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South Sudan: Eight years on from independence

By Natalia Chan, Senior Advocacy and Policy Officer, East Africa

This week marks the anniversary of South Sudan’s independence. Eight years on from that momentous day, both South Sudan and Sudan are in an extremely fragile state following dramatic events over the past year.

On 3 May 2019, the parties in the South Sudan conflict – under Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) led mediation – agreed a six-month extension to the period set aside to form the revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity. This decision recognised that not enough progress had been made on areas critical to the formation of the new government, which had been meant to form on May 12.

However, nearly two months into that extension, there is still a lack of meaningful progress as the November deadline looms ever closer. The spectre of the previous attempt to form a transitional government lingers and memories of its spectacular collapse three years ago serve as a constant reminder of what is at stake.

Hope for peace

The signing of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan in September last year had reignited some hope in the beleaguered political process. Last year was the least violent since 2013, enabling some space for recovery, humanitarian access, and local peacebuilding.

Christian Aid highlighted the value of local peacebuilding in its 'In it for the long haul? Lessons on peacebuilding from South Sudan' report last year, giving a positive platform for peacemakers who continue to make a difference at local level with important lessons for wider approaches to peace. 

In South Sudan, we work to equip communities with the knowledge and tools they need so they can successfully address key drivers of conflict.

Protracted humanitarian crisis

Yet the risks of a return to widespread conflict remain, as regional and international actors again take their eye off the implementation and timeline of the high-level process as they are distracted by other issues (internal politics in Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan; regional and geopolitical rivalries; Ebola) alongside the fatigue that comes with a protracted humanitarian crisis and a transition that will require decades of political commitment.  

Meanwhile, South Sudan has fallen off the radar, with news of South Sudan rarely gaining the same international media attention that the exhilaration of its independence attracted.

One exception has been the unprecedented actions of the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury (in solidarity with the South Sudan Council of Churches) which brought spiritual renewal to the Presidency designate and their commitment to peace.

Ebola risk

Stories like this continue to inspire hope for South Sudan, and we pray that it will be things like this, rather than Ebola, which brings the country back to the headlines. The Ebola outbreak in DRC is creeping closer to South Sudan’s border (last week a case was reported only 70 km away).

Realising peace in South Sudan will require long-term international engagement and sustained guidance and pressure from the South Sudanese churches and civil society. Achieving a positive peace relies on an unshakeable commitment to the principle of ensuring that all approaches are inclusive and owned by South Sudanese themselves.

What we're doing

Christian Aid’s South Sudanese partners and our own team there continue to make a considerable difference in communities across South Sudan through humanitarian, peacebuilding, development and advocacy work. Often against the odds, within a challenging environment and ongoing insecurity, their dedication and determination exemplifies what South Sudan needs.