In South Sudan COVID-19 is hitting an extremely fragile country with one of the most vulnerable populations in the world. As of today (May 4) the country has 46 cases of the Corona Virus and no death from it. According the International Red Cross (IRC) more than half of South Sudan’s Population – 6.5 Mio. people – already faced severe food insecurity before the arrival of the virus. According to the government the country has 24 beds, four ventilators (with five Vice-Presidents!), and 0.15 doctors per 10.000 people.
FES-South Sudan spoke to Edmund Yakani, Executive Director of Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation (CEPO), FES-Partner and well-known civil society activist in Juba about ways for South Sudan to cope with the many challenges.
Yakani: South Sudan needs to urgently improve its health system ranging from state funding to human resources capacity to health infrastructure. The challenge is that the country is currently at the post-conflict stage where a lot of state funds have been invested in the defense and security sector. For dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic South Sudan must urgently increase its spending on the health sector in a transparent manner.
But it will be very hard to adhere to lockdown measures against COVID-19 since the vast majority of our citizens depend on the cash economy, on a daily income; and the government has few resources to provide an alternative livelihood for its citizens.
Besides the political problems for its citizens South Sudan has now two additional threats of COVID-19 and the locust invasion it needs to deal with strategically and plan for. The chance that one of the two threats will be neglected by the government is high since we have national high level taskforce for combating COVID-19 but not given any attention to the problem of the locust invasion.
The situation in South Sudan right now is threatening citizens’ livelihood. Together COVID-19 restrictions and the locust invasion are reducing opportunities for citizens’ to maintain their livelihoods. So incidents of insecurity have sharply increased across the country. Deadly inter-communal violence have doubled compared to before COVID-19 and the locust invasion, and crimes committed by armed individuals or groups have increased across the country.
The implementation of the peace agreement is totally behind schedule and particularly the principals of the parties are not having enough time to focus on the implementation of the peace agreement provisions. The chance are high that the parties are going to use the threat posed by COVID-19 as an excuse for delaying the implementation of the peace agreement further.
The formation of state governments and independent commissions, the dissolution and reconstitution of the national parliament and the council of state are all delayed because the parties lack the political will to implement the peace agreement.
The absence of the state and local government officials, have accelerated the deadly inter-communal violence at state level. The two main parties that signed the peace agreement have recently adopted a military approach for handling the non-signatories. The recent military clashes in various parts of Central Equatoria state between Government army forces (South Sudan People Defense Force with their peace partners SPLA/M-IO) and the National Salvation Front constitute a violation of the recent signed Rome Declaration between signatories and non-signatories to the peace agreement (R-ARCSS).
The common threat of the pandemic, if it continues, will make things worse since some of the parties will use it as an opportunity to undermine solutions of the political stalemates. Secondly, the impact of the pandemic will increase elite competition. Actors are likely to use violence as means for gaining control of the more limited resources; or to access new resources such as gold, timber and other minerals, as petroleum prices have been falling drastically.
UNMISS should help in the fighting of COVID-19, especially at state government level where the health capacity is very poor in preparing for an effective response. We also need the UN-Mission for community engagement in the upcoming civic process with a population census and elections; that is, for supporting political reforms in the transformation of the country from a violent society to a peaceful society. Because as long as violence offers South Sudanese actors the power to control resources, they will not care about democratic transformation.