Stomping Around South Sudan
South Sudan is one of countless countries that is nowhere near Ukraine and yet is feeling the effects of the war. South Sudan is the youngest country in the world, and it is one of the poorest. It is heavily dependent on international aid, and Putin’s war in Ukraine has made food more expensive, and harder to get.
South Sudan has had a rough time in its first decade. The country gained independence through a 2011 referendum. It immediately became one of the world’s poorest countries. The civil war that started in 2013 was inevitable. It was yet another example of a place that had been held together by a common enemy (the regime in Khartoum), and once that enemy was gone, South Sudan’s tribes would turn on each other in a struggle for control of the nation.
Warring factions settled on a power-sharing arrangement, and South Sudan has been under a fragile peace since 2018. The increased strain from rising food and fuel prices could easily reignite conflict.
I traveled to the region of South Sudan in November 2010 to report on preparations for the referendum in January 2011. It was pretty clear to me then that the country was likely to turn on itself not long after gaining independence. There were deep tribal rivalries and limited resources. I felt the international community was not paying enough attention to those dynamics and did not take steps to minimize the potential for civil war.
What could have been done? More development assistance and governance support to develop power-sharing mechanisms early on to head off the power struggles.
We’ll never know if it would have been possible to prevent the country from descending into civil war, But the United Nations and the rest of the international community could have done more.
A colleague and I spent about 10 days in South Sudan. We spent a couple of days together in the capital Juba and then went on separate field trips. I traveled to Malakal, a state in the northeast of the country bordering Sudan.
The following paid subscriber content is the tale of that adventure.