South Sudan

Bad management, bad blood threaten South Sudan’s unity government

Riek Machar has been named the vice president of South Sudan.
Riek Machar has been named the vice president of South Sudan. SAAC KASAMANI / AFP

South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir has re-appointed his rival, rebel leader Riek Machar, as vice-president. The move follows a peace deal signed by the two leaders in August last year. But for the two groups, who have been at war for several years, building a working government will be a major challenge.


And to add to that challenge, a report by the Enough Project, a policy group focused on misuse of power in Africa, has blamed the current government’s fiscal and economic policies for creating a “toxic” situation.

This isn’t the first time that Salva Kiir and Riek Machar have served in government together. Machar was Kiir’s deputy until 2013, when the president accused him of planning a coup d’état and fired him. A full-scale civil war broke out shortly after and Machar fled the country.

The humanitarian cost of these past few years of war has been heavy. Tens of thousands of people have died, while more than 2 million people have been displaced. Famine is widespread.

Much of this suffering is a direct result of war. However, the Enough Project, an American think tank, has recently published a report that places some of the blame on financial policies of the South Sudanese government, including an attempt by the financial minister to float the currency.

“It was done overnight, with little coordination”, said Brad Brooks-Rubin, the Policy Director at the Enough Project. “People lost a lot of value for the currency that they were holding. It caused shocks throughout the economy”.

According to the report, the current inflation rate in South Sudan stands at 110%. It hit the most vulnerable people those without an income  the hardest.

“In the last several weeks, economic conditions have worsened, creating the potential for unrest in the population and in the state security forces as well as national bankruptcy”, the authors of the report wrote. “Amid these conditions, U.N. agencies say a quarter of the population urgently needs food assistance and at least 40,000 people face catastrophe”.

The report also called out South Sudanese leaders for prioritizing spending on security matters instead of humanitarian causes.

“Sudan’s elite are essentially guerilla fighters so they see everything through a security prism”, said Alex Vines, director of the Africa programme at Chatham House. “Humanitarian concerns have been very subsidiary. If the conflict ended, then there would be more opportunity for focus on development and reducing poverty”.

The analysts that RFI consulted for this article all agreed that the first step to good governance in South Sudan is ending the conflict. The two leaders signed a peace deal in August 2015, but there have been bouts of fighting since then.

“The peace deal has been patchy”, Vines said. “It is easy to wonder if both sides are really committed. The bitterness of the civil war is still present and their war is very personal”.

South Sudan is the world’s youngest country. It was founded in 2011 and has not experienced good governance since. Even if the two leaders can forge a unity government, whether it will be a transparent government is another question.

“I would like to think that that is possible but there’s been a series of scandals related to the misuse of public funds over the last 10 years and this unity government is the same government that was in office before the war”, said Hannah Bryce, a London-based security analyst also at Chatham House. “Corruption is a major issue in South Sudan and I don’t think that the unity government will necessarily improve that particular component”.

So while it is good news that the process of building a transitional government has started in South Sudan, analysts remain dubious about its success.


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