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3Qs: Economic and political challenges for world’s newest country

Following more than a half-century of civil war, southern Sudan’s vote last month to break with the north was declared official early this week. An overwhelming majority, nearly 99 percent, voted in the election, and in July it will become the world’s newest country, called the Republic of South Sudan. Kwamina Panford, associate professor of African American Studies, with expertise in public policy and the roles of the new African Union, discusses the events that led up to the election and the outlook for the new country. Since 1991, he has advised the government of Ghana on labor relations and labor law; for the last two years he has advised Ghana’s Ministry of Finance on matters related to oil revenue management policy and laws.

What events brought about the unprecedented election?

After three decades of civil war between the north and south of the Sudan, several African nations, including Kenya, brokered a peace deal between the Sudanese government based in Khartoum and the leaders of southern Sudan, based in Juba. One of the terms of the comprehensive peace agreement was that in 2011 the South would be offered the choice to separate or remain with the rest of the Sudan. Contrary to initial concerns, all reports released by international organizations such as the African Union and the United Nations clearly point to and confirm a very peaceful and orderly referendum in which approximately 90 percent voted for separation.

After decades of war, what are the greatest challenges southern Sudan will face as it seeks to establish a government and build a nation?

The southern Sudanese face many challenges, such as how their new country can deliver on the promises of new nationhood — peace, safety and the economic well being of their citizens. Unrealistic expectations that the new nation and its leaders will perform miracles and provide jobs, housing, hospitals and schools overnight may lead to disappointment. In addition, it is my understanding that many Kenyans and nationals from different African countries are now helping the South develop its economy and advance its society. It will be important for the new government to strike a balance between reliance on foreign workers and training and employing its own citizens. Bottom line, as history and current events reveal, it is easier to be united in getting rid of a bad government, than it is to build a society in which all citizens have equal opportunities and share in the nation’s resources.

How will southern Sudan’s natural resources affect the nation’s future?

The South Sudan’s oil poses both challenges and opportunities. According to the terms for separation, the South will give the North 50 percent of the oil. This could make some southerners unhappy after the excitement of independence-separation cools down. But even more important, having oil per se is not a panacea for poverty. Some of the poorest countries in Africa have oil. My research on Ghana’s newly discovered oil and subsequent production highlights that it takes a great deal of effort on a national scale and dedicated leadership to ensure that precious resources benefit the entire population and not just the multinational companies that use them.

To guard against this, it will be important to implement a comprehensive environmental regulatory policy, financial systems and personnel who are also dedicated to helping the people of southern Sudan navigate the complex intricacies of the petroleum industry. If this is not done soon, then Sudan’s oil, like that of Nigeria, Gabon, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Angola, could become a “resource curse.” That is, the oil will not benefit the people but may become a source of conflict, corruption and other socio-economic problems that will be hard to resolve. If I were advising the new government of southern Sudan, I would urge them to focus on the appropriate use of oil.

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