On-Site Reports from Our Peacekeepers

How Can We Support the Self-reliance of South Sudan, the Newest Country in the World?

Member of the International Peace Cooperation Corps in South Sudan
Lieutenant Yoshitaka Hashimura

1. In the beginning

On July 9th, 2011, South Sudan became an independent country, separating itself from Sudan. This newest country, half a globe away from Japan, has received much attention in Japan, since Japan was planning to dispatch an engineering unit of the Ground Self-Defense Forces to the country. Perhaps many people know about this country, but I guess only a few people know more than what the media covers.

Africa's 54th independent country is landlocked; it is surrounded by Sudan to the north, Ethiopia to the east, Kenya and Uganda to the south east, the Democratic Republic of Congo to the south west, and the Central African Republic to the west. According to one 2008 statistic, the population is about 8,260,000 and about 400,000 live in the capital city of Juba. The size is about 64,000 sq. km, which is 1.7 times as big as Japan. The central part is a vast swamp area created by the Nile River (called “Sudd” in the local language) that runs through the country). South Sudan is in the savanna climate zone (partly in the tropical rainforest climate), while Sudan is located at the east end of the Sahara. Its cities are surrounded by the vast savanna, where we can see many kinds of animals and plants. Therefore, this country is called “the second largest wildlife migration in the world.”

A photo taken from the UN
 airplane shows the Nile River running in the vast savanna.(img)

A photo taken from the UN airplane shows the Nile River running in the vast savanna.

What are your impressions of South Sudan? It is said that the two Sudanese civil wars resulted in the highest death toll since the Second World War. The Japanese media is focusing on the news of the traditional and long-lasting tribal conflicts in the country, while covering the dispatch of the engineering unit of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces. Because of that, we tend to have an image of the country as “a country of conflicts” or “an unsafe country.”

In November last year, the Secretariat of the International Peace Cooperation Headquarters of the Cabinet Office sent me to Juba as the first liaison officer. After the decades-long civil war, a peace pact was agreed to in 2005. Since then, the security situation has been improving, and is stable now; I was never put in danger during my three months stay there.

A peaceful day at a local market(img)

A peaceful day at a local market

Various international organizations, as well as the Headquarters of the UN Mission in South Sudan ( UNMISS ), are based in Juba to offer support. Also, thanks to the robust local economy, Juba is enjoying a construction boom; many foreign companies are expanding their businesses in Juba for capital injection and urban development projects. Actually many foreigners, including seasonal workers from the neighboring countries, can be seen everywhere in the city, and a number of hotels and restaurants that cater to them are thriving. It seems that independence is a blessing for many people, and that their lives are getting better, at least to some extent.

Juba is now in a construction boom.(img)

Juba is now in a construction boom.

2. What are the challenges of this country for the future?

Obviously, the security situation in the cities, including Juba, has been improved and the cities have also been developed with foreign investment. On the other hand, what are the challenges for the stable development of this country?

The first thing would be its diplomacy with the Sudanese government; South Sudan needs to tackle various issues, including the territorial dispute over the oil-rich Abyei Area, temporarily escalated military tensions at the national border in the north, distribution of the oil interests, and stalemates in the negotiation process over usage fees of the pipelines and ports.

Tribal conflicts would come next. Traditionally, tribal people who make a living by cattle breeding in rural areas have fought over livestock with other tribes. It is said that more than 2,500 people were killed in this conflict in Southern Sudan in 2009.

The lack of a proper taxation system is another problem. Except for foreign assistance, oil resources, which are causes of friction with Sudan, account for approximately 90% of the domestic revenue. Although mineral resources including iron ore, copper, zinc and tungsten, and agricultural products including cotton, peanuts, corn, cassava, sugar cane, mango, papaya, wheat, and sweet potatoes are produced, most of them are not exported or even sold in domestic markets, because of the limited quantity of production and poor quality as well as poor transportation infrastructure. Especially, most of the food products sold in Juba are imports from the neighboring Uganda and Kenya. This fact shows the poor agricultural situation and infrastructure of the country.

Most of the roads outside Juba are unpaved.(img)

Most of the roads outside Juba are unpaved.

Most of the food products in the local markets are imported.(img)

Most of the food products in the local markets are imported.

3. For substantial stability and sustainable development of this country

(1)  People in urban areas look peaceful and smiling

Although I have mainly talked about the challenges, the future of South Sudan does not always look dark.

About ten years ago, a peaceful and stable society was returned to the country after a several-decade-long tragedy of mutual killing. The country is on independence honeymoon, but it would be natural if remnants from the days of the civil war were found. It is not surprising if the people and country were devastated in the most savage way. However, the reality is that the people look very peaceful; the city of Juba is full of smiles and vitality. The people are very friendly to foreigners like us; young people often say hello to us when we look at them, and kids curiously watch us. One day, a local old man bought me a glass of beer and asked me many questions about Japan. One notable example of why the people are not devastated is that the local banks are always crowded with customers. They form a long line, holding the new South Sudan currency, the pound, with them to deposit, and hoping for stability and development of the country. They are no longer threatened by civil war. So, at this moment, I can feel that the people in the city are living peacefully and holding hope for the future.

Customers are always lining up at the bank.(img)

Customers are always lining up at the bank.

Although my stay in Juba lasted only a few months, I, as a foreigner, recognized many problems of this country. So why are they so friendly and smiling all the time? How can they believe in their future in the face of such instability? As they experienced the protracted and life-threatening civil war and were worried about their future, they are probably now more or less satisfied with their current lives, which are stable and getting better, and they are not looking at the tasks of development.

Because our lives are comparatively stable and peaceful in Japan, it is easy to think into the distant future; we are accustomed to it in both positive and negative ways. Actually, we tend to worry unnecessarily or too much about the far future. In this country, putting aside an unthinkable future (say for 10 years) for now, people who experienced the life-threatening civil war are watching the development of Juba and purely and simply hoping for their happiness and future. I really believe this to be true.

(2)  A big difference between urban and rural areas

As I mentioned, people in urban areas, including Juba, can stay calm and feel hopeful for their future. On the other hand, in some rural areas, people are still armed as if the civil war was continuing, and intertribal conflicts sometimes occur. Staying in Juba, it's hard to believe that these things are really happening in the same country.

In rural areas, people still live in thatch-roofed dwellings calledtukul. There is no power, gas, or water, and they earn a living in traditional ways, especially raising cattle and sheep. Cattle are the symbol of tribal groups and their most precious assets; cattle are deeply rooted in the traditional lives of South Sudanese people. For example, like betrothal money in Japan, dozens or even hundreds of cattle are supposed to be sent to a bride's family before marriage. Therefore, they scramble for cattle with weapons distributed in the civil war era, and armed conflicts over wedding-related cattle break out between tribal groups. As a result, hundreds of people are wounded and killed. It is hard for us living in Japan to imagine such a thing, but this is the reality here.

Thatched-roof dwellings called tukul, and cattle breeding(img)

Thatched-roof dwellings called tukul, and cattle breeding

(3)  What are the immediate needs of the people?

What are needed for stability and peace of mind in those rural areas? In other words, how can people in those areas feel safe and happy and feel hope for the future? Also, how can we stop the fighting and killing over water sources, which shrink in the dry season, and over precious cattle?

But before those things, disarmament of people should come first; the security forces must be responsible for the maintenance of security, so that people do not need to be armed for self-defense. Of course, it is necessary to set long-term goals and gradually achieve them by making better houses, building infrastructure and cities, sending children to school, and conducting skill-building education for adults, with the help of international organizations, NGO s and foreign investment. On the other hand, as a short-term goal, it's important to work off the anxiety and frustration of people, so that they can realize improvements of their living conditions after the independence of the country. If they can't believe today, they can't hope for the future. In the case of cattle, they would not fight if they could secure enough cattle. I imagine that enough cattle and improved livestock technology to secure cattle would be necessary for livestock breeders in the rural areas. For example, cattle in this country don't produce enough milk to sell. However, if they raise cows for milking with improved technology, their anxiety will be eased by cash income and the tax revenue of the country will be increased eventually. Likewise, improvement of agricultural technology is necessary for farmers, and fishery technology for fishermen. Following the independence of the country, international organizations entered South Sudan to offer support. If the technical guidance provided by those organizations improves local production, people will realize that their lives are getting better after the independence, and that they will get even better the next day; they'll have hope for the future.

I hear such career support is actively done by NGO s, while large-scale and rich organizations such as the UN and international organizations seem to work for toward long-term goals. It's important for the UN and NGO s to work together within their abilities to respond to current requests from local people, in addition to achieving long-term goals.

Step-by-step support from the beginning.(img)

Step-by-step support from the beginning.

4. Closing: supporting self-reliance

What is the appropriate way to support self-reliance in this newly born country, which still needs the support of donors? South Sudan, the newest country in the world, poses such a question.

Because the country has experienced a long-term civil war, there would be no doubt that “ DDR ” (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration) and ensuring security is, at a minimum, needed, so that the country does not enter a war mode again. It is important to maintain security and disarm people to prevent war. After that is achieved, issues about quality of life should be discussed. If people can realize that today is better than yesterday and expect a better tomorrow, they can also believe that their lives are getting better. Of course, we must not neglect setting the country on the right track toward development by setting long-term goals and teaching English, mechanical abilities, and IT technology to them. However, I believe that it is also important to provide assistance to those who need immediate help persistently.

A lot of foreign investment in the urban areas is not the only option to support self-reliance in the country. We should also consider the real goal; in other words the exit strategy of the support. It is necessary to support its people and secure enough tax revenue by themselves. In this sense, it would work negatively to make the people accustomed to relying on foreign investment. Comparing this to child raising, it is like forcing babies who cannot yet walk with a wheelchair and discouraging them to make efforts to walk by themselves. We can't just pour money into the country, it is also important to offer step-by-step support from the beginning until the country can become self-reliant. I think this is the way to best support self-reliance.

Sadly, screams of pain have echoed throughout the country for some decades in the past; several million lives were lost and the country was left in ruin. I truly hope that one day this country will be filled with people full of dreams.

Last but not least, thank you so much for reading my report. I also appreciate South Sudan and all the people I've met here. Thank you.

Author with the first sunrise of the new year after becoming independent.(img)

Author with the first sunrise of the new year after becoming independent.

April 2012, Juba