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ICC NOTE: An article worthy of attention because the South has been ignored in the media as Darfur has been elevated in recent months, even though their 20 years of misery and war has left the land completely devoid of human resources and infrastructure. Pray for the church in the South to be victorious in this season of rebuilding.

June 13, 2006

Rebuilding South Sudan – from scratch

The desperate region must compete with Darfur for attention as fledgling government takes charge.

By Tristan McConnell | Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor


Kun Minylang Ding called America home for 12 years. Tall and dark-skinned, with parallel lines of tribal scars carved into his forehead, he cut a striking figure in small-town Nebraska . But last year, Mr. Ding returned to south Sudan after a peace agreement brought an end to the 21-year civil war that forced him into exile. “Life was no problem in America , but I wanted to do something, to use my skills to help my people.”

So Ding came to Juba, the capital of South Sudan , where the newly formed government of the semiautonomous south is building a state from scratch.

Recruiting skilled Sudanese from the diaspora is one of the biggest problems facing the Government of South Sudan (GoSS), which was born out of the January 2005 peace agreement signed between the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Sudan ‘s capital, Khartoum .

More than two decades of conflict and deliberate neglect has left southern Sudan one of the least developed places in the world, but its plight has been overshadowed by the deadly humanitarian crisis in the nearby Darfur region of western Sudan . And as southern Sudan must compete with Darfur for attention and funding, so must the fledgling GoSS compete with a vast army of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the area for qualified Sudanese personnel.

The SPLM is struggling to transform itself from a rebel movement into a functioning government capable of simultaneously running South Sudan with its 10 state governments and playing junior partner in a northern-based Government of National Unity, while trying to maintain the peace and bring tangible development to the south.

Here in Juba , Ding has gone up in the world, and the 30-year-old is now deputy director of budget in the Ministry of Finance. Not that you would know it. In the hot still air of his dilapidated office Ding sifts through a pile of thick documents. Through the broken window panes comes the occasional thud as the withdrawing northern army explodes spare ammunition in the foothills nearby.

In the building next door, David Deng runs the Ministry of Public Services. “The No. 1 challenge is availability of human resources,” says Mr. Deng. “The institutions of governance had been completely wiped out by the war so we are starting from below zero. Our struggle is to reach zero.

David Gressly, humanitarian coordinator at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Juba , notes that besides staffing issues, “There are key functions that any government needs, and the GoSS doesn’t have them.”

Filling the void is a vast array of United Nations (UN) agencies, NGOs, aid workers, and consultants. These groups employ thousands of skilled Sudanese alongside their international staff, something about which Deng is ambivalent.

“We are competing with them, but I can’t tell the people you must stop working with the UN, you must come to work for the public service. My only hope is that these positions [with the NGOs] are not infinite and they will come to an end,” he says with a shrug.

“The war contributed, but the NGOs also contributed to the decay of our government structures. But we are better now as we have money in our pockets from the oil.”

Last year, international donors, including the US and Britain , pledged $4.5 billion over six years to the reconstruction effort. In 2006, donors are expected to give $700 million, but this is dwarfed by the GoSS’s own budget of $1.3 billion, funded entirely by southern oil revenues.

Oil was a major cause of the war and a major part of the peace deal, giving the GoSS a 50-percent share of Sudan ‘s oil. But in what observers see as an indication that SPLM leaders have yet to set aside their military tendencies, $525 million (40 percent of the budget) is going to the army – more than the total spending on roads and health put together.

Attracting Sudanese such as Ding from the diaspora to help spend that money well is a tough job for the GoSS. Dealing with the hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people who want to return is another difficult job – this time for United Nations agencies.

“Southern Sudan is a challenge in every way,” says Rudi Muller, head of UNOCHA in Juba . “There are a large number of people who have returned, will return, or are waiting to return.”

In 2004 and 2005, when the peace deal was first a hope and then a reality, 1.1 million people came back to their homes. The UN estimates that there are about 500,000 refugees and more than 4 million displaced people who expect to return.

But many have been away for two decades and are coming back to homes wrecked by war and neglect. Juba , for example, was a bustling cosmopolitan town in the 1980s. Now, it is a sprawling collection of collapsing buildings and mud huts linked by a few strips of potholed tarmac and a network of rutted dirt tracks that shift with the rains.

“We are concerned about the preparedness of communities, and that the infrastructure is very poor,” explains Mr. Muller. “We don’t want to just move people into a community and dump them.”

Often, the UN has no choice: This year, it has assisted in the return of 200,000 people (of whom 140,000 were refugees, the rest internally displaced). More than twice that number have returned spontaneously.

This competition for attention and resources is a source of frustration to aid workers in the south. “This war went on for 20 years; 2 million were killed, 4 million displaced,” says Gressly. “The suffering was far greater here, but south Sudan operates in the shadow of Darfur .” For the full article…