BY: Gabriel Garang Atem, JUBA, FEB/24/2014, SSN;
Two decades of war eroded social progress, institutions and torn tribal cohesion in the country. The independence of July 2011 provided an opportunity for the people of South Sudan to reap what is called commonly known as ‘peace dividends’ – social services, security, development and peace.
The events of December 2013 have halted the flow of social services and redirected the resources and manpower of the conflicting parties to war – an expensive affair that is causing immense damage to weak social infrastructure, systems and development programs that were initiated during and after the interim period of Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Already the death toll is high and outflow of refugees to neighboring countries and displaced camps is at its highest since peace was signed in 2015.
The war is on and the destruction is unfortunately done and continues to be done.
Since independence in July 2011, the country has witnessed various forms of rebellion that resulted in loss of lives, and property.
However what is critical is the scale of destruction, the nature of destruction and the forms.
On many occasions, government forgave the insurgents; rewarded them with government positions and integrated them into the national army and in some cases; resources were mobilized towards peace conferences and seminars.
All these efforts were noble but have not brought stability as an end envisaged product nor reduced the impact of criminal activities on the citizens.
The key problem facing South Sudan is an education access gap. When missionaries came in the 19th century, much of what is currently making up South Sudan was inhabited by pastoralists’ communities whose lives entirely depended on hunting, animal husbandry, traditional farming and wild fruits gathering.
All these forms of economic activities required to some extent a degree of hostility – a true survival of the fittest.
As a result of this life setup, children abduction and cattle raiding became the central forms of commercial activities.
During the war, between 1983 – 2005, the traditional form of commercial competitiveness took a new twist as weapons enhanced enterprisation of criminal activities.
This led to high scale of economic and social destruction which further widened the social cohesion gap between communities.
The animosities of war and enterprisation of criminal activities were imported to the new political and socioeconomic dispensation in South Sudan after independence.
For over two decades of war, there has never been a formal education system for South Sudanese, and during and after the interim period, the government priorities have been centered around security, governance and institutions’ creation leaving education at the periphery.
In reality, South Sudanese citizens are largely the same pastoralists of the yesteryears.
However, two things have changed; enterprisation of criminal activities has increased as result of weaponry, and pursuit of ‘twin objectives’; power by educated elites and petty robbing by the illiterate citizens.
The twin objective hypothesis has in part united communities to jointly pursue criminal and inhumane commercial enterprises.
While the elites fight for power and money, the illiterate and vulnerable are available for mobilization with an aim to revenge the old misdeeds and loot.
The pursuit of twin objectives by different interest groups within a community and wide spread of weapons are the main cause for inhumane and heavy destruction happening in South Sudan.
Nothing explains this than ‘peace and reward dichotomy’ that has being going on between the rebels and the government; the senseless killings of civilians and looting are acts of illiterates to achieve their objective.
My hypothesis is that actually, the twin objectives are complementary but at times conflicting.
The killings and destruction is mostly used by illiterate and small raiders to scare off their prey may at most harm the achievement of objective by the high end raiders.
Nothing illustrates these better than ongoing conflicts between the government and the rebels in South Sudan.
While the illiterates rejoice at destruction and killing of opponents, the leaders are more reserved as at times, they might be held accountable or might reduce chances of ascending to power or vice versa.
South Sudan is unique, it problems are because of it. Though there is a growing population of educated citizens, they are product of the past, their association with the past – experiences and folk tales continue to drag and educate their minds the South Sudan way.
This is illustrated by how all act. During the December 2013 event and afterward, civilians were being targeted and resources destroyed. On the internet, the educated youth burn green leaves and beat drums to announce war.
The nation was divided right along their experiences and folk tales. Worst enough, when missionaries came, the pastoralists used to send their uncooperative, indiscipline and lazy kids to school.
South Sudan being a pastoralist’s nation, largely its current leaders could be ‘community rejects’ with no leadership abilities to work for the good of the nation.
The viability of South Sudan must be built on true solid foundation. South Sudan must create a new nation by educating a new crop of people, people educated in class and not through biased folk tales. This will have many benefits, one it will create a true middle class that is self-reliant, sober and less pollutant.
Kenya though very tribal, its educated middle class is its tower of peace that holds it together during 2007 election violence.
Second, though highly resources endowed, South Sudan will not develop and grow without human capital. Singapore, India and other Asian countries demonstrated that human capital is first amongst natural resources endowments.
Thirdly, growing an educated population will create informed citizens, democracy and public policies are key ingredients for country’s progress but both are functions of education.
Today, debates and issues of public interest get distorted – no one can truly and faithfully read or interpret issues for others and keep his interest at bay.
Till such times, merit is recognized and reward, those who speaks issues will be kept away which is not good for the nation. The country must disconnect its new generation from old pollution.
Technology is moving to India because of its hi-tech youth, Kenya has been held together by its educated middle class, Singapore that was at par with East Africa economies in 1970s is already playing in the first class economic league.
The future of South Sudan must be based on its realities; the future must be separated from the past. Those of us whose cows were stolen, relatives killed and homes destroyed in 1990s though educated had bias reading. South Sudan must know it true self, keep the past away and create South Sudan for future.
Gabriel Garang Atem is an Independent Economic Commentator. He lives in Juba and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org