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South Sudan awaits oil bonanza

Lobira Boma village in Eastern Equatoria

By James Copnall
BBC News, southern Sudan

In a village perched a difficult climb half-way up a steep mountain slope in South Sudan, a woman is grinding up leaves plucked from a tree.

The drab green powder - added to some water - will have to make do for lunch.

Deputy village chief Pilagio Ohiasa
The government has not done anything here
Deputy village chief Pilagio Ohiasa

Extreme poverty, hunger and frequent deadly inter-ethnic clashes make life in the region extremely tough.

South Sudan's semi-autonomous government has received nearly $7bn (£4.2bn) in oil revenue since it took over after a 2005 peace deal, but many question whether it is doing enough for its people.

The village, Lobira Boma in Eastern Equatoria, is remote even by southern Sudanese standards.

It was founded in 1987, as people from the Latuka ethnic group built new homes half-way up the mountain to escape fierce fighting in the north-south civil war.

More than two decades on the war has ended, but the struggles of the villagers have not.

"Every day we eat these leaves, every day" says Josephine, convinced this unhealthy diet and the local water leads to eyesight problems.

An official from the local church and aid workers warn that hunger will be a real problem this year, since the rains came late.

In this difficult period, many in Lobira Boma feel neglected.

Village militia

"The government has not done anything here," says Pilagio Ohiasa, the deputy village chief.

Lunch in Lobira Boma
Villagers worry that their unvaried diet is unhealthy

"It's like they are completely absent. It's only non-governmental organisations. They built a health centre, sometimes they give us things. But the government has not touched anything in this village."

The village even looks after its own security. Young men armed with knives and even rifles stroll around the village, dodging herds of goats and the occasional cow.

For many in southern Sudan, insecurity is a huge concern.

More than 2,000 people have been killed in inter-ethnic clashes in Jonglei State alone this year, according to the UN.

Jonglei, just north of Eastern Equatoria, is the size of Bangladesh, and has only 50km (31 miles) of roads usable all year round, which gives some idea of the problems facing the authorities.

It is difficult for the government of South Sudan to move troops to protect villagers, or to chase after attackers.

The south has a long history of inter-ethnic fighting, exacerbated by two civil wars.

Even now politicians from one ethnic group or another are accused of stirring up conflict to fuel their own agendas.

"The communities are crying for the government to come to their help," says one southerner who prefers not to be named.

We are the only ruling political party in the whole African continent that sacked two ministers of finance because of allegations of corruption
SPLM's Pagan Amum

"The government has to be serious in uniting the people, and not separating them. The politicians are happy to cause divisions or confusions in our society."

Most of the inter-ethnic fighting takes place out in the countryside, where resources are scarce.

But even in the main city Juba - a boom-town filling up with Kenyans, Ugandans and southern Sudanese keen to make a quick dollar - frustration with the south's leaders is widespread.

Oil money?

Officials drive around in flashy new 4x4s, receiving envious glances from the less fortunate.

"I think these roads will never be good," says Akot, the driver of a "Boda Boda" or motorbike for hire, as he bounces along a dirt alley.

"They say they are building new roads, but I think the ministers just pocket the money."

He is not alone in making the claim.

A report by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, a US-based non-governmental organisation, says that corruption is a problem "at all levels of government".

"Misuse of public funds, favouritism in hiring and the existence of ghost names on government payrolls are examples of corruption that plague government offices," the report says.

And when the US announced a new policy on Sudan last month, one of the strategic objectives was to "promote improved governing capacity and greater transparency in southern Sudan".

The policy statement pointed out that financial transparency was key to attracting investment.

Children in southern Sudan
The SPLM says it does not have enough money to build sufficient schools

Pagan Amum, secretary general of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the former rebels who now run the south, puts up a spirited defence when pressed on these matters.

He says the nearly $7bn (£4.2bn) received as the south's share of oil revenues is not nearly sufficient, considering the neglect of the south over many decades.

"It is not a lot of money compared to the real needs our people have; $7bn is not enough to establish and run a government for four years; $7bn is not enough to build all the schools, hospitals and roads that we need," Mr Amum told the BBC.

He points out that hundreds of thousands of children have been enrolled in schools, and hospitals have been renovated.

Map

"With this money we have done something, but it is only a drop in the ocean of the needs of the southern Sudanese people," he said.

"We have built more than 5,000km (3,100 miles) of roads in southern Sudan, linking towns within the south, and the region with Kenya and Uganda."

Like many southern officials, Mr Amum accuses the north of arming local groups to fuel inter-ethnic warfare in the south ahead of national elections due next year and a referendum on whether the south should secede from Sudan in 2011.

The National Congress Party of President Omar al-Bashir has always denied the charge, and the SPLM has produced no recent evidence to back up the allegation.

Explosive mix

But this does not obscure the accusations of corruption made by ordinary people and foreign bodies alike.

"Corruption is a serious problem," Mr Amum admitted, before shifting the blame to the north.

"We joined a highly corrupt government, with a civil service which is also corrupted," he said.

"We declared a war on corruption. We are the only ruling political party in the whole African continent that sacked two ministers of finance because of allegations of corruption.

"We are satisfied with what we have done in the last four years."

No-one doubts the problems of southern Sudan are huge.

Low literacy rates, incredibly bad infrastructures, poverty, violence and hunger - the mix is explosive.

It would be an immense challenge for any administration.

But faced with sky-high expectations when it took power after 21 years of conflict and with crucial votes looming, the SPLM is under growing pressure to prove that it can improve the lives of its hard-pressed people.



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