To many researchers seeking to undertake polling in new markets across the globe one of the first stops is the global ESOMAR or WAAPOR network, a ‘black book’ of suppliers, some a part of global networks, others independent operators. Yet look for a listing under ‘S’ for South Sudan and like so many other emerging markets in African, nothing will crop up.
In addition to the challenges of limited local capacity, conducting research in South Sudan presents several logistical and security obstacles: access to certain areas may be limited due to tribal conflict or armed militia activity and fieldwork time, especially in rural areas, may be prolonged as a result of underdeveloped transportation networks. In May 2012, ORB was commissioned to carry out a survey in South Sudan to measure political and social opinion in the greater Equatoria region. In addition to managing the survey itself, we have been tasked with developing the capacity of an indigenous South Sudanese research firm by training them in quantitative polling methodology.
The team in Juba is composed of educated men and women from throughout South Sudan. Through our multi-phased training program designed for and deployed previously in some of the most challenging markets in Africa, we are given the unique opportunity to speak one-on-one with these individuals, discuss current affairs, and gain insight in to pertinent social and political issues. At present, two issues dominate South Sudanese discourse: the process of democratization in the world’s newest nation and the current conflict over border demarcation/ownership of Abyei. Yet above all we are struck by one thing; the people of South Sudan appear to be happy and generally believe that they are better off.
As is the case with any new democracy, South Sudan is experiencing its own unique set of growing pains associated with institutional capacity building. Ask any South Sudanese about the process of democratization in public, and people are quick to spontaneously rally support behind their President Salva Kiir Mayardit, the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) party, and their national government. But, get these same people in a private conversation and many are willing to admit that they believe their new “democracy (to be) a bit of a mess. . . . this is a country of decrees in which opposition parties have little or no power.” According to one local, a journalist who works for a prominent radio station, any time an opposition party tries to gain power or implement new programming, forces within the government simply sign a decree having him or her removed from office. Couple this with the fact that most opposition parties are not yet fully established and lack broad based support (based largely instead on tribal alliances), the result is a more than 90% SPLM dominated National Assembly.
While some privately criticize their country’s one-party governing majority, most firmly stand behind their government when it comes to its determination to maintain control over contested regions in the northern part of the country. Though no one believes that armed conflict between the North and South Sudan is necessarily inevitable, most are willing to do whatever it takes to “keep what is rightfully ours, what has been ours since before we were born.” Ideally, the majority would prefer to see an end to the current conflict through peaceful negotiation however, they recognize that some actor or body of actors within the international community will need to broker a settlement. The longer the threat of conflict looms, the more it allows the people to debate their willingness to take up arms to defend the world’s newest nation.
Together with our client, ORB International will be releasing polling data next month. For an insight into this or any of our other projects throughout fragile and conflict affected states, please contact Johnny Heald