Taking Towns to the people in South Sudan: Policy perspective beyond rhetoric

BY: Garang Atem Ayiik, JUBA, MAY/31/2014, SSN;

1. Introduction
On 22 May 2014, I was on ‘Wake Up Juba’, a radio program that discusses current issues in South Sudan. On this day, the topic for discussion was what does ‘taking towns to the people’ means? a concept popularized by Dr. John Garang, the late SPLM leader.

Taking towns to the people and water agriculture with oil money, demonstrated Dr. Garang intention for a strong decentralized economic and governance system for delivery of ‘peace dividends’ in terms of services.

On 5 June 2005, on the occasion of signing Nairobi declaration on launching final phase of peace in the Sudan in Nairobi, Dr. Garang De Mabior, said, ‘it is SPLM intention to devolve power to the maximum so that decisions shall be taken at the lowest possible level of governance’.

Taking towns to the people can be viewed in the context that people needs’ shall be met at their rural locality. Immediately after signing Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, SPLM formed strong decentralized states’ based governments with each of the 10 states headed by ‘who was who’ during the liberalization struggle.

During the interim period, and after independent, much of government revenues are spent in Juba.

The ‘who was who’ in the first SPLM governors flocked back to Juba for jobs in accordance with the same wisdom fish follow water when river dries.

On 15th December 2014, power struggle between His Excellency President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Dr. Riek Machar pulled the country into chaos. Now the nation is grabbing every twig or calling every help to remain above water.

The aims of this article are to examine economic reality of taking towns to the people – how it can be done in terms of perquisite policy conditions; and proposes policy positions on reality of ‘taking towns to the people’ beyond rhetoric.

2. Taking towns to the people in reality
It is easy to hear people and mostly politicians talking about taking towns to the people. This article argues that taking towns to the people is an ingredient of three key deliverables from the central government, and citizens to the decentralized units of governments:
a) resources – money and human capital;
b) minimum services delivery from the centre ; and
c) constitutional mandate and governance. Figure 1 shows author’s diagrammatic illustration concept for taking towns to the people concept.

Figure 1: Author’s diagrammatic representation of taking towns to the people

2.1 Resources – Financial and human capital
The concept of ‘taking towns to the people’ can be understood well if answers are provided to why people move to towns. There is huge literature on rural-urban migration which is beyond the scope of this article.

However, the main reasons why people move towns are primarily for employments, and services. Therefore, taking towns to the people is to provide employment and other vital services at the grass-roots.

The first condition to be met in taking towns to the people is to decentralize resources to states and counties. The resources include both financial and human capital resources. As it is today, huge government budget is spent in Juba according.

However, huge population resides outside Juba and continued centralization of resources in Juba, attracts to Juba the educated, and uneducated. This becomes critical given high dependency and socialistic life of South Sudanese.

With the current low resources-envelop going to the states, counties, and other lower decentralized units, it is difficult to find at the counties and in other lower units graduates with a bachelor’s degrees unless a county commissioner.

At the states’ ministries, the graduates are exceptionally few. With low resources in term of human and finances flowing to the states, counties and other lower units, who and with what are services provided to decentralized units of government?

It is critical too to note that service is not an abstract, it is a reality, planned and delivered. To hold people in their village and create towns for them mean buying and delivering sustainable services to them.

This means providing education, health, water, security, house, electricity and jobs at their rural homes. In our case, with over huge resources spent in Juba, taking towns to the people becomes an empty rhetoric. Policy correctness is to take huge resources to decentralized units of government.

The questions remain how do you provide services at the grass root without right employees and no financial resources to buy services and/or ingredients of services?

Aware that resources are spent in Juba and to some extent at the states, citizens act rationally by moving closer to services/resources in towns leaving taking towns to the people as policy contradiction or historical statements.

As citizens migrated towards the resources and services, employment and deployment opportunities in centres are based on patronage, nepotism, and tribalism which have strengthen tribal commitment and loyalty. The crisis of December 2013 points to this hypothesis.

2.2 Minimum services from the central government
Even within the premises of a decentralized system of governance, there are services that are keys to success of the decentralized administration. Author believes these services can be provided by decentralized units of government but the complexity, financial demand and unwilling of the private sector to invest in these services, make it difficult for smaller units of government to deliver these services. However, delivery of these services is crucial for creation of towns in villages.

Services like security, road, electricity, water, and sewage require mega financial muscle or/and mobilization that is above the capacity of states and counties governments. Without these services, taking towns to rural areas is near impossible for the states and counties governments.

After signing of CPA, we have witnessed growth of private schools, health facilities and farms. However, none of what author’s call ‘minimum services’ can be sufficiently provided by private entities in current set-up of South Sudan.

It is author’s belief that initiations of these should be started by central government because of its capacity and ability; and maintenance and linkages of these services should be left to lower units of government.

Without these minimum services, flow of cash and human capital to rural areas is not sustainable and hence ‘taking towns to the people’ without these minimum services is not sustainable. December 2013 crisis almost uprooted all government agencies and people in greater Upper Nile. This points to how central security is to towns’ creation and sustainability.

Though other services like education, health and farming are important, private sector and lower units of governments easily fill up these roles in an environment where human capacity and financial resources are decentralized.

This view is not intended to undermine importance of these services but only to show preferential roles of different levels of government.

2.3 Good governance and constitutionalism
Another pre-condition for taking towns to the people is institutionalization of government procedures where citizens are central to national decisions-making, transparency in employment and revenue management processes.

Adequate resources taken to states and counties must be managed in transparent, with auditable procedures and adequate oversights.

States and counties must be given adequate resources with capacity and ability to make decisions. These decisions involve deciding leadership in open and transparent process; held leaders accountable through oversight mechanism; strong parliament and other bodies like procurement authorities, anti-corruption agencies, audit chambers, and other ad hoc vetting mechanism.

The peripheries must decide who to lead and where; where to spend resources with little interference from the centers. These mechanisms will eliminate patronage, nepotism and tribalism as jobs will be given according to qualifications and competencies.

The constitution must not leave issues of appointment, deployment, employment, elections and other decisions without check and balance. Experience has shown relying on robust systems is better than relying on individuals good will.

3. Conclusions and recommendations
As evidenced in the above analysis, taking towns to the people and other decentralized governance must be planned. As South Sudan struggles to bridge differences created by December 2013 crisis with possibilities of transitional government, the following are key conclusions and recommendations that might be useful in forming an interim government and fulfilling pledge of taking towns to the people:

• Adequate resources must be decentralized to states, counties and other lower units of governments. A government that will address needs of the people must take resources where the people are. As Dr. Garang asked in his 5 June 2004, just to paraphrase, why would South Sudanese fight for twenty years just to transfer resources to few elites in Juba?

• Create accountable systems of government between agencies including percentage resources to transfer to the states and counties. This should be supported by strong and independent oversight from the center to the lower levels of governments;

• The government at the center must and should support provisions of minimum services at the lower levels of government as basis to build solid foundation for decentralization. Security, and infrastructure must not wait;

• There should be transparency in employment, deployment and promotion to reduce tribalism, patronage and nepotism that has strengthened tribal loyal. This will reduce the collective incentives for tribal efforts to work together for power but encourage individual performance as basis for career growth and personal prosperity.

Garang Atem Ayiik is an independent South Sudan economic policy commentator who lives in South Sudan and can be reached at garangatemayiik@gmail.com


  1. Elijah Samuel says:

    this idea of taking town to the people is useless! What we need is a federal systeem of government so that the people decide what is it that they want not someone bringing things to them! The very notion that a town is being brought means the people do not know what is best for them! This was Dinkas evil plan to declare villages towns so as to occupy them as we see happened in Wau and Nimule! To hell with the so called taking town to the people! A true systeem is one that belves in the people not one that treat the people as if they do not know what is best for themselves.

  2. Yes Elijah Samuel. Federalism and federalism only is the solution to the problems of domination in South Sudan. in 1947 Equatorians called for federalism but the regime in Khartoum refused to implement it which resulted in a civil war in 1953. Today Dr Riek Machar is calling for federalism after 61 years later. Now is the time for implementing federalism or else war in the East, war in the West, war in the South, war up North. We say war, war, war. We shall never quit till we get our share through federalism.

  3. kamba says:

    Yes federalism is the only solution

  4. False Millionaire says:

    Hoping for a friendly reception dear editor,if one permits one’s free expression of opinion,the best thing among so many rare few good things to happen in South Sudan is the chance to have this internet forum.It’s a source of our strengh that is greater in value than a force of one million armed men.There is this saying that:no matter how so difficult a given problem is,if two parties to the conflict of such a problem,that each one of them is given opportunity to explain one’s problem,providing what could be one’s views as the solution and that these views are exposed to observers for consideration in such forums as this,one judges that,proceeding in this way may help to readly solf half the problem.But the value of your forum has been compromised by charged inflixable violant tribal atomesphere.In consequence,you will likely lose the following.Becouse neutral south sudanese,very strong with professional and long life experiences allways hope for solution of south sudan’s problems by peaceful way of dialoque and consensus among south sudanese from all the 64 tribes without any exception.

    There is this article of the idea of taking town to the people by Garang Atim Ayiik,May/31/2014:judging from intellectual standpoint,I would hope DR Tongun would agree that it is very constructive.A good cotribution that deserves so much reflection.Conclusions from this may help us frame good ways that well help us produce methods that may enable us to help our society and the country.Just like the article by professor Dr Tongun:Why Ambassador Francis Mading Deng is naked.If people could learn,the next south sudanese ambassador to the UN will act better if obliged to deal with our society’s internal problems.It is an education lesson to keep for ever.But in the case of the article of taking town to the people,it is getting treated like a football second leaque game.The hooligan named Elijah samuel calls it useless.The blood thirsty SouthSudan-iam is calling for a war.And the modest Kamba approves the judgements of the two.

    We are responsable for solutions or lack of solutions for the problems that set us into conflicts including problems of methods of government.As of today,we have a centralised government.It’s defects or lock of them we can tell.Federalism is not a bad idea to consider to replace it.It will be an idea that everyone us should deserve to see very carefully how it is debated,what benefits or the lack of them would be for our country and the society.When consensus to this should have been reached,it will be a south sudanese federalism.Understood by everyone of us but never imposed with crude methods of ignorance,of violance and of tribalism as are what are prevailing in the exchanges of this forum.

    Elijah Samuel bags up the dinka as having evil plan to declare villages towns inorder to occupy them as he sees happening in Wau and Nimulé.But he forgets that these towns were allready towns and it was never dinka who declared them.But that if they are towns allready,it does not neccessarily mean that the people living around them are well served.Infact in these towns:If there is a roumer of a good hospital there,people carry the sick on shoulders there for treatment on food traveling hundreds of miles.If the sick died in the town,the most dignified people carry back their dead in much thesame way for burial in their villages.This is exactly the most unfortunate grave writched state of affaires in south sudan.But in a sincere context of human thinking,considering the prevailing state of affaires,where does the idea of taking town to the people become irrelevant?

    Unfortunately our country’s and society’s interests have been put to the last catigory by shortsighted tribal thinking.This is a killing evil that will never leave alife neither our society nor our country.If Elijah Samuel is not too stupid by nature,after going to school and never becoming a better human being,he is a dangerous fellow that is ready to take our society and the country to hell.But we are in hell allready with the dirty war raging.SouthSudan-iam ought to be very happy.Kamba take a drum:beat it to celebrate our misfortunes.

    The truth is:a large tribe like dinka or nuer,can have more stupid people than a small tribe like balanda or baria.But in much opposit way,thesame large tribe can have more reasonable people than a small tribe.This argument is to help the blind enemies of the big tribes.Now there is this national ideology as federalism,to bring it to debate and before it has been even debated,dinka is stoned as the enemy.Indeed in the way of samuel,southsudan-iam and Kamba,the bullet must consume before the debat.But fools,how so quickly?you reject a book becouse you don’t like the cover?what prevents you from searching inside the dinka the potentential individuals that would listen to you?Consencus comes this way and never in any other way around fellow campatiots!!!we want our federation to come this way but never by bullet.

    In case of bullet as a method of solution,the protagonists in this dispatch should join in the killing that is raging in our country.Genocites occured in Germany,in ex-Yogoslavia and in Rwanda becouse of maddness out of lack of need for understanding.But after that,everyone came back to reasoning.However grave things may get for us,the few rare individuals like us will never shorten to stick to reasoning as the best method of solution.Personally I condemn the killings in both sides of the conflict.One south Sudanese dead becouse of a onflict as a result of misunderstanding is one too many.I aspire for a south sudan of peace,of justice,of understanding,of brotherhood and of progress and prospirity.My enemies are those who show neither reasoning nor understanding.

  5. Elijah Samuel says:

    False millionaire or false intellectual,
    I agree with you, you are likely a false millionaire because your ideas are empty and you resorted to calling names while pretending to appeal to civility! If you do not think through cow mentality or nomadic mentality you will paste to ask yourself why the people in Wau opposed the moving of the boundaries and why the people in Nimule opposed the so called Town. If indeed these were already town what was the need to declare then yet again town? The problem with someone claiming to know better and bringing something to someone precisely is this attitude you display here calling those who disagree with you Stupid and dangerous!!

    If those who are suppose to benefit from the town do not want the town, why force it on them while the entire country is primitive and backward why not take it to where people still walk necked and worship cows??????? If the locals do not want it and you force it on them to the point killed their people as it happened in Wau and kill their Chieves as in Nimule, who then is the beneficiary of this project???????

    Now think about this, I passed by Nimule 2 years ago and while I was driving by, the national highway was full of Dinka cow? IS this a town or Cow town??? Why has the Dinkas turns Nimule into a Luak?????? As we read here many times the Dinka not only invaded Nimule with Cows but established their own Chiefdom in Nimule, Really???????? There is no Cultural nor blood relation between the Dinka and the Madi in particular, their way lives are like day and night, Why cross from north to South with their Cows while disrupting the life style of those who rely on the land for cultivations not for grazing???? Why dd we go to war with Sudan, was it not to protect our ways of life and culture???? Was it so that the Dinka can Dinkarnize all other tribes??

    We have read here the cries of the Madi people of how when they asked the Dinkas to move, they invoke the Dinka written constitution that “Any one can live anywhere specially in a town” Was the hurry to declare Nimule a town not to legitimize the Dinka occupation of Nimule …was this not the reason it was down against the peoples wishes and their chief killed and the Madi leaders physically tortured and humiliated in prison!! If even the leaders of the people are not respected then tell me what is this shrewd crafted as taking the town to the people all about. To hell with it. Take your town to those who will still walk naked if you don’t, not those who need to teach you what it means to live civilly in peace and respecting other peoples way of lives. Your freedom ends where my nose begins!!!!!!

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