South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir is facing dissent as the world’s newest state stumbles
Telsach gad, a teacher in South Sudan, had high hopes for a better life when his country became independent in 2011 after decades of civil war with Khartoum. Two years later, he has lost all illusions.
“The government hasn’t done anything to develop the country,” the unemployed Arabic instructor says, sitting with other jobless young men in a makeshift roadside cafe in the capital Juba. “We don’t have jobs, schools, hospitals.”
Western donors and the UN have poured billions of dollars into South Sudan, which won independence after decades of war with northern rulers in Khartoum, becoming the world’s newest country and a large African oil producer in its own right.
Nobody ever thought it would be easy to transform one of the world’s least developed countries into a functional, prosperous state, but the performance of the former bush fighters as rulers has fallen short of even the most modest expectations.
President Salva Kiir is facing growing dissent from the streets and from inside his ruling party. Critics say the newborn nation is facing the same ills that always plagued the old Sudan — corruption, a lack of public services and repression of government opponents and the media.
Two weeks ago, small protests broke out in Juba against the deteriorating security situation. While nobody regrets secession, half the population feels South Sudan is heading in the wrong direction with poverty and crime rising, according to a poll by the International Republican Institute.
“People are upset. Everyone is upset,” says Deng Athuai, head of the South Sudan Civil Society Alliance, which promotes the rule of law. “Nothing is going right.”
The absence of a real opposition party means widespread grievances find no outlet through the political system, but the calmness in Juba’s dusty streets is deceptive. Many are afraid of the powerful security services and people are reluctant to discuss corruption in detail.
Instead of protesting, many flock to the churches to vent their anger. “People call all the time to set up counseling sessions,” says Caesar Ojja, pastor at the Pentecostal Church.
Ojja says he heard more and more people talking about suicide due to unemployment and poverty. “People have problems and they don’t know how to solve it,” he says. “People are afraid to take to the street.”
Responding to popular frustration, Kiir in July fired his cabinet, many of whose members had been accused of corruption and incompetence. He also removed vice president Riek Machar and SPLM secretary general Pagan Amum, his main political rivals.
Kiir consolidated power with the sackings but the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) will likely split as Machar and Amum have higher ambitions, says Nhial Bol, editor of the independent Citizen newspaper. Machar wants to challenge Kiir for president, while Amum has filed a lawsuit against being investigated on Kiir’s orders for “disloyalty”.
Bol said things could turn violent if the government failed to hold elections in 2015 as planned. An understaffed election body is struggling to organise a census and register political parties.
With only weak institutions in place, the country might break up along ethnic lines, as in the civil war when Kiir and Machar were opponents, according to a study by the Sudd Institute, a local think tank.
“If the cracks take ethnic lines and violence ensues as a result, the state may become dysfunctional, giving way to a large-scale ethnic violence,” the report said.
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