It’s been almost two months since Independence day and The Government of the new Republic of South Sudan have made some very tangible changes in that time. What is life like (so far...) in the newly independent country?
One of the most noticeable changes has been the introduction of a completely new currency: the South Sudan Pound has replaced the old Sudan Pound. I got my first South Sudan 5 pound note on the 20th July, a few days after it was introduced. We were initially going to be given 3 months to exchange all the old currency for new (at a rate of 1:1), then it was two months, and last week it was announced we had 1 day to change everything. Then on the 27th August, Lakes State was declared free of the old currency
I was the first person in my family (with whom I am staying) to receive the new money. When I brought it home it was closely inspected and handled by everything. It was then washed in water as a test of its strength! Which was declared by all to be good. The transition has been remarkably quick and I haven’t heard any complaints – certainly seems much more successful than the last time a new currency was introduced and all the old money was taken from traders and ordinary citizens and burnt on Freedom Square!
The second major change has been a Presidential decree announcing a new set of ministries, ministers and assistant ministers. The espoused idea is to improve political representation in South Sudan by having a more ethnically/regionally balanced cabinet (there are various analyses of how successful/true to that goal the ministerial appointments are on sites like SouthSudanNation.com). The Government in Juba is also being ‘slimmed down’ and more decentralisation is happening. That means that the State Government of Lakes based in Rumbek is getting bigger and new ministries and positions are being created.
We also have a new dialling code, +211 The networks have not been functioning well in the last few weeks prompting rumours (mostly unfounded) that Khartoum has cut various network connections to the South.
However, for most people, the most pressing issue in the last few months has been the soaring prices of food and commodities in the market. Some, but not all, of the reasons for this are connected to Independence. South Sudan imports almost all of its food and commodities. Since before independence the border with the North has been closed and trucks have not been coming. The other traders, importing from Kenya and Uganda are facing exorbitant taxes (official and unofficial) on the road as well as inflated exchange rates of South Sudanese Currency and dollars/East African currency at the border. The cost of this is falling on the consumer and prices are sky rocketing – with good doubling and in some cased quadrupling in price over the past few weeks