17 November 2015
International Crisis Group and the Embassy of Japan co-hosted the event "From Prolonged Crisis to Sustainable Peace: Challenges for South Sudan and the Role of the International Community", on 17 November 2015 in Brussels to discuss how to support the August peace agreement to end South Sudan’s civil war. South Sudan’s Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin, representatives of African states and the donor community discussed the world’s newest state’s development and security challenges.
International Crisis Group’s President & CEO Jean-Marie Guéhenno said the joint Crisis Group-Japan seminar was being held at a historical moment for South Sudan. The IGAD-PLUS mechanism, he said, was vital to support the peace agreement signed in August 2015 to end the conflict in progress since December 2013. “To build peace is as difficult as to end a war”, he pointed out.
Masufimi Ishi, Japanese Ambassador to Belgium, spoke of Japan’s determination to support South Sudan through development assistance and the presence of 350 Japanese peacekeepers in the UN force; that the EU had an interest in strengthening the government of South Sudan, a significant source of refugee flows; and that South Sudan was an area in which China and Japan had showed a rare ability to cooperate.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of South Sudan, Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin, noted that South Sudan’s landmass was the same size as that of France and is endowed with enormous resources: fertile, unpolluted agricultural land suitable for ecological farming, extensive oil reserves and other minerals, as well as Africa’s largest headcount of livestock, particularly cattle. He pledged the government would unify the country’s various exchange rates to improve the investment climate.
Benjamin underlined the 93 per cent public voter support for South Sudan’s independence in 2011, how the country had to start from scratch to build schools, roads and hospitals, and the challenge of accommodating large numbers of returning refugees. Then, he said, “in the history of liberation struggles, always after liberation there is crisis … this is the nature of things”.
To turn the August 2015 peace deal into a lasting ceasefire, the foreign minister said, would require not just the transition to civilian life of one of the world’s largest guerrilla armies – once 500,000 men under arms – but the removal of vast numbers of guns from the population.
Masahiko Kiya, Japan’s ambassador to South Sudan, urged the South Sudanese to take ownership of the new peace agreement and not to waste time. Without establishing security, he said, there could be no progress on macro-economic development, infrastructure, agriculture, vocational training and service delivery. “The focus should be on capacity building,” he said. “A good government will get the economic support it needs. The donor community will follow.”
Emmanuel LoWilla, South Sudan’s Ambassador to the EU, noted that while it could take seconds to destroy something, it could take years to build it back up. He also urged all parties to move away from tools of coercion, threat or sanction, and to use different tools, of peace, encouragement and dialogue.
Addressing the outstanding question of accountability for past war crimes through a hybrid local-international court, LoWilla pointed to the indigenous approach to justice in South Sudanese culture and said that should play the lead role in the peace and reconciliation process.
Casie Copeland, Crisis Group’s South Sudan Analyst, noted that the court was a “giant global experiment”: the judges will be from neighbouring African countries, reconciliation will be based on reparations, and the international community will need to fund the court while accepting that it will have no influence over it.
Hugh Pope, Crisis Group’s Director of Communications & Outreach, pointed out that a ceasefire has still not taken hold after nearly two years of conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people and driven more than 1.5 million from their homes. He recognised one signal achievement of the August ceasefire, the withdrawal of Ugandan troops from South Sudan, but noted that Crisis Group remains concerned about lack of progress on other fronts.
Copeland pointed out that instability in South Sudan breeds instability in the region and that the recent South Sudan peace deal was in effect also a regional compromise, “a good example of African solutions to African problems”. Still, she said, South Sudan should be more present in the process, and that confidence-building measures were needed to bring the parties closer together.
On the issue of inclusivity, Copeland pointed out that both parties have had women on their negotiating teams who played a significant role in pushing peace forward. Copeland said she admired South Sudan’s “sheer sense of will and almost stubbornness to refuse to accept the outcome that you believe is not right”, and praised an exemplary attitude that “you do not have to like or respect someone to work together”.
Dr Mitusaki Furkawa, chief representative in South Sudan of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), said his agency’s support was based on four pillars: infrastructure (such as making drinking water safe, building bridges, and improving a river port in the capital, Juba); alternative livelihoods (through master plans on agriculture & development, and irrigation); basic livelihood needs (by improving education and training); and better governance and security (by developing institutional capacity, peacebuilding projects and sports).
Fulencio Garrido Ruiz, Sudan/South Sudan aid & cooperation officer for the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Development and Cooperation, noted that the Juba government was running a 70 per cent budget deficit, mostly because of spending on security, and that perhaps two-thirds of teachers and health workers were paid by donors.
Ruiz worried that government spending may not be well prioritised, that revenues have been hit by low oil prices and that procurement tenders could be inflated. More attention needs to be paid to promoting self-reliance, he said, for instance by linking farmers to markets. Meanwhile, he noted that the government is covering the deficit by heavy borrowing from the central bank, which is cutting traders’ access to foreign currency and leading to shortages, the spread of black markets and business closures. Ruiz said that budgetary reform, a freer exchange rate and spending cuts will be painful, but essential, if inflation is not to soar.
Casie Copeland made a plea for more humanitarian assistance, an end to warring parties’ abuse of hospitals and medical staff, and better donor focus on the country’s underlying challenges. “President Kiir’s creation of 28 new states was something the people wanted. But the international community’s first response was to condemn it. This is unhealthy”, she said. Outsiders “cannot answer all the questions in South Sudan. Sometimes it’s going to take longer, sometimes we will not like it, but it’s not our country”.
EJ Hogendoorn, Crisis Group’s Deputy Africa Program Director, noted that $900 million dollars has been spent by international community in this year. But, he asked, what could be made of President Kiir’s announcement that $4 billion had been stolen by politicians?
Dr Furukawa suggested that transparency was a key issue, and that master plans and better public financial management would help in more efficient spending. “There is no magic bullet”, he said. Ruiz said another aspect was to manage natural resources like oil “for the many, not just the few”, and called for more accountability. Copeland saw a need for a “fundamental rethinking of how the political system works, to separate positions and perks. An endless cycle of dissatisfaction is enabling a culture of corruption”.
Foreign Minister Benjamin said corruption was a “bad evil” and that his young state had to learn more professional public accounting to see it off. Ambassador LoWilla noted that South Sudan had set up several institutions to monitor corruption and “in Juba people were arrested and are being tried. The government is actively doing something about it … it may take a while, we recognize that there is a problem and we want to solve it”.
Benjamin noted that South Sudan was a unique in being a state with no international loans. He called for the EU to push forward on its commitments to aid, which have not yet been signed, and that development would pave the way to stability and peace.
Copeland, noting the paradox that South Sudan is a country rich in resources but whose people are poor, said she believed that “as we transition from humanitarian to development aid, the political process will determine when we can take those development steps. We have got to focus on getting the politics and stability right. Development will definitely come alongside that”.
Read the outcome paper of this event.
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