South Sudan’s bitter birthday

2012-07-14 15:26

First 12 months seen as ‘a lost year’

Widespread starvation, corruption and continuing conflict put a damper on what should have been the joyous celebration of South Sudan’s first year of independence.

Aid organisations are reporting from Juba that independence brought more hardship than relief for the South Sudanese.

“From the standpoint of improving the quality of life for millions of South Sudanese people, these first 12 months of independence can be written off as a lost year,” said Susan Purdin, head of aid agency International Rescue Committee.

South Sudan gained independence through a referendum to become Africa’s 54th state in July last year.

But refugees from the north are still flooding South Sudan to get away from the persecution and starvation they face in the north.

Monica Camacho, head of Médecins Sans Frontièresin Juba, told City Press that more than 300 000 Sudanese had fled the north due to starvation.

In the South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions, which belong to Khartoum, locals say starvation is being used as a weapon against them by the government of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

In addition to the extra people that need to be taken care of and the massive infrastructure backlog, South Sudan is also cut off from its greatest source of income – oil.

A dispute between Khartoum and Juba saw a refusal by Sudan to export oil from South Sudan.

Because South Sudan is landlocked, it depends on other countries to get the oil to buyers.

New pipelines are being planned to transport the crude oil through Sudan’s neighbours, Kenya and Uganda, but they’ll take at least two years to complete.

And the cash is needed now.

According to Camacho, the hardship in South Sudan does not extend to the elite.

“The elite here are privileged and they feel they are entitled to the privilege because they won the war,” she said.

She mentioned the Hummers and Porsches roaming the few tarred roads in Juba to get to mansions in the capital.

“For them it is common to fly to Nairobi on a daily basis to go shopping, while their kids go to school in the US or Canada.”

But the stark differences in the lifestyles of the war heroes and the ordinary people do not go unnoticed.

“The economic situation is worsening, there is a visible difference between the rich and the rest. And the feeling of discomfort is growing. At this point, people are keeping it quiet, and will only talk about it on a one-to-one level,” she says.

Foreign investors are in abundance in Juba, but very little of that money filters through to helping the people on the ground.

Instead, the government is trying to tap every potential resource to make money, and lately it has imposed bigger tariffs on people and goods entering the country to create revenue for the government.

Amnesty International visited eight refugee camps between March and April, and found people in some instances waiting 10 hours to receive a single container of water, or three weeks for food rations.

“People faced risks such as forced recruitment into armed groups and sexual violence, in addition to food and water shortages,” the group said.

Women and girls spoke of their fear of rape and sexual violence.

But starvation is the killer.

“We can run away from bombs but not from hunger,” one refugee told Amnesty International.

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