The Republic of South Sudan became the world’s newest nation and Africa’s 55th country on July 9, 2011. This brought renewed hope for peace and stability which had been prayer for its citizens for many decades.
The country, being rich in various natural resources, there was high expectation for growth and many believed they would not see another conflict in the country after fighting so hard and for so long to ‘‘gain independence.’’
However, it was not long before renewed civil wars, particularly; the latest one which has led to deaths, destruction of property, and displacement of people, disorganisation of the government and all systems.
The hopes to build a prosperous nation have yet again been dashed despite the peace accord which was signed between the two rival camps-government led by President Salva Kiir and the opposition led by Dr Riek Machar. The said peace deal is already in tatters given an internal party coup against Riek Machar following the replacement of First Vice President by his former chief negotiator with the government, Taban Deng on 23 July.
These political conflicts are not simply internal because their effects go beyond national borders and the region at large. Violence and instability create immediate impacts on local and nearby economies which happen in several ways. There is already a rife in refugees crossing borders to neighboring countries. As the war continues, this poses great humanitarian challenges to the East African countries, especially Kenya and Uganda who share a common border with South Sudan.
The challenges of refugee migration and interventions are a major concern whenever civil unrest occurs. Kenya is currently engrossed in the process of repatriating the Somalia refugees in Dabaab camp due to a number of challenges faced by the authorities. Some of these challenges are the possibility of small arms finding their way through the borders. There are also logistics and infrastructural support that requires phenomenal budgetary support and so forth.
The escalated conflict in South Sudan adds to the negative effects the region has faced since civil war broke out in Somalia in the 1990s. It is documented that Somalia has cost East African countries hundreds of millions of dollars in military spending, and Kenya is particularly suffering from increased insecurity from terrorist group al-Shabaab. The civil war creates more opposition and irregular forces which are environmental factors that favor international terrorism such as al-Qaida, which has already found fertile ground in Somalia.
The longer the violence continues to take in South Sudan, the further it spreads, and the more insidious it becomes, the more difficult the task will be for the country to undergo the kind of social, psychological and economic transformation needed to achieve lasting peace. There are also costs of foregone opportunities for regional development. There is huge business and political risks for foreign investors and neighboring governments. Some of the biggest trading partners with South Sudan have shied off due to the violence.
Regional companies and business people operating in the country had made great strides, some of them had their investments destroyed, or have been forced to scale down or halt their businesses because of the unsecured business environment.
Notably, South Sudan crisis is another setback befalling the East African region adding to the reigning political turmoil which has been going on in Burundi, another sick man of East Africa. This happens when there was supposed to be strengthened regional integration and linkages with the country which joined the East Africa Community early this year. The crisis in South Sudan will likely derail EAC multi-billion dollar projects, such as its plans to build an oil pipeline across the region; new roads and rail line through East Africa, the ambitious Northern Corridor projects linking the landlocked East African countries with Kenya’s maritime port of Mombasa for their overseas trade, as well as the trade among themselves. If not dealt with in due course and in a meticulous manner, the current armed conflict in South Sudan has the potential to adversely affect the pending regional projects.
As a matter of great concern, the situation in this fragile country must be taken seriously before it indulges the entire region into other associated challenges. There is dire need to take swift and decisive action to resolve the crisis. Peace, security and conflict prevention are imperative pillars in all the projects the East African countries, neighboring countries or regions desire to sustainably achieve. Without due attention paid to these three key issues, our development goals are bound to receive negative impact resulting from conflicts. South Sudan conflict has simply gone out of hand and hence a regional peace process needs to be revitalised and rigorously pursued to bring a lasting settlement to the conflict.
In conclusion, ending all sorts of political conflicts in East Africa remains one of the daunting challenges of the region. Just like the region moved to establish East African Standby Force (EASF), peace building activities must continue in the same approach. Political, security, economic and humanitarian crisis in any member country will ultimately affect the regional economies.
The writer is a communications specialist and a part-time lecturer at both the Senior Command and Staff College and the Consultative Forum for Political Parties.