The UK’s Role in South Sudan

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Today the UN agreed the membership of the world’s newest state – South Sudan. As people around the world read the glorified headlines and glance at momentous pictures of the 193rd sovereign country to be recognized by the United Nations, many remain ignorant of the truth that lies behind the façade.  Since their independence day on July 9th 2011, South Sudanese all over the world have been in constant celebration of the birth of the Republic of South Sudan.  Flags are waving, the new national anthem is being played, and national colours are being painted on faces.  Moreover, despite a defeat, South Sudan marked its new country with its first national football match in the capital of Juba last Sunday.

William Hague at South Sudanese independence

William Hague represented Britain at the birth of South Sudan but his work is not done. Photograph: AFP

I feel compelled to say that it is important, no matter where you are or who you are, to revel in this historic occasion.  After all, what marks this extraordinary event is South Sudan’s severed ties with the north.   In order to characterize the north-south relationship, it is important to look back to Sudan’s break from colonial Britain in 1956.  Although the break resulted in an independent Sudan, the country was far from unified because of its two completely distinct regions.  Whilst the north has traditionally been dominated by Islam, the south is primarily Christian and animist.  Conflict between the two has been perpetual and the South has yearned for independence ever since.  In fact, the South’s deep feeling of subjugation and marginalization has been a major driving factor in pushing for independence.  To further contextualize the view of the South Sudanese, it was recently stated by artist David Morbe that “the independence of Sudan back then [in 1956] was the beginning of slavery in South Sudan.”

It is also important to note that Sudan has been facing 40 years of continuous civil war, resulting in over 2.5 million deaths and 4 million displaced people – a figure that seems to be forgotten in the midst of focus on the name of David and Victoria Beckham’s new child or what jeans Kate Middleton wore in Calgary.

Leaders of the world have been quick to make congratulating statements about the achievement.  Barack Obama gave praise with the words of “Today is a reminder that, after the darkness of war, the light of a new dawn is possible” and David Cameron stated that it was “a historic day for South Sudan and the whole of Africa.”  After all, the process of declaring a state independent is not an easy one.  Although the 2005 peace agreement helped towards the goal of independence, and granting it was virtually a unanimous vote to break away from the North, strong concerns for South Sudan lingered until the split and indeed remain.  Perhaps the biggest concern was that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir would not actually allow the South to peacefully disaffiliate – on this front celebration is certainly warranted.

However, the problem is that people have already started to shift their attention to other headlines, shoving this momentous global event to the bottom of the media importance pile.  Whilst doing so, many are oblivious to the fact that the future of South Sudan is extremely fragile.

Newly formed South Sudan is one of the most underdeveloped countries on earth.  To put this into perspective, only 15% of its citizens are literate.  With education, healthcare and general infrastructure completely lacking, the new country faces severe problems.  These are the basic needs that any new country needs in order to stand on its own two feet.  Coupled with these problems is the violence already occurring in southern regions.  Seven different rebel militias operate in the South and the U.N has estimated that violent outbreaks have led to more than 2,400 deaths this year in the south alone.

To further add to the already prevalent violence is the country’s troubled relations with the north.  Although the north has been portrayed as being supportive of the new country, tensions are still high (particularly regarding the region of Abyei which is located on the border of South Sudan).  Disputes over oil are also going to prove to be difficult to resolve as the majority of the oil wells are in the South, while pipelines run to the North.  It therefore looks unlikely that the new president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, has an easy path ahead.  The British house of Lords EU Foreign Affairs sub-committee has now concluded that South Sudan is at ‘high risk’ of becoming a failed state.

So far, the UK has played a big role in this matter.  For example, it was a witness to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and has been amongst the first to recognize South Sudanese independence.  Furthermore, it has warmly welcomed South Sudan into the global community.  Foreign Secretary William Hague attended the independence ceremony and gave a heartwarming speech in which he congratulated South Sudan for all of its achievements to date.

However, more importantly, Mr. Hague highlighted the need for continued negotiations between North and South Sudan and emphasized that both have the full support of Britain going forward.  To mark its commitment to supporting the new country, the UK also opened a new British Embassy in Juba with the appointed British ambassador Dr. Alastair McPhail.

However, although Mr. Hague’s speech was pleasant, specific commitments were not mentioned.  Therefore, it is important to highlight what the UK concretely plans on doing.  After all, the UK has immense historical links with Sudan and a strong knowledge base about the country.

So far, the most tangible commitment the UK has made is to provide £90 million over the next year; hopefully these funds will be used wisely.  The UK hopes this money will contribute to the developmental help the country is desperate for.  Mr. Hague claims that advances in healthcare, education, finances, security and the justice system are the priorities – a lot to tackle for £90 million.

Hopefully we will see the United Kingdom live up to the financial and moral support that has been dedicated to South Sudan.  Why?  Because the collapse of South Sudan would not result purely in internal issues but in widespread international problems.

It is not unreasonable to argue that if the UK (with support from the wider international community) starts slacking in its role as a helper to this new country, it will not be long before South Sudan storms back into the headlines – not because celebration is needed but because of its new status as Africa’s most recent failed state.

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About Zoe Lazaridis

I am currently a full time International Relations and Political Science student. Coming from a diverse background as a Greek-American who has lived in Greece, Germany, Belgium and, for the past 12 years, London, my exposure to various cultures and belief systems has broadened my perspective and pushed me towards a passion for global politics. I am particularly interested in topics such as gender development, conflict and peace studies and the identity and interests of the West. My other hobbies include music, mainly jazz and big band, travelling and writing.

Posted on July 14, 2011, in Coalition Government, Comment, Foreign Affairs and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. In your article, you state that “So far, the UK has played a big role in this matter”.

    How so? By dropping a few insignificant congratulatory words to the struggles of a downtrodden people? Oh, well done David Cameron.

    Not quite as “big a role” as ‘DC et al’ have played in oil-rich Libya where the puppet dictator is no longer willing to dance for them…

  2. Firstly, dropping congratulatory words is not the only thing I address.

    Secondly, I stand by what I say. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement was a major milestone in Sudan gaining its independence – and the UK was part of it.

  3. Although ideologically sound, scholarly studies has shown that foreign aid rarely produces meaningful moral or economic change.

    Better economic and moral conditions come from internal mechanisms and internal modifications. A more prosperous nation tends to lead to greater equality (with the exception of the Islamic states)

    However, nations seldom become prosperous by becoming beholden to other nations. Indeed, nations dependant on foreign aid will often resist change in much the same way welfare benefits can demotivate an individual from seeking employment.

  4. I understand that a nation needs to have internal stability and limited reliance. However, when a new state is on the brink of failing, I do think it is the responsibility of the international community to step in – especially the UK since Sudan was under its colonial rule in the first place.

    I do not condone dependence which is why I also discuss moral support as well as financial support.

    The aim of helping Sudan is not to merely pump money into the country and let it disintegrate but rather to use it to help with basic infrastructure, for example, that Sudan will need when it stands alone.

    Feel free to disagree but that is what I believe.

  5. The debate on the effectiveness of foreign aid is an important one – we might just have different opinions! I certainly think South Sudan needs help at the moment – I stand by all decisions to help it because the problems that will arise if it is abandoned will be endured by everyone.

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