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Opinion | South Sudan’s start and cutoff points: A recap of the country’s establishment fundamentals (2008-13)

This article is prompted by questions posed by Professor of Anthropology Jok Madut in his article dated 13 May 2021, which appeared in Daily Nation in Kenya; and his proposition of phased elections (starting with the sub-national level and then the national level), in an interview on 19 August 2023 with Radio Tamazuj.

Prof. Jok and I interacted when we were undersecretaries before and after the independence of South Sudan. Afterward, he got involved in the founding of a public policy research think-tank, the Sudd Institute in Juba, South Sudan, from which he moved to teach at Syracuse University in New York, USA.

In the Daily Nation Newspaper of 13 May 2021, Prof. Jok posed several questions: “Who will save South Sudan from total collapse? Lamenting that few South Sudanese would contest the reality that their beloved country has collapsed. The newest member state of the East Africa Community beats the rest in nearly every index of human suffering. What does the future hold? What will it take to move South Sudan in a different direction away from the trajectory of wreckage it has been on?” He continued asking while analyzing.

This article hinges on the essential establishments and basic information used towards independence and the data that became available afterward before the power struggle ensued and the eventual eruption of crisis by the end of 2013. Perhaps to shed light on the questions raised and proposals made by Prof. Jok on how to save our beloved country from the pervasive post-2013 aftermaths it is grappling with.

These aftermaths include the opening of a Pandora’s Box by establishing in October 2015, 28 states instead of 10, which were further expanded to 32 states in January 2017; and later returned to 10 states plus three administrative areas in 2020. The 28/32 states scenarios saw a race for the creation of new administrative units that divided the country along ethnic and trivial communal lines at all sub-national levels (State, County, Payam, and Boma), and even at the Communal/Traditional Chieftainship/headsmen levels. Moving then toward the 2010 general elections and the referendum/independence in 2011, the South Sudan states and counties were delineated with their population breakdown. The number of payams in each county with population breakdown was determined, and the number of bomas in each Payam was fixed, too.

The sources of this fundamental information/data are mainly the 2010 Statistical Yearbook for Southern Sudan, issued by the then Southern Sudan Centre for Census, Statistics and Evaluation (SSCCSE), covering data from the 5th Sudan’s Population and Housing Census of 2008. This was complemented with data that became available afterward from the Republic of South Sudan (RSS) Comprehensive Agriculture Master Plan (CAMP). Supported by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to aim at boosting productivity, RSS CAMP was formulated from 2012 through 2015, together with the RSS Irrigation Development Master Plan (IDMP). CAMP & IDMP were partially used as a basis for the data from the 2010 SSCCSE; South Sudan National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) of 2012; 2011 South Sudan Development Plan (SSDP); and Sector/Sub-Sector policies, strategies, plans, and institutional frameworks that got defined even before the independence, in addition to other national data sources such as the reports of the South Sudan Annual Needs and Livelihood Assessment (ANLA), from 2009 through 2013.

CAMP’s Annex VI, State Profile 2013, published in October 2016 captures basic and sub-sectoral information by state, which includes population projections for 78 counties, totaling 10.3 million without Abyei. It seems difficult for the current Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGONU) to embark on establishing new fundamentals like conducting a new census for constituency demarcation in an environment where all citizens have decided to acquire many firearms.

According to SSCCSE then, the first Population Census for Sudan was done by the British in 1955/1956 and completed in one and a half years. It made extensive use of the traditional administration with few sampling in some difficult areas such as the pastoralists. The total population enumerated was 10.1 million, which was adjusted upward to an acceptable figure of 10.3 million. The second population census was conducted in 1973 after the Addis Ababa Peace Accord of 1972. The preliminary result was only 12.3 million, which was very much less than expected due to failure to cover some areas. The results were adjusted upward to 14.8 million after a post-enumeration survey. The third population census was conducted in 1983. The total population, which was 20.6 million was adjusted downward to 19.1 million. There were concerns about accuracy, especially in Southern Sudan due to weak logistics. The fourth population census was done in 1993 and came up with a total population of 24.9 million which was later upward adjusted to 25.9 million. This count did not include the rural areas in the South because of the war then.

Except for the 2008 census which was conducted after three years of CPA stability, the previous censuses were conducted when the South was unstable. For instance, 1955/1956 was when the first Southern Sudan Civil War started. In 1973 the South was still grappling with the aftermath of that 1955-1972 war. 1983 is when southern Sudan's second civil war started, and it reached its peak in 1993 during the fourth census. Additionally, the 2008 census followed closely the UN principles and recommendations for censuses under the auspices of the Presidency, irrespective of the opinions of the governing Population Census Councils and politicians. The Southern Sudan Population Census Council (SSPCC), which was set up to oversee the census process, with the support of UNFPA had decided to stick firmly to the UN standards, such as the previous residence question and decentralization of the census data entry based on the nine centers that were the capitals of old provinces during the British administration, to reflect household origin from the Sudan 1956 nine Provinces.

Assume the other benchmarks to be done before the conduct of elections are met, the leadership and the authorities (in the government and the political parties) needed to be content with demarcated administrative units before independence and the pre-2013 population estimates under RSS’ CAMP, not the April 2008 census figures. That 2008 census showed the Sudan’s population then at 39.15 million, with 21% (8.26 million) from the Southern Sudan. These figures were contested by experts and official circles in the South as being low compared to population proportions as per the previous censuses. The South Sudan Census Commission had observations then over the results announced in April 2009, a year later by the Head of the National (Sudan) Census Population Council, but were endorsed by the Presidency, because, that fifth Census (conducted in Feb. 2008) was one of the milestones in the implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). It was the basis agreed upon for the conduct of the 2010 general elections, which were the stepping stone to the 2011 referendum. In fact, for more than two decades now, the South Sudan population has been estimated between 8 to 12 million.

The CAMP’s population estimates totaling 10.3 million are realistic and can satisfy basic population data needs, such as residence by state and county. Further, the 2008 census percentages of the population breakdown by payams in each county can be used to deduce 2013 payams’ population estimates. Regarding bomas, their numbers are aligned to traditional authority, e.g., the executive chiefs, and match population size and geography of residence. In the states where there are fewer counties/payams, the larger the number of bomas. There should be no reason to demand more administrative units, to the extent of dividing indivisible, especially if the land shared does not allow that. In essence, the administrative centers act as the basis for services/resources distribution and planning points for social, economic, development, and representation needs, depending on the population and land sizes.

To avoid the creation of further divisions that can encourage conflicts while the country is in despair, the leadership and the authorities can just use the already established fundamentals which are per the existing/prevailing laws, not new ones that are liable to the spirit that bedeviled the country after the December 2013 conflict. With this option, the leadership and the concerned authorities can engage transparently with the partners (e.g., the UN) about the time, money, and expertise to demarcate constituencies, conduct voter registration, and then hold elections. Voter registration should cover IDPs, refugees, and citizens in the diaspora, the neighboring countries, and across the globe. In this way, we can hold general elections, encompassing all the local levels (county councils, county commissioners, and mayors), state assemblies, governors, national legislature, and the presidency. Thus get the country moving forward and avoid the risk of living in a transition.

Of course, ending the transition means restoration of the functionality of the checks and balances that were established between January 2006 through December 2013, which can make the systems/institutions effective again. Most importantly, expenditures will be reduced, and opportunities will re-unlock to rebuild the economy and fight inflation, so that the nurse, teacher, police, and local authorities get their competitive salaries on time. This will encourage employment in counties, payams, and bomas, including through the provision of feeder roads, water, sanitation, hygiene, health, educational, social welfare, agricultural, livestock, and forestry outreach/extension services.

Eng. Isaac Liabwel Chadak Yol, served as the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation (MWRI) in the Republic of South Sudan (RSS) from January 2006 to April 2017. He focuses on strengthening sub-national line institutions to deliver decentralized water and sanitation functions.

The views expressed in ‘opinion’ articles published by Radio Tamazuj are solely those of the writer. The veracity of any claims made is the responsibility of the author, not Radio Tamazuj.