Conflict & Justice

South Sudan independent, but not free of civil war legacy


A Sudanese man sits outside his home as children carry food to cook, on July 20, 2012 in Juba, South Sudan. After breaking away from Sudan last year, South Sudan recently celebrated its first independence anniversary. Over the past year repeated conflict including corruption scandals and economic difficulties have plagued the new country.


Paula Bronstein

South Sudan could use one or two reasons to celebrate these days.

The world’s newest nation is struggling with a critical foreign exchange shortage that has lead to socio-economic crisis, reports the Wall Street Journal. But high inflation rates and tense relations with Sudan represent only a fraction of the young country’s current hangover.

In the South Sudanese capital of Juba on Monday, thousands marked the seventh annual “Martyrs Day,” a national day of remembrance for the staggering two million killed during the 21-year civil war with Sudan.

Continuing violence in South Kordofan is creating new victims as the war’s legacy envelops the present day, and more than a year after South Sudan became an independent country, the two neighbors have yet to reach an accord on where to mark the border and how much the landlocked new state should pay to export oil through the north.

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Oil is a primary source of income for the two neighbors and the squabble has left the two economies reeling with long lines at the pump, sky-high food prices, dwindling foreign investment and stalled road-building projects.

A spat over “transit fees” between the South and the North in January led South Sudan to suspend all crude oil exports, equating to a loss of $2 billion in potential revenues.

Negotiations resumed last week but stalled on Tuesday and minimal progress on oil was reported. Discussions over the disputed border were expected to continue on Wednesday.

With Juba accusing Sudan's leadership in Khartoum of bombing its territory and Khartoum accusing Juba of supporting rebels in two southern border states and the Western Darfur region, border fighting between the old foes has the two countries on edge, Reuters reports. Indeed, South Sudanese rebels in South Kordofan state reported 17 government troops killed in the latest fighting on Tuesday.

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Fierce attacks by Sudan against the people of South Kordofan (some of whom fought with the South Sudanese rebels during the war) have sent what the United Nations estimates to be 200,000 refugees into Ethiopia and South Sudan. Doctors Without Borders' nutritional programs have admitted more than 1,000 children but aid in the region is still quite sparse. The Sudanese government has been accused of blocking international assistance.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be visiting South Sudan on an 11-day tour of Africa this week, according to Reuters. The purpose of the visit is to further peaceful negotiations with Sudan, the State Department said.

In a statement made on July 27 in Washington, US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice reiterated the US’s deep concern over the “grave humanitarian crisis in Sudan’s Two Areas.”

Britain’s United Nations ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant highlighted the importance of a resolution between Khartoum and Juba after the UN Security Council voted to renew the UN–African Union Peacekeeping force in Darfur.

The stalemate continues to draw some international attention but beyond a renewed presence of UN peacekeeping forces, international military intervention remains unlikely.

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“We urge both leaders to show the necessary statesmanship to make the necessary compromises so that agreement can be reached on these outstanding issues,” Grant told reporters. “The Security Council has set a deadline and expects results by that deadline.”

In reality, both countries will likely face a statement of rebuke if no agreement is reached. But Russia and China’s repeated opposition to sanctions will likely forestall any real consequences if an agreement doesn’t come to fruition on Thursday.

Anthropologist Carol Berger describes the humanitarian crisis in Sudan and South Sudan succinctly, “It’s a tragedy, because it’s the civilians who are suffering and who will continue to suffer. And both sides will use the suffering of the civilians to benefit themselves.”