State foundation as the solution to problems?

By Susanne Schmidt

The separation of Sudan into separate states of Sudan and South Sudan in 2011 captivated the world through its violent divorce. Generally, creating a new state sounds quite romantic. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the new state on the 9th of July 2011 with the words “the world gathers to say in one voice: Welcome, South Sudan. Welcome to the community of nations”. After which, the flag of South Sudan was hoisted at the UN headquarters in New York. Now the celebrations are over and the daily life of the new state has begun and the question arises: has the division of Sudan resolved the region’s issues which were intended to be solved? This article looks at the societal and economic reasons for the separation.

Southern Sudanese at their country’s first football match after independence, against Kenya on Sunday, 10 July, 2011. Photograph: Pete Muller/AP

Societal differences between Sudan and South Sudan

The reasons for the separation were mainly societal differences and economic disagreements. Starting with the first one, different religious affiliations within the territory separated the two regions enormously. South Sudan is dominated by Christianity and Animism whilst upper Sudan is predominantly Muslim. Also freedom of religion was officially proclaimed by the former united Sudan, peacefully living together side by side was highly difficult due to religious fights on the local level. Since the upper Sudan is further dominated by Arab cultural values and the Southern part by African values, the societal differences polarized even more. The separation was necessary to ensure peace, a solution regarded by social scientists to be successful – at least in the short term.  However, the separation did not help to improve the situation with regard to many ethnical conflicts on the local level within South Sudan as it is home to approximately 60 indigenous ethnic groups.

Desperate economic situation

Sudan’s separation has entailed an economic situation which has hampered development in South Sudan significantly. Despite the region’s oilfields, which kept the Sudanese economy alive since the 1990s, the new South Sudan is dependent on upper Sudan. Sudan lost 75% of their oil reserves in the separation, but South Sudan must now export the oil using pipelines which pass through Sudan. There is an official agreement between the two countries on how to divide profits, but the high costs of pipeline maintenance are placed on South Sudan. This cuts their profits considerably, restricting growth in a country where 98% of its government’s funds rely on oil. Then again, it could perhaps be said that South Sudanese citizens are feeling the benefits of the oil more now than when the country was united. Previously, the Sudanese government restricted profits to the capital and those in the north of the country. Even though the oil agreement is tough, due to the risk of starting a violent conflict, South Sudan’s government decided against their consideration of blocking oil resources to Sudan until a better negotiation on the oil reserves was made.


The only realistic solution to this dilemma could be oil pipelines going through neighboring countries Kenya and Ethiopia. However, analysts argue that these pipelines would be a challenging to build due to a lack of infrastructure, security concerns and general logistics. Building the pipelines would require at least two to three years; this plan could be something for the future but is not an immediate solution.

Intra-country difficulties: lack of hope

This desperate economic situation is argued by many experts to be the main cause of intra-country problems within South Sudan. The high dependency on the oil industry connected to the lack of solutions for improvement do not just spread hopelessness in the country but also aggravate corruption and civil conflicts. Missing infrastructure in terms of schools, roads and health facilities exacerbate the human development, especially the ones of the youth. Abraham Ayiik, the deputy headmaster of a primary school in Kuajok, states that “the pupils do not have much food, and most of the teachers do not have a salary.” Hence, the youth miss the motivation for education as it often seems to be easier and faster to earn money in informal jobs or via corruption. The national government lacks the resources to deal with these issues however after a time of ignoring the reality, international organisations are welcomed to give help.

The issues facing these countries are of a long-term nature but the people of South Sudan do not regret independence as Donato Ochan, head of South Sudan Older People’s Association says “if you measure the difficulties we used to face when we were one country, it is better to remain separate.” Hence, creating a new state does not solve problems immediately but can at least help to get on the right track.

Photo courtesy of the guardian

Susanne Schmidt
Susanne Schmidt



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