South Sudan was born amid great hope for a country that boasted vast natural wealth. Inheriting a virtually lunar political and economic landscape, this hope quickly gave way under kleptocratic governance and corruption, a volatile political environment with recent horrendous violence, and the ensuing loss of oil revenues and cuts in foreign investment and aid. These current crises were based on a historical lack of effective and legitimate power: South Sudan, in reality, has historically existed as a geographical appellation, with a bare minimum of cohesive society and functional nation-state, but with far more potent of trans-historical interethnic antipathies among its fractious communities and competing regions. To date, the reasons for South Sudan’s quick failure are rooted in either the vague problems of newness (fragility) and/or missteps by its elites (risk). This article assesses the relevance of political risk management literature for guiding the governance of nascent states and seeks to establish some criteria for distinguishing generic weakness from the risky behavior of political elites in engendering state failure. It asks whether the political elites of South Sudan were thinking about risk prior to the crisis, and why this risk management was so flawed – if it existed in the first place. The challenge is not only in disciplining, codifying, and containering the future through law-like regulations – but in managing the hazardscapes and complex risk milieu, such as, triggers that activate blowups. Always politicians – and especially in South Sudan – do not think through these concepts, and if they do, things might go better.
Lecturer of Economics at University of Juba, South Sudan
Dr. Majak d’Agoôt is a former Deputy Minister of Defence in South Sudan. He is a lecturer in economics at the Faculty of Economics and Social Sciences at the University of Juba and a researcher at the Changing Horizon Institute (CHI) for Strategic Policy Analysis.