Failed State or Not

Death of hope?
Death of hope?

There is heated debate among citizens about whether our young country is a Failed State. Read these facts and then make up your own mind.

Policy researchers and academics have criticised the term for being poorly defined, arbitrary and sensationalist. But the term continues to be widely used.  South Sudan has been ranked the most vulnerable state of 2015 in its Fragile States Index (FSI) by the Fund for Peace. The higher the number, the more fragile the state and South Sudan scored a total of 114.5 out of a maximum score of 120.

Social Indicators (FSI Score: 36.7 of 40)

Food insecurity is a significant pressure with an estimated 4.6 million citizens currently facing severe hunger in South Sudan. It is hitting the most vulnerable the hardest.

65% of South Sudanese are below 25 years of age. Studies have shown that this demographic makes countries especially vulnerable to civil conflict. The competition for extremely limited opportunities is the underlying driver.

“If you have no other options and not much else going on, the opportunity cost of joining an armed movement may be low” – Michelle Gavin, a CFR analyst

An estimated 1 million South Sudanese citizens are internally displaced. A further 270,000 have sought refuge on foreign soil.

The Nuer versus Dinka ethnic overtone of the conflict, driven as it is by the memory of atrocities committed in 1991 and 2013, is pulling hard at the seams of South Sudanese society.

Allegations of discrimination by smaller South Sudanese communities, most notably vocalized by those in the Equatoria region, may quickly escalate to ethnically driven tension and violence as recently demonstrated in Western Equatoria’s Mundri county.

Economic Indicators (FSI Score: 17.8 of 20)

No figures exist for income share of the highest 10%, but anecdotal evidence points to a huge disparity in wealth distribution with the political elites taking the lion’s share.

Hundreds of thousands have flocked to the capital because it is the only area where significant development is taking place. Many communities are completely neglected by the state, denied access to services because the majority of state resources and revenues is directed toward government sector salaries, ministerial perks and maintaining a bloated military.

The government of South Sudan continues to run an unsustainable budget deficit driven by pressures to fund the ongoing conflict coupled with a reduction in revenue from oil output which provides over 90% of its takings.

Economic decline has caused prices to rise for every commodity. Public sector wages have gone unpaid, often for months, leaving citizens at the edge of financial ruin and having to make tough decisions on their household budgets.

Without employment opportunities outside of the public sector, many highly qualified youth have dropped their career aspirations and opted to join the police and military.

Political & Military Indicators (FSI Score: 60 0f 60)

Although the action prevented a dangerous political vacuum, state legitimacy has taken a blow with the recent unilateral decision to amend the constitution and extend the term of the government and national legislature.

South Sudan’s ruling party has been febrile, racked by an underlying current of power struggles and political competition – to the point the SPLM was literally at war with itself.

Corruption is endemic with South Sudan ranked the fifth most corrupt nation in the world. Large scale embezzlement is barely concealed with examples such as the dura saga, the abuse of the letters of credit system and the recent forgeries in the Office of the President looming large in citizens’ imaginations.

“It is according to their performances – according to the levels of their effective delivery of the most crucial political goods – that strong states may be distinguished from weak ones, and weak states from failed or collapsed ones” – Rotberg

Heath services, education and infrastructure are under-resourced and have repeatedly come in under budget as resources are redirected towards the military and national security services. Under-resourcing of the police force has resulted in rising criminality and insecurity throughout the country.  Murders in Juba are at a shocking level and inter-communal violence in Lakes State continues to exact a terrible and deadly toll.

Wildlife crimes often go un-investigated leading many to believe that poaching is the likely cause of the complete disappearance of South Sudan’s rhinoceros population.

The constitution is applied and ignored at will as evidenced by the replacement by the presidency of elected state governors with caretaker’s who have remained in office long beyond their constitutionally mandated 60 day period – for years in some cases. Earlier in the year, the leader of the opposition SPLM-DC party was prevented from leaving the country by security agents in direct contravention of his constitutional right to free movement.

The National Security Service and the Military operate extra-judiciously with impunity of senior officers rarely challenged unless politically expedient.

“When human rights are violate or unevenly protected, the state is failing in its ultimate responsibility.” – Fund for Peace

Since the government decided to delegate media regulatory authority to the National Security Service, repeated acts of harassment, intimidation, assault, extra-judicial arrest and detention, disappearances and print run confiscations have served their purpose in terrorizing journalists into self-censorship.

Small arms proliferation continues despite attempts by the state to disarm the population. Where there has been disarmament, it is often forced and allegations have been made that the disarmament process is subject to ethnic bias, leaving one group exposed to violent attack by rival groups with links to elements in government and the military.

“Failed states are tense, deeply conflicted, dangerous, and contested bitterly … It is not the absolute intensity of violence that identifies a failed state. Rather, it is the enduring character of that violence, the consuming quality of that violence” – Rotberg

Encroachment by both Sudan and Kenya into South Sudanese territory underscores the state’s inability to enforce the country’s territorial integrity. Both Uganda and Sudan are accused of fuelling the conflict in South Sudan.

Looking beyond these regional actors, the flow of arms into South Sudan continues, and sophisticated weaponry is finding its way into the hands of the belligerents despite the lack of financial resources available to the warring parties. This hints at a wider and clandestine international intervention into South Sudanese affairs which can only heighten state vulnerability and instability.

So how do YOU think we rate?


Further Reading: The Failure and Collapse of Nation States, Robert I. Rotberg