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South Sudan: the dangers within

Nicholas van Praag's picture

 

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    Rational exuberance? Photo: RRS

With a large majority in favor of independence in South Sudan, according to preliminary results from the independent poll body in Juba, the threat of conflict with the North is receding. The main challenges the country faces going forward are likely to come from within.

As we have seen, from Timor-Leste to Liberia, it takes time, strong national leadership and appropriate international support to escape the kind of violent conflict South Sudan has known for more than half of the past 60 years.

We also know there are many false dawns. Fragile states are wracked by repeated cycles of violence that come in a dizzying array of forms—with civil war often coexisting with criminal or gang-related violence.

How to stop these cycles of violent conflict is the focus of the 2011 WDR. Its central thesis is that resilient institutions are the best available antidote to the economic, political and security stress factors that overwhelm fragile states and trap them in repetitive violence.

But before you can start bolstering institutions with any likelihood of success, you need to win public confidence. In most places this means instilling a sense that things will change for the better.

That’s hard when hopes have been dashed many times over. Finding the right narrative and taking actions that will persuade people to suspend their disbelief is a huge challenge for leaders trying to prevent further violence.

A new beginning for Southern Sudan?

Ian Bannon's picture

 

    A new beginning? Photo: Joseph Kiheri

This weekend we saw people lining up all across southern Sudan to vote in a referendum on whether they should remain part of Sudan or become Africa's newest nation. This vote was a key provision of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which created a framework for a new start after decades of conflict.

Whatever the outcome, the challenges in Southern Sudan are daunting. Some 51 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and more than half are under the age of eighteen. Only 27 percent of the adult population is literate. You can read more about Southern Sudan’s indicators here.

But as this month’s World Bank web story points out, there have been major accomplishments on the ground since the Bank reengaged in the country. There are now roads, schools, and health facilities where there were none before. Security has improved and government capacity has been built up. Yet much more needs to be done.

As we await the referendum results, the World Bank and other partners are committed to lending their support. We need to sustain progress so far and deepen cooperation in support of Southern Sudan’s own emerging development strategy—one which must aim for a future that is less dependent on oil, as our recent Country Economic Memorandum stressed.

This presents an opportunity to try out new ideas in an environment which is open to fresh thinking and new ways of doing business. The Bank's policies on assistance for fragile and conflict-affected states now provide greater room to innovate than in the past.

The curse of treasure in fragile states

Nicholas van Praag's picture
 
    Bless them.   Photo source Wikipedia.

As people return from the holiday break in early January, the citizens of south Sudan will be voting in a long-awaited referendum.  Polls suggest there will be a big majority in favor of southern independence. Boosting people’s hopes for the new state are its oil reserves worth some $2 billion a year.

Sorting out how the North and South will divvy up the benefits of oil is not clear.  While most of the oil is in the South, the export and refining infrastructure is in the North. Revenues are currently shared roughly 50-50 but there is no agreement yet over the fate of Abyei, a significant oil producing region on the North/South border.

Still, the prospect of oil revenues is central to southern thinking about financing its way to a better future. Assuming the problems with the north are sorted out, are they right to see their natural resource endowment as the basis for future prosperity?

Dangerouser and dangerouser? Aid workers on the front lines

Nicholas van Praag's picture
   Threatened symbol of neutrality

When I was working as a field officer with UNHCR in eastern Sudan in the mid 1980s, the living conditions were tough but we did not fear for our lives.

A couple of years later, a faction of the PLO attacked the Acropole Hotel in Khartoum, the city’s main hang-out for aid workers and journalists.  Four people were killed and more injured.

The aid fraternity was in shock at what they saw as a dagger lunged into the heart of their community.

Today, such an incident would still get headlines but stories of attacks and kidnappings of aid workers are depressingly familiar.

As the amount of overseas development assistance going to countries in conflict or affected by conflict rises, the growing numbers of humanitarian and development staff frequently find themselves in harm’s way.

This trend is due in part to the recurrence of violence.  Research for the WDR shows that many conflict-hit countries experience repeated violent episodes.

The linear progression from war and destruction to peace and development is now the exception rather than the rule.

This means that aid workers are increasingly caught up in the ebb and flow of conflict rather than coming in when the guns fall definitively silent.

Overcoming cultural barriers with sound economics

Zainab Salbi's picture

This post is the first in a series on "Gender and Conflict" which explores gender issues in the context of crisis and violence. Zainab Salbi, Founder and CEO of Women for Women International, discusses the cultural complexities involved in working to improve the lives of women in fragile and conflict-affected states.

   Photo © Women for Women International

Working to improve the lives of women in fragile and conflict-affected states raises complex cultural issues, but sound economic arguments paired with practical solutions can help overcome resistance. 
 
Culture and tradition are too often used to justify the stifling of debate about change, especially when it relates to women’s lives. As an Iraqi-American woman who grew up with Muslim traditions and ended up traveling the world through my work with Women for Women International, an organization that supports women in conflict-affected areas, I have had plenty of exposure to these attitudes.

The use of culture as a defensive weapon blights the lives of women from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Sudan and Afghanistan.  It is used as an excuse to silence opponents. Although the intention may be to respect cultural traditions, it often leads to policies that undermine the social and economic advance of women. 
 
A classic example of this occurred in the first year of the Iraq invasion, when the US governing authority switched food distribution from public stores to mosques. This policy was intended to respect Iraqi culture but, in fact the policy changed the role of the mosque from a private to a public role. For the mosque has played a public role associated with government actions in Iraq’s modern history.

Great expectations in Southern Sudan

Nicholas van Praag's picture

When I last visited Juba in 1981, it was a sullen garrison town.  Today the mood in Southern Sudan’s capital is more upbeat, but it is tempered by concerns about the present and hard-to-realize expectations for the future.    

 
    Basic services remain basic.  Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank.

As Sarah Cliffe and I discovered on a trip there last month, there is a lot going on.  Trade is as brisk in the town’s market places as traffic is slow on its crowded streets.  We did not get a chance to leave town but I would have loved to discover what's happening beyond the city limits. 

The city itself has grown rapidly—to half a million people—since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, ending decades of fighting and setting out a timetable for self-determination. 

At the open-air cafes along the river Nile, talk is all about next’s April’s national elections and the referendum that follows in January 2011 when voters will decide whether the South will remain part of a unified Sudan or become independent.