The newly independent nation is beset by a host of problems of underdevelopment arising from slavery, wars and fragmentation of society. The serious hardships facing young people, who are the majority of the population, should be seen in this context and addressed urgently
On July 9, 2013, the Republic of South Sudan will celebrate its second anniversary. The jubilee that initially welcomed South Sudan into the community of nations has begun to fade and the reality of crises has gradually taken front stage. In particular, South Sudan faces two daunting challenges as it attempts to build a state and bring its diverse nationalities into the framework of a nation. The first problem is that of security, law and order. The second is that of building a viable developmental state capable of spearheading the national objectives contained in its guiding framework: Vision 2040. The two challenges are related.
For sustainable development to occur South Sudan must be stabilized and violence contained. The rule of law must be instituted and enforced. Given that the majority of the population in South Sudan is under the age of 30,  this paper discusses the youth- who constitute the majority of the population - and their place in the nation-building process. The first of several important questions is this: Does South Sudan face a crisis of youth or a crisis of society? Then, what is the place of this youthful majority in the emerging nation? The essay will discuss demographics, political violence and the role of youth, the effects of an ever growing generational gap and finding the best way forward.
COUNTRY PROFILE AND DEMOGRAPHICS
Given that the conversation concerns the majority, it is counterproductive to treat an issue of this magnitude in the way one would discuss the problem of a minority. While it may be popular to talk about a youth problem in South Sudan, the problem is larger because it affects the country’s majority. I propose that South Sudan does not have a crisis of youth. Rather, it has a societal crisis involving most of its population. The tendency to treat the majority as a minority, to divide administratively the masses into smaller groups, is a colonial mode of governance. Its consequence is the arrest of social transformation, the stifling of collective power and the containment of progressive movements. If a durable solution is to be found, it must be sought from within the parameters of the problem. That means attention must be kept inside South Sudan. There lie both the problem and the solution.
A good starting point towards building a strong nation is to look at characteristics of the country. With an estimated population of 8,260,490  South Sudan is home to 60 different nationalities.  When various clans and sub-clans are taken into account, the number of nationalities rises to 90  and these nationalities are not homogeneous. Diversity and plurality are defining characteristics of South Sudan. While women make up 65 percent of South Sudan’s total population, they represent 92 percent of the illiterate.  The youth make up the majority of the population with 16 percent of the population under the age of five, 32 percent under the age of ten, 51 percent under the age of 18, and 72 percent under the age of 30.  A UNESCO report showed that only 38 percent of adults in South Sudan are literate.  A report by South Sudan’s National Bureau of Statistics, however, shows that the percentage of those that are literate is even lower and estimated to be 27 percent. 
While the legacies of slavery, conquest and postcolonial governance have left South Sudan in ruin, the post-CPA period has shown real evidence of progress. While violence between North and South has ended, there continues to be great hostility between the two Sudans. Whereas the confrontation with Sudan is important, the great threat to the new republic, one that poses an existential threat,  comes from within.  Without resolving the internal problem, South Sudan’s future promises even greater instability.
The challenges of development facing South Sudan include at least these: the “absence of good infrastructure and skilled labor, heavy dependency on oil revenues, and growing corruption.”  As a result of decades of war, the majority of civil servants lack formal education and training.  Furthermore, institutional weakness is exacerbated by violence,  unemployment, illiteracy, extreme poverty affecting predominantly women and youth,  and an inflow of refugees and internally displaced persons.  These myriad of issues form the necessary backdrop to any discussion concerning the problem of South Sudan’s youthful majority.
POLITICAL VIOLENCE AND THE ROLE OF YOUTH
While violence is the main factor that accounts for the disintegration of South Sudanese societies, the unraveling of the social fabric and the death of millions of people is traceable to underdevelopment. The surge in inter-communal violence involving young people is not a standalone act. It is driven by issues such as access to pasture, water, and cattle grazing in the Greater Upper Nile. In the Greater Bahr el Ghazal and in Equatoria, the issues include access to land and concerns for ethnic homeland. In all three places, people suffer from: lack of access to basic services, lack of economic development, denied rights to citizenship, the inability of the state to provide security, and the lack of law enforcement. Jok M. Jok, the Executive Director of the Sudd Institute, notes that:
"Insecurity has risen to a level where fear has started to hold people hostage in their neighborhoods at night. Foreign migrant labourers have been targeted both by elements in the security agencies and by local unemployed youth, who only see growing economic and lifestyle disparities between themselves and the few young people who are relatives of the political class. There is also increasing xenophobia against migrant youth from East African countries, as they are seen by the local youth as having stolen their jobs and living better lives than the citizens." 
There are many reasons why the youth resort to violence: lack of development and education, access to basic services, high unemployment, and increase in dowry for marriage in certain states. In the states with strong pastoral communities and cattle-based economies such Jonglei, Unity, Warrap, Lakes, and Upper Niles, incidents of cattle raiding have been widespread and have led to the displacement and death of thousands of people.  Without any real alternative, young people, often the most dynamic group in the population, turn to violence as a means of survival. Given the desperate circumstances, the youth can easily be mobilized and are often the primary recruits to join rebel movements. The young are a formidable force for the government as well as for rebel groups. Without resolving these issues, violence will continue to create instability and to cost human lives. An exclusive emphasis on the youth will, however, be counterproductive if that emphasis alienates or excludes the rest of society. To be sustainable, policy must include all the key stakeholders. It must straddle the older and younger generations, making use of the numeric strength of younger people while harnessing the experience of their elders.
GENERATIONAL GAP AND DISCONTINUITY
A noticeable trend in recent years has been that of disconnection between generations. While in the past young people could easily be managed by elders, the legacies of slavery, wars, and the breakdown of clan leadership in the Sudan have fragmented society, uprooted people, and broken family links. Elders complain that the youth no longer listen to them.  Then, South Sudanese leaders, like their counterparts in various parts of Africa, are drawn from those nationalists who fought for independence. Instead of making room for and tapping the potential of the youth, investing in human capacities and infrastructure for the future, leaders have instead adopted an adversarial stance toward the young, viewing them either as incompetent or as competitors for coveted government positions. Unfortunately, the loss of faith in the young is a faith lost in the future.
The gap between the older generation and the younger generation is wide and increasing. As the younger generation loses faith in the older generation, the older generation further entrenches its place in power and consolidates its position even deeper. Whenever the majority of any country is excluded from governance, a country cannot fulfill its fullest potential. A silent majority cannot demand a majority stake unless that majority realizes its strengths and develops a consciousness to fight for its rights.
THE WAY FORWARD
The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) noted that “we need to ensure that young people are equipped with social and market-related skills which will enable them to be well integrated young adults as well as being competitive at the national, subregional and global levels.”  The role of the state in South Sudan is critical to resolving its societal problems. Among other things, the government should address issues affecting the majority of the people in a coherent and consistent manner. These include establishing law and order, broadening the political community, strengthening state government, bringing decision-making powers and services delivery closer to the people, building education infrastructure, creating jobs and working with communities to increase inter-communal dialogues.
When discussing education, the emphasis must surpass basic literacy to include tertiary education. This includes skills training, multifaceted knowledge-building, and a substantial investment in the infrastructure of local knowledge production. The problems caused by unemployment and underemployment demand a leadership in South Sudan that can establish an environment where the majority can thrive politically, economically, and socially. Lessons from Africa and around the world show that the exclusion from governance and disenfranchisement of the majority often sow “seeds of political unrest, economic collapse and war.”  It was the political exclusion of the majority from governance and the systematic social and economic marginalization of the masses that produced systemic poverty throughout Sudan, which, in turn, created an incentive for armed uprisings. The late Dr. John Garang, Chairman and Commander-in-Chief of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), noted that “under these circumstances the marginal cost of rebellion in the South became very small, zero or negative; that is, in the South it pays to rebel.”  South Sudan must learn these important lessons if it is to build a durable democracy.
South Sudan also must work in collaboration with regional and international partners to address issues related to trans-boundary communities, migrants, internally displaced populations, and refugees rather than allow unaided citizens to take matters into their owns hands. The government must take a leadership role in ensuring access to basic services. While International Non-governmental Organizations (INGOs) can help with the provision of basics services, they cannot replace the government nor should the government defer to INGOs those tasks for which it is responsible. Without providing these services, insecurity will continue in the country and young people will increasingly find alternative ways to access those services, even if through violent acts.
Lastly, if the arrogance of youth compels the younger generation to discard the wisdom of past generations, they will surely repeat the mistakes of the past. Instead of building on useful past legacies and going beyond past generations, the likelihood is that they will struggle to match the contribution of the older generation. If South Sudan is going to have a chance to compete politically and economically with other nations, it will require both the contribution of its youth and the experience of its older generations. South Sudan must harness and build the potential of its people in order to build a peaceful and prosperous country.
* Christopher Zambakari is a Doctor of Law and Policy (LP.D.), Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, and a Rotary Peace Fellow, University of Queensland, Australia. His work has been published in law, economic, and public policy journals. He can be reached at:
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 UNESCO, "Why Education Will Foster Stability in an Independent South Sudan," (Paris, France – Buenos Aires, Argentina: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2011).
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 Jok, "State, Law, and Insecurity in South Sudan," 72.
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 London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), "Southern Sudan at odds with itself: Dynamics of conflict and predicaments of peace," (London, UK: London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), 2010).
 UNECA, "African Youth Report 2011: Addressing the Youth Education and Employment Nexus in the New Global Economy," (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: United Nations Economic Commission for Africa: Available at
 Bronwen Manby, "International Law and the Right to a Nationality in Sudan," (New York, NY: Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa, 2011), 5.
 John Garang, The call for democracy in Sudan (edited and introduced by Mansour Khalid), ed. Mansour Khalid, 2 ed. (New York Kegan Paul International, 1992). 21.