Expert Commentary

Republic of South Sudan: Opportunities and challenges for Africa’s newest country

2011 report by the U.S. Congressional Research Service on outstanding issues for the newly independent African nation.

The Republic of South Sudan became the world’s newest nation on July 9, 2011. Although the Second Sudanese Civil War officially ended in 2005, nearly 40 years of conflict have left South Sudan with substantial economic and infrastructure challenges, ranging from protracted border disputes to a high rate of illiteracy and limited access to clean water.

A 2011 Congressional Research Service report, “The Republic of South Sudan: Opportunities and Challenges for Africa’s Newest Country,” identifies outstanding political and humanitarian issues as the country forges its future.

The report’s findings include:

  • The total population of the new nation is 8.2 million; 72% are under age 30. The adult literacy rate is 27%; 83% of the population live in rural areas; an estimated 1% have a bank account. The infant mortality rate is roughly 10%.
  • While the United States has lifted all economic and political sanctions against Southern Sudan as of July 2011, the sanctions imposed against neighboring Sudan, especially those relating to oil and financial sector transactions, will likely to continue to impact the new nation.
  • Sudan and South Sudan continue to fight over control of the Abyei region during the interim period (from end of the civil war in 2005 to South Sudan’s reference on independence in July 2011). Government forces attacked the region in 2005 after the cease fire was signed, Abyei Town in May 2008, and nearby villages in February and March of 2011. According to United Nations and South Sudanese officials, more than 1,000 people were killed and over 200,000 people were displaced as a result of these conflicts in 2010 and 2011.
  • South Sudan’s progress is also impeded by the absence of adequate infrastructure such as roads and telephone service, a lack of skilled labor, an economy overly dependent on oil revenues, and a corrupt public sector. However, the majority (over 50%) of FY2012 U.S. funds for South Sudan will support the country’s Economic Support Fund, and U.S. funds to support development have steadily decreased, from $127,721 in FY2008 to zero funds for FY2011 and FY2012.
  • Despite a clear commitment to social development and demonstrable success increasing rates of school enrollment, the Government of South Sudan (GOSS) spends more than twice as much on defense ($373.6 million) as it does on education ($120.6 million) and on healthcare ($70.6 million) combined.
  • Roughly 98% of government revenues come from the oil sector.

The report concludes that “the most immediate and serious challenge for South Sudan is reaching an agreement with the North on the use of the oil pipeline and Sudanese ports to export its oil. In the absence of an agreement and if the government in Khartoum decides to shut down the pipelines, the Government of South Sudan has to come up with funds to run the government.”

Tags: fossil fuels, poverty