In its current incarnation, South Sudan is 7 years old today. Sudan in its current form is just as youthful, but it inherited many of the people and institutions which had already dominated its political landscape for the last 50 years so feels less new. The borders of this young nation are to a large extent a reflection of British fear that Egypt would exercise too much control over “Christianised” areas after that country gained independence in 1922 in the wake of the post-war decline of both the Ottoman empire and Anglo-French influence in the Levant. But they also reflect a legacy of the slave trade, a trade which along with the newer trade in oil continues to cast a storm cloud over any reconciliation efforts between Sudan and South Sudan.
Independence has not yet provided the peace dividend which some of the authors of peace agreements from the 2002 Machakos Protocol to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) imagined. There are several reasons for this, but one main one is that the so-called CPA was not comprehensive. It did not include all perspectives (including those of people without weapons), it left open too many contentious issues, it treated “peace” too simply and narrowly as the division of power and wealth, and it failed to address the root causes of violent conflict. It was also too heavily invested in certain key individuals, and too unwilling to see the identity of either of the two potential new nations in positive, shared terms. For too long, protagonists on all sides had seen their identity more in terms of who or what they were not, rather than were – and are.
7 years on, some things have changed. Juba feels more like a minor African capital city than a garrison town, and people who built up their education and skills in Khartoum and elsewhere in the world have returned to rebuild their new country. But some things have not. There has been only very limited investment in public services. Indicators for health, water, sanitation, food security and education bump along the bottom of the world’s league tables. Those who fought the civil wars are still trying to divide between them the spoils of those wars to the detriment of the ordinary people, 1 in 3 of whom are now displaced. In recent weeks there has been cautious optimism that a new ceasefire declaration may not go the way of its predecessors.
In a country which still seems to have little to celebrate, Ibba Girls’ School is a shining example of what is and could be possible in spite of the challenges. It is helping to lift people out of poverty, to educate a new generation of leaders, to challenge some of the most damaging cultural norms, and to raise expectations. It shows that change can happen in small, incremental steps, and that by showing what is possible we can change what is probable.
Mark Simmons FIGS CEO, 9 July 2018