South Sudan: Independence and Nation Building from a False Start?

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This article looks at the ongoing internal conflicts in the newly independent South Sudan and how these may affect the country's prospects of nation building.

Submitted: January 21, 2012

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Submitted: January 21, 2012



The aspirations for independence of South Sudan can be traced back to four decades of war. This eventually culminated into its independence from Khartoum government merely six months ago. The South Sudanese gained their independence from Khartoum on the 9th of July, 2011 with celebrations. These were expected of a people who suffered under northern regime for years.

Even if South-Sudanese were so happy following the achievement of their independence from Khartoum, and should have now embarked heavily on nation building, the new country is bedeviled with numerous internal strives from various groups. Such opposing factions can stifle nation building (Kurtenbach, (2011).  The author states that: ‘In European history, war has played a major role in state?building and …it is decreasing on a global scale. However, other patterns of armed violence now dominate, ones that seem to undermine state?building, thus preventing the replication of European experiences’.

Referring to Latin America Kurtenbach (2011) says that ‘… the specific patterns of the termination of both war and violence are more important than…their organization… [And]…can be conceptualized as a critical juncture for state?building’. Although such a suggestion can be useful as a precursor for peace and nation building, this can be undermined by a venerable state such as the new South Sudan which has started showing signs of failure. According to Estes (2012), failed and failing states are: ‘…sovereign political entities that are unable to provide for the basic security…integrity, social justice, and material needs of their populations…’ And without a doubt, the New South Sudan looks to be a clear candidate in this regard. With increasing military vulnerability, South Sudan is headed for a very stressful experience in nation building. This can be noted in regard to Kurtenbach’s (2011) writing which state that although ‘…military victories in war, the subordination of competing armed actors and the prosecution of perpetrators are conducive for state?building…’ impunity can produce instability due to competing patterns of authority…’

A recent article by Sky's senior news correspondent David Bowden in respect of South Sudan paints the above picture. David says: ‘…the new country's administration is under pressure from a number of armed factions who want a bigger say in how the country moves forward’. Such armed factions can greatly undermine the authority of a government to the extent that external help may be required. This could explain why Estes (2012) observed:

 ‘…failed and failing states may or may not be recognized as competent political entities by the world community which, often, is called upon to provide increasingly higher levels of military assistance and humanitarian aid…’

President Barak Obama could have seen the foregoing situation and decided to act. The Obama Administration recently sent military aid to South Sudan. Although the real motives may not be apparent, it is undoubtedly clear that South Sudan needs help. How will this further complicate the new found joy of South Sudan’s independence? What lessons can other newly independent states learn from South Sudan’s short experiences? Time will tell, but South Sudan’s independence may have begun with false start!



Alex.L and Gerry. M. 2012. Devolution in a 'Stateless Nation': Nation-building and Social Policy in Scotland. Social Policy and Administration, 46(2).

Editorial, The Guardian, Saturday 9 July 2011.  South Sudan's independence day; Independence is an event, but it is also a process, slow and fraught with danger.

Estes. R.J. 2011. Failed and Failing States: Is Quality of Life Possible? Springer eBook.

Julie Pace, Associated Press.  January 10, 2012. Obama Sending 5 US Military Officers to South Sudan.

Kurtenbach, S. 2011. State-Building, War and Violence: Evidence from Latin America, GIGA Working Papers.181

Ndlovu-Gatsheni. J.S. 2012. Fiftieth Anniversary of Decolonisation in Africa: a moment of celebration or critical reflection? Third World Quarterly.33 (1)

Sri Lanka Guardian. February 8, 2011. President Bashir officially endorses South Sudan independence.

Sudan Tribune, January 14, 2012. South Sudan rebels: united to fight for regime change.

© Copyright 2017 Nicholas Okumu. All rights reserved.

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