South Sudan came into being as the world’s newest nation in 2011. After more than 20 years of war, an overwhelming vote for separation from the North has given the South Sudanese the opportunity to fully govern themselves for the first time. But the vote for independence was only the beginning: the Government and people of South Sudan now face the tremendous challenge of building their new
nation out of a fragile and fractured state, and combating the ethnic, religious, gender and cultural rifts that divide the country.
The people of South Sudan expect change – and quickly. There is a clear hunger from all parts of the country for information on how – and whether – this change is happening, on how to engage with development issues, and on ways to enable ordinary people to exercise their new rights as citizens of an independent state. Progress on development tops a long list of expectations that people have of their Government. But there is a gulf between these expectations and the realistic future of South Sudan:
many people believe, for example, that an independent South Sudan will resemble Kenya in 10 years’ time – a goal that is simply unachievable. Failure to deliver on these expectations could generate a backlash against the Government of South Sudan (GoSS). Recent history has been characterised by the quest for independence, which has acted as a unifying force. But, post-independence, deep tribal divides continue to drive conflict and fracture society.
An inclusive national conversation that connects decision-makers and ordinary people and helps to shape a realistic vision of South Sudan’s future is critical to averting possible backlash and to ensuring accountable governance and development. Such a conversation also has a key role to play in mitigating and managing conflict by supporting interaction between groups and across fracture points within society.
South Sudan is, however, a vast country. There are few opportunities for face-to-face interaction between ordinary people and the Federal Government and, in many ways, the media is the sole avenue for a much-needed national conversation. Radio is a preferred and trusted source of information and communication, with an estimated three quarters of the population listening to radio
While only a few organisations have been able to invest in and conduct substantial research on these issues, research from BBC Media Action, Internews, International Media Support (IMS) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) all point to the role media can and should play in society – particularly in relation to governance – among South Sudanese from all walks of life.
However, the media sector is new and, in general, lacks the confidence and the experience needed to effectively support an inclusive and effective national conversation. The state broadcaster provides the country’s only television station, as well as 10 state radio stations. Several national radio stations exist, including the UN-supported Radio Miraya and the USAID-supported Sudan Radio Service as well as the
Around 20 private and community FM stations serve parts of the country. A handful of newspapers cater largely for Juba, the new capital of the country. Internet penetration is limited, but online channels played a galvanising and politically influential role throughout the path to independence.
The country’s most popular – and perhaps the most politically robust – broadcaster is Radio Miraya, a project of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, managed by Fondation Hirondelle and drawing much of its strength from its attachment to the UN Mission.
Both the NGO Internews and the Catholic Radio Network have community stations across the country, often broadcasting in local languages to rural communities. South Sudan’s state radio and television
is also scheduled to transition to a public service broadcaster, although it is unclear how this will happen, how the process will be supported and what sources of funding are available to undertake work on the grand scale proposed by the Ministry of Information.
The entire media sector continues to need long-term support from donors in both financial and political terms, such as strong advocacy for media laws and protests about the widespread intimidation, detention and mistreatment of journalists. South Sudan is hugely reliant on – and one of the biggest
recipients of – development assistance. Media sits oddly within this picture. On the one hand, there has been substantial investment in media. Figures obtained as part of this research estimated a total spend on media support in excess of $13 million in 2009.
On the other hand, support is uncoordinated and has occurred largely outside the substantial harmonisation efforts that underpin development assistance in South Sudan. To date, individual and divergent donor priorities have shaped South Sudan’s emerging media sector and its people’s access to information. Research conducted as part of this case study explored these issues, particularly in relation to the potential and actual role of media in supporting public dialogue and freedom of expression in South Sudan, and with a particular focus on how donors are supporting this role.
Key themes emerging from this research do not constitute a set of recommendations, but provide a snap-shot of current challenges that could underpin strategy and policy
development in relation to media support in South Sudan:
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