On 22nd February 2020, former South Sudanese rebel Riek Machar was sworn-in as the first Vice President and the new unity government was formed in the world's youngest country. Although the peace deal was signed in September 2018, it took nearly a year and a half to form the new government. Along with Machar, three other Vice Presidents were also sworn-in. The formation of the unity government was welcomed by the international community including the United States of America (USA). The swearing-in of Machar was attended by Sudanese leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan. As other countries in the region such as Sudan and Ethiopia are undergoing their own difficult political transitions, ending of the civil war and formation of a unity government signals that South Sudan, too, seems to be headed in a similar direction.
In terms of the peace agreement signed between the regime and opposition groups, the South Sudanese political system will be reorganised to create greater space for accommodating opposition politicians. The new political structure will have five Vice Presidents, 35 ministers, 10 deputy ministers and 550 members of parliament. South Sudan will also have 10 provinces, each run by a governor and three areas to be administered by area administrators. Machar’s swearing-in signals that the country is likely to move towards peace and consequently, stability. However, questions regarding the exact nature of power-sharing between various opposition parties and the integration of thousands of rebels in the national army remain unresolved. In the next few months, the country's leadership will be forced to grapple with these and other pressing concerns.
During the five years (2013-18) of civil war, of the population of about 12 million, nearly one third i.e. 4.3 million people had been displaced and about 400,000 lives were lost. There were even allegations that parties to the conflict had perpetrated war crimes against each other. In a situation of peace and relative stability, the international community will expect South Sudanese leaders to punish the guilty and put in place a fair process to provide justice to the affected population. In a civil war-torn country, reconciliation and rebuilding of the society is likely to take time and will require sensitive political handling by the leadership beginning with by setting their differences aside.
The land-locked state is abjectly poor and devastated and has remained so since the days of British colonial rule. Due to political instability since independence in 2011, South Sudan has not had the sufficient time or resources to embark on the path of economic and social development. Therefore, the country lacks even the most basic infrastructure like roads and electricity. For a geographic area of 619, 745 sq. km; South Sudan has only 300 kilometers of paved roads and 90 per cent population has no access to electricity. Illiteracy in the country stands at about 65 percent and basic health facilities are not available to a large section of the population. Therefore, as of 2019, the country ranks 186 on the United Nation’s Human Development Index (HDI) and only Chad, Central African Republic (CAR) and Niger are below it. South Sudan is also prone to intense food insecurity, famines, and malnutrition. Return of peace and stability is likely to pave the way for greater international humanitarian assistance.
Origins of the Civil War
It was ironic that the country carved out of Sudan in 2011, after a long-running civil war (from 1983 to 2005), would plunge into the devastating civil war of its own. In 2013, Machar’s sacking from the cabinet triggered the latest phase of civil war. It is well-known that Machar always had problems with the leadership of South Sudan. For example, in 1991, he fell out with John Garang, the leader of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) that had spearheaded the liberation struggle. In fact, he even signed a deal with the Northern Sudanese regime of al-Bashir in 1997 which was opposed to the independence of Southern Sudan and was waging brutal counter-insurgency operations in the South. However, Machar rejoined SPLM in 2002 and became a senior leader in SPLM. In 2005, he even became Vice President in the autonomous government of South Sudan and remained in the post for six years till independence in 2011.
Thus, it was not entirely surprising when Machar and the President of independent South Sudan, Salva Kiir clashed in 2013. Kiir accused Machar, then Vice President of South Sudan, of plotting a coup d'état to overthrow him and sacked him. Kiir and Machar belong to different ethnic groups and seemed unwilling to trust each other. In a country of sixty plus ethnic groups, Dinkas and Nuers are the two dominant ethnic groups. Machar is a Nuer and Kiir is a Dinka. The power struggle between Machar and Kiir also had ethnic undertones. Therefore, the combination of personal rivalry, mutual distrust, ethnic competition, and mismanaged politics led to the violent civil war.
Owing to Indian investments in the South Sudanese energy sector, India was closely watching the evolving trajectory of civil war and political instability. India’s state-owned ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) owns equity assets in the South Sudanese oil sector despite the unstable situation. After China, India is the second-largest buyer of South Sudanese crude oil. Energy plays a crucial role in the survival of the South Sudanese state as oil money accounts for as much as 97 percent of government revenues. Therefore, any disruption in oil production would lead to obvious trouble for the South Sudanese regime.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that although South Sudan is rich in hydrocarbons, pipelines and refineries for crude processing are located in Sudan. South Sudan would like to reduce its dependence on Sudan. However, South Sudan’s plans to diversify oil supply routes and build an oil pipeline via Kenya could not materialize due to the civil war. As South Sudan seeks to enter the new era of peace and stability, it would want to attract foreign investments for rebuilding its economy and Asian powers like India can play an important role in this endeavour. As South Sudan seeks to boost its oil production to pre-war levels, India’s public and private sector oil companies can explore opportunities in the South Sudanese energy sector including building of oil pipelines and refineries. India had built an oil pipeline in the undivided Sudan and can think of building one for South Sudan as well. Such infrastructure projects help India in terms of its energy security mix, establish itself as a serious player in international energy politics and also contribute to strengthening India-South Sudan relations.
India can also assist South Sudan in building critical infrastructure like roads and schools like it had done in Afghanistan. India has demonstrated competence in implementing small-scale yet effective projects. South Sudan may benefit from such projects. India has already been considering the construction of a hospital in South Sudanese capital Juba. India could also offer necessary skills and financial support to South Sudan in diverse fields such as agriculture, health and water resource management. India has a long experience in working in these areas in several African countries. Developmental assistance has generally been a useful tool in generating goodwill for India abroad. Such projects would certainly help South Sudan to deal with chronic famine and food insecurity.
India’s experience in governance and political change can also prove useful for South Sudan. In the past, an Indian academic had helped South Sudan in writing its constitution. Similarly, South Sudan can draw lessons from India’s experience in devolution of power, management of centre-state relations and power-sharing arrangements. Therefore, nearly after a decade of its independence, South Sudan seems poised for an interesting juncture in its evolution. Whether it can maintain fragile peace and reap the peace dividend will be keenly watched.
*Dr. Sankalp Gurjar, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the Researcher and not of the Council.
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 Paul Nuki, South Sudan: a country on its knees”, The Telegraph, February 20, 2020, at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/south-sudan-peace-deal/ (Accessed February 28, 2020)
 UNDP, “Human Development Report: Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today: Inequalities in human development in the 21st century”, New York, 2019, pp. 306-307
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 Along with China and Malaysia, India is a major player in the energy sector of Sudan and South Sudan. For more about India’s engagement in Sudanese oil sector, see: Nivedita Ray, “Sudan Crisis: Exploring India’s Role”, Strategic Analysis, 31 (1), 2007, pp. 93-109
 “South Sudan”, US Energy Information Administration, November 7, 2019, at https://www.eia.gov/international/analysis/country/SSD (Accessed February 28, 2020)
 IANS, “Indian Hand in South Sudan Constitution”, Deccan Herald, July 7, 2011, at https://www.deccanherald.com/content/174307/indian-hand-south-sudan-constitution.html (Accessed March 6, 2020)