The struggle for peace continues in South Sudan

A man in Wau, Western Bahr el Ghazal State casts his net.

By Auke Lootsma, Deputy Country Director (Programmes), UNDP South Sudan


In December 2013, violent conflict erupted over political power-sharing and access to resources, plunging the world’s youngest nation into a deep political, socio-economic, and humanitarian crisis. As a result more than 10,000 people were killed or injured; over 1.6 million were internally displaced, including over 170,000 people who sought refuge in Protection of Civilians (PoC) sites inside United Nations (UN) bases; and 642,000 people fled to neighbouring countries.

In August 2015, a peace agreement was signed in Ethiopia between the warring factions to put an end to the conflict.  The peace agreement is a complex framework with an ambitious timetable to end hostilities and build lasting peace. It outlines key governance reforms designed to put South Sudan back on a path to sustainable peace and recovery, including the formation of a new Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU).

However, the challenges facing the future Transitional Government are enormous for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the conflict invoked widespread psychological trauma, and continued violence affected most of the population, particularly women and children. Uncontrolled proliferation of arms during the recent conflict led to re-armament of many communities, undermining the traditional systems of governance, conflict mediation and reconciliation.

Secondly, the crisis resulted in massive socio-economic losses, estimated at some 15 per cent of potential Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2014. Oil production, traditionally accounting for 60 per cent of GDP and 98 per cent of exports, fell by approximately 50 per cent due to the conflict. Consequently, the incidence of poverty increased from 44.7 per cent in 2011, to more than 57.2 per cent in 2015.

Thirdly, service delivery and basic service infrastructure which were already at low levels, incurred more damage. In conflict-affected areas or locations with high concentrations of displaced people, basic services are almost exclusively provided by humanitarian organisations. Centralised supply of electricity and clean water are virtually non-existent and most roads are inaccessible during the rainy season. Limited access to justice and weakened law and order institutions have given rise to a culture of violence and lawlessness.

Fourthly, the conflict and displacement have eliminated many communities’ capacity to cope, thereby disrupting food and livelihood activities, and access to markets. The UN estimates that 3.5 million people in September 2015 were at risk of food insecurity.

Despite the difficulties of the current situation, the hard-won peace agreement offers new opportunities for South Sudan to find peaceful means to address the root causes of the conflict, and return to a sustainable development pathway. The continued struggle for power and resources, ethnic tensions, weak governance structures, and the dire socio-economic situation, can all potentially cause the country to slide back into conflict. To avoid such a catastrophe, it is essential that the international community strongly supports the implementation of the peace agreement to ensure the protection of civilians, and supports recovery programmes which will help people improve their lives as an immediate peace dividend. The peace deal is an important first step to restoring safety, dignity and hope to civilians in South Sudan.  However, what really matters is the implementation on the ground, and South Sudan needs all the support it can get. Collectively, the international community and the TGoNU can make a considerable impact on the lives of many in South Sudan.

For its part, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) in South Sudan works on: socio-economic recovery through measures to improve livelihoods; community security and social cohesion in areas where stabilisation is possible; and mitigating and reducing displacement emanating from insecurity, a lack of services, and economic opportunities. Equally important, UNDP partners with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and other UN agencies to support the implementation of critical provisions of the peace agreement, with regards to democratic governance, rule of law, transitional justice, and human rights. It is fair to say that initial steps have been taken towards building sustainable peace in South Sudan, but the road remains long and treacherous.

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