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Khartoum

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.

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.