Magazine article African Business

Looming Spectre of the Four Horsemen: One Year Ago, We Reported on the Birth of the World's Newest Nation, South Sudan and the Celebrations That Followed. A Year Later, the Party Is Well and Truly over. the Young Country Finds Itself in a Desperate Plight, Scarred by Ethnic Conflicts, Humanitarian Crisis and the Loss of Its Principal Source of Income. by Anver Versi with Additional Reporting by Wanjohi Kabukuru

Magazine article African Business

Looming Spectre of the Four Horsemen: One Year Ago, We Reported on the Birth of the World's Newest Nation, South Sudan and the Celebrations That Followed. A Year Later, the Party Is Well and Truly over. the Young Country Finds Itself in a Desperate Plight, Scarred by Ethnic Conflicts, Humanitarian Crisis and the Loss of Its Principal Source of Income. by Anver Versi with Additional Reporting by Wanjohi Kabukuru

Article excerpt

I visited South Sudan a few months before it gained its independence from the north to see for myself how well equipped the country was to exit its liberation phase and enter the more difficult development phase.

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While there was a great deal of optimism and jubilation in the air, it was clear then that the country was in such a state of underdevelopment that an almighty effort on the part of the government, the people and the international community was needed if it was to make progress in the thousand and one areas that desperately needed attention.

I spoke to government ministers and department heads in makeshift offices and most of them admitted that after two decades during which "we were dodging bullets and shells and living from hand to mouth", they just did not have the capacity or the know-how to run essential ministries and departments. I wrote that South Sudan urgently needed capacity-building support and called on the AU, neighbouring African countries, the multitude of international governments that called themselves the friends of South Sudan to come to the aid of this latest addition to African family.

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The internal security situation was so bad that 15 kilometres from the capital Juba, villagers were living in terror of armed bandits. There were thousands of returning refugees and displaced people depending entirely on charity organisations.

For a country that depended almost entirely on the river trade from the north for its food, building materials and fuel, I was shocked to see that Juba did not really have a port. Only a small wharf built by the Japanese development agency, JICA, was equipped to offload heavy items. Fuel pipes snaked along the ground from battered ferries to waiting tankers. Many of them leaked. One carelessly thrown lit cigarette could have blown the whole area apart.

Yet Juba was two cities in one. Desperate poverty on the one hand, and brand-new commercial and residential buildings on the other. The streets were chock-full of 4x4s, most belonging to various UN and other aid organisations. There was a four-star restaurant in which the cheapest meal could have kept an average family alive for three months. Hotels were springing up to cater for the increasing number of speculators, investors and businessmen who had come to reconnoitre Africa's latest petro-state.

I recollected having to pay over si8o for a tiny little cement box that dared to call itself a hotel room while the workers told me there were lucky to earn two or three dollars a day. I wrote about the modern carpetbaggers, who had arrived with their suits, their bulging briefcases, their smiles and jokes. In the evenings, they rubbed their hands together and spoke openly about how they were going to make a killing.

I heard stories about the 'higher ups' who were going on shopping trips to South Africa, Europe and Singapore. People whispered about billions of dollars that had gone missing. South Sudan was the latest fatted calf for an orgy of looting.

While I worried and wrote about all these things, I also wrote about the incredible spirit of many of the people that I met. I heard stories of great courage as teachers and other social leaders kept the flame alive during the darkest days of the war and how, at the risk of their own lives, they imparted knowledge, distributed what little they could forage and never allowed the spark of freedom, justice and equality die out in the breast of the people. My hope was that South Sudan, having seen the destruction that possession of a resource that the world needs could unleash on the unsuspecting, could take a wary and carefully thought-out strategy. The hope was that the country would use its relatively vast wealth from oil (estimated at round $7bn annually), to create a new state in which the needs of the people would come first and which would be a shining example in Africa. …

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