Is the Nation-State in South Sudan a Step Forward or a Step Backward?

By John Juac, CANADA, FEB/12/2016, SSN;

I often ask myself an important question: What kind of community is this new political abstraction known as a nation-state? And the simple answer that comes up in my mind is that a nation-state is the new form of human social organization, a step forward from the village life most people have known for centuries.

In post-independence South Sudan, however, a nation-state is widely viewed as a step backward because it does not add to our humanity.

Millions of South Sudanese use the Internet to participate in public ongoing discussions about the challenges of building this larger association of small communities in their new country, but so many extraneous factors intrude that rationale and dispassionate discussions are scuttled.

Ethnic arguments, even though they are a dead end, tend to see an ethnic conspiracy plot in every South Sudanese misfortune: ethnic domination has become the favorite of Internet warriors.

Some often denigrate policies of the new state and leaders of the governing party on ethnic lines, while others often blindly defend those leaders in the name of ethnic solidarity. As a result, there is much confusion about what South Sudan can do to overcome its woes.

South Sudan has a long history of internal divisions among its people on a combination of politico-ethnic grounds.

Mutual distrust and lack of cooperation which inform the political climate of the country are directly related in a very low regard for person’s capacity for solidarity and consensus.

The idea that it is possible to transcend the prevailing atmosphere of anxiety and suspicion by trusting one another has been slow to appear and extremely rare.

The prevalence of distrust in South Sudan limits individual loyalties to groups that are intimate and familiar. People are loyal to their tribes, perhaps to their tribal leaders, but not to broader political institutions.

In the total absence of social conflict, political institutions are unnecessary, and in the total absence of social harmony, they are impossible.

The two groups which see each other only as archenemies cannot form the basis of political community until those mutual perceptions change, and this is one of the greater challenges facing South Sudan today.

The country’s political community is fragmented against itself and political institutions have little power, less majesty and no resiliency- in many cases governments simply do not govern.

Its political evolution is characterized by dissensions, the dominance of unable personalistic leader who often peruses disastrous political, social and economic policies, widespread corruption and despotism among cabinet ministers and civil servants, arbitrary infringement of the rights and liberties of citizens.

It is also characterized by the lack of standards of bureaucratic efficiency and performance, the loss of authority by the national parliament, regional assemblies and courts, and the fragmentation and complete disintegration of broadly based political parties.

The primary fact is that all these problems are in the large part the product of rapid social mobilization of new groups into politics coupled with the slow development of political institutions.

For many, among the laws that rule human societies, there is one which seems to be more precise and clearer than all others.

If people are to remain civilized or to become so, the art of associating together must grow and improve in the some ratio in which the equality of conditions is increased.

The current political instability in South Sudan derives precisely from the failure
to meet this condition: equality of political participation has grown much more rapidly than the art of associating together, social and economic changes have extended political consciousness and multiple political demands.

These changes have undermined traditional sources of political authority and traditional political institutions.

They have enormously complicated the problems of creating new bases of political association and new political institutions combining legitimacy and effectiveness.

In short, the rates of social mobilization and the expansion of political participation are high while the rates of political organization and institutionalization are low, so the result is general political instability and disorder.

The problem of politics is lag in the development of political institutions behind social and economic changes, but the country’s new rulers have failed to grip with this problem.

Economic gap, in contrast to the political gap, has been target of sustained attention, analysis and action.

The ruling SPLM elite and their development partners all share in a massive guilt to do something about the problem of economic development in South Sudan. Economic development is the sum total of activities, and these do not take place in a vacuum but in an environment that is created by the institutions and policies of the government.

A leading international development economist with UN programs in South Sudan has argued that, “local planners and development partners have overlooked an environment conducive to development, and assumed this environment to be constant and focused on the structural obstacles such as lack of capital and how to relieve this constraint.”

This environment, however, has deteriorated so sharply that it stunts the development and therefore it should no longer assume to be constant, he said, noting that for the new country like South Sudan, an infusion of billions of dollars of foreign assistance or investment would be a waste.

In fact, the anti-development environment that prevails in South Sudan is characterized by political tyranny, instability, ethnic violence, horrible carnage, corruption and capital flight.

These are what economists called environmental obstacles, and these man-made obstacles are distinguished from structural obstacles such as lack of capital.

The amount of capital that is being siphoned out of the country by the ruling elite, their families, closer relatives and political supporters- capital flight- exceeds the amount that comes in by way of foreign aid and domestic investment.

In this case, it would be more judicious to remove the environmental factor that aggravates the capital shortage problem than to seek the infusion of more capital into South Sudan.

The environmental factors are crisis producing and by definition, a crisis is a serious adverse condition that requires immediate attention.

A crisis cannot persists for long without a major social upheaval or economic explosion. It would be preposterous to expect such diverse tribal groupings to live in peace in the absence of human action to establish a new peaceful political community.

It would also be preposterous to expect economic development in South Sudan in which genuine political structures are nonexistent and chaos flourished.

Nor does it make much sense to talk of economic development when the civil war is raging and construction of bridges, roads and power plants are being blocked in the areas of economic production.

Perhaps an analogue would be appropriate here. Consider the development process as embarking on a journey in a vehicle, leaving point A- a state of underdevelopment- and going to point B- a development state.

No wonder, the road is strewn with obstacles. The available development literature on South Sudan has identified a host of obstacles: low income, low investment, low savings and illiteracy, and the interplay of these factors produces the notorious vicious circle of poverty.

The vehicle for this journey may be private or state owned, but South Sudanese state vehicle, a motley collection of obsolete discarded parts scrounged from foreign junkyards, has now broken down. A headlight is broken and the electrical system malfunctions, and when turning the ignition switch, the windshield wipers fall off. The engine sputters and belches thick smoke that pollutes the entire country. There are no checks and balances and the fan belt is ripped, which means its cooling system is inoperative.

Clutching the wheel of the state vehicle is the President Kiir, a reckless and unskilled egomaniac who proclaims himself the driver of the vehicle. He insists that he alone must be the driver till kingdom comes since the vehicle is his own property.

Aboard the state vehicle are his cabinet ministers, cronies, sycophants, and other patronage junkies who have also brought along their relatives and friends.

Since 2005, governments have been seen as the personal fiefdom politicians use to accumulate wealth for themselves, their families and their tribesmen. They use their governing authority to extract resources from the peasantry and spend them to enrich themselves.

They cannot be subjected to criticism by anyone and anythings they say are final. President Kiir- a man hailed by the groveling South Sudan Television as the great Helmsman- runs South Sudan as a personal fief.

His Dinka people and some of their Nuer cousins have scooped the best government jobs. The army is nearly two-thirds Dinka and Nuer, but three times as many South Sudanese belong to other ethnic groups loathe the President.

Somewhat along the development journey, the smoke-belching with coolant vehicle broke down: dead battery, radiator overheated with the coolant boiling over and tires flat. This is a crisis, which must be resolved before continuing on the journey.

But instead of fixing the state vehicle, President Kiir and Riek Machar battle ferociously to determine who should be the driver, while social media revolutionaries argue furiously and endlessly over who should be a better driver.

After South Sudan’s independence, Kiir and Machar have not occupied themselves with the condition of the state vehicle. Changing the driver through a military takeover or democratic elections as the militant armed factions demand would not make any difference to the journey.

Removing the obstacles on the road would not make any difference either. Adding emission control devices to cut down pollution would be futile.

The state vehicle is going nowhere fast. If it moves at all, it will land in an economic ditch; it has to be fixed or completely overhauled.

Therefore, questions of accelerating development- getting to point B faster- must be deferred until the state vehicle is fixed.

And that cannot be done until the cause of the state vehicle break down- the cause of the South Sudanese crisis-is determined, which requires an understanding of how the vehicle operates and knowledge of its component systems.

The state vehicle in South Sudan is the defective political system, personal or one-man rule. This defective system has been the source of most South Sudan’s environmental problems, and until the system is rectified, the development journey will be extremely slow, interrupted by constant breakdowns.

John Juac Deng

1 Comment

  1. abai okwahu says:

    mr. juac, you have painted such a dark picture of the state of south sudan, and i concur with you. the system is broken and needs a fix by expert mechanics (technocrats, not kleptocrats). kudos.

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