For more than 18 months, South Sudan has been torn asunder by a civil war, with towns deserted and in ruins, villages burned to the ground, hundreds of thousands displaced and thousands dead.

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JUBA, South Sudan — The laborers, hundreds of them, were hard at work, busily fixing roads, painting buildings and making the parade grounds sparkle.

At first glance, it might appear that the economy of this nation, one of the world’s poorest, is humming back to life.

It is not.

The work was being done in preparation for Thursday, when the governing party led by President Salva Kiir will celebrate the fourth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence.

The day after the festivities, residents say, the work will stop.

It is a Potemkin celebration, they say, marking an occasion that was greeted with such great hope in 2011 but that now rings hollow for many as the country descends further into division and misery.

For more than 18 months, South Sudan has been torn asunder by a civil war, with towns deserted and in ruins, villages burned to the ground, hundreds of thousands displaced and thousands dead.

But it may not be the battle of arms that poses the most immediate threat to the survival of Kiir’s government.

It may be the shattered economy.

Western officials say that the government nearly ran out of money in May and that it is being kept afloat only by printing currency at a seemingly unsustainable rate and by a recent loan from a Middle Eastern nation, perhaps Qatar.

South Sudanese officials would neither confirm nor deny the loan, reported to be between $250 million and $500 million, but the economic crisis is evident everywhere.

The day after the anniversary, there will still be less than 50 miles of paved roads in a country of 11 million people. There will still be few paying jobs outside the military and government. And there will still be little indication of how the world’s newest nation can put itself back together.

Oil income

In recent months, the fighting has intensified and threatened the government’s main source of income: oil.

“South Sudan is the most oil-dependent country in the world,” according to the World Bank, “with oil accounting for almost the totality of exports.”

Rebel forces attacked the last working oil field in May, forcing workers to evacuate and nearly seizing control before being turned back. They launched another offensive last week, but it is unclear how close they came to the oil field.

Even before the war, oil income was severely strained by South Sudan’s terms with Sudan, the nation it split from after decades of war.

The government pays a set fee to Sudan, regardless of the price of oil, and it is now making less than $10 a barrel, according to Western officials. Since the war began, production has fallen by one-third, according to the Oil Ministry.

The shortages of gasoline and diesel force gas stations to close without notice, and the currency has recently undergone wild fluctuations.

Shoppers at the Konyo Konyo market here in the heart of the capital, where tin stalls packed with goods brought from outside South Sudan line rutted dirt roads, do not need an economist to tell them that things are not right.

Even though the shelves are filled with staples like beans, wheat and flour, business is as bad as anyone can remember since the fighting started at the end of 2013.

Joyce Pony, whose family fled its village when fighting broke out, sells roasted nuts outside the stalls.

Even she has been forced to raise her prices. A cup of nuts used to cost 1 South Sudanese pound a few months ago. Now it is 5 pounds.

Asked why she thinks prices are rising, she said she was told it had something to do with the dollar.

“I have never seen a dollar,” she said. “But it rules my life.”

Anger grows

The rising anger is palpable.

The minister for national security, Obutu Mamur Mete, recently told lawmakers that criminals and gangs were taking advantage of the situation, citing a “high spike of robbery and looting people’s houses.”

In early June, he said, a soldier at one market “threatened to shoot out of frustration because the price of an item he was buying doubled from the previous” time he bought the same thing.

The ruling elite can seem divorced from the tragedy playing out in parts of country, where hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to seek refuge in swamps or the bush inland.

Shiny new sport-utility vehicles with government plates crisscross the capital, going from hotel to hotel, which is where many members of the governing party and military now call home.

Sensing the tide of resentment, the parliament recently debated whether to debate imposing a ban on government workers’ buying fancy new cars. The debate about the debate ended without the debate itself ever happening.

The only people who can reliably expect a paycheck, for the most part, are members of the security forces and workers in the government ministries.

Not that the ministries are functioning.

Even in the capital, which is secure, there is almost no reliable electricity, no running water system and no sanitation.

Col. Phillip Guarang, a spokesman for the South Sudanese Liberation Army, did not deny that the economic situation was “difficult,” but he said the army would never collapse.

“As long as I get my salary, the government has money,” he said.

Benjamin Akol, 31, is a Ugandan engineer employing 160 South Sudanese to fix the roads around where the anniversary celebration will take place.

“We are cleaning and making it look good, and they promise there will be work after,” he said.

Patrick Namakoola, 36, one of the workers, hopes that the promises are true. Still, he said, the people will find a way to make do.

“Money’s needs are never satisfied,” he said. “But whatever I have can sustain me. It must.”

He recalled the independence day celebration four years ago, when the streets were filled with people from every ethnic group, sect and clan.

“It was joy,” he said. The people ate. “They drank. They danced and sang. The whole field as far as you can see was filled up.”

The crowd will come again this year. But as fighting rages outside the capital, pitting South Sudanese against one another, the newest nation in the world, at the moment, is not really one nation at all.