OpEd, Politics

South Sudan’s Elusive Independence: A Nation Struggling to Find its Footing

By Gama Hasan Oscas

As South Sudan celebrates its 12th independence anniversary, it is disheartening to acknowledge that the country has failed to achieve the true independence its people aspired to when they voted for secession from Sudan. While South Sudan emerged as a sovereign state, the harsh reality is that economic independence, stability, and development remain distant dreams for its citizens.

Since gaining independence, South Sudan has been plagued by a series of internal conflicts, intercommunal violence, and rampant corruption. These factors have severely hindered the establishment of strong institutions and the provision of basic services such as roads, healthcare, and education. Despite its abundant resources, the country remains trapped in poverty and underdevelopment, relying heavily on petroleum exports inherited from Sudan. South Sudan’s heavy dependence on imports for survival exacerbates the dire situation, with inflation soaring and the government resorting to temporary measures to control the devaluation of its currency.

In 2018, a peace deal was signed between the government and opposition groups, but its implementation has been lackluster. The security arrangements outlined in the agreement have not been fully realized, and the deployment of unified forces has been sluggish. Even with the signing of a roadmap to extend the peace deal and address its unimplemented terms, the parties have shown little commitment to its execution. Several opposition groups have remained as holdouts, refusing to sign the agreement due to a lack of trust in the government. Efforts by international actors, such as the Rome peace talks, have yielded no substantial progress.

South Sudan’s upcoming general elections scheduled for December 2024 seem unlikely to bring about positive change. The lack of genuine preparations, including a population census for constituency determination and the absence of political party registration, raises concerns about the credibility and inclusivity of the electoral process. Democratic space is severely restricted, with the opposition facing repression and limitations on their ability to assemble and conduct political rallies. In stark contrast, the ruling party, SPLM, enjoys significant freedom to engage in political activities, further undermining the prospects of a fair and competitive electoral landscape.

The displacement of a significant portion of the South Sudanese population due to conflict reflects the prevailing insecurity and lack of stability. Many citizens remain as refugees in neighboring countries, while others are confined to displaced camps within their own borders. Despite vast arable land, the country struggles to feed its population due to ongoing insecurity caused by armed cattle keepers devastating farmlands.

The revitalized parliament, despite its expansion, has failed to exercise its oversight role effectively, with members often prioritizing loyalty to the appointing authorities over representing their constituents. The judiciary also faces challenges, grappling with issues of independence as judicial officials endure harsh living conditions, receive meager remuneration, and lack proper resources for transportation and upkeep.

Furthermore, South Sudan’s mineral resources, including gold, are being exploited by individuals or stolen without the government’s knowledge or intervention. The encroachment at international borders by neighboring countries, particularly Uganda and Kenya, is a grave concern, and the government’s failure to take serious measures to address these encroachments indicates a lack of resolve to protect its territorial integrity.

As South Sudan celebrates another year of independence, it is crucial to confront the harsh realities that persist. The country’s leadership must prioritize the welfare of its citizens and exhibit genuine political will to address the ongoing challenges of internal conflicts, corruption, weak institutions, economic diversification, and border disputes. Without such comprehensive efforts, South Sudan’s aspirations for true independence will remain unfulfilled, and its people will continue to bear the brunt of a nation still struggling to find its footing.

The author can be reached at email: oscarsgama@gmail.com


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