World's Newest Country: Future of South Sudan Tied to Efficacy of Foreign Aid

Article excerpt

Western- and UN-backed aid organizations have lined up to support the fledgling Republic of South Sudan, but the challenges facing the nation 'would tax even the most developed of countries.'

- World's newest country is a three-part series on the challenges facing South Sudan.Part 1: Can South Sudan limit internal strife?Part 2: South Sudan's oil remains a sticking pointPart 3: Future of South Sudan tied to efficacy of foreign aid

The Republic of South Sudan was born on Saturday to much international fanfare, as tens of thousands of southerners joined African heads of state, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon, and a host of Western diplomats representing the nations who have supported the South in its long walk to this moment: statehood.

Now that the celebrations are dying down, a new chapter in the war-devastated South's history is beginning and the Republic of South Sudan looks set to be the new darling of the aid community.

The newly sovereign southern government and the international aid community are both in the process of shaping their future plans and priorities in one of the world's most underdeveloped and poorest countries.

USAID, the development arm of the American government, has one of its largest offices on the continent in the South's capital, Juba, and has plans to expand operations in the newly independent country. The British equivalent of USAID is likewise in deep in the south, with one of its largest per capita aid programs already underway here.

The UN Development Program is at working bringing "volunteers" from neighboring East Africa countries to serve in the ten state- level governments across the Texas-sized south, but some southerners are already wondering why the program is utilizing the skills of well-educated East Africans instead of working with the southern government to entice the large South Sudanese diaspora community spread across the world, from Australia to the U.S.

The new government has pledged to prioritize improving service delivery to its citizenry, the vast majority of whom do not currently enjoy basic amenities such as health care, clean water, access to roads to transport their goods to market, and education.

A great burden

While the chance to build the south 'from the ground up' provides both the government and international donors with opportunities to try novel approaches to development projects and institution building, the graveyard of aid effort failures across the continent is enough to give any donor government pause, given the negative and corrupting effects aid dollars have had in neighboring Ethiopia and a number of other African countries.

An oft-cited fear of diplomats and government officials alike in the post-independence period is the "high expectations" of southerners for what the new era of freedom will bring.

Clad in a polo shirt emblazoned with his new country's flag, Jok Michael marched proudly through the streets of Juba among his peers on Monday morning in a parade of Christian youth from several denominations.

"The nation will be democratic, we shall get good development," he predicted. "You can see what has happened in the past six years, what about the next 40 or 50? We think we will be like New York."

While a heavy dose of optimism is needed to propel the south forward, many are slightly more realistic about the road ahead for the world's 193rd country.

Speaking of all the challenges that South Sudan must begin "to tackle at once," a Western official in Juba said the multitude of to- dos for the young government "would tax even the most developed of countries."

Lise Grande, who leads the UN's humanitarian efforts in South Sudan, is careful to stress the extent of these challenges illustrating the "human indicators" here, which she says are one of the worst on the planet.

"Only 20 percent of the population ever during their life will use a health facility," she begins. …