South Sudan Independence: Regional Implications and Development


UMass STAND Panel Discussion on

South Sudan: The World’s Newest Country

University of Massachusetts, Amherst


James Alic Garang

was born in the village of Ajok in South Sudan. In 1987, War forced him from home at the age of ten. After a harrowing journey of five years, he arrived at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya in 1992. In 2001, he was resettled in

the United States as one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan. He enrolled in Salt Lake Community College and graduated from the University of Utah in 2006. Currently he is studying for a PhD in economics at UMass, Amherst. His specialty is in macroeconomics, Banking and development


The successful referendum and the imminent independence of South Sudan on 9 July 2011 will give rise to economic and political implications.  First, it can be argued that South Sudan will develop if it adroitly exploits its abundant resource endowments and peace-enhancing political factors. Second, when South Sudan attains sovereignty in July this year, there will be more regional and international winners than losers. While the first two scenarios paint a rosy picture, there will be false starts and challenges ahead for South Sudan because ethnic politics, inefficiency of incumbent politicians, the north-south border conflicts as well as outrageous monopolization of politics by the presumed liberator, the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement, can cause the new nation to stumble on its democratization and economic development paths.

Keywords: Referendum, South Sudan independence, economic and political implications, ethnic politics, inefficiency of incumbent guerrilla politicians, broad-based development pursuits.

[Acknowledgement] The author wishes to thank UMass STAND chapter for the invitation to the panel discussion on South Sudan’s future.

[Contact Info] Any correspondence regarding this paper can be sent to James Alic Garang, Department of Economics, Thompson Hall, Amherst, MA 01062.

Address email to or

  1. 1. Introduction

Sudan became a British Colony in 1898 and remained so until 1st January 1956 when it attained external independence from Great Britain. Nonetheless —from 1930s through1940s— Britain‘s administrative recommendations and directives, which fall under the rubric of Southern Policy regrettably led to separate administrations in North and South Sudan. It was too late when Britain tried to reverse its indirect rule on South Sudan, all in an attempt to unify the country.

Suffice to say, Britain produced two diametrically opposed countries through the enactment of the Southern Policy. This period came to be identified with concentrating development projects in North Sudan, limiting Christian missionaries to South Sudan for fear of offending Muslims, setting up two unequal educational systems (Arabic as a medium of instruction in the North; English in the South), and curtailing or restriction Islamic influence in the South. Such isolationist policy within Sudan fostered a political atmosphere which encouraged Khartoum to look to the Middle East while Juba[1] to East Africa for inspiration (Akol, 2007).

At the time of decolonization, hurried measures were taken, leading to the 1947 conference in which Southerners brought to the negotiation table issues of confederation or self-determination. Britain, North Sudan, and Egypt did not listen to Southern demands and in the end, Sudan achieved self-government[2]. Political disenchantment led South Sudan to wage an armed rebellion against Khartoum in August 1955.  To quell the rebellion, the Government of Sudan unleashed terror on its own citizens such that the 1955-1972 periods witnessed atrocities committed on a grand scale, including the massacre of rioting workers at the Nzara Cotton Scheme in the 1955; hundreds or so unarmed demonstrators brutally killed in Juba on 8 July 1965 ; massacre of Southern Sudanese politicians and civilians at a wedding in Wau town on 12 July 1965 (76 in total of which 49 were government officials); the army killing of 187 people in August 1965 in Malakal town, and killings of chiefs in 1967.

Notwithstanding all these heinous crimes against humanity, the political will of Southerners remained unshaken. The civil war went on for 17 years, coming to an end only in 1972 with the signing of a peace accord at Addis Abba in Ethiopia. Yet again, in 1983, South Sudan took up arms for the second time because Khartoum did not address the previous grievances (Akol, 2007; Nyaba, 1998).  Thanks to the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) signed in Kenya on 9 January 2005. South Sudan secured a right to self-determination. 98.53% of Southerners overwhelmingly voted for separation on 9 January 2011. The South now is on its way to becoming the newest country in the world, the 54th nation in Africa.

The civil war from 1983 to 2005 brought heavy costs on the country. Just to give you the magnitude of the conflict, consider the following consequences (1) loss of 2.5 million lives (2) South Sudan population displacement of 4 million people [A number equals to population of New Zealand] (3) intentional destruction of physical assets, for instance blowing up bridges (4) loss of more lives due to ‘quiet violence’ such as disease, needless hunger, and malnutrition (Hartmann & Boyce, 1983). It is easier said than done to estimate the cost of any war, especially for the country that has no efficient data collection mechanism. But if one takes the U.S. statistical life value[3], and makes simple assumptions about the South Sudanese statistical life value, the potential cost of the war is colossal (see Table 1).

Table 1 — Conservative Estimate of Cost of the Second Civil War in Sudan (1983-2005)

Value of Statistical Life in Millions Constant Value Cost Estimates (in trillions)
Scenario 1: $ 7.5 2.5 Million Deaths $ 22 (2.5*7.5)
Scenario 2: $ 6.9 (EPA’s adjustment in 2008) 2.5 Million Deaths $17.25 (2.5*6.9)
Scenario 3: $ 3.45 (1/2 of American life after 2008) 2.5 Million Deaths $ 8.625 (2.5*3.45)
Scenario 4: $ 2.3 (1/3 of American life after 2008) 2.5 Million Deaths $5.75 (2.5*2.3)

Source: Author’s own calculation

Besides those aggregate numbers, the war was inestimably felt in every village. At the personal and community levels, the conflict in the South Sudan has been felt in the following ways (1) raiding of cattle to incapacitate the rebels by disabling their support base (2) setting people on fire in 1986 (this happened in Aweil West at Gor Ayen village) (3) cutting down crops to cause hunger (4) burning houses to deny people shelter (5) throwing dead bodies in the well so as to prevent people from using water (6) tying people up, putting them behind galloping horses and pulling them (7) fencing in civilians and denying them water or food for days (8) militias abducting able-bodied women, girls and boys[4] to work as slave in their houses or cattle camps in North Sudan. These acts are part of the Terror and Anti-Human Rights agenda that Sudan Government has pursued for years against South Sudan and it is still pursuing some of them today against innocent civilians in Darfur. The only set back previously was that the whole world was occupied with containing communism or looking the other way – not resolving bloody conflicts.

Costs of the previous war aside, let us now turn to the future of South Sudan and the plausible repercussions of its independence on Great Lakes Region and to some extent, the international community.

  1. 2. Regional and International Implications: Who Wins and Who Loses?

The referendum results announced on 7 February 2011 were seen as credible and acceptable to all parties, even to the international community. According to Hughes (2011, February 8), President Al-Bashir stated on the state television: “Today we received these results and we accept and welcome these results because they represent the will of the southern people” and equally important, President Obama was quoted as saying “I am therefore pleased to announce the intention of the United State to formally recognize Southern Sudan as a sovereign, independent state in July 2011”.  This swift recognition is a victory to the oppressed people of South Sudan. Six political implications come to mind as a result of this regional and international eagerness to welcome the newest member state.

First, by willingly coming out to recognize the referendum vote, both Khartoum and Washington are among the winners of South Sudan independence. America will have an ally in South Sudan. This is in addition to already existing allies in Great Lakes Region. Khartoum wins because the U.S Government promised to begin formal work on removing ‘the state sponsor of terrorism designation.’

Second, although President Bashir is a hideous dictator and wanted criminal, he has played nice by recognizing the results. Suppose he had rejected the outcomes, it would have taken us back to war or declare unilateral independence and risk chance of securing legitimacy in the eye of the international community. Some countries could recognize us and others could not. But by recognizing the will of the people, Bashir made it easy for South Sudan to receive wide acceptance and in the process, he generated opportunistic goodwill. In my humble view, he will get little goodwill among some south Sudanese and to a large extent, gain more goodwill from other sympathetic African heads of state. Domestic goodwill on the continent will make it difficult for ICC to convince other signatories to arrest Bashir and hand him over for prosecution. Juba, which is contemplating to join Rome statue might not hand him over due to the attendant goodwill and the continued need for cooperation on other post-referendum issues. Kenya did not hand him over last year on 27 August 2010 during the signing of the new constitution nor did Chad apprehend President Al Bashir last July. To go even further, AU defended President Bashir’s visit to Kenya on grounds of regional cohesion. Whether they stuck it to neocolonialists or not, it is hard to picture how Hague or Washington will speedily bring Bashir to book.

Third, having recognized the results, people of South Sudan are rest assured that if they are to fight Khartoum in future, it will not be on the contestation of the secession vote. The will of the people was respected by this recognition. Any future dispute might be about Abyei (which we must attain by allowing Ngok Dink to hold orderly referendum and decide their destiny) or on other hot-button issues such as citizenship rights, oil sharing, border conflict, squabble over Nile Waters or behind-the-scene-dirty- scheme-to-destabilize -South Sudan- by-arming- the rebels such as George Athor and other rogue warlords.

Fourth, despite lack of quick actions, the Darfur conflict will not worsen again due to several self-reinforcing factors. One, South Sudan Statehood will embolden the Darfur rebels to amount stronger bargaining positions, for instance, at Doha talks or secure political consultations with Juba. Two, the legacy of ‘New Sudan’ may continue to have an impact if those of Yasir Arman remain politically active and duke it out with Khartoum.

Fifth, Great Lakes Region is an unequivocal winner. Three reasons support this thesis. LRA[5] will no longer have the luxury of using South Sudan as launching pad against Uganda. Kampala definitely wins in this context. Refugee repatriation lessens resource drain on Egypt, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. Already, Ugandan, Kenyan, and Ethiopia businesses are flourishing in Juba. Take for instance, of the 8 commercial banks in South Sudan, two are from Kenya and one is from Ethiopia. Likewise, East African Community (EAC) has announced its intention to welcome South Sudan. “We expect South Sudan, which recently voted to become independent to join EAC, anytime from July 9”, Mr Musyoka said when opening the 4th East African Media Summit (Nkwame, 2011, April 14). There is an excitement from EAC[6] members to welcome South Sudan to the table. It must be remembered that East Africa was helpful to South Sudan refugees during difficult time of need in 1990s. Today, shall we say, South Sudan is paying those favors back through cross- border trade and employment contracts?

Six and finally, I hope the referendum exercise and the long-awaited statehood taught us—South Sudanese— an important lesson, imperative for national cohesion of people: political compromise and alliance-building. Scarcity aside, political constraints dictate that people do not always get what they want. In an attempt to bar total gridlock, impasse or obstruction, people or governments are bound to seek the middle way and strike a compromise. Examples abound. Even President Obama, the most powerful man in the world cannot reconcile the American administration policy position of wishing to see the madman gone and the limited military tactics of enforcing the UN Resolution 1973. While Obama wants Colonel Muammar Gaddafi gone, the American public opposition to war is unambiguous. This contradiction made the President to settle for less: seeking international coalitions to generate support and impose other measures to oust out the dictator.

It was the same compromise that brought that CPA in Sudan recently between the NCP and the SPLA because each side was not overwhelming the other. For the same reason, it will be in the best interest of our nation, if Government of South Sudan seeks all means to make peace possible with rogue commanders and put a new nation on the hopeful prosperous path. Rebels know they cannot win but they can be spoilers; we know we cannot wipe them out completely even with our might. As thus, there is a need to find middle way, the best outcome for the nation. Such a deal is within our grasp; we just have to reach out for it through dialogue and alliance making.

  1. 3. South Sudan’s Economic Development

Achieving considerable level of economic development is not pre-ordained. Certainly, it is not going to be easy for South Sudan which has emerged out of the conflict. Take a look below at these key social and economic indicators in South Sudan in Table 1.

Table 2: Key Indicators

Indicator Value
Total Area 644, 329 Sq km; density (13 /Sq. km)
Population 8.3 – 12 million
Literacy and poverty rates respectively 27% and 51%
Youthful population 51% below age 18; 72%  below age 30
Rural population 83%
Access to safe drinking water 55%
Households depending on agriculture/Husbandry 78%
Household size 7
Bank Account holders 1-3%


Source: 5th Population and Housing Census (2008)

This table tells a story of underdevelopment, illiteracy and poverty. However, there is a room for peace consolidation and economic development in South Sudan. First, the SPLM attempts to unify South Sudan and make peace a reality. It stands a chance to succeed. Most of the militias or dissenting commanders, except the few ones that rebelled recently, are in the fold with the SPLA. Second, foreign investment will help to raise productive capacity, principally in agriculture. For instance, Egypt has promised to jumpstart the Jonglei Canal which was stopped in 1978 due to war. Though the public may not favor Jonglei Canal project due to old war memories, it can bring investment projects, possible mechanization of agriculture and job creation for the locals. Also, foreign investors in Europe and China are already devising to sign oil contracts. If well managed, oil can be an engine of broad-based development; if not, oil resource becomes a curse. Such an unfortunate outcome tends to incubate rent-seeking, corruption or political instability which impedes progress. Third, there is a transfer of cheap technology across the border.  In that regard, bank, insurance, aviation and export services have and are continuing to flow in from East Africa. In other words, I think the following factors may work in favor of the new country and its development pursuits:

  1. Structural and Resource Endowments:

Cheap source of labor force due to younger population.

Abundant land, oil, and minerals such as gold, iron, zinc, silver, copper, etc

Tourism (Boma National Park: 2nd largest wildlife migration in the world; see National Geographic “Great Migration” in South Sudan).

  1. Political Factors:

War Fatigue; few people may want to willfully go back to war.

Passage of new constitution of Republic of South Sudan.

Anti-Khartoum sentiment may again unify Southerners (see Nationalism).

  1. Cheap Technology Transfer from neighboring East Africa:

Thriving export and import sectors between South Sudan and East Africa.

Borrowing banking practices from East Africa (See Kenyan banks[7]).

Aviation (see airplanes from East Africa, especially Kenya).

Trucking business (huge freights cross the border from Uganda and Kenya).

Food processing (see South African brewery, SABMiller, which has invested about $ 37m in building the facility in Juba).

While there are many opportunities, economic development is not failsafe. The following challenges, which have bedeviled development in other post-conflict environments, may hinder progress unless South Sudan addresses them early on:

  1. Weak Institutions:

Corruption and aid leakages.

Inefficiency in the government system.

Privileges of incumbency (old commander’s inefficiently running ministries).

  1. Fear of ethnic politics and domination.
  2. Infrastructural gaps (for example, less than 50 km of paved roads in South Sudan).
  3. Economics of missing, thinner markets or asymmetric information.
  4. Illegal land grabbing by investors due to weak land rights (Marvis, 2011).

Although we cannot eliminate these challenges, South Sudan can take a leaf from other countries that have tried Big Push strategy, investing in agriculture to secure food self-sufficiency, providing social services that tend to promote acquirement of human capital. Such services include conditional cash transfer (see PROGRESSA in Mexico). All these demand that South Sudan strengthen political and legal frameworks to enhance governance.

  1. 4. Concluding Remarks

Because of the successfully referendum vote, South Sudan is awaiting sovereignty on July 2011. This success has brought international recognition, investors’ interest, regional trading bloc invitation and optimistic development opportunities given South Sudan’s low human capital and abundant natural asset endowments. On the other hand, ethnic politics, bad governance, possibility of resource curse, and border conflicts can also derail development on its path. South Sudanese people will be well served if they put the interest of the nation above all else and draw lessons from other countries that have travelled through this road before.


Akol, Lam (2007). Southern Sudan: Colonialism, Resistance and Autonomy. New Jersey: The

Red Sea Press, Inc.

Birungi, Marvis (2011, April 1): “Land Grabbing Could Undermine Livelihoods.” Norwegian

Aid Organization Publication.

Hartmann, Betsy and Boyce, James (1983).  A Quiet Violence: View from a Bangladesh Village.

San Francisco: Institute for Food and Development Policy.

Hughes, Dana (2011, February 8). “South Sudan Set to Become World’s Newest Country.” ABC

News. Retrieved from


Nkwame, Marc (2011, March 14). “South Sudan to Join EAC in July.” The Daily News Online

Edition. Retrieved from

Nyaba, P. Adwok (1998). The Politics of Liberation: An Insider’s View. Kampala: Fountain


South Sudan (2008). 5th Population and Housing Census. Juba: South Sudan Center for

Statistics and Evaluation

[1] Juba is the capital city of South Sudan.

[2] This self-government was not embraced all corners of Sudan, certainly not Southern Sudanese. All along, Southerners have viewed Sudan as having gone through two phases of colonialism: external colonialism by Britain and that ended in 1956 and internal colonialism by Khartoum.

[3] The estimate according to Environmental Protection Agency before 2008 was $ 7.5 million; this number changed after 2008 to $ 6.7 million. It is unconscionable to price Sudanese life as less than that of American. As thus, I use this estimate to gauge what war might have cost Sudan in dollar term.

[4] Misseriya, Baggara or Rizeigat cattle raider or government militias used to kill men and young boys for the fear that they might escape, fight back or join the rebels. But for the abducted girls or women, they would make them house servants, wives or cattle herders.

[5] Lord Resistance Army is a small rebellion raging on in Northern Uganda since 1986. It is viewed as a guerrilla moment that has committed gross abuse of human rights and calls for theocratic government. LRA leader, Joseph Kony is indicated and remains wanted by the ICC.

[6] EAC comprises Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.

[7] Kenyan banks operating in South Sudan include Equity Bank and Kenya Commercial Bank