Is South Sudan a failed state?

Guest comment : Is South Sudan failing as a state?

This Saturday, South Sudan declares its independence, next Wednesday the UN Security Council, chaired by Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, will propose the country for membership in the United Nations. Westerwelle would like to help ensure that "two stable Sudanese states live in good neighbors."

That’s going to be difficult. South Sudan's economic and social indicators are among the worst in the world. The country has no functioning administration, police, judiciary, education or health system. It's full of weapons and not yet demobilized fighters - the army is oversized and undisciplined. The state budget relies solely on oil revenues and funds from foreign donors, and tax revenues are small. Transport links to the rest of the country, which is as big as the Iberian Peninsula, are poor.

Apart from a vague history of suffering, the ethnic groups that make up South Sudan have little in common. There are many local trouble spots where land, livestock and the power of rival ethnic groups are at stake - 1,600 deaths have already been reported this year, far more than in the crisis region of Darfur. Relations with Northern Sudan are unclear on many points. At the same time, the South Sudanese expect a peace dividend quickly - and for many of the new rulers who are fed by the rebel army, the transition to independence all too often means paying a peace dividend to themselves and the expanded personal networks. With a few exceptions, a broad South Sudanese elite caring about the public good is not in sight.

In short: all the ingredients for a failed state are available in South Sudan. This would make South Sudan a security risk not only for its own people, who have suffered decades behind them, but for the entire region. A UN peace mission that the UN Security Council will adopt this week is supposed to ensure that this does not happen. As is so often the case, however, the mandate of this mission reads like a request concert: protection of civilians, security sector reform, police and judicial building, reintegration of fighters to be disarmed, human rights protection, election support - these are some of the cornerstones of the mandate.

However, priorities and resources are missing. In military terms, the 7,000 blue helmets planned will lack equipment (logistics, transport and combat helicopters) and reconnaissance capacities (satellites, drones). They can often hardly protect themselves and rarely have the political will to intervene in internal Sudanese conflicts. Western armies (including Germany) usually do not provide enough soldiers or logistical equipment for missions in Africa - and the inviting governments (such as those of South Sudan) resist effective reconnaissance capacities on the part of the blue helmets.

Germany only wants to send a maximum of fifty soldiers to South Sudan. Instead, Germany should set a good example and, within the European network, increase its contribution to the mission in South Sudan and push for realistic goals. At the end of 2010, Guido Westerwelle spoke of “Good Enough Governance” with a view to Afghanistan - the goal of adequately good governance. This can be applied to South Sudan. If in ten years there were some viable states in both the South and the North, whose elites have started to care about the provision of public goods for their citizens, much would be achieved.

The author is co-founder and vice-director of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin. He recently published the book “The New World of UN Peace Operations: Learning to Build Peace?” At Oxford University Press (with Stephan Mergenthaler and Philipp Rotmann).

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