South Sudan’s transformation from conflict to recovery is underway, but much needs to be done before securing “a peaceful and prosperous future”, the UN Special Representative to the country told the Security Council on Tuesday.
“Because of the collective efforts of so many…South Sudan is in a better state”, the head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), David Shearer, said in his last briefing, after serving as Special Representative for four years.
However, he stated that “it is inching forward – frustratingly slowly – with still so much to do”.
Despite recently marking the one-year anniversary of the transitional government, progress is lagging – including in reconstituting a Transitional National Legislature, constitution-making, transitional justice, and economic reform, according to Mr. Shearer, who also pointed out that troops that have yet to be unified.
“Slow implementation comes at a cost. The power vacuum at a local level has opened opportunities for spoilers and national actors who have exploited local tensions and fueled violence”, he said.
The UNMISS head also noted “a worrying surge in violence” between various heavily armed community militia in Warrap, in the Bahr el Ghazal region, while highlighting that despite the deaths of nine aid workers last year, humanitarian agencies continue to provide “critical assistance”.
Four years later
Reflecting on how far the nascent State has come since 2018, Mr. Shearer spotlighted a ceasefire, a peace deal, improved political security, a transitional government, a presidency, council of ministers, governors and local leadership, which is “slowly being installed”.
Moreover, political violence had reduced “by a power of 10” compared to those who were dying or displaced from widespread conflict in 2016, he informed the Ambassadors.
UNMISS: ‘Stabilizing force’
“A caveat is our concern about the upsurge in armed community militia seemingly in open defiance of state forces”, said the UN official, adding that UNMISS is making “a real difference in lowering the level of this kind of violence and bringing diverse communities together”.
He called the mission “a stabilizing force that extends well beyond our physical presence – and which is welcomed by nearly 80 percent of South Sudanese who we have independently surveyed”.
Mr. Shearer updated the Council that UNMISS continues to push the peace process forward by working closely with all political parties, in coordination with regional and international partners.
‘Extremely fragile’ peace
However, he underscored that “the peace process remains extremely fragile”, noting that many citizens question the political will and fear the collapse of progress.
“It is for those people that we, the international community, must remain united and committed to pushing the peace process forward”, said the Special Representative.
“We can’t sit on the sidelines as spectators…That’s what failure looks like”, he spelled out.
The UNMISS head highlighted the need for a financial system that works for the South Sudanese.
“The wealth of this country – from oil and elsewhere – bypasses its people, siphoned off in secrecy with no public accountability for how it is spent”, he said, posing the “obvious question: Why would key decision-makers benefiting from their current positions hold an election that could put their access to power and resources at risk?”.
Struck by the “immense pride” of the South Sudanese in their country, Mr. Shearer explained that “true sovereignty” means being responsible and genuinely caring for the nation’s 12 million citizens.
“It also means independence”, he said.
Yet the UN envoy referred to the country as “perhaps one of the most dependent nations in history”, drawing attention to education and health systems, roads and infrastructure “provided by outsiders”.
“We have too eagerly stepped in…[and] added to their dependency – and, in doing so, undermined their dignity”, he said.
Mr. Shearer maintained that the Government must also step up, saying, “State-building is a finely tuned endeavour that constantly needs to be re-evaluated and questioned”.
The Special Representative praised the South Sudanese as “without doubt, the toughest, most resilient people I’ve ever met”.
Despite hardship, he said “they can sit, discuss, and…laugh in the face of huge adversity”.
Mr. Shearer expressed admiration for their “seemingly endless patience and hope as they fight against huge odds to achieve the much brighter future they deserve”.
“I will miss this young country and I wish it well from the bottom of my heart”, concluded the outgoing UN envoy.