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South Sudan: Recognition of all minorities key to freedom, justice and equality

19 July 2012

On 9 July 2012, South Sudan celebrated its first independence anniversary. But unlike the independence celebrations in 2011, the celebratory pomp was met with some scepticism and anxiety given the country’s slow progress amidst increasing insecurity. MRG’s Africa Regional Information Officer, Mohamed Matovu, reflects on the road ahead for the young country.

When an overwhelming majority of South Sudanese voted for independence in a referendum last year, there was much merrymaking. For the majority of men and women who cast their vote, it was about freedom, justice and equality, or at least, the hope for these ideals.

Very few were so naïve as to have thought that freedom, justice and equality would come in the space of one year. Still many, riding on that hope, felt that with their own sons and daughters in control and with the right decisions, they had embarked on a journey, a long journey, but in the right direction.

Many, a year ago, had hoped that when their government gained control over the South’s oil revenues, it would be able to help eradicate poverty and develop the country.

A year on from the day independence proclamations were made, ordinary South Sudanese must be asking; What has gone wrong? When, and if, will things get better?

For a country that gained control of 75 percent of the region’s oil (although processing and export facilities remained largely under the control of the Khartoum government), more than half of South Sudanese are still trapped in poverty. After independence, food and other essential items are three times as expensive, and there has been an escalation of ethnic strife.

To be fair, almost the entire South Sudanese government revenue comes from the nation’s oil riches, but because of disputes with the Khartoum government over how much South Sudan should pay to have oil exported through Sudan, there’s been a shutdown in oil production for the past half year. This has tremendously affected the country’s economy.

Even with this visibly clear, South Sudanese are impatient for development or to see their country at least take concrete steps in that direction.

Oil disagreements aside, the border areas of both countries are bursting at the seams with refugees escaping cross-border and/or ethnic conflict. There is also the unresolved ‘nationality question’ of citizens from either Sudan or South Sudan settled in the other’s territory.

These challenges have revealed to South Sudanese a rare glimpse into the tough life they must endure, with no known waiting period, before the country can harvest the fruits of freedom, justice and equality.

Of course some progress has been made since independence, with the drafting of a raft of laws by the legislature to lay the foundations for a constitutional democracy. But progress has been slow and some sections of the civil society think the process has not been as adequately consultative as it ought to be.

The young country has to deal squarely with the real challenge posed by communal violence, which has already cost hundreds of lives. The conflict, which MRG attributes to competition between ethnic groups over scarce resources in its 2012 Peoples under Threat survey, underlines the importance of putting in place institutions to ensure accountability and the rule of law.

Most importantly, recognition of all minority groups and their inclusion in governance processes by South Sudan’s leadership, is key to realizing freedom, justice and equality.

For more information download MRG’s 2011 report South Sudan: The role of minority rights in building a new nation