Building South Sudan

Written by Henry Goodwin on . Posted in Current profiles, Profiles, Uncategorised

South Sudanese men attend a rally in Juba in 2014.

How do you build a country from scratch? That is not a question many people, especially in Europe, ever really think about. For William Lochi, it’s not just a question: it’s a job description.

Lochi is the Deputy Secretary-General of the Government of South Sudan. If that sounds like an important title, it’s because it is. Lochi is, for all intents and purposes, the second-in-charge of the South Sudanese civil service. For the next few months, though, he is seconded to the EUI, where he is among the first cohort of Young Policy Leaders at the School of Transnational Governance.

‘I thought it would be an opportunity to come and reflect on South Sudan as an outsider,’ Lochi told EUI Times. ‘Now, here I am in the beautiful city of Florence.’

Growing up in civil war

South Sudan is the world’s youngest country, having only gained its independence in 2011 after a decisive referendum, in which nearly 99% of eligible voters across the world opted to secede from Sudan. ‘People had been waiting for a long time,’ Lochi reflects. ‘There was a lot of excitement and euphoria that, finally, the country had been born.’

It was not an easy journey. Since Sudan gained independence from Anglo-Egyptian rule in 1956, the country has been plagued by intermittent civil war. After peace was brokered between Khartoum and southern separatists in 1972, ending nearly two decades of conflict, another civil war broke out in 1983 between the predominantly Muslim, Arabic-speaking north and the overwhelmingly Christian south. It wasn’t until 2005 that a comprehensive peace deal was agreed, and the south was promised a referendum on independence within six years. Nearly two million people were killed either in the war itself, or by famine and disease linked to the conflict.

Lochi’s experience of growing up in a war-torn homeland has left an indelible mark. ‘I was a child soldier at the age of thirteen, conscripted into the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA),’ he explained. The Coalition to Stop Child Soldiers estimated in 2004 that up to 5,000 children were conscripted into the SPLA in the Second Sudanese Civil War, under the leadership of future vice-president John Garang.

That war saw a further four million southern Sudanese displaced. Lochi was one of them, forced to trek from southern Sudan to northern Kenya at the age of 17. He lived there for eight years as a refugee.

‘As tough as it was, it shaped who I am today – because not many of my colleagues made it through,’ Lochi reflected. ‘It made me move forward whenever I am faced with tough challenges, knowing that there are always better days ahead.’

Lochi hopes his time in Florence will provide him with a fresh perspective when he returns to South Sudan.

When, in January 2011, southern Sudanese were finally able to vote in an independence referendum the response was emphatic. Nearly 99% of the eligible voting population in southern Sudan, and throughout the global southern Sudanese diaspora, voted in favour of separating from Khartoum and forging an independent state.

Lochi was in Canada at the time, where he moved in 1999 and attended university. He took an active role in the referendum, managing an out-of-country referendum centre in Calgary, Alberta which reported turnout of nearly 97%. ‘This was a very important time for me,’ Lochi said, recalling the sense of excitement among the South Sudanese community in Calgary, which was about 20,000 strong.

‘The referendum took place in January, so you can imagine how cold it was in western Canada – around minus 30 degrees plus windchill.’ he explained. ‘I remember meeting this old man, who had been queuing outside without shelter since 5am. This gentleman said, “if I can wait more than fifty years to be able to vote, I don’t mind waiting another couple of hours.”’

With South Sudan’s independence secured, Lochi thought it was time to return to the country of his birth, for the first time in nearly twenty years. ‘I felt it was time to go home and contribute to the development of the country.’

Governance and grievances

Lochi touched down in Juba in February 2011, a month or so after the referendum. ‘There was a lot of excitement,’ he reflects, ‘everyone was very happy. This was something that people had been waiting for a long time.’

After independence was officially declared in July, Lochi took up a consultancy job with Deloitte. ‘It gave me the opportunity to sit at the apex of government – the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs,’ he explained. ‘I was involved very closely in advising the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs on policy formulations, reviewing policy proposals coming into the Cabinet, implementing policy and collaborating with other agencies and organisations to develop the new government of South Sudan’s strategic plans.’

The scale of the task facing policymakers in Juba in 2011 was sheer. Alongside building a framework for South Sudan’s governance – from the executive branch through to the state level – Lochi and his colleagues trained staff on things like English literacy and using computers. ‘This gives you a sense of the challenges of building a country from the ground, he added. ‘It was a very challenging environment.’

It became more challenging still, with South Sudan’s turbulent history seemingly destined to interrupt its fledgling future. In December 2013, conflict erupted when incumbent President Salva Kiir accused opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar of plotting a coup to overthrow the government. What began as a political disagreement soon ballooned into a fully-blown civil war, which is yet to be fully resolved despite numerous attempted ceasefires and peace deals. An estimated 300,000 people have been killed in less than five years of fighting.

‘Everything came to a standstill,’ Lochi says. ‘Within a month of conflict breaking out, every capital that was providing aid – London, Washington, Brussels – decided to withdraw all the help they were providing by way of development and capacity building assistance.’ This was a hammer-blow for a country still in its infancy.

Lochi was offered the chance to evacuate, but instead opted to stay behind. ‘Along with two colleagues, we reasoned that there was now a governmental vacuum in Juba, and living in that vacuum would do no good at all.’ Their solution was to freelance, undertaking a similar sort of consultancy work that they had done when contracted to Deloitte. His efforts during this difficult time led to his appointment as the Deputy Secretary General of the government in 2015, a position he still holds today.

Forging a Florentine perspective

Since September last year, Lochi has been in Florence, watching events unfold from afar. He is among the first Young Policy Leaders at the School of Transnational Governance, an opportunity he is intent on seizing with both hands.

‘The programme is very fruitful,’ he told EUI Times. ‘I have been able to meet an array of professionals and scholars from across the world, and have rich discussions on issues of governance and public policy.’ Lochi pointed to the wide range of executive training courses run by the STG – which have covered everything from citizenship in regional organisations to writing effective policy papers – as being particularly useful.

Though he was originally due to return to Juba in February, Lochi’s fellowship has been extended by a further six months. When he does return to South Sudan, he hopes to bring the knowledge and experience he has garnered at the EUI with him.

‘Going back, I hope to have a new perspective. I want to transfer what I have learned to my colleagues.’ For the world’s youngest country, that experience may well prove invaluable.

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