Role of Social Media for Good Governance and Democracy: Literature Review and Personal Observation in Horn of Africa

Social media refers to web-based platforms that allow users to create, share, rate and search for content and information.  These tools become ‘social’ in the sense that they are created in ways that enable users to share and communicate with one another. This includes mixture of web-based technologies and services blogs, micro-blogs, social sharing platforms and social networking services.

This blog part would like to review the role of social media platforms in nation building in the horn of Africa and to a wider region at large. Recognizing the power of this Medias compared with the conventional Medias for public participations in good governance and democratic systems as well as giving attentions to threats related to the technologies including commonly observed provoking and racial remarks/ comments. And to bring attentions to all stakeholders look forward how virtual community at grass root level and social-media giants shall collaborate towards making social media more people centered, developmental, a media for the voiceless and in an effort to build proactive democratic systems while at the same time making sure  the , zero abusive foot-print by embarrassing all basic human rights.

Trends of Internet Penetration in the Region

The applications and effects of social media have ever grown with the expansion of ICT and youth preference to engage actively in politics of respective nations in the horn of Africa and to the regions at large. Facebook, one of the biggest social networks was created in 2004, the biggest video sharing website Youtube did not exist before 2005 and the most popular micro blogging site like Twitter only traces back to 2006. Following this, it has been widely used by public officials, political parties and activist to interact with this ever growing virtual community, which was not a common one decade ago. As we can see from the figure below the trends of internet penetration in the region have been grown since its introduction, this by far shows there is an ever growing population of the virtual community in the region that could be a played a great role to shared commitment towards building a democratic systems and good governance in this fragile region.

Year Kenya Sudan Uganda South Sudan Djibouti Ethiopia Eritrea Egypt* South Africa *
2016 45% 26% 19% 17% 12% 4% 1% 33% 52%
2015 45% 26% 19% 17% 11% 4% 1% 33% 51%
2014 43% 25% 18% 16% 11% 3% 1% 32% 49%
2013 39% 23% 16% 14% 10% 2% 1% 29% 47%
2012 32% 21% 15% 12% 8% 2% 1% 26% 41%
2011 28% 17% 13% 9% 7% 1% 1% 26% 34%
2010 14% 17% 13% 7% 7% 1% 1% 22% 24%
2009 10% 14% 10% 5% 4% 1% 1% 20% 10%
2008 9% 11% 8% 3% 2% 1% 1% 18% 8%
2007 8.0% 8.7% 3.7% 2.0% 1.6% 0.4% 0.4% 16.0% 8.1%
2006 7.5% 5.0% 2.5% 1.8% 1.3% 0.3% 0.4% 13.7% 7.6%
2005 3.1% 1.3% 1.7% 1.4% 1.0% 0.2% 0.3% 12.8% 7.5%
2004 3.0% 0.8% 0.7% 1.3% 0.8% 0.2% 0.3% 11.9% 8.4%
2003 2.9% 0.5% 0.5% 1.0% 0.6% 0.1% 0.3% 4.0% 7.0%
2002 1.2% 0.4% 0.4% 0.8% 0.5% 0.1% 0.2% 2.7% 6.7%
2001 0.6% 0.1% 0.2% 0.4% 0.3% 0.0% 0.2% 0.8% 6.3%
2000 0.3% 0.0% 0.2% 0.3% 0.2% 0.0% 0.1% 0.6% 5.3%
Population

 2016

in million

47.25 41.18 40.32 12.73 0.90 101.85 5.35 93.38 54.98

* Egypt and South Africa used as a comparison, since the two African nations have high internet penetrations rate and study shows that more than 90% of peoples who have internet access have used social medias.

The data for the above figure are collected from http://www.internetlivestats.com/internetusers

The term “Horn of Africa” is not only a geographical expression but it is rather a geopolitical concept. The Horn of Africa proper consists of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, the Sudan and South Sudan. Stretchily, it also encompasses Kenya and Uganda. Some are convinced that the nations of the Horn of Africa are endowed with a dynamic, youthful and entrepreneurial population and an abundance of natural resources. Yet, for too many years, peoples of this region have been suffering from hunger, conflicts, poverty and growing inequalities and instabilities. The twin problems of poverty and conflict have various and complex causes. sine from history so far scholars put it as most of the wars / conflict in the Horn of Africa during the past decades have been described in terms of ethnic conflict, both by the adversaries themselves and by external analysts. Sudan civil wars have been characterized as ethnic conflicts with cleavages along religious, racial, cultural, and linguistic lines. The various civil wars in Ethiopia, Somali conflicts and Djibouti have also linked to ethnic conflict.

Good governance

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) defines governance as “the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels. It comprises the mechanisms, processes, and institutions, through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their legal rights, meet their obligations and mediate their differences”. One of the fundamental principles of good governance is transparency, which ensures that the decision-making and the subsequently due process monitoring and implementation of this information is freely available and directly accessible by all stakeholders.

The United Nations Development Program views corruption as “the misuse of public power, office or authority for private benefit – through bribery, extortion, influence peddling, nepotism, fraud, speed money or embezzlement”. Corruption does not necessarily appear only in monetary terms. When an official fails to deliver the services that were paid by the government, this may be defined as “quiet corruption”. Quiet corruption thus may include deviations that can be potentially observable, such as being absent from work, but also deviations that are hard to observe, for example to bend rules for personal benefits, or to deviate from the expected conduct

Political Participation

Historically, citizen’s participation in the political processes has been considered a fundamental element of an ideal democracy. Thus, participation represents a significant component in political communication and democratic institution.  Recent reports indicate decreasing youth participation in political activities such as low turnout at elections.

two decades ago, there has been serious academic concern about the low political participation among youth in many parts of developed and developing nations, thus, some scholars have identified this as a threat to good governance particularly in developing nations. Before the coming of social media, space in newspaper and airtime on radio and television were limited and expensive; thus youth, specifically cannot express their opinion nor participate in politics through the old media.  Online social networking sites such as Facebook have brought new hopes and opportunities by connecting youth with politicians and common interest groups to share information and opinions.

Studies have suggested that youth are now using Facebook to seek for political information, mobilize common interest groups, create user-generated content and share political views. Facebook provides a great opportunity to politicians to reach out to their constituents and voters. The technology also link and facilitates interaction between community and elected political representatives by providing a public online ‘Wall’ a space where community members can easily write comments in favor or against their political leaders.

More youth are showcasing stronger reliance on it as their online platform for securing political information they need to make an informed political decision. Hence, targeting and tailoring political messages online to the youth through Facebook and what motivate youth to develop an interest in politics should be an important factor in future campaign strategies for Political parties in their day to day activities as well as during election seasons.

Social media vis-à-vis Good governance and Democracy

Researchers argue that social media has a great potential to increase government outreach, enhance problem solving capacities and improve decision-making processes. Citizens´ demand for a transparent government is fermenting a new age of opportunities through social media, web-enabled technologies, mobile technologies and E-Government. With the emergence of Web 2.0 technologies and new media citizens became able to be journalists themselves avoiding unnecessary mediation of traditional media. As scholars put it: ‘The powerful have been spying on their subjects since the beginning of history, but the subjects can now watch the powerful, at least to a greater extent than in the past’. We have all become potential citizen journalists who, if equipped with a mobile phone, can record and instantly upload to the global networks any wrongdoing by anyone, anywhere.

Freed from the necessities of professional media and journalist skills or the centralized control and distribution of industrial mass media organizations, social media is instead seen to be technologically, financially and accessible to youths. Equipped with social media, the citizens no longer have to be passive consumers of political party propaganda, government spin or mass media news, but are instead actually enabled to challenge discourses, share alternative perspectives and publish their own opinions. In this age of widespread communication and political consciousness, people expect political participation and accountability much more than they did in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. social media allows citizens not only to influence public debate, public opinion and public policy, but, on a more direct level, also to get the chance to tackle matters of consequences, for example to address deficiencies in infrastructure projects, improve project planning and uncover cases of corruption.

Social media can be empowering to its users as it gives them a platform to speak. It allows anyone with access to the Internet the ability to inexpensively publish or broadcast information, effectively democratizing media. In terms of time, Social media technologies allow users to immediately publish information in near-real time. There is a growing prospects that shows social media must be used by Parliaments, Parliamentarians, governments and political parties as they are highly effective tools to involve and inform citizens in public policymaking and in the formation of governments.

The rapidly advancing world of information technology affects all spheres of life but none more so than politics and the replacement of authoritarian governance with democratic governance. Easy access to information from around the world promotes liberty, competition and choice.  It can also be used to advance respect for the rule of law and human rights and other indices of good governance such as equality and free and credible elections.  Use of the new social media enables group thinking to promote concepts such as the independence of the judiciary, the development of civil society, multiparty systems and democratic institutions which are participatory, transparent and accountable. Such media empower and unite people.  Political leaders can rise social and political issues and shape public opinion, and the media can give a voice to those who previously did not have one. It will also provide members of parliaments with the information they need to hold their representatives accountable in a more transparent system of governance. While the public can use the social media to influence political debate, he said they can also be used by political parties to mobilize voters.  More generally, the social media can also be used to enable faster responses to crises.

The way forward

In general, there is a strong assumption in the literature that social media have a tremendous power to improve transparency, accountability, good governance and democratic system coupled with my observation in the ground. But the ever growing threat that hinders for harvesting the advantage of social media in different parts of the region needs great attentions and further research and strategies shall be raised from the virtual communities for avoiding polarized and extremist contents generated ideas perpetuate among us.

The research questions for further study should include what is the motivation behind posting and commenting so provokingly and in a polarized way, how the majority of the virtual community who have worked for the common goals in politics usually to bring democratic systems and good governance by using social media  shall not be influenced / diverted by this incite posts from fake identities and how institutions responsible for these platforms ( like Facebook) shall came with better options / solutions for users in reporting towards intruders posting inappropriate contents.

If everyone can make little research in this concerns Content generated by Polarized and incite contents usually done with posts came from fake profile usually including but not limited to names of celebrities and public officials. The appearances for fake profiles are lack of regular posts in their own timeline and with rare number of friends in their own circle but surprisingly they are actively comments on posts came from anyone in the virtual space.

whatever the importance of the post to bring the issues for discussions for developing good governance and democratic systems; the comments from these intruders (the one with the fake ID) came up with provocative, insane and with a very nature of sensitive like racism / ethnic/ religious based insulation  remarks that have usually controlling enough to hijacked/diverted the main posts/discussion as well as it has leads most of the users in that space busy with making angry response to this comments.

Even if the virtual communities have aware of the importance of social media in building democratic systems and good governance that would take part  a role/ bring a light for multi-party systems, inclusive development, self-determination / identify, transparency, corruption, systematic exclusion and other issues that came to be important for the prospects of each nations and toward this region ; if we are not systematically approaches and give attentions to intruders came with   ethnic and religious polarizations and extremism that usually done for the purpose of dismantling / diverting the virtual community in the social medias would have its own threats and consequences for fuelling the online drama towards the offline conflicts.

In response to this calamities social media companies and researchers in the region need to initiate to work with social media users at grass root to come up with user friendly reporting systems for inappropriate content includes contents with local language so that the platforms would maintain/remain for the advantage of the peoples at large for interaction, building of democratic systems and good governance.

East Africa Food Security Brief – January 2012

Food security outlook points to deepening food insecurity in some areas even as OctoberDecember rains result in marked improvement in Crisis areas

Current food security conditions and expected outcomes during the Outlook period (through March 2012) are mixed across the East Africa region. Several areas previously at Crisis levels of food insecurity (IPC Phase 3) have shown considerable improvement, namely parts of Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, following favorable and mostly above normal OctoberDecember rains, coupled with a major humanitarian response. Notwithstanding these improvements, the outlook in the eastern Horn is measured, due to the underlying fragility of livelihoods, which have been weakened by a succession of poor seasons and multiple shocks, principally drought, conflict, livestock disease, above-normal food and non-food prices, and more recently, floods. Furthermore, most of the improvements in food security are supported by humanitarian response rather than substantial recovery in productive capacities or enhanced resilience of livelihoods. Blue Nile and South Kordofan states in Sudan, and Jonglei State and border areas of South Sudan, are now emerging as the areas of greatest concern, in addition to parts of southern Somalia. Food insecurity in Sudan and South Sudan is driven by the poor recent agricultural season, and intense conflict and heavy fighting in some areas, as well as restrictions on trade and humanitarian access.

Food security has improved in parts of Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, and Somalia, and the prognosis for the first quarter of 2012 is generally favorable. However, reports by FAO suggest that food security in Djibouti is anticipated to decline through March particularly for pastoralists, the urban poor, and about 19,000 Somali and Yemeni refugees in camps. An estimated 210,000 people will face Stressed levels (IPC Phase 2), while localized households in the north will face Crisis levels. In western Ethiopia, food security is projected to improve to No Acute Food Insecurity (IPC Phase 1) in parts of the cropping highlands after favorable October to December rains. However, Belg cropping areas in North Wollo and northeastern parts of Afar experienced poor rains and poor households will likely remain in Crisis through March 2012. Households in the southern and southeastern pastoral and agropastoral areas of Ethiopia bordering Kenya, South Sudan and Somalia are expected to be in Crisis through March 2012, including about 143,000 Somali refugees at Dollo Ado camp and more than 30,000 Sudanese refugees in Benishangul-Gumuz region in western Ethiopia. Insecurity and suspected polio cases are cause for serious concern in Dollo Ado, while water shortages are increasing in Oromiya and Somali regions.

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High levels of food insecurity in South Sudan

 

ROME, Italy, February 8, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ — Millions of people in South Sudan will face hunger this year if urgent action is not taken, according to a joint report issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

 The FAO-WFP report, Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission to South Sudan, is based on a joint mission conducted in the world’s newest nation between October and November 2011 at the request of the government of South Sudan’sMinistry of Agriculture and Forestry.

The report finds that the level of food insecurity in the country has risen sharply. The number of food-insecure people has jumped from 3.3 million in 2011 to 4.7 million in 2012. Of those, about one million people are severely food insecure, compared to 900,000 in 2011.

If conflict continues to cause major population displacements and food prices keep rising, the report estimates that the number of people who are severely food-insecure could double.

Poor harvests, increased demand, rapidly rising prices, conflict, displacements and a large number of returnees have all contributed to the situation, with a shortfall in cereal production weighing heavily on already distressed communities.

“This is a rapidly approaching crisis that the world cannot afford to ignore,” said Chris Nikoi, WFP’s country director inSouth Sudan. “The situation is dire, and we are doing everything we can to be ready, but we are running out of time.”

“We need to enable households to, first, have quick access to safe, nutritious food and other basic necessities, but in order to restore and sustain food and nutrition security in South Sudan, we need to break the cycle of increasing hunger and poverty. We can do this by helping people to resume the farming, livestock and other activities that support their livelihoods,” said George Okeh, Head of Office, FAO South Sudan.

According to the assessment, South Sudan’s national cereal production in 2011 was about 19 percent below the previous year and 25 percent lower than the average for the last five years. The cereal deficit for 2012 is estimated at more than 470,000 metric tons – almost half of the country’s total consumption requirements for the year.

Poor rainfall in the early season was largely responsible for the lower harvest, with ongoing conflict compounding the problem by disrupting normal agricultural activities. The resulting limited food supply comes at a time of significantly increased demand from the influx of returning South Sudanese from the north and people displaced by conflict.

Under normal circumstances, the combination of insufficient food supply and increased demand would have been addressed by well-functioning markets. However, the closure of border crossings linking the new country of South Sudanto Sudan has led to disruption in the usual supply of food commodities to the markets of South Sudan.

Although the food gap has been partly filled with goods from neighbouring countries, the long distances over poor road networks, high fuel costs and the depreciation of the South Sudanese pound have led to very high market prices.

Short-term, long-term action underway

WFP’s emergency operation in 2012 is currently aiming to reach some 2.7 million vulnerable people with 150,000 metric tons of food. WFP will provide food assistance to severely food insecure rural households, vulnerable children and nursing mothers, internally displaced people, refugees and returnees. WFP and its partners are already preparing to scale up operations in order to respond to increased needs if the situation deteriorates further. The report estimates that the number of people requiring food assistance could rise to 3.3 million.

In order to reach 2.7 million vulnerable people with food assistance, WFP is seeking donor support to cover the current shortfall of $160 million. If the situation deteriorates further, additional funding will be required.

In the 2011 agricultural season, FAO and its partners provided agricultural tools and nearly 2,400 metric tons of seeds to 165,000 farming families. Recipients included returning South Sudanese and people displaced internally by conflict. FAO also distributed nearly 5.5 metric tons of vegetable seeds to diversify household diets and improve nutrition.

This year, FAO will provide agricultural support to revive production capacity for the next cropping season that starts with the first rains in April and continues until June in different parts of the country. The Government of South Sudan has requested FAO inclusion of a cash transfer programme, similar to the one implemented in Somalia. This would allow families to buy food locally while building their assets and also stimulate economic recovery.

FAO is seeking $23 million in donor support through the UN Consolidated Appeal Process.

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South Sudan – a blueprint for a food secure future

10 January, 2012

Six months since South Sudan became independent, Oxfam America’s President Ray Offenheiser highlights the great potential for agriculture in the country – but also the great challenges the sector faces, from lack of infrastructure to widespread violence and displacement, and the leasing of valuable land to outside investors:

As South Sudan emerges as a new nation, there may be no more pressing issue for its people, and perhaps for the stability of the nation as a whole, than the investments it makes in its agricultural sector and long term food security.

In recent years we have seen the impact of volatile food prices across the globe. In 2008 there were food riots in 38 nations, and the international community has yet to fully address the root causes of this food crisis. So the potential for shock effects in fragile economies like South Sudan are real.

South Sudan is however fortunate. It has abundant arable land, water resources, and large stocks of cattle and fisheries. The White Nile region is one of Africa’s most fertile areas. So there is enormous potential and opportunity for South Sudan to achieve a high level of food security for its people. Yet while the struggle for independence has been achieved, the struggles to ensure peace and security and to overcome extreme poverty are still to be fought and won.

These twin challenges are daunting. 30 years of conflict has seriously compromised agricultural production. As many as 3 million people in South Sudan are at risk of food insecurity, according to the UN. Just 4 percent of arable land in South Sudan is cultivated. The production of livestock and fish is just a fraction of its potential.

The nation depends heavily on imported food stocks. Interstate trade and international exports are minimal. And South Sudan undertakes the task of building its agricultural sector with significant deficits in human and institutional capital, infrastructure, finance and technology.

So where to begin?

Ensuring food security for all citizens of South Sudan

The first priority for investment in agriculture must be ensuring food security for all South Sudan’s citizens. With this goal in mind, there are some critical steps that must be pursued:

  1. Create an enabling environment for investment

    Building the key institutions that facilitate a functioning market economy is critical to attracting investment.

    Create an enabling environment for public and private sector investment.Critical to this is investment in building the key institutions needed to ensure peace and security, rule of law, macro-economic stability and a coordinated regulatory framework. These are prerequisites for any functioning market economy that hopes to attract significant foreign investment.

    Donors in this early stage have an important role to play. They should devote significant financial and technical resources toward assisting the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) to model excellence in governance; and toward building the capacity of those institutions that will manage aid funding, create the foundation for a vibrant market economy, and support civil society to engage in consultative processes with government in developing investment plans and monitoring performance.

  2. Build agricultural infrastructure

    Agricultural expertise and technology can dramatically increase productivity.

    Build the hard and soft infrastructure needed to support a growing agricultural sector. South Sudan must create a class of highly trained professionals to guide and manage the growth of its agricultural sector. It must create agricultural secondary schools, training centers, research capacity and a strong agrarian university.

    It must build an agricultural extension system to serve the needs of its farmers and pastoralists and to deliver new technologies into its rural areas that will dramatically increase productivity. It must build a strong land administration system that can deal with the sensitive issues of land tenure and adjudication across the nation’s complex agrarian landscape.

    It must explore the use of innovative tools like radio education to transmit knowledge to small farmers in local languages. It must create institutions that provide needed finance to support investment in its agricultural sector. It must define a role for the private sector in the development of the agricultural sector, and provide the incentives to private sector actors to invest creatively in supporting the goal of food security.

    It must build a system of trunk highways and feeder roads that will stimulate market investments across the agricultural sector.

    And in this early stage, it must resist the temptation to lease large tracts of valuable and highly productive lands and water sources on a long term basis to third party investors from abroad whose interests are at odds with the goal of ensuring food security for the South Sudanese people.

    Many food deficit nations are trying to ensure their own food security by investing abroad. Between 2007 and 2010, foreign companies, governments and individuals sought oracquired some 2.64 million hectares in what is today South Sudan for agriculture, biofuel or forestry products.

    This is a land area equal to that of Rwanda, representing 10 percent of South Sudan’s landmass. For a new nation, just embarking on building its agricultural sector, it is premature to permit too aggressive an approach to such investments which could compromise the longer range goal of building sustainable livelihoods for its own people.

  3. Prioritize small-scale and sustainable agriculture

    Small-scale farms have a huge potential for sustainable growth.

    Give priority to small farmer agriculture and building sustainable livelihood. Ninety percent of South Sudanese households depend on crop farming, animal husbandry, fishing or forestry for their livelihoods. Productivity across all these sectors is minimal. It is critical that investment planning drive the transition from subsistence production and food assistance to long-term sustainable production and food security for all South Sudanese.

    Support for pro-poor, sustainable livelihoods means:

    • Giving priority to increased investment to small-scale agricultural producers.This is an often ignored class of producers yet they hold the key to sustained inclusive growth in South Sudan.
    • Increasing access to, and ownership of land for returnees, internally displaced persons and vulnerable groups, and better targeting support in areas hosting large numbers of returnees who may lack land or experience in agriculture.
    • Addressing the critical role that women play within the South Sudanese agricultural sector. Throughout much of the country, women farm the land while men manage the herds. It is therefore women who will drive productivity increases in crop production. But to do so, they are going to need access to new skills and technologies and they are going to need equal rights and access to land. Women must be at the center of any strategy that would hope to achieve genuine food security for South Sudan.
    • Ensuring the adoption of strong, internationally-applicable standards of good governance relating to land tenure and management of natural resources, and the principle of free, prior, and informed consent in decisions about major national investments with consequences for communities and the region.
  4. Address conflict and insecurity

    Conflict and insecurity hinder development – and women and children are almost always disproportionately affected.

    Perhaps most importantly, the GoSS must acknowledge and address the impacts of conflict and insecurity on the agricultural sector.

    Insecurity disrupts cultivation, inhibits transport and trade, restricts access to markets, schools and healthcare and exacerbates vulnerabilities – with women and children almost always disproportionately affected.

    Recognizing the linkage between insecurity and development means increasing support to mitigating security threats, addressing root causes of conflict such as inequitable development, and supporting the professionalization of the security sector.

    The current fighting along the border is also a significant obstacle. Sudan and South Sudan will have to rely heavily on each other in the future, and having a peaceful border is vital for the long term development and security for both Sudanese and South Sudanese people.

    The international community has invested a tremendous amount in shepherding Sudan and South Sudan through the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and independence. Now, however, the work just begins and donors must double down on their commitments to help South Sudan overcome the challenges of insecurity, displacement, and cyclical droughts and floods.

    As it makes this transition to a nation at peace with itself and with its neighbor, South Sudan will require a comprehensive balance of predictable, multi-year development assistance alongside continued support for humanitarian needs focused on strengthening the GoSS emergency preparedness and disaster management capacity.

    It will also be important to invest in programs of Disaster Risk Reduction and resilience that enable communities to prevent, mitigate and recover quickly from humanitarian crises. Donors should also look to emergent South Sudanese civil society as an important actor in providing humanitarian and development assistance that complements the programs of the state and private sector.

With the right priorities and the right investment strategies, and with support from the international community, we can all ensure the bright future that the people of South Sudan need and deserve.

This is an edited version of Oxfam America’s President Ray Offenheiser’s speech to the Agriculture Panel on 15 December 2011 at the International Engagement Conference for South Sudan Conference held in Washington D.C. 14-15 December 2011.

South Sudan facing severe food shortages, UN agencies warn

UN agencies are warning that newly independent South Sudan will face chronic food shortages next year due to internal and border insecurity, erratic rains and a huge influx of returnees from the north.

The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) said a rapid crop assessment carried out in August showed South Sudan was likely to produce 420,000-500,000 metric tonnes of food this year – half the required amount.

FAO food security specialist Elijah Mukhala said an estimated 1.2 million people would be “severely food-insecure” next year, compared with 970,000 last year, with the deficit set to increase by about a quarter from 300,000 metric tonnes last year.

“We made gains in 2010,” said FAO food security co-ordinator Mtendere Mphatso. “Right now, all these gains are being reversed, and the two main issues are insecurity and rainfall.” Mphatso added that these factors are causing shortages and price rises in both countries.

Separated, not divorced

South Sudan gained independence from the north in July 2011 after decades of civil war that killed about two million and left the country in ruins. Secession was peaceful, but violence in border areas in Sudan has flared for months. Tens of thousands of refugees have fled southwards from Southern Kordofan, Abyei and Blue Nile, with returnees from Khartoum and subsequent border closures placing a further strain on the now landlocked nation, which is still dependent on the north for most goods.

“For 2012, we are worried for food production on the northern side as they have also had erratic rains,” Mphatso said. In addition, the north has lost many South Sudanese farm labourers, which could result in dramatic price increases and food insecurity for all but the three southern states.

UN resident andhumanitarian co-ordinator Lise Grande said more than three million people (36% of the population) in South Sudan were classed as moderately or severely food insecure in 2011, and the burden was increasing.

More than 340,000 people have arrived in South Sudan since January, and internal violence has pushed about the same number again away from their homes and fields.

In South Sudan, waves of inter-communal fighting – including cattle rustling, fights over water holes, retaliation attacks, and skirmishes between rebel militia – have left thousands dead or displaced. In August, more than 600 people were killed in eastern Jonglei state alone after cattle raids. The UN says it has dealt with 34 separate emergency operations this year.

Running out of food

“A lot of those people who were coming back were poor. They were running,” said Grande of the massive influx around the January secession referendum. While 80% have been resettled, lack of jobs is a cause for concern, particularly in a country where the majority rely on small-scale farming, and those coming from the north have to transition their skills from urban to rural.

This year, World Food Programme (WFP) has fed 1.8 million vulnerable people with 62,000 metric tonnes of food, while late harvests prolonged the usual May to August hunger season by a month.

But with a 13,500 metric tonne food shortfall, WFP is concerned about rising food insecurity as fuel and commodity prices rocket.

When 110,000 people fled south after Sudanese military forces occupied the contested border town Abyei in May, pre-positioned food was ready to cater for 112,000. However, Grande said nobody had estimated the situation would last this long, and now food was running out and rains had cut off areas where large numbers of refugees were stuck.

About 40,000 people still in the swampy border town of Agok (45km south of Abyei) have been on half rations this month due to access problems. Recent flash floods mean this situation could continue into October; trucks carrying 170 metric tonnes of government-donated food from Kwajok, the state capital of Warrup, cannot get through.

In the other neighbouring state of Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, WFP says a quarter of the population is severely food-insecure.

Santino Longar, assistant commodity auditor for World Vision International in Kwajok, said there was no more food for the community of 21,000 as an influx of 13,000 internally displaced peoples (IDPs) had exhausted pre-positioned supplies.

“The food used to come from the north, but since the crisis [of Abyei], the road is closed,” Longar said. Poor rains and a late harvest could push tensions in the host communities to violence, as seen in the nearby town of Tonj, he added.

“The food at the market is very expensive and at times, in some places you don’t find it,” he added, saying life for the IDPs and returnees in Warrup state was very bad.

Security issues

In addition to refugees from Abyei, demobilised South Sudanese troops marching back south on empty stomachs have created further resource problems.

Grande said UN humanitarian operations were being hampered by 116 incidents involving mainly looting or violence towards staff by rebel militia and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), and the laying of new mines.

Two UN staff members were killed in an attack in May after SPLA troops commandeered six vehicles.

More than 8,000 new refugees have entered the country, fleeing violence in neighbouring Southern Kordofan, while 7,500 more have fled attacks from the Lord’s Resistance Army in the southwest.

The FAO predicts that all but three southern states will face major food shortages due to insecurity and problems near the Sudan border.

Price hikes

There is a steady flow of goods from Uganda and Kenya but, in Juba’s crowded market, fruit and vegetable sellers say they are not earning enough.

“We are making a very small profit now. All things now, they are expensive: green beans, rice, fruits,” said Simaiya Nassara, a vendor who buys produce from her native Uganda.

South Sudan’s national bureau of statistics says the inflation rate rose 9% last month, and more than 57% compared to August 2010.

“The biggest problem we are having here is taxes, and fuel in the whole country. That’s why the price of food is very expensive. All the food is coming from Uganda. Even Khartoum, now they divided the country, things will be difficult now … and prices will also go up,” said vendor Margaret Akulu, who says some produce is now impossible to get because of northern blockades.

Market vendors said local authorities increased three-monthly permits for the tiny stalls from 150 South Sudanese pounds ($35) to 1,110 ($280). This, in addition to more checkpoints and traffic police charging food trucks from the Ugandan border, would push up prices further.

The government recently pledged to crack down on corruption, seen as the new nation’s major stumbling block, starting with the removal of 13 illegal checkpoints in the capital. It has also promised to work with local businesses to try to curb rising food prices in a country that is a net importer of almost all food.

Only 4% of available agricultural land is cultivated, despite South Sudan’s fertile soil.

The lack of basic infrastructure seriously hampers its ability to feed itself, and the World Bank has identified agricultural support and road-building as priorities in the world’s newest nation. Before that, however, the violence must stop.
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