The world’s newest country, the Republic of South Sudan, was formed on Saturday 9 July amid jubilant celebrations in its capital Juba. The formation of the new state was the culmination of decades of fierce civil war in Sudan, formerly Africa’s largest country, which cost the lives of over 2 million people. In January, southerners displayed their overwhelming support for the state’s creation in a near unanimous secession vote.
Yet, despite assurances of a peaceful transition, considerable obstacles remain in the young nation’s path. There is an ongoing border dispute with the northern state’s government in Khartoum, prompting accusations of ethnic cleansing and human-rights violations from both sides.
According to the UN, over 2,000 people have been killed in the contested areas since January alone, and this instability is expected to accelerate the migration of hundreds of thousands of southern Sudanese living in the north, pressurising an already fragile and ill-equipped administration. The ongoing tensions have also led to soaring inflation rates, which have caused the price of commodities to sky rocket.
However, the most critical dispute between Khartoum and Juba centres on the control and distribution of Sudanese oil and its associated revenue, which is vital to both economies. Just days before the country was partitioned, diplomats failed to agree on how to divide the resource after tense negotiations broke down. The impasse lies in that whilst the south contains the largest amount of oil, producing three-quarters of the two states’ total output, the north is home to refineries, pipelines and means of export. Oil revenues have been divided equally since the 2005 peace deal, but South Sudan remains adamant that a sovereign nation should not have to share its resources or subsidise neighbouring states.
An amicable solution remains unlikely at present, as illustrated by a recent IMF study which suggested that as a result of partition the north will suffer a financing gap of $5.2bn until 2015, a sum which the south is not prepared to fully compensate. The north’s own estimates inflate this figure to $15bn, further highlighting the two governments’ diametrically opposed positions. Although it is not in the interests of either party to disturb oil production, this seemingly permanent fracture in relations has raised serious concerns that the area may be again sliding inexorably towards war.
In this fraught environment, South Sudan has announced that it will allocate approximately 44 percent of its annual budget to security and law and order. This may deal a harsh blow to the celebrating southern citizens, who on the whole have greater levels of illiteracy and mortality than their counterparts in the north, and whose new government currently lacks the adequate institutions even to fully operate, never mind improve, basic public services.
It is this stark vulnerability that may leave South Sudan open to exploitation by predatory imperialist states. It has been interesting to note, for example, the south’s developing ties with Israel, whose flags were prominent at the independence celebrations.
The United States, meanwhile, has been quick to step forward with ‘aid’ packages and visiting oil executives. However, a US senator, Patrick Leahy, expressed concerned over high levels of US investment at a time when the south’s fledgling army was committing human-rights abuses. Deciphering imperialist jargon, it seems that some members of the US ruling class are unconvinced that they will see a return on their investment at a time of such sharp political and economic instability.
One more advantageous arrangement for all concerned may be to increase the role of Chinese investors, who already have a strong footing in the region, can offer mutually satisfying rates on loans etc and who currently have positive relations with both sides. Without an agreement on revenue distribution, however, and while the ongoing currency and borders issues remain unresolved, the re-emergence of conflict may be more likely than sound national development for the newly-born country.