By Stephen Twinoburyo
On the morning of Friday, 05 August 2011, I attended a morning briefing at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria at which the Information Officer of the South Sudan embassy, Mr Peter Bior Alier, gave a briefing about their country. Apart from researchers and officials of the ISS, there were officials of other embassies in Pretoria.
As somebody from Uganda, this was an interesting discussion seeing that South Sudan and Uganda are so intertwined in many ways, spanning from struggle for the independence of South Sudan to economic interdepence. Many Ugandans identify a lot with South Sudan and are very knowledgeable in the events leading to its creation as well as the challenges it faces. So for me, this briefing was very enlightening.
Mr Alier discussed the matters of South Sudan very eloquently and in the short time we had, he was able to explain a lot.
He said now that the country has been formed, the task is to create a working state that is able to cater for her people. One of the key issues now is the managing of the dynamics surrounding oil in the country. Oil is produced in the south but it has to be delivered in the north. The current infrastructure, for instance pipelines, was built for one country but it’s now shared by two. Northern Sudan wants levies on South Sudan for use of pipelines that pass through its territory. There are discussions on this but it’s a thorny issue.
There is also the issue of the people of the Abie region and their concern of where they belong needs to be addressed. He said that former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, is working tirelessly in this area as he has been in the whole issue of Sudan.
Mr Alier said the country faces enormous infrastructural challenges. However a lot is being invested in agriculture to boost economic growth. The country spans a water-rich region and has conducive conditions for agriculture.
On the issue of security, which many people would definitely be interested in, he said that much of the original security challenges that the country faced have been reduced. He said most militias have joined the new government after President Salva Kiir extended amnesty to all former fighters. The return of militia leader, Gen Peter Gadet, to Juba recently is a significant development and it is hoped that he will throw his weight behind the new government. Answering a question about the threat of other forces like the Lord’s Resistance Army LRA), he said the LRA was a largely spent force and the last he heard of them was that they had moved to the Darfur region but even if they were to attempt any destabilisation acts, the forces of South Sudan are ready to deal with them.
He said having fought a 50-year war of independence, South Sudan faces challenges of rule of law and indiscipline among some of the forces but these are matters they are working on. He said these are government priorities. Also now that the war is over, they need to downsize and streamline their fighting forces. There are also some places that need demining.
Answering various questions from participants, these were his responses:
On a concern that the constitution of South Sudan gives the president so much powers including the firing elected governors, Mr Alier said this is not a big issue because the president won’t use some of those powers. He said however, looking at the fragility of the country at the moment, Juba needs to exert some control over the provinces, for instance people may elect a non-military governor that may not be able to handle volatile situations.
On the relationship with the north, he said they share a lot and the north remains a very crucial partner to South Sudan. He added that they’ve also shared a lot with countries in the region and these relationships will continue to be enhanced.
Asked about factions due to previously rumoured rivalries between current president, Salva Kiir, and the late John Garang, he said that was externally-created propaganda and nothing of the sort existed. He said even Dr Riek Machar is now with President Salva Kiir in the government of South Sudanto strengthen the country.
On the question of some people beginning to talk of the Nile republic, combining the Luo speaking tribes in South Sudan, northern Uganda and some parts of Kenya, he said it was the first time he was hearing of a Nile republic. He said, however, people are free to have their own individual relationships due to their common cultures but this does not amount to a republic.
Asked whether they plan to join the East African Community, he said that may be a long term objective, seeing that they’ve shared a lot leading to the formation of South Sudan. He said joining IGAD may be a very near possibility because of the role the organisation has played in combating the challenges facing the region.
Being quoted a statement by a US based African economist that “The biggest problem facing South Sudan is the influx of advice”, he said getting a lot information is good but they will have to sift out what is important for the country.
He said they are planning an investment conference to attract investment to their country. He said so far, many South Africa companies have expressed interest in investing in South Sudan.
Knowing that the matters of South Sudan have been of much interest to the people of the East African region, I throw this to you for your analysis of the issues discussed above.