Scholars Examine Obstacles Facing Southern Sudan

South Sudan Discussion Panel
Heather C Liu

On Thursday, April 14, 2011, the Committee on African Studies and the Committee on Ethnic Studies sponsored a discussion on "Reimagining South Sudan: A Symposium on the Future of a New African Country". A panel of experts from the University as well as individuals who survived the war also answered questions at the end of the discussion.

Students and educators gathered at Radcliffe Auditorium last night for a panel examining the current obstacles facing the soon-to-be independent region of Southern Sudan.

After decades of civil war between Northern and Southern Sudan, the two regions signed a formal peace agreement recognizing the secession of the southern region in 2005.

A January referendum in Southern Sudan approved the establishment of the new nation, the Republic of South Sudan, in July.

The two-hour panel discussed the region’s current efforts to establish health, economic, and political stability.

The event, moderated by Jacqueline Bhabha, a Harvard Law school lecturer and research director of the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, drew over seventy attendees.

Since the signing of the North-South peace agreement, Southern Sudan’s civilian population has undertaken the colossal task of constructing a new democratic government despite widespread disease and poverty. Southern Sudan has one of the world’s highest mortality rate and is plagued by issues of underdevelopment and inaccessibility to vital resources.

The new nation must seek to establish territorial and political boundaries that serve it well, Bhabha said. As 70 to 80 percent of Sudan’s oil reserves are located in the south, “small differences in border marking can make huge differences in accessing vital oil resources,” she said.

But oil reserves are not the only resource not equitably distributed among the two countries. Most developed areas and industries are in the North, said Michael J. VanRooyen, director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. As a result of the development disparity within Sudanese territory, access to education and food security in the South is limited, he said. These factors will augment the new country’s economic burden as it attempts to form a new government, according to VanRooyen.

Poverty in the nation is so severe that those who own a pair of shoes are considered fortunate, said Lant Pritchett, a professor of economic development at the Harvard Kennedy School.

“Seventy percent of the richest quintile in South Sudan owns a pair of shoes. For the poor its only 30 percent,” said Pritchett.

Underdevelopment and extreme poverty are issues that will no doubt take a prolonged period of time to resolve, panelists said.  “We cannot impose ideal European economic and political models directly to Sudan,” Pritchett said. “I guarantee you these will not work.”

Most of the panelists said the best way to address health problems and economic inequality in Sudan is to implement makeshift infrastructure, which may not be of the highest quality, but will jumpstart the nation’s development.

“[The solutions] will be lower cost, lower quality ... but will sustain the desired effects over the short term,” Pritchett said.

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