South Sudan marks 10 years of independence without fanfare
Ten years after becoming the world’s youngest nation, war-torn South Sudan mired in instability and faced with a deteriorating humanitarian crisis.
South Sudan marked 10 years since it gained independence to become the world’s youngest nation – yet few citizens are rejoicing.
The opposition is urging its supporters not to “give up hope” under Machar and blamed Kiir’s ruling party for a lack of political will, which has “significantly” contributed to the slow pace of the peace deal’s implementation, Puok Both Baluang, director of information and acting press secretary for Machar, told Al Jazeera.
The government did not respond to repeated requests by Al Jazeera for comment.
A ‘peaceful South Sudan’
Without clear progress, frustration and lack of trust in the government will grow and fuel violence, say conflict analysts.
“The longer this uncertainty goes on, the more difficult it will be to escape patterns of conflict that are rooted in decades-old problems but found new life in the independent country. As much as we hope we’re past the worst, that seems far from certain,” said Mark Millar, a policy analyst for the Norwegian Refugee Council in South Sudan.
Even though fighting has been at a lower tempo in recent years, there has been “exponential growth” in levels of conflict since 2018 and incidents are more numerous and frequent, according to a July internal security report for aid workers seen by Al Jazeera.
Last month, South Sudan’s new United Nations chief, Nicholas Haysom, told the Security Council there was “pervasive insecurity” and that intercommunal violence was responsible for more than 80 percent of civilian casualties this year. Aid workers are being increasingly targeted, four humanitarians were killed and millions of dollars of supplies looted or destroyed, he said. Haysom urged the government to “breathe fresh life into the peace process” and fully implement the agreement, which will eventually lead to elections, he said.
The polls are scheduled for 2023, but many fed-up South Sudanese have called for the two leaders to resign before that, according to a December report from the country’s National Dialogue Steering Committee, an initiative that gathered civilian views across the country.
While the peace process limps on, the humanitarian situation is worsening.
More than eight million people are reliant on aid, according to the UN. Some 30,000 people are likely in famine, say food security experts (PDF), and tens of thousands of people still shelter in displaced people’s sites across the country, too afraid to return home.
“The government is not yet able to meet its obligation to provide basic services and healthcare, a situation exacerbated by a prolonged lack of state investment,” said Tila Muhammad, head of mission for Doctor Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF).
“As of 2018, just 2.11 percent of South Sudan’s government expenditure was for health services, which is one of the lowest percentages in the world,” Muhammad added.
“Less than half of the population – and less than one-third of displaced people – live within 5km [3 miles] of a functional health facility.”
As the country embarks on its second decade, observers say donors need to revise their approach to aid and hold South Sudanese leaders accountable, rather than continue funnelling money to support a government that invests little in its own people.
“The international community did the people of South Sudan a disservice by focusing on the achievement of independence more than the challenge of building a new nation. We used the government’s youth as an excuse to let bad acts slide and bad habits form, and our continued support enabled it,” said Elizabeth Shackelford, former US diplomat who worked in South Sudan when the war broke out and senior fellow on US foreign policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
International partners should not continue propping up the government in the absence of real signs of concrete progress towards implementing the peace agreement, because those who suffer are the civilians, she said.
But some citizens say it is too late for reform and regret the choice they made 10 years ago.
“If we could be given the chance to vote again, I think many of us [would] vote [to stay united with Sudan],” said Gatwech, a local living in a UN-protected camp in the north. Al Jazeera is only using his first name to protect his identity.
“This is not [the] South Sudan I voted for. I was voting for [a] peaceful South Sudan not [a country] torn apart,” he said.