Who Is Ruling in South Sudan? The Role of NGOs in Rebuilding Socio-Political Order

By Volker Riehl | Go to book overview

Discussion

In permanent emergencies the social fabric is affected in such a way that indigenous political implementation is impossible. The establishment of imposed political structures by INGOs can have three main effects. Firstly it is weakening existing institutional capacities and is creating new long term dependencies. Secondly, rare material and cognitive resources from local regional power groups (SPLM-SRRA) are absorbed into activities counterproductive to the support of civil society (fungibility problem). And thirdly, they are sensible to political turbulences and therefore not sustainable.

The fatal mistake of alienation between the regional/local government and INGOs during the first period of self-determination 1972–1983 can only be avoided in the future if both sides occupy separate niches of useful and beneficial activities. For instance, social welfare initiatives, projects, and programmes should not be left entirely to INGOs (because they have the material backbone). Political voice should be part of SINGOs. Binding regional and local development plans (for education, health, and social welfare) as benchmarks of joint task forces can lead to streamlined, rational socio-political objectives with material and service inputs by both the SPLM-SRRA and the INGOs.

“The conflict in Bosnia, as in Somalia and Eritrea earlier, has again presented traditional humanitarian NGOs with a moral dilemma: speaking out means taking sides” (Tvedt 1998, 220). There is no INGO working in South Sudan that is, in some way or another, not preparing the ground towards South Sudan's self-determination. The longer INGOs stay and work in a specific area the more they turn their vested interests into political observation which leads to active support, participation, and decision making. In South Sudan the world opinion against fundamentalist Islamism is congruent with the secession process and self-determination. The British pre-independence government in Khartoum missed out on a lasting political solution half a century ago and left this ‘open political wound’ behind. For INGOs being effectively political is ‘easy’ as in the case of South Sudan. In Ethiopia during the Derg-regime where the predominant political rule was against the mainstream world opinion it was comparatively difficult to politically oppose regime decisions.

One way to achieve sustainable social change in South Sudan today is to create synergetic social capital through binding cooperation between the different social and political decision-makers. By doing so the political legitimacy and the economic accountability of the public administration and the INGO-infrastructure will be easier to achieve. Frustrating statements about the future of INGO-involvement like the one of Elizabeth Ogwaro could be avoided.

The main problem in South Sudan is the ideological indifference of all the stake-holders concerned. The SPLM-SRRA cannot accept the political domination of INGOs in nearly all fields except for military defence. The INGOs cannot openly declare that this is the case (cf. Stockton interview). All parties, and most importantly the suffering population, would benefit if there were a mutual agreement to work out a visionary plan of action to overcome the ‘at loggerheads’ situation between INGOs and the SPLM-SRRA at present.

INGOs are helping to prepare South Sudan for self-rule which was actually on the political agenda before the British left Sudan. Despite facing the danger of being regarded as cynical, the permanent emergency (de Waal interview) created a situation which more easily facilitated an implementation of self-determination than any other historical period where the future of the Sudan was at a point of change (1956 Independence, 1972 Addis-Ababa-Agreement, 1983 start of SPLA war, 1991 strongest SPLA position). The INGOs are therefore fulfilling a sociopolitical role that the SPLM-SRRA cannot at present play, due to the obvious imbalance of material and cognitive resources. The externally obvious rivalry between INGOs and SPLMSRRA is internally compensated with the notion that in the case of self-determination the sustainable future of New Sudan can only be guaranteed if international agencies maintain and even reinforce their involvement in order to avoid the mistakes of the ‘test period of self-determination’, 1972–1983, which failed. Tvedt (1994, 91) notes that the role of INGOs during that period was destructive: “In the Southern Sudan, the NGOs contributed unintentionally to the erosion of the authority of the very weak state. … They themselves became local substitutes for state administration”.

There will never be ‘true love’ between INGOs and state or war administrations. But for the benefit and sustainable welfare of the people both parties should not keep on repeating the

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Who Is Ruling in South Sudan? The Role of NGOs in Rebuilding Socio-Political Order
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  • Title Page *
  • Contents 3
  • Abbreviations and Acronyms *
  • Acknowledgement 4
  • Introduction *
  • Analysis *
  • Discussion 15
  • Summary 17
  • Bibliography and Sources 18
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