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South Sudan: The Long Road Ahead


By Tasha Bell, George Washington University STAND

On April 24th 2013, I was fortunate to attend an event titled “A Crisis of Governance in South Sudan” at the Wilson Center.  Even if you weren’t as lucky as me, you can still hear from the experts, Dr. Lual A. Deng, Kate Almquist Knompf and Brian D’Silva by checking out thewebcast which is available to watch on the Wilson Center website.  This discussion lead me to a greater understanding of the arduous task of nation building, and how many obstacles must be conquered before we will see a stable South Sudan.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will South Sudan.  Establishing a democracy is a tedious and slow process.  Furthermore, creating a centralized government where there has never been one before is no piece of cake either.  This is what South Sudan is facing.  In the fast paced world that we live in today, the expectation of the pace of transformations is inflated.  Our reality seems to be changing daily, so processes that take more time can be exceedingly frustrating.  However, if we approach a situation with an understanding that it might take a while, we can better plan to appropriate our efforts for the long haul.  South Sudanese people and supporters of South Sudan must maintain hope and vision of a bright future throughout the years ahead.

The tasks ahead of South Sudan are numerous and demanding.  Dr. Deng lays out the key drivers of the crisis of governance in South Sudan as weak institutions, pervasive corruption, poor economic management, absence of cohesive national identity and insecurity.  Each of these “drivers” that Dr. Deng presents are multifaceted and deep-rooted.  Every single one of these categories contains many individual issues that will be difficult and complex to develop.  The way that Dr. Deng broke down each of these categories into individual tasks makes it alarmingly clear how complex each of these challenges will be to overcome.


  • Visionary leadership
  • Human capital development
  • Participatory governance
  • Institutional transformation

Pervasive Corruption

  • Rule of law
  • Changing the culture of impunity
  • Nurturing civic duty
  • Restoring positive societal norms and values

Poor Economic Management

  • Coherent economic policy and analysis and management
  • Effective use of scarce knowledge
  • Infrastructure development
  • Economic diversification
  • Conducive investment environment

Absence of cohesive national identity

  • Fostering a sense of common identity
  • De-politicization of language and ethnicity
  • Effective utilization of the diaspora community in promoting national identify
  • Enhancing state legitimacy


  • Security sector reform
  • Improving social service delivery
  • Enhancing food security
  • Implementing a wealth of dividend policy

In front of South Sudan is the task of creating a society that looks different than anything it has previously experienced.  Additionally, its people are still recovering from the damage of a 22-year war that ended when they won their independence.  They have never governed themselves before, so they don’t have government infrastructure off of which to build.  In order to adjust to the impact of a newly autonomous state, cultural change must occur- and of course, cultural changes take a lot of time.  While the international community stands with South Sudan through this long process, the country also needs to be granted the space to come together and create its own future for itself.

Fortunately, South Sudan does feel the support of the world community.  South Sudan will receive $395 million in European aid over the next two years.  Additionally, the US budget this year calls for $244 million in aid to this new nation.  Extensive aid packages from the US and Europe will surely be beneficial in the nation building that must occur in South Sudan.  International aid can only take a country far enough that they can stand on their own feet.  Fortunately, South Sudan possesses the resources to keep them up once they’re standing.

Despite the plethora of obstacles ahead of this young nation, its lands possess riches to finance this transition into the world community and economy.  This poor country has the potential to bring in outside capital to strengthen its economy.  South Sudan has the potential for great oil wealth- if only it can get the oil flowing through the pipes that run through Sudan.  Peace talks between Sudan and South Sudan over the pipelines have yet to be successful.  The dialogue between these two nations continues to project hopeful messages that oil will soon flow, with the latest agreement signed March 2013.

Additionally, South Sudan possesses the treasure of beautiful terrain.  If South Sudan can develop infrastructure, it has the potential to be a tourist attraction.  South Sudan contains some of the most untouched land in Africa containing a variety of natural features from vast grasslands to beautiful waterworks including a huge waterfall.  South Sudan can also boast the second biggest migration in the world.  Patrick Symmes spent time in South Sudan and wrote a piece for Outside magazine titled “A Wild Country Grows in South Sudan” in which he paints a picture of the current condition of South Sudan, acknowledging both the great potential of South Sudan as a tourist location and also the obstacles that must first be overcome before visitors will enjoy the beauty of its nature.

In his presentation at the Wilson Center, Dr. Deng spoke extensively about the prominent Sudanese leader, Dr. John Garang.  Dr. John Garang had a vision for the future of South Sudan.  He was a visionary with an understanding of the historical and cultural circumstances that South Sudan has faced.  The beauty of visionaries is that they can see the light at the end of a dark and messy tunnel.  Their visions can keep people marching toward a seemingly unreachable end.  Dr. Garang is deceased, but his vision can live on.  An understanding of the intense difficulties that lie in front of South Sudan shows that a vision of a bright future will be essential to keep them on track.  With an honest understanding of both the bumpy road ahead and the value of the end for which they strive, the South Sudanese can forge a successful path for themselves.  It will not be easy, but valuable things take hard work.

With an understanding of the long road ahead, South Sudan will find that its future is as beautiful as its grasslands.

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