Tale of two ‘infant nations’

Visiting today’s Libya and South Sudan leaves you with mixed feelings



Craving for freedom is a natural human instinct. It is often mixed with feelings of assertion, hope, ambition and even delusion and a confused sense of desire. But, hold on, there is more to it.
South Sudan is the world’s youngest country. It attained its independence from Sudan in 2011 after a bloody war that raged for two decades. The war is said to have consumed two million (20 lakhs!) lives on both the sides.
Libya, in contrast, is not a new country per se, but it is seen as a nation which has had a “re-birth.” A work visit to Libya and South Sudan has been great knowledge.
As you leave the Tripoli airport, the red, green and black flags of the "new Libya" greet you. Tripoli is a sprawling and refreshing city. Life here is normal. Yet the bullet holes in the walls and the buildings do remind you of the scars of the recent revolution.
The blue waters of the Mediterranean and the mosaic of Turkish, Arab and European architecture makes Tripoli a splendid city. The Gurgi Mosque in old Tripoli (called "the medina") is a must see. It was built by an Ottoman ruler in 1834. The nearby Roman Arch of Marcus Aurelius stands as a reminder of the city's Roman past.
Tripoli is well secured today, so it is stable and business and other activities are resuming. In the Gaddafi era, a large number of foreigners worked in Libya. Not anymore. Some officials told me about two million workers from Egypt, Central Africa and South Asia who fled during the uprising are yet to return.
Libya is far more prosperous than South Sudan. It has far greater capacity and infrastructure to produce and market oil easily. It is located on the strategic Mediterranean Sea, with easy access to Europe, Middle East and the Americas.
Despite a democratic government in place today, Libya’s biggest problem today is the armed militias, their disinclination to lay down arms and the tribal political entrenchments. The government has been successful in reclaiming some small arms in a new scheme of arms exchange for money, but a large number of arms are still untraced.
Former Gadhafi strongholds like Sirte and Bani Walid are still largely out of the new political process. Many there say the new government is not acting against those militias and revolutionaries who committed war crimes.
Libya is today busy creating completely new political structures and institutions. While there are no remnants of the old systems and power structures, entire public administration, the security forces and the army are being re-built.
On the other hand, South Sudan, with an estimated population of 8.3 million, is a landlocked country just south east of Libya. By size it is about one-and-half times the size of undivided J&K. Like Libya its primary language is Arabic, with English being the second language. 
After secession from Sudan, South Sudan is trying to build state institutions from scratch. It has a rudimentary infrastructure. The country is almost run by the UN and its allied agencies. Lack of agreement with Sudan over sharing of oil revenues has hampered its post-independence ambitions. Chinese, Indians and other foreigners are making a beeline to the country for business opportunities. All hotels in Juba, the capital, remain jam packed. New hotels are being built by Indians and Europeans. Chinese are focusing mostly on oil.
South Sudan now owns 85 per cent of the oil reserves of the erstwhile united Sudan. Oil was one of the largest revenue generating sectors for Sudan before secession. South Sudan now relies on it to pay wages of state employees, import food and fund military. It continues to rely on pipelines and other oil infrastructure of Sudan to export its oil.
Chinese companies now predominantly own stakes in South Sudan oil reserves. In one of the largest Upper Nile oil fields, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has a  40% stake; Malaysia’s Petronas has 30% while as India's Oil and Natural Gas Corporation owns 25%.
Today food prices in South Sudan are quite high. It relies on food imports from other countries. An official of the United Nations' Food Programme (UNFP) in Juba told me that around 2.7 million South Sudanese depend on food aid.
South Sudan today faces another challenge - inter-ethnic and inter-tribal wars. A battle over cattle between two ethnic groups last year resulted in the deaths of 600 people. According to UN sources every one out of four South Sudanese possesses a small arm.
And then there are economic problems. The International Monetary Fund says South Sudan's oil output will halve within a decade without new discoveries. That is a scenario for which South Sudan doesn’t seem to be ready.
But despite challenges, South Sudanese are a brave and proud people. They are trying to build state institutions. Development agenda is high on priorities once oil revenues reach full steam.
(The columnist is a technical consultant in international development and a contributing editor with Greater Kashmir)

Lastupdate on : Sat, 2 Feb 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 2 Feb 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 3 Feb 2013 00:00:00 IST

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