Time to transform South Sudan’s potential into reality, says Dione, outgoing World Bank chief

Time to transform South Sudan’s potential into reality, says Dione, outgoing World Bank chief

1. Thank you very much for sparing your time to speak to us and give us a candid assessment of your diligent service in the Horn of Africa as country director.  It is nearly four years since you assumed this position having held a similar one in Vietnam. What is the recap of your experience in the four countries of your jurisdiction?

Answer: Let me first say that it has been a great pleasure, honour, and privilege to serve as Country Director for South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea over the past four years, following my term in Vietnam. I see similarities between Vietnam and the four countries. Vietnam was also once known as a country ravaged by war, famine, mass migration, and faced various other challenges. Vietnam managed to overcome all those challenges and transformed itself into one of the most stable countries in East Asia. I believe that it is also possible for South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Eritrea to achieve the same. But for this to happen, a lot of change is needed, and the most fundamental is achieving peace and stability.

2. You, representing the International Development Association (IDA) just signed an agreement with the Government of South Sudan to support agriculture to the tune of US$ 30 million and US$ 117 million in IDA grant in support of the health sector. Why is the bank priming its focus in these sectors?

Answer: There is a saying that ‘an empty stomach doesn’t have ears.’ Keeping this in mind, we believe putting an emphasis on health, and agriculture is extremely important. We have recently provided US$ 30 million in grant additional financing for the South Sudan Resilient Agricultural Livelihoods Project.  We believe that South Sudan has the potential not only to feed itself but produce excess agricultural products which can be exported and generate revenues. This is also something Vietnam managed to do well. South Sudan is still a young country, which is partly why today only 4 percent of its arable land is in use. Imagine what can happen if 60 percent of the land is put in use using modern agricultural practices and processing, how many million jobs could be created for the South Sudanese? The US$ 117 million Health Sector Transformation Project (HSTP) will expand access to a basic package of health and nutrition services, improve health sector stewardship, and strengthen the health system. The project also provides a platform to enhance coordination amongst donors supporting health service delivery in South Sudan.

3. During the signing ceremony, the Minister of Finance and Planning, Honorable Dr. Bak Barnaba Chol hailed this partnership and said that the portfolio had reached the US$1.4 billion mark. At the same time, you spoke passionately about accountability. What is your overall assessment of this partnership?

Answer: Let me first say, it is a strong partnership. It is also a healthy partnership where we discuss issues candidly, where we looked at things in a very clear way, and where we come up with a constructive way to find solutions. Four years ago, the portfolio was US$ 320 million, today it has increased to US$ 1.4 billion. The portfolio is based on the priorities of the South Sudanese people with a focus on building institutions and enhancing local capacities. In doing so, it also aims to assess how the system operates, identify any gaps, and work towards filling them. This includes ensuring that mechanisms for control, monitoring, and reporting are properly established, and that there are checks and balances to ensure that all processes are implemented in a timely manner.

4. Back in May 2023, the World Bank announced US$ 215 million in an IDA grant for the Regional Climate Resilience Program for Eastern and Southern Africa. But flash forward to 2024, due to the humanitarian impacts of climate related shocks in South Sudan. Are there plans by the Bank for some more funds?

Answer: South Sudan is one of the countries on the continent, and even across the world that is extremely vulnerable to climate change. And the impact of climate change in Africa is mainly seen in terms of water-too much water or too little water. In the case of South Sudan, it is mostly about too much water leading to flooding. Interestingly, less than 800 km away, in the southeastern part of Ethiopia, they are experiencing the most severe drought in over 40 years. This is the stark reality of climate change, one that South Sudan will not be able to avoid.  The only way to address it is to build resilience, to anticipate and prepare for disasters, and to make sure that communities are protected and will be able to withstand and manage the impact of climate change. That is why we have put resources to support South Sudan’s flood management efforts. And we are also exploring other options though existing operations focused on building community resilience.

5. Most organizations within the donor community and peacekeeping missions have stressed the need to encourage self-reliance in South Sudan. What is the World Bank doing to encourage the communities generate their own daily bread?

Answer: We are committed to fostering resilience, enhancing the ability of local communities to adapt to climate change, and ensuring that our adaptation efforts do not inadvertently cause harm. This is why we are investing in critical areas such as agriculture, which we see as a key part of the resilience and self-reliance agenda. Our resilience agriculture and livelihood programs are tailored to meet these specific needs. The community resilience project also aims to address these issues. Furthermore, we are working on a water supply and sanitation project to ensure that communities can access safe water—be it treated surface water or groundwater—based on their needs and location.

6. Let’s talk about the Sudanese conflict that has taken the region hostage. What is your assessment of the economic ramifications of the war in the region and what should South Sudan and other neighbors do to avert further decline.

Answer: Because of its geographic location and history with Sudan, the conflict has huge impact and consequences for South Sudan. To give you just a simple example, the oil produced in South Sudan is currently being exported to Sudan through the terminal in Port Sudan. The impact of this conflict can be extremely devastating when it comes to the revenues of South Sudan since more than 90 percent depends on oil. If for example the conflict undermines the operations of the pipeline it will be a major blow to the economy. On the human side, you have seen the increase in the number of refugees and returnees coming to South Sudan. This is putting additional pressure on states, especially those in the north at a time that they are already facing difficult situations and dealing with flood related disaster.

7. South Sudan is planning to have an election which could definitely have a bearing on the country’s economy. What is your advice to the leadership to avoid further economic contraction in FY23/24 as had been predicted by World Bank report?

Answer: I have had the opportunity during my visit to meet with the authorities and I had a chance to discuss with His Excellency First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar, I just came from a meeting with His Excellency President Salva Kiir Mayardit where we discussed several issues. And I believe that peace and stability are fundamental to South Sudan. That is why I advised the authorities to find ways and modalities for a peaceful election and provide all South Sudanese people the possibility to choose their leaders, to choose the future they want for themselves and for their children, as well as to look at ways through which all South Sudanese can come together going forward. South Sudan has everything in terms of resources; it is a country of bounty.

8. You are very passionate about agriculture, and this is one major sector that has been reliable for the economies of countries like Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. What must South Sudan do right to get in right in agriculture and shed off dependence on oil?

Answer: I believe that agriculture plays a very important role in the economy of South Sudan. More than 80 percent of the population depends on agriculture. The sector employs the most people, yet the agricultural productivity in South Sudan is low. The flow of agriculture goods across South Sudan is still very much limited because of lack of infrastructure. By implementing policies to reform the sector and giving opportunities for private sector involvement, South Sudan can exploit the full potential of the sector. Land reforms, such as establishing clear land tenure and rights, could further encourage investment in agriculture. I am passionate about this sector because I see the potential for huge income generation and job creation for South Sudanese, which could help break the cycle of conflict and violence going forward and contribute to the nation’s peace and prosperity.

9. In 2022, you pushed for South Sudan to join the Horn of Africa Initiative. Why was this important and what are the implications beyond South Sudan?

Answer: I would say first looking at the regional agenda is fundamentally important. The artificial boundaries that currently define our countries, the notion of the economies becomes fundamentally important especially when it comes to movement of people. This is why regional integration is extremely important especially for landlocked countries like South Sudan. Regional integration also plays a major role in facilitating peace and stability amongst neighbors. And it doesn’t stop there. The movement of people is also a way to promote social inclusion, collaboration, and mutual understanding. This helps to appease and mitigate potential conflict and tensions. From an economic perspective, countries that cooperate, drawing on each other’s comparative advantage, understanding and taking advantage of markets etc.., countries can collectively achieve a sum of positive outcomes, rather than competing.

10. What would you tell the people of South Sudan as your last word?

Answer: I love them, and I believe in them. If South Sudanese come together to reconcile amongst themselves, if they reach a consensus, that no matter their difference, be it political, ethnic, or other, they belong to one country, they can build a strong, prosperous, and peaceful nation with a bright future. Look at your national basketball team, they even made it to the upcoming World Cup. So, peace, stability, and reconciliation, can open so many opportunities in South Sudan. And all these opportunities, I want to tell you the South Sudanese people that the World Bank will stand by your side.