Commitment to Delivery of Basic Services, Role of Civil Society Critical in South Sudan’s Future

Last week, a delegation of ministers from the Government of the Republic of South Sudan were in DC to participate in the South Sudan Economic Partners Forum. Hosted by the U.S. and South Sudan in coordination with the European Union, Norway and the United Kingdom, more than forty other governments and international organizations were present to discuss with the South Sudanese officials their country’s current economic and development challenges and ways to address them.

As noted in the formal Forum communiqué, South Sudan and its partners in the international community will – over the coming months – look to develop a partnership compact with mutual commitments. On the South Sudanese side, such commitments will include reform and policy-making benchmarks; on the donor side, effective, sustainable assistance and capacity development. These commitments are critical to ensure that assistance best enables South Sudan to successfully emerge from a legacy of underdevelopment and war. However, to see success in South Sudan, they must also be accompanied by additional commitments on providing basic social services, enabling the vibrant role of civil society, and ensuring accountability and transparency.

  • Enabling the delivery of basic services will stand at the heart of South Sudan’s development. With the expected dramatic increase in government revenue with the recent resumption of oil production, adequate devotion of resources to health and education should be central budget priorities. Free primary health care, investments in health facilities, training of health personnel, improvements in quality and availability of maternal health care, teacher training, investing in girls education (especially in pastoral communities), and improvement and consolidation of primary and intermediate schools curricula are among the most critical needs.
  • Civil society has a vital role to play in the development of South Sudan. In South Sudan – as around the world – civil society takes a range of forms including, national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community organizations, media, trade unions, faith-based groups, and others. Now and as South Sudan moves forward, civil society should be provided the freedom to operate and thrive; it should be valued as a critical component of a healthy, democratic society. Constructive criticism provided by civil society, whether toward government, donors or other actors, should not be viewed as hostile but rather seen as well-intentioned contributions to the development of the country.
  • Accountability and transparency – particularly in oil revenues – will put development goals within reach. As oil revenues are revived, a national oil management policy must be enforced with a particular emphasis on reducing fraud and increasing scrutiny by civil society. An ‘oil revenue reserve fund’ should also be established to collect a portion of the revenue from oil production for use in broadening capital investments in the country and to strengthening other non-oil economic sectors. Furthermore, an empowered and genuinely independent Anti-Corruption Commission should be guaranteed by the government, and included as a primary benchmark by the donor community.

South Sudanese NGOs and civil society are an incredible force for good in South Sudan and have much to add to relevant decisions made by officials in their government and policymakers in the international community. Likewise, international NGOs like the IRC and others like it in the InterAction alliance have partnered with and served the South Sudanese people for decades. Along with our South Sudanese counterpart organizations, we look forward to continuing to help the world’s newest country enjoy a future of economic growth, security, and broad-based prosperity and well-being.

By Natalie Eisenbarth, a policy and advocacy officer at the International Rescue Committee. She leads congressional and executive branch outreach and advocacy on issues related to the IRC’s international programs in sub-Saharan Africa.