LSE Alumnus Jacob D. Chol explores how the struggle for South Sudanese independence has become a burden to its citizens.

On 9th July 2011, the world celebrated the ushering in of a nascent State, the Republic of South Sudan. Many commentators argued South Sudan was a “destined to fail State”. The liberators, now turned-leaders of this the new Republic, quickly brushed aside such charges. The independence celebrations were well attended by over 30 foreign heads of States, governments and millions of South Sudanese at Dr. John Garang De’ Mabior’s Mausoleum (graveyard). It was the only independence celebration in the world’s history where the UN General Assembly President and the Secretary-General attended in their physical capacities. Two years later, the high hopes and expectation had vanished. It all began with the splitting of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/SPLA) into two factions, one under President Salva Kiir and the other one under former Vice President Dr. Riek Machar. The result was political skirmishes and bouts of violence fitting Dinka and Nuer nationalities. Although these two political protagonists inked a peace deal in August 2015, the violent conflict was re-ignited on July 8th 2016 sending Dr. Riek Machar to exile.

It is fitting to recall former President of Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s take on Kenyan independence as ‘Not Yet Uhuru” loosely translated as “Not Yet Independence” in 1963. This is exemplified in the case of South Sudan; the country successful fight for independence has become a burden to the South Sudanese. Then, why has the success becomes a burden? Why is that South Sudanese ethnic groups could not forge and live side by side with each other? What happened after the instekalal (independence)? This short piece analyzes anecdotes of why South Sudanese success turned into a burden on the perspectives of the hurdles to nations building in the nascent State.

South Sudanese children rehearse a dance routine to be performed at half-time during South Sudan’s national football team match with Kenya as part of the Independence Day celebrations

South Sudanese children rehearse a dance routine to be performed at half-time during South Sudan’s national football team match with Kenya as part of the Independence Day celebrations. Photo credit: Paul Banks, United Nations ( )

Challenges of Nations Building

As the then Speaker of Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly (SSLA), now Vice President of South Sudan, James Wani read the declaration of South Sudan independence from the Sudan before the open parliamentary session, the declaration fell short of mentioning the unity of the South Sudanese people. What the declaration focused on was the history of Southern Sudan and establishment of a government based on democracy, justice, rule of law and respect to human rights in the new Republic. What had been the common uniting factor for the South Sudanese was Shumal (North Sudan) and thus Shumal was declared gone as the Republic of Sudan forever. As Junubins (Southerners) commenced living alone without common unifying values, the unity of Junubins was going to be difficult.

As that was not enough, the speech of the first President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir did not articulate a coherent vision of the new country. He failed to mention common values that could promote or deepen the unity of 64 plus South Sudanese ethnic groups as they commenced living and governing themselves alone with each other for the first time. With this lack of direction, South Sudanese elites found a vacuum in mismanaging the new Republic. Poor governance and corruption became a common practice in South Sudan. The political elites turned blind eye to the respect of rule of law and in lieu usurped the wealth of the nations. The liberators turned-politicians felt a sense of entitlement for liberating the country, having earned its the independence. The entitlement runs from wealth and power accumulation, disrespect to the institutionalism and daylight robbery and looting of southerners’ wealth. The affair has become ‘a curse of liberation” in South Sudan’s debut. Every elite in the South Sudan becomes “a thief of State” to paraphrase Sarah Cheyas’s seminal work Thieves of State.

Critical institutions that could have united South Sudanese are struck by nepotism, ethnic allegiance, dominance and incompetence in delivering services to all South Sudanese citizens. Finding employment in the public service is marred by favouritism. Instead of employing individuals on merits, the ‘big fish’ wade through a plethora of relatives and friends that they appoint public service jobs. These individuals, most of whom have no credible qualifications and experiences are responsible for the poor service of the country, making public service too deformed to be reformed. A basic and higher education that could have deepened the unity of South Sudanese was crippled by lack of financial resources. It is also limited funds that have hindered the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports, which could have provided a bridge to the inter-ethnic animosities through annual cultural festivals, and sports.

Moreover, The ‘Big Tent” appeasement policy to the dissidents who had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity to Southerners during the North-South taxing wars was ushered in. This policy, driven exclusively by President Kiir, brought counter-insurgency proxies back on the tables of political influence. The appeasement policy was administered through general amnesties. These open amnesties wetted the appetites of South Sudanese elites who engaged in ‘rent-seeking’ rebellions, relying on their militiamen and women for support. The outcome has been the reliance on loosely built ethnic outfit for battle over wealth and power in South Sudan. Hence, elites developed the ambivalent of ‘we want and we don’t want syndrome’ plunging the country to violence and deeply divided the State along ethnic lines. The ethnic lines are sharp and salient in South Sudanese society.

Leapfrogging from Burden Cycles

To slip out of burden and debacles of nations building, the country’s leaders need to set up a vision, a true blueprint that all South Sudanese can agree on. The vision must be drafted with the consultations of South Sudanese people in the former 10 States of South Sudan. There is a need for all priorities to be defined: common values and the common destiny for South Sudanese. There is a need for political elites to build credible institutions, respect to the rule of law, peace and reconciliation. The SPLM/SPLA should turn away from liberations political culture, absolute loyalty, non-transparency, rigid hierarchy, and entitlement and of separation of politics from the military. The sovereign of the State should be invested in the people, and ‘We the People’ as written in the preamble of Transitional Constitution 2011 amended 2015 should be translated into practice for the citizens to meaningfully participate in the State and Nations Building.

South Sudanese people deserve to enjoy their hard-won independence with true and strong leadership that signposts and assures their future. However, regretting the secession of South Sudan from Sudan, as allegedly uttered by President Salva Kiir to President Omar el Bashir during Kiir’ s visit to Khartoum on 1st November 2017, demonstrates the cracks in South Sudan’s nation-building process.


Jacob D. Chol is a Senior Reader of Political Science, University of Juba. He is the Founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Democracy and International Analysis (CDIA), a research and an academic think-tank based in South Sudan.  He can be reached at


The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and in no way reflect those of the Africa at LSE blog or the London School of Economics and Political Science.