Perspectives on contextual and operational realities in South Sudan
South Sudan has not had complete peace since 1956 when it was still one country with Sudan. Although the 2011 referendum that resulted into South Sudan independence provided hope for a peaceful and prosperous South Sudan, the new nation fell short of this expectations; sliding back into conflict in December 2013; with its consequences on development efforts being undertaken by different actors. “Our programme work as ACORD and other organisations as well went back to zero in some parts of the country, particularly peace programmes,” said ACORD South Sudan Country Director Stephen Wani.
Speaking during a roundtable discussion “Peace in South Sudan: Utopia or a worthwhile dream: An open conversation between concerned actors,” Wani said that even though the curfew had been lifted in Juba, people still remained vigilant of the overall situation, sometimes imposing their own individual curfews. He stressed that the forum that had invited different actors should be able to generate ideas, strategies and approaches on how to implement a successful peace programme in South Sudan.
On his part, Wilfred Opobo of ACORD South Sudan-one of the presenters in the round table discussion said it was becoming clearer that the issues that were fought over during the fight for independence seem to be reappearing in the new nation in a way. There is a feeling among different sections of the nation that the current distribution and allocation of resources in the socio-economic and political spheres is not reflective of the diversity of South Sudan. ““The struggle for separation and self rule from post independent Sudan generated national consciousness and temporary cohesion among Southerners, with the conviction that an independent South Sudan would be the panacea for the social, economic and political development of the Southerners. However, as independence was being celebrated, a new dilemma was starting to be felt: some communities started having a feeling of real or perceived inequality in the social, economic and political space- a potential source of future instability if not checked.” he said.
Opobo further observed that the history of nation state building has not been an easy one for most if not all states across the world. South Sudan may not be an exception. He said that institutions that make a strong State are yet to be strong enough in the case of South Sudan to provide restrain to opportunistic behaviors, but institution and nation state building should be a collective responsibility with each part of the structure playing its role. The South Sudan national development plan 2011-2013 explicitly recognizes the role non state actors, civil society in particular, should play in the nation state building processes.
However, he commended that although civil society organizations are making significant contribution to the socio-economic development of the country, they are also faced with numerous challenges both within and without. He said challenges civil society face includes the narrowing space for effective and critical engagement-a concern raised especially by the media community; domination of civil society fraternity by the middle class and urban elites which is not representative of the large population of South Sudanese at the country side outside the urban areas.
Even more importantly, he observed that some of the civil society organizations are not fully democratic and accountable themselves and therefore lacks the moral authority for sustained engagement with the State. “Many CSOs are not fully democratic and accountable themselves and therefore lack legitimacy for effective work on transparency and accountability on moral grounds. Sometimes you wonder whether their campaign on transparency and accountability is based on strong conviction for a just and fair society or it is because they lack the opportunity to engage in what they are campaigning against.” he said.
Despite these challenges facing civil society organizations, donors and regional bodies have recognized the important contributions of CSOs in the peace process and the potential roles of CSOs have also been recognised in various national policy documents. He concluded that “the challenge for South Sudan, like any other state in this world, is how to make state institutions work for the economic and social development of its citizens and liberate public institutions from private control. The nation state building process of the South Sudan should take into account the role informal institutions play instead of only focusing on formal institutions.”