all outstanding issues constituting stumbling blocks against peaceful coexistence between Khartoum and Juba.
For the South Sudanese government, it is imperative to normalize relations with Sudan in order to create a much-needed breathing space to enable it get on with the challenges of developing the country and lifting its long suffering, war-weary population out of poverty and misery.
By DAILY TRUST - EDITORIAL, 22/07/2012