The Republic of Sudan and the republic of South Sudan have quietly agreed to re-start oil production.  This is, of course, a good thing and is much to be encouraged.  In the case of South Sudan, it paves the way for paying back all the short term debt that the oil stoppage has forced upon the country, and permits the Government to dust off plans for investing in the infrastructure and services vital to this fragile country’s stability.

The plans are already in place.  The South Sudan Development Plan (SSDP) 2011-2013 was a first and serious attempt by Government to prepare a strategic, prioritised development plan.  But some – with credibility – argue that the content was too driven by external (donor) interests.  The evidence for this is perhaps the curious downplaying of security.  The security sector consumes over 40% of South Sudan’s budgeted resources, and in reality a far greater portion of the actual cash available.  No doubt a lot of this money is misdirected – the problem being as much a reluctance on the part of security actors to be held to account as a reluctance of South Sudanese people to ask questions of them.  The most effective way to reduce the cost over time will be a change of culture, as much as anything else.

But for now, the facts of life are that South Sudan is paying a great deal to a security sector which is largely ineffective.  Frankly neither the army nor the police (or indeed any other agency) are much good.  The resources allocated to them are both wasted in terms of expenditure; and fail to represent any kind of real return on investment when measured against insecurity (which endures) and access to justice (which does not).  It was clear from the preparation of the SSDP that South Sudanese people rated security in all its forms as their highest priority.  But donors did not want to hear this, so the focus of the SSDP is on infrastructure (another source of significant corruption) and production.   The main effort needs to be a reduction in the cost of the security sector (along with a concomitant increase in both its effectiveness and accountability) in order to liberate resources for development.  This will require donors to recognise what South Sudanese people already know – (in)security holds an almost complete veto on any other kind of progress.  The trick is not to prioritise security over other forms of development (or vice versa), but to move both security and wider development forward together in an integrated fashion.  South Sudan has a plan which does this, but donors are cherry picking.

The cost of the security sector is not entirely wasted.  If the army (and to a degree the police) are actually composed of various opposing factions and groups which have been integrated for largely political-security reasons, some of the cost of the sector is in fact the price of peace.  Another inconvenient truth which donors don’t seem to fully understand.

In many respects, the oil shut down was fortunate.  It reduced the cash available to such an extent that even the security sector had to make sacrifices.  This provided an opportunity to work closely, and at a strategic level, with Government to target limited resources; and created the conditions where it was possible to engage Government on both the cost and effectiveness of the security sector.  Switching the oil back on risks dis-incentivising real security sector reform, a danger amplified by the tunnel vision of development partners who do not appear to understand that security is a development issue.