‘Free at last’ was the general mood during the celebrations of South Sudan’s long awaited Independence on July 9, 2011.
Joyous people, many painted in the colours of the South Sudanese flag, poured onto the streets, danced and kissed the earth to mark their country becoming the world’s 193rd nation.
Sudan’s president Omar el Bashir, who had promised to welcome and recognise a vote for secession if this was “the price of peace”, kept his promise.
He attended the independence celebrations and was the first to recognise the new state of South Sudan.
Governments all over the world issued statements, congratulating and recognising the new country, notably Egypt, Jordan, China, Russia, India, the US and several European countries.
During the ceremony, which was attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, President Salva Kiir promised to bring peace to the troubled border areas and offered amnesty to armed groups fighting his government.
But the euphoria was short-lived. The country faced huge challenges. After decades of neglect and war, South Sudan had some of the worst health and education indicators.
Infrastructure such as roads, bridges, power stations, water- and irrigation projects were virtually non-existent. The country basically had to start from scratch.
Political events that unfolded in the course of the year further stretched the resilience of a people who had just emerged from four decades of civil war.
Challenge 1: Armed rebellion
Armed rebellion was one of the challenges faced by the new Government. Since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, the SPLA had to deal with at least seven insurgencies.
The majority of them were in the Greater Upper Nile region, an area covering Unity, Jonglei and Upper Nile states. The region is of enormous strategic importance because it is bordering Sudan and it is the location of most of the oil fields.
During the civil war, the area experienced the worst conflicts among southerners, with northern-allied militias, mainly composed of Nuer, fighting the Dinka-dominated SPLA.
After the signing of the CPA, many of these militia leaders were given positions in the SPLA, and their forces were partially integrated.
However, some of them felt left out of the new political set-up, particularly after the April 2010 elections, and took up arms again.
The Small Arms Survey believes most armed rebellions were motivated by selfish interests of their leaders.
“The main insurgencies are not authentic expressions of discontent in marginalised communities,” the group said in a report titled ‘Fighting for Spoils’.
“Instead, the commanders have manipulated local grievances, mobilising supporters, to fight on their behalf for their own objectives.”
One of those who rebelled against the Juba Government was George Athor, a former SPLA commander who went back to the bush after losing his bid for the governorship of Jonglei.
Another one was Gatluak Gai, who began his rebellion after his candidate lost her bid for governor of Unity state, which dashed his hope of becoming the commissioner of Koch.
Although both were killed in unclear circumstances after Independence, their troops are still awaiting reintegration into the SPLA.
Another disgruntled leader who rebelled against the Government was David Yau Yau. A member of the Murle ethnic group from Pibor in Jonglei state, he took up arms after losing the state parliamentary elections in April 2010.
Although he signed a ceasefire agreement with the SPLA a month before Independence, he reportedly ‘escaped’ to Khartoum in April 2012 with the intention of rejoining southern rebels.
Another opponent the Government had to deal with was Gabriel Tanginye, who led a southern border militia allied to the Khartoum government during the civil war.
Tanginye was captured during a clash with the SPLA three months before Independence, although other sources say he surrendered. He is currently under house arrest in Juba, awaiting charges against him.
The most active opposition group, however, was the one led by renegade SPLA commander Peter Gadet and some fellow Nuer commanders.
The group vowed to overthrow the Government only three months before Independence, accusing it of rampant corruption and bad governance.
But the Small Arms Survey believes the move was prompted by Gadet’s frustration with his position in the SPLA, having missed out on an earlier promotion.
Gadet accepted the President’s amnesty offer and laid down his arms one month after Independence. His fellow commanders, however, have continued attacks and are believed to have laid new landmines near Bentiu.
The SPLA repeatedly claimed the rebels were armed by Khartoum to destabilise the country in the run-up to Independence. Others saw a strategy by Sudan to destabilise the oil producing border areas, clear the land of its people and keep control of the oil.
Amnesty International in a report last week confirmed that some of these armed groups received new small arms and ammunition from Sudan.
Members of Gadet’s forces told Amnesty International that new weapons were delivered to them via Sudan in 2011.
“Their statements are supported by evidence of their use of 2010-manufactured Sudanese assault rifle ammunition, 2010-manufactured mortar shells and Chinese-manufactured type 56-1 assault rifles,” the report says.
“The match of these weapons and munitions with those in the stock of the Sudanese Armed Forces supports allegations that these arms derive from Sudanese military stocks.”
Challenge 2: Ethnic clashes
Large-scale and deadly tribal clashes in Jonglei formed another challenge the new Government faced at the time of Independence.
The latest cycle of violence started when the Murle killed three traditional Lou Nuer chiefs in early 2011.
Between April and June, the Lou Nuer launched reprisal attacks, in which hundreds of Murle were allegedly killed, over 150 women and children abducted, and the entire cattle population of 18 bomas was stolen.
In August, only one month after Independence, the Murle hit back. In a devastating revenge attack on Uror county, over 600 Lou Nuer were killed.
A church-led initiative, initiated by the President and headed by Archbishop Daniel Deng resulted in temporarily reducing the scale of the violence.
However, with the passing of time, no resolution to the outstanding issue of abducted women and children and no return of stolen cattle, the Lou Nuer began organising themselves into what they called the ‘White Army’ and planned retaliatory attacks.
Two days before Christmas, an estimated 8,000 armed youth marched southwards and launched a series of systematic attacks on the Murle, which lasted for 12 days.
UNMISS established that at least 612 Murle were killed and another 370 went missing. Men were shot while children were hacked to death. Others were burned alive in their homes. They also stole tens of thousands of cattle.
“The objective appears to go beyond reprisals and more towards the depopulation, displacement and possibly even destruction of the opposing community and their livelihood,” a UNMISS report about the violence says.
Vice-President Riek Machar rushed to the scene and pleaded with the armed youth to call off the attacks and go home. He stressed that it was the Government’s responsibility to protect civilians.
He warned that if they continued their operation, they would be treated as rebels. He also reminded them that in Lou Nuer culture, women and children should not be killed.
Machar agreed to their request to transport 71 injured and sick fighters to Juba for medical treatment on condition that they would halt their attacks.
But despite the fact that the Vice-President fulfilled his pledge, the White Army continued towards Pibor, where they started a new massacre.
Four days after the attacks began, the Murle started revenge killings. Moving in small groups, they carried out 44 attacks on both Lou Nuer and Dinka settlements between December 27 and February 4, killing and abducting people, destroying property and stealing cows.
The Government responded in three ways. The church-led peace process was re-launched following a February 24 Presidential Order, and a peace agreement was signed with the chiefs of the six communities in April.
As part of its efforts to curb the spread of weapons, the Government launched a civilian disarmament campaign in March, carried out by the SPLA and the Police with the support of community leaders.
The operation has covered areas inhabited by all ethnic groups to avoid previous perception of partiality. Over 10,000 guns have so far been collected, leading to greater security in the area.
The Government also announced that it has formed a commission to investigate the violence as an important step to address impunity, but it has not yet begun its investigations and nobody has been brought to book.
UNMISS lists the main obstacles as a severe lack of capacity and resources, and unwillingness to punish the perpetrators for political and cultural reasons.
“Government and state authorities often define the inter-communal violence as the continuation of a longstanding traditional practice and somehow understandable,” says the report.
Leaders at all levels should start referring to the killings and cattle rustling as ‘unacceptable crimes’ and take more action to prosecute such cases, UNMISS advises.
It also calls for the return of all abducted women and children, and more commitment from the Government to protect civilians and deliver basic services to the marginalised communities.
Challenge 3: North-South conflict
However, the Government in its first year was forced to focus its attention to another conflict - with its former foe, Sudan.
Tensions rose when the two countries failed to agree on the transit fees the South was to pay to export its oil through the northern pipelines to Port Sudan.
In November 2011, the panel of the African Union tasked to resolve outstanding issues between the two countries submitted a compromise proposal to the parties in Addis Ababa.
It included $2.6 billion to be paid by Juba to Khartoum over four years to help cover one third of the North’s revenue gap. Khartoum would cover another third through austerity measures, and the international community was expected to pitch in the remaining third.
The Government of South Sudan accepted the proposal in principle and offered to forgive an additional $2.8 billion in arrears. Thus, Sudan would get a total package of $5.4 billion, more than 70% of the revenue gap.
This was considered a generous offer, considering that oil revenues in the past decades had gone mainly to the North, leaving the South seriously underdeveloped and with enormous needs.
Regarding transit fees, Juba offered to pay 74 cents per barrel of the oil flowing through the GNPOC pipeline, and 66 cents per barrel for oil through the Petrodar pipeline.
Khartoum rejected the proposal. It instead came up with a counter-proposal, based on its own calculations of a much higher revenue gap of $10 billion, of which it wanted the South to contribute $7.4 billion.
The Khartoum plan also proposed fees for transit, central processing, marine terminal and transportation totaling $36 per barrel. This was considered too high by international observers.
As the talks limped on, oil officials reported on November 30 that Khartoum had delayed the loading of a 600,000 barrel shipment of oil belonging to the South. Three days later, a second shipment of one million barrels was likewise confiscated at Port Sudan.
Northern officials said the shipments had been seized in exchange for payments the South owed them for oil exports since July. Khartoum blocked several more shipments of southern oil, valued at more than $800 million.
At the demand of the Sudanese security forces, oil operators were forced to load two shipments of southern oil onto ships chartered by Khartoum, while another was unlawfully diverted to its refinery.
The authorities in Juba summoned Chinese oil company officials, asking them to put pressure on Khartoum and convince them that their transit fee proposal was unreasonable. To no avail.
In January, the Government of South Sudan announced it was stopping all oil production. Since 80% of its oil was ‘stolen’ anyway, as information minister Benjamin Marial put it, it was better to wait until Juba had an alternative pipeline to Kenya and the Indian Ocean.
Southern officials reported that during the shutdown, a greater number of wells were found in several producing fields than had been previously recorded. They accused Khartoum of under-reporting oil output, and the companies of complicity.
On March 2, the Lamu port and pipeline project was officially launched, in the presence of leaders from Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan. Earlier agreements for alternative export routes had been signed with the governments of Djibouti and Ethiopia.
However, construction might take three to four years and there are many questions about the pipeline’s ecOnomic viability, considering that oil output will go down as the wells get depleted.
The talks resumed in March and the parties agreed to shift focus to the role the international community could play in covering the North’s revenue gap.
Southern negotiators went as far as offering to lobby world leaders on Khartoum’s behalf. The parties also agreed to start immediate demarcation of the border. They further reached a deal in principle on the right of their citizens to reside and work in each other’s countries. A high level meeting between the presidents would ink the deal.
The meeting, however, never took place. Within weeks, dangerous North-South clashes threatened to undermine the talks and drag the countries back into war.
In late March, the Sudanese army launched attacks on SPLA forces in the border areas from bases in Heglig and started bombing several areas inside South Sudan.
The UN confirmed that 11 bombardments took place in the first two weeks of April, including on a UN facility in Mayom, despite a non-aggression agreement signed in Addis Ababa.
In response, on April 10, the SPLA captured the vital oil field of Heglig, which accounts for half of Sudan’s remaining oil production.
Already, Sudan had lost three quarters of its oil when South Sudan broke away. Bashir’s government had been struggling to cope with rising inflation, foreign currency shortages and an external debt of almost $40 billion. It could not afford to lose more.
Juba said it acted in self-defence, repulsing Sudanese troops that attacked Unity state from Heglig. At the same time it claimed that the Heglig oil region, which it calls by its Dinka name ‘Panthou’, is part of the South.
The Sudanese Parliament declared South Sudan an enemy and President Bashir vowed to overthrow the government in Juba.
"Our main target from today is to liberate South Sudan's citizens from the SPLM," he said at a public rally. "We call it (SPLM) an insect trying to destroy Sudan, and our main target from today is to eliminate this insect completely."
Under international pressure, South Sudan on April 20 said it would withdraw its troops from Heglig, raising hopes the two countries had pulled back from the brink of all-out war.
Three days later, Sudanese war planes bombed a market in Bentiu, killing two people and wounding 10, according to UNMISS. The SPLA called it a declaration of war and Bashir, who denied the raid, ruled out a return to negotiations.
By the end of April, at least 16 civilians had been killed and 34 injured in Unity state from aerial bombardments since the South withdrew its forces, the UN said at the end of April.
A UN Security Council resolution on May 2 called for an immediate end to all hostilities and a return to the negotiating table.
It endorsed an earlier roadmap by the African Union and demanded a mediated solution to all outstanding issues within three months. If they fail to do so, the UN resolution said, both sides would be subjected to sanctions.
Meanwhile, the deadline for Southerners to leave Sudan expired on April 8, leaving up to 500,000 people in a legal vacuum.
While they were now being considered ‘foreigners’ in Sudan, their return routes to the South were simultaneously cut off as transport by air, road and river was suspended by Khartoum.
An air bridge, organised by IOM, brought back some 12,000 people who had been stranded for almost a year in Kosti in Sudan’s West Nile state.
Talks between the two countries are continuing in Addis Ababa although with little progress so far.
Challenge 4: Economic crisis
The biggest challenge the new country faced in its first year was the economic crisis as a result of the conflict with Sudan and the shutdown of oil production.
The economic situation started to deteriorate when Khartoum closed its border and ordered a trade blockade in a bid to starve the South, leading to a rise in food and fuel prices.
It further deteriorated after the shutdown of oil production in January, which accounted for 98% of government revenues.
Lack of foreign currency in the banks forced traders to sell South Sudanese Pounds at exorbitant rates on the black market, leading to a further rise in the prices of food and other imported items.
In May, annual inflation reached nearly 80 percent, the highest since Independence. Gasoline stations ran out of petrol, while food items such as sorghum and wheat flour rose by over 200 percent in some parts of the country.
By June, a bag of onions in Juba went for as much as SSP1,500, a bag of potatoes for SSP700 and a kilo of beef for SSP30.
Both high prices and acute food shortages are pushing an increasing number of people into destitution, the UN warned.
As the country marks one year of Independence, an estimated 4.7 million people in South Sudan face food shortages, of which one million are starving.
The most vulnerable groups are those who fled conflict and those who returned from Sudan – totaling almost 900,000 people.
These include 110,000 displaced from Abyei, 200,000 displaced from ethnic violence in Jonglei and elsewhere, 405,000 returnees and another 170,000 Sudanese refugees fleeing from the fighting in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile.
To respond to the humanitarian crisis, aid agencies are distributing relief to one million people and hope to reach 2.7 million by the end of the year.
The President further announced that 520 tons of seeds would be distributed to farmers and that the Government would import food to bring down the prices.
In addition, he said, a SSP5 billion agriculture investment fund will be set up to achieve food self-sufficiency by 2014.
To cope with reduced revenues, the Government announced austerity measures, first in March and later in June.
For the 2012/2013 financial year, which started on July 1, the government budget went down to SSP6.4 billion, from SSP10 billion the previous year.
Almost 60 percent will have to come from foreign loans and income from petroleum and mining concessions.
The budget for salaries was cut by 22 percent, with housing and overtime allowances scrapped altogether.
Transfers to the states went down by 25 percent, and were adjusted to reflect the number of people living in each state.
Operational cost was reduced by almost half, with workshops, conferences and training scrapped, and the purchase of furniture and vehicles suspended.
Capital expenditure, such as infrastructure projects, saw the biggest cut – over 80 percent.
This means that badly needed development projects, which were announced by the late John Garang at the signing of the CPA, will have to wait as Khartoum continues to hold the new state at ransom.
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