South Sudan Now Needs Socio-Economic Development

The world’s newest country, South Sudan, gained its independence on July 9, in recognition of the January referendum stipulated in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended decades of Sudanese civil war. 

While recent hostilities gave way to celebrations, an international effort to produce socio-economic changes for both Sudans will now be necessary to avoid any new outbreaks of war. Developing stronger education systems, infrastructures, and medical facilities will help to improve human capital in both Sudan and South Sudan, allowing for economic diversity along the way.

South Sudan enters statehood as one of the world’s poorest countries, ranking significantly lower than its northern neighbor. The country is hampered by limited infrastructure, schools, and hospitals; military expenditures are higher than South Sudan's health and education budgets combined. But if war is to be averted, economic development and investment cannot just be focused on South Sudan. 

Sudan is losing approximately 35% of its income because of the secession. While Sudan hosts almost all of the oil refineries, and the pipeline bringing oil to Port Sudan, discussions of a new international pipeline through Kenya threatens to further reduce Sudan’s oil-dependent income. Poor soil has made agriculture difficult, and with rising tensions over Nile River water rights, Sudan’s water allotment could be reduced.

Food security was already a problem and is now exacerbated by the influx of return migrants and refugees. The cost and scarcity of food, resulting from limited supplies, has created a new wave of migrants and refugees seeking sanctuary in neighboring countries. For those who remain, the prospect of leaving is never far from thought. For South Sudanese returning from Khartoum or abroad, returning to their tribal homelands is putting excess strain on already limited resources. While this seems apparent, adding tens of thousands of people to an environment that is unable to support the existing populations is only going to further challenge the country and push the people deeper into poverty.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir has acknowledged the long and difficult road ahead, but knowing the problems and developing a comprehensive plan of action are two different things. A transparent government is a must to tackle the rampant corruption and create a stable future. Additionally, international aid needs to go beyond military development, with investments in agriculture, infrastructure, and human capital. For Sudan, developing more arid farming techniques and water recycling will provide better agriculture output. In both Sudan and South Sudan, medical facilities and schools will be necessary to expand human capital and make the citizens of both countries more competitive in the global economy. The better educated a person is the more productive they are; the healthier a person is, the more productive they are – while these seem like simple concepts, the priority on military expenditures indicates a disregard for human capital expansion. Building skill sets that make employees proficient in emerging technologies will also help to ensure that future investors look at the region. Without the existing skill sets there would be less incentive for investors to invest in either country.

Additionally, focus needs to be paid on female education. Currently, a girl is more likely to die during childbirth than she is to complete primary school. Global demography illustrates that higher female education levels result in lower fertility levels, an important element in a country with high maternal and child mortality rates. This point is also of importance in terms of gender equality and the rights of all children to be able to attend school – a principal component of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child.

It will take years for the economies and infrastructures of Sudan and South Sudan to be capable of providing for their people on their own. In the meantime, strategic investment and long-term visions for both countries are going to be the starting places for economic and political stability. Creating two self-reliant economies will make the tensions over grazing rights, limited oil reserves, and oil pipelines less volatile while expanding economic possibility.

Photo Credit: UN Multimedia

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Kathleen O'Neill

Kathleen O'Neill is interested in migration and refugee issues as well as international politics, with a particular interest in the Middle East. She has a double BA in economics and international studies with a concentration in Middle East studies from Washington College in Maryland. She has an MA in Middle East studies and a graduate diploma in migration and refugee studies from the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Kathleen has co-authored two short articles published by the Middle East Institute in Washington, DC and London Middle East Institute at SOAS. She has lived in the MENA region for more than seven years.

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