The White Nile in South Sudan. Photo by Steve Utterwulghe.
As I was landing in Juba, the bustling capital of South Sudan, I couldn’t help but reminisce about my days working in Khartoum for the UN Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General. The war between the North and the South, of what was then, in 2004, still the Sudan, was raging as the peace negotiations were taking place in a plush resort on the shores of Lake Naivasha in Kenya. I was mainly focusing on guaranteeing access to the people of the Nuba Mountains, one of the three fiercely contested areas between Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/SPLA). I was doing my fair share of shuttle diplomacy, going back and forth between the SPLM/SPLA leadership based in Nairobi and the Government of Sudan in Khartoum. At that time, hopes were high that one would soon see the end of decades of a bloody war in Africa’s largest country. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was finally signed in 2005. In 2011, South Sudanese participated in a referendum and 99 percent voted for independence. South Sudan became the newest country in the world.
But what should have been a new era of peace and prosperity quickly turned into a feeling of dejà vu. Dreams were shattered as a new internal violent conflict broke out in December 2013, putting the progress achieved at significant risk and disrupting economic activities and livelihoods.
The country is very rich in natural resources, including oil, minerals and fertile arable land. However, with 90 percent of its population earning less than US$1 per day, South Sudan is ranked as one of the poorest countries on the planet. South Sudan remains an undeveloped economy facing important challenges, including high unemployment, weak institutions, illiteracy and political instability. The economic overview of the country by the World Bank suggests that “South Sudan is the most oil-dependent country in the world, with oil accounting for almost the totality of exports, and around 60 percent of its gross domestic product.” The conflict has dramatically affected the production of oil, which has fallen by about 20 percent and is now at about 165,000 barrels per day. This, combined with the sharp global drop in oil prices, has greatly affected the fiscal position of the government.
In such an environment, private sector development is a must, since it has the potential to create market-led jobs and growth. However, private sector growth requires a conducive investment climate and an enabling business environment.
South Sudan has made progress in this area, thanks in part to support from the international community, including the World Bank Group. Yet more needs to be done. South Sudan ranks 187th out of the 189 economies in the Doing Business ranking, just ahead of Libya and Eritrea. In addition, among the top constraints reported by firms in the World Bank Group's Enterprise Survey, 68 percent mention political instability and 58 percent cite access to electricity, followed closely by access to land and finance.