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Simply calm before the storm in South Sudan

By Amen Teferi
Tigrai Onlne - December 31, 2013

The world’s newest state, the Republic of South Sudan, was born after a long and bloody gestation. South Sudan is not just the youngest nation on earth today. But also is a brand-new state that is being built from the scratch by a government that has started to build up itself from the scratch.

South Sudan has just come out of Africa’s longest civil war that has been raging the country for more than five decades since the independence of Sudan in 1956. The people of South Sudan have seen nothing but war and destruction for practically all their lives since that armed violence flared up in 1956. Owing to this war, there was no focused development in the world’s youngest country for the last 56 years.

The new landlocked nation is the size of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda combined.  In the last five or six years South Sudan has done a lot in developing its infrastructures and has managed to get loosen the purse strings of many donors.

Juba has upgraded the roads that are linking its 10 regional states. Moreover, other link roads that are facilitating South Sudan’s access to Ethiopia and Kenya are also constructed.  It has built international airports and expanded its terminals and was envisaging a rail link connection to Mombasa, which is estimated to cost some $5bn. It was also thinking on solving its huge power deficit.

That seemingly peaceful nation with a prosperous future has recently taken a turnabout to the usual way of doing things. After a brief respite, it seems about to go back to the old conundrum. IGAD has declared its concern over the political crisis in South Sudan urging the warring parties to come to the round table and resolve their difference through political means and fend-off the devastating civil war that is hovering over the country. The power struggle that has started in the ruling party is now taking an ethnic line which caused the death of 5000 innocent civilians and displaced tens of thousands of South Sudanese.

The UN Secretary General has also pointed that the crisis in South Sudan is political and can only be dealt with political means. Though the current course of events does not show any encouraging signs; IGAD officials have remained optimistic pointing out that both parties      have agreed to negotiate without preconditions.

The violence is all against the wishes of the south Sudanese people. However, cycle of violence has caught them unprepared. The spiraling unrest has in fact absconded all their hope. The fervent hope that the people of South Sudan have been harboring, all of a sudden, changed into thin air. The recent unrest will drive us to recap both the perils and promise of the new era that had broken in the South Sudan three years ago.

It was just three years before that the South Sudanese commenced on the enormous task of building a new nation. The African Business magazine, in its Oct. 2011 issue, had presented a feature article just to encapsulate the booms and busts the world’s newest nation was experiencing.  It had sent its reporter to Juba to see how that nation was going along as the old battle fatigues were being replaced by the new business suits.

However, not long before the South Sudanese leaders get used to the new business suits, recklessness creeps in to ruin the hard won victory of the people. The leader of SPLA who fought for the freedom of the South Sudanese have now begun to appear in public with highly decorated military uniform; putting off the civilian clothes they have been wearing for the last three years.

The streets of the capital city of the newest African nation, Juba, once again began to sing the old lyrics of violence. The newly built asphalt roads in Juba are now being filled with soldiers who put commando berets on. The restaurants and cafes in Juba that used to host investors who are dressed in sharp business suits, sprightly fedoras and other trappings of affluence are now closed and witnessing bloody conflict at their door steps.

The Cowboy Hat

For some times, the South Sudan president, Salva Kiir Mayardit was depicted by some journalists as the symbol of the change happening in South Sudan.  But a week ago, he flung his cowboy hat and get back into his military uniform he slung onto a peg, and we saw him on a press conference in his highly decorated military uniform. This event has heralded the pacific situation that the South Sudanese loved to enjoy for long has come to end, as a result of some unattended political conflict or intraparty feud, which were simmering under-current.

Since taking power, in the world’s youngest nation, president Kiir has been getting rid of all traces of the barracks. Moreover, he was taken as someone who encapsulate an aura of a nation at peace with itself and ready to do business in a country which needs everything but war. All of a sudden, SPLA leaders appeared to the public and announced that they have flagged down the development train that was running at its full speed.

They chose to slacken the fast economic progress their country had managed to register in the last two or three years. The aura that was transpired in the persona of president Kiir has all of a sudden vanished and now he began to represent a country weary of the new business of nation building.  Before long the world gets ready to change its stereotyped impression about Sudan and the Horn, SPLA leaders became ready to embark on the ugly business of civil war.

At present, the cowboy hat of the South Sudan president is no more signaling the changed spirit of a determined nation and its leadership. The self-assured fortitude to alter the country from martial law to civilian rule has now fallen short of the mark. Once again, South Sudan relapses to the old way of politicking or resolving differences, which symbolically is reflected by the commando beret president Salva Kiir had on his head.

The blue and white saloon cars of the South Sudanese Police Service (SSPS) have been a common sight in Juba; indicating the deliberate effort to make transition from martial to civilian rule. The saloon cars of the South Sudanese Police Service have given way to the gunned military patrols that are roving up and down the street of Juba. This scene transpired the end of the civilian rule and heralded the order of the old days.

As the South Sudan plunged into the current state of emergency and rushing headlong into war, fear and apprehension is prevailing all over. The country that has determined to do what it takes to spur and realize development has, in a couple of years, switched into being a nation ready to embark on another round of bloody civil war. This dismaying political metamorphosis could legitimately be described as the degeneration of a nation ‘from hero to zero.’  The falling apart of the nation’s dream is taking place as we see the rush from the sublime to the mediocre.

The newest nation of the world, South Sudan, is undergoing a transformation that would push it from being a country that allures investors from around the world into a turbulent nation unable to wait for long to see the agony of its citizen. Its capital city, Juba, has also switched over night from being a hub of new buildings, smart restaurants, brand-new hotels, banks, and air conditioned offices into a city of unrest.  Now, the buzz of excitement being seen all over the places has now evaporated; the kindled torch of hope extinguished, the determination of the nation relinquished, frustration reigned and unrest prevailed.

In a jiffy, the promising future that South Sudan has seen around the corner has vanished and the fervent hope has faded away like a mist. The blue chip corporations and small-scale entrepreneurs who were summoned by the brighter future glimmering in South Sudan are now about to fly-away.

Juba’s Miracle

Initially, those who had not expected that the South Sudanese would conclude the referendum without any hitches were proved damn wrong. However, the current turn of events is rather holding true, the gloomy imagination of those who had ‘a wait and see’ attitude.

The South Sudanese wished to be a new nation and they have achieved it. They had the feeling that they can make it and they soon have shown us that they are capable of the daunting task of forming a new nation. But now they are about to abort the fast growing nation in its infancy. 

A few months ago, one may find it too difficult to imagine such a catastrophic end to the South Sudanese enthusiastic and huge task of nation-building effort; in as much as it was difficult for many observers to foresee such a boom in the sweltering heat of Juba three years or so before. Slowly but surely, the new nation began to emerge and again turned out to be the scene of spiraling unrest and the spot of conflict, which claimed the lives of many people. At this moment, the cry out for development is being replaced by the cry of agony.

In fact, some observers were not under any illusion about what to expect from a country that was coming out from the long and protracted civil conflict. They had no doubt expected challenges during the transition period and hoped that the South Sudanese would overcome those challenges with time. However, the South Sudanese had managed to surpass the expectations of many. The new nation that could become symbol for the African renaissance has badly tarnished the iconic representation it could eventually assume.

Some investors have even praised the Juba leadership saying, “The people here are focused and the elites are well informed. They have great plans, and we have been able to see many of them being pursued very well to the extent that would realize the dream of a wealthy nation where many flocked to get the offer of the opportunity in South Sudan.”

“In the next 20 years, South Sudan will be a booming economy. This is the right time to be here,” said Paul Gitahi, the Kenyan Equity Bank South Sudan Executive Director, two years ago. Gitahi continued, “This country has a lot of potential. It is vast and is endowed with immense agricultural potential, with 80% of its land being arable with suitable rains. South Sudan also has numerous minerals deposits and has an eager population willing to make good use of the resources at their disposal and leadership that has a global outlook.” Alas, currently, the situation in South Sudan has instigated fear and trepidation amongst many around the world.

‘Scramble for South Sudan’

On 9th January 2005, after three years of intensive negotiations Sudan’s civil war came to an end when the two warring parties, South Sudan and Northern Sudan, signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Nairobi, Kenya. This pact has ushered in a new chapter for both Sudan and has also opened up new fortune for businesses of the superpowers and other countries.

These opportunities, which some presses (like the African Business) would opt to describe as “scramble for the Southern Sudan resources” has been underway over the last eight years, with the US, China, India, Norway, are in the front; while Sweden, Malaysia and some members of the Arab League are also involved. Neighboring countries like Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and South Africa are leading business partners of Juba.               

Apart from the South Sudanese oil boom, these countries are involved in the lucrative mining industry, infrastructure, telecommunication, medical supplies, educational, tourism, agriculture, supplies and defense contracts.

“Tales of large-scale bribery, underhand dealings and official malfeasance underscore the real ‘scramble for South Sudan,’” wrote African Business on its Oct. 2011 edition, indicating that major players are circling South Sudan’s natural resources. “Accusation of corruption among ministers continued to dog President Salva Kiir’s new cabinet” noted African Business, “In more ways than one, these factors not only affect the economies of all these countries involved but also shape their foreign policies and realign their international relations and obligations. In other words, there has been a radical paradigm shift within South Sudan, largely driven by the profit motive.”

The scramble for Juba also extends to large land-based investments sometimes referred to as ‘land grabbing.’ Foreign interests have managed to secure some 5.74m hectares of land for agriculture, forestry, bio-fuels, ecotourism and carbon trading.  A United Arab Emirati company (Al Ain Wildlife) only has been granted 2, 280,000 hectares on 30 years lease contract. An American company (Nile Trading and Development) has secured 600,000 ha ‘to develop, produce and exploit timber and forestry resources on the leased land.’  The lease agreement has also given the Nile Trading and Development the right to extend its investment to 1,000,000ha.

All these things can give us what foreign interests may involve in the political feud we are witnessing now. The weak and infant South Sudanese government would be more vulnerable in managing things under such multi culture and ideology environment. This at the same time may have impact on the security concern and strategy of the Horn of Africa.

The Horn

Without a taint of exaggeration, I felt deeply sad when I hear the news of political crisis in Juba. Both South and North Sudan have shown us sympathize at the death of the visionary leader PM Meles Zenawi. In fact, South Sudanese has even declared a three days national mourning. That was a decision that would really inspire a pan-African spirit and comradeship. I now staggered by the news of the death of infant democracy in South Sudan.  

The crisis in South Sudan has a wide spreading impact that would damage the emerging pan-African spirit and economic miracle in the Horn. If the South Sudanese fell to contain the ongoing crisis, it would be a symbolic defeat that would rap the continent with shame. Fellow South Sudanese must see the implication of their failure to the region and the African continent. They should consider the continental significance of their failure to fend of the national demise that is currently hovering round the Horn. The leaders should be mindful of the risks. The Horn must swim or sink together. Our destiny is intertwined with each other and the intrastate conflict would easily change into interstate conflict. 

Last week, IGAD leaders have urged South Sudanese political forces to stop fighting and start negotiation. The leaders have called for the immediate secession of hostility and conflict, which is assuming an ethnic line and claimed the lives of many innocent civilians.

The Horn includes Ethiopia, Uganda, South Sudan, Northern Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, Eritrea and Kenya.  Regional integration and cooperation is necessary as a means to achieve peace and economic development in the Horn of Africa. Based on its national security analysis, Ethiopia is committed to continue to work in collaboration with IGAD countries and solve the crisis in South Sudan. Countries of IGAD have acted to contain the situation before it becomes late for any effort to bring significant solution for the problem in South Sudan.

Scholars advise that Sudan and Ethiopia must take the lead in the effort to create regional integration forged by means of economic bondage amongst the states in the Horn. The Horn should forge regional integration and cooperation through a political consensus based on democratic values. This political consensus must be based on tolerance and cultural diversity within a broader national and regional framework.

Egypt and some countries in the Gulf are always ready to obstruct any regional integration effort and are usually working to isolate Ethiopia and to frustrate alliance of states in the Horn Africa.


Historically Ethiopia had been the hub of either stability or instability in the north east Africa. For many years there were suspicion and rivalry between countries in the Horn. Ethiopia has formulated a foreign affairs and security policy that would guide the conduct of its diplomatic effort. This policy has outlined a clearly conceived national interest of the country. Thus, in line with the guiding principles of this policy; Ethiopia has deployed peace keeping forces under the auspice of the UNSC, and AU and IGAD in the horn of African countries. Its military forces have done commendable jobs             

It has been acting with sufficient restraint to prevent its use of military power from turning into destabilizing military adventurism. The country has been able to contain the forces of instability in the Horn. The burden of creating stabilized horn falls entirely on Ethiopia. When Ethiopian plunged into an interstate conflict or seems to be weak, the Horn will usually fall into political problems and the region will remain unmanaged and will run out of control. Ethiopia needs the regional stability for its own national security interests. Therefore, the overall game plan should be built on a new peace and security architecture for the horn.  We need to have multilateral strategy to be implemented within a multilateral framework.

Many scholars argued that since the Second World War, Ethiopia has been pursuing foreign policy which exhibits remarkable consistency. The foreign policy of Ethiopia has been primarily focused on maintaining the nation’s independence and territorial integrity. The foreign policy continued unperturbed with the change of regime and political ideology.

And the element of this foreign policy that had been constantly pursued by successive governments of Ethiopia was supporting rebel groups fighting in neighboring countries like Sudan and Somalia. However, many of the concerns of Ethiopia in relation to its national security were clearly articulated by the foreign policy adopted by the incumbent government. One may or may not agree with analysis and conclusion of the current government about the Ethiopian national security concerns. However, everyone would accept the fact that the EPRDF government has articulated and coherent security strategy and foreign policy.

Every political analyst who had interest in the horn of Africa would tell you that the principal rival of Ethiopia in the Horn is Egypt. Historically Egypt has always been vying for control over the horn of Africa to close the possibility of the emergence a viable power that would frustrate its interest and manage to assume an upper hand over the issues of the Nile River. Egypt gravely concerned the emergence of such political power in Ethiopia or the Horn, which according the Egyptian analysis, would hold the country as ransom and dictate its terms in controlling the headwaters of the Nile basin.

This is a matter of life and death issues for Egypt. Egypt’s concern over the Nile water has increased in recent years, as Ethiopia shows interest to exploit the water resources of the Blue Nile. The peace prevailing in Sudan and the prospect economic development in Ethiopia and other countries of the Horn is conceived by Egyptian politicians as a threat for the century long statuesque. This situation, they assume, would compromise their position and imply the upstream states are ready and willing enough to utilize more water from the Nile river, that has so far remained the uncontested privilege of the Egyptian which was made possible by bilateral colonial treaties that is devised with all intents and purposes to ensure the exclusive exploitation of the Nile water resources by the colonized Egypt and Sudan. 

As Ethiopia showing an interest and ability in utilizing the Nile River for irrigation and hydroelectric power Egypt is becoming worried about the development in the Horn. Moreover, under the auspices of the World Bank the Nile riparian states has taken important steps to harmonize interest of all riparian states based on the principle of equitable use of the Nile water as it is advanced based on the Nile Basin Initiative. This is an important step forward that ended the Egyptian Zero-sum game over the Nile water utilization. The new orientation would require all the riparian states to work together for the promotion of their common interest based on partnership forged on the principle equality.

Ethiopia is currently pursuing a national security strategy which envisages advancing the country’s national interest by ensuring stability in the Horn. Ethiopia has taken direct action against extremist groups on Somali soil. Ethiopia also supported the effort to rebuild a central government in Somalia by constantly extending its support to any group who vowed and show readiness to work for the stability of that country. The Ethiopian government constantly tried to buttress legitimate authorities in neighboring countries as it is advancing a policy that underscore the rational and best interest of Ethiopia would only be served by strong and stabilized states in the horn. This is really a game changer position of the Ethiopian government that has discarded the age-old policy of the states in the horn who used to promote misconceived policy which presume that strong neighbors are threats. It has such a policy based on the strategic interest in the stability of the South Sudan, which is cemented by long cherished political support the incumbent government has gotten from Ethiopia beginning from the start as a freedom fighter.

The Horn is also an abode for the destabilizing forces like the regime in Asmara. One can say Isayas is successful in maintain a permanent state of emergency in the region. In fact, the government of Isayas has very limited options and survival is its strategic goal. Though his goal as a government is nowadays simply survival, he is always bent on to see a region wide political crisis that would be insoluble.

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