By: John Juac, Windsor, Canada, MAY/18/2016, SSN;
The greatest problem facing South Sudan is a leadership crisis in all areas of the state activity, and this leadership crisis stems from the inability of those in power to meet the basic material needs of their population. In terms of natural resources, South Sudan is one of the richest countries on African continent and yet the bulk of its people live as if they were citizens of deserts.
In rural South Sudan, most villagers either live in unnecessary frustration, hopelessness and die of poverty and preventable diseases or move away from the countryside to the major urban cities to gain appreciation. Some 85 per cent of South Sudan’s poor live in rural areas and depend predominantly on traditional agriculture for their livelihoods.
Cities ought to play a key role as drivers of growth in a country’s development. In the newly independent state of South Sudan, they play opposite role.
Populations of the major urban cities like Malakal, Wau and Juba have grown larger than ever before. This huge influx of new settlers in South Sudanese cities has not been matched by a growth in widespread structures, facilities or public services like water systems, electricity, roads, houses, sewer, schools or health facilities.
Deep poverty, leave alone urban slums, is the fate of most South Sudanese city dwellers. Unemployment and underdevelopment are the rules rather than exception.
The vast numbers of newcomers are driven to urban areas by the harsh conditions of peasant life. Most soon become disillusioned, discovering that their only escape from chronic urban poverty is to eke out a meager living through the informal economy.
Few have become better workers for foreign capitalist investors exploiting the cheap labor, consumers of the expensive imported junks, as opposed to being producers of their own food crops in the rich land. Vastly more South Sudanese rely on this informal and haphazard way of making a living than on the formal economy that characterizes developed countries.
President Kiir and his cabinet ministers never give urban issues, especially urban poverty, substantial attention in their analyses or their policies and the international institutions that profoundly influence them have equally failed to make it a priority.
In the view of the local rights activists, the lack of work for young South Sudanese is a political and social time bomb waiting to explode. Many are under twenty five and are unemployed.
All these indicate that the Juba regime must find ways to disarm this time-bomb, but its leaders cannot figure out where to find the tens of millions more that are needed. It is no laughing matter because millions of South Sudanese are suffering for no reason other than the terrible choices and failures of the so-called nationalist leaders.
This crisis in South Sudan is not due to the civil war and famine as most foreign observers would make us believe, said one rights activist, noting that all those things are tied to the leadership in some capacity.
In fact, the failure to give a substantial attention to poverty, unemployment, and a mobilization of the population to produce its own food from the millions of natural resources, is primarily due to backward type of non-progressive leaders of the ruling party.
These leaders are naive, vision-less, opportunistic and totally compromised. How can they be good leaders when they have failed to fix the most pressing challenges of their nation?
They have left brothers and sisters behind the enemy line of poverty, and this is in contrast to the view that the people do not struggle for things in the heads of individuals. The people struggle and accept sacrifices demanded by the struggle in order to be able to live a better life in peace, to see their lives progress and to ensure their children’s future.
The struggle against colonialism, working for peace and progress- independence- all these are empty words without meaning for the people, unless they are translated into a real improvement of standards of living.
There are testimonies in South Sudan of the older people asking members of the ruling party when they can see political order and economic and social benefits of independence. This is a strong indictment of the failure of the post-independence state to provide at the very minimum the basic necessities of life, health centres and schools with adequate equipment, furniture and supplies in the rural regions, and good roads and transportation facilities to make it easier for peasant farmers to bring their products to urban markets.
Liberation from colonial domination is meaningful only when it goes beyond the political realm to involve the development of production, education, health facilities and trade. Some experts have argued that priority must be given to the development, modernization and transformation of agriculture.
Then the real challenge for the rulers of South Sudan is to be able to conceive and execute development strategies that satisfy the deepest aspirations of the popular masses for economic development and material prosperity. The rulers must also make common cause with their people by opting for those policies that meet their needs.
Nevertheless, the pathological rulers have sided with the international capitalists and accepted antisocial development strategies and polices imposed by the international institutions like the IMF and the World Bank. When one considers the topic of development it is important to realize that all conceptions of development necessarily reflect a particular set of social and political values.
Indeed, it is true say that development can be conceived only within an ideological framework, and this is evident in the dominant understanding by the majority of governments and international institutions which view development as synonymous with economic growth within the context of a free market international economy.
Economic growth is identified as necessary for combating poverty, defined as the inability of people to meet their basic material needs through cash transactions. A key issue in the debate about economic system is the choice between economic growth and economic development and one starts by drawing a distinction between economic growth and economic development.
One can have economic growth without economic development. Economic growth is a necessary but not sufficient condition of economic development. Economic growth simply means that the pie measured by GDP has grown bigger, but it says nothing about how the pie is divided. Economic development differs in being concerned with whether the average person’s standard of living has increased and whether the person has more freedom of choice.
Economic development can be measured by the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI takes into account literacy rates, gender parity and life expectancy, which affect productivity and could lead to economic growth. Economic development implies an increase in real income for most families.
Economic development seeks to alleviate people from low standards of living and works toward providing citizens with jobs and suitable shelter. It seeks to improve lives without compromising the need of future generations. On the other hand, economic growth does not address the question of the depletion of natural resources and pollution and global warming.
The difference between economic growth and economic development can be well illustrated by Angola, where the GDP grew by 20 per cent and yet poverty increased substantially. Much of the higher GDP flowed into the pockets of the ruling elites and their relatives and cronies. The daughter of the president of Angola herself was a billionaire and yet did nothing to create value for Angola. By contrast, Bill Gates built a business called Microsoft that made him billionaire many times over, but at least the business contributed to the development of the U.S. economy and jobs
Furthermore, Egypt’s past ruler, Hosni Mubarak, had a fortune estimated at $42 billion, but also did nothing to create value for Egypt. In South Sudan, the central and state ministers are billionaire. But where did this money come from? A great deal came from petroleum dollars and foreign assistance designed to help with the economic development. Many South Sudanese blame poverty and unemployment problem on the incompetency, the corruption and the greedy of their leaders.
On final note, think South Sudan and many people think of endless ethnic strife, brutal civil war, pervasive corruption, universal poverty, diseases out of control and unworthy rulers. South Sudan faces a daunting list of challenges and its citizens live with no hopes and dreams. Their dreams of peace and prosperity have been shattered by the greedy, corrupted and unscrupulous rule of the nationalist leaders for most years of independence.
One would be contented with just a modest of development of better opportunities, health services, better education and eradication of poverty in urban centres and rural regions. But unfortunately even these modest goals are being thwarted by power hunger and rapacious leaders who can only achieve their very goals by depriving their people of the basic needs.
That much is understood by most southerners. What is less clear to an outsider is why many good people accept the warlords as their rulers and even celebrate their bad governments?
The answer has two parts: administrative corruption and traditional culture. Tribalism is the stumbling block to peaceful coexistence and progress. Ethnic ties in South Sudan are a magnified expression of family loyalty that become a fault line at times of political and economic distresses.
Like Islam in Muslim Arab Sudan, tribal attachments indeed can be convenient lever for a divide-and rule ploy by cynical political leaders. But, like nationalism, such solidarity is not necessarily a destructive force. South Sudanese are patient and long suffering to an extent probably unparalleled in East African region.
Indeed, any foreigner who knows the daily lives of most southerners must marvel that a percentage of the new country’s people is in civil turmoil. And those conflicts are largely the result of small groups vying for control of the nation’s resources rather than mass movements of protest against unjust governments.
Many southerners had sacrificed their lives during the national struggle to winning political freedom, but now most are passive and unwilling to interfere with what they see as the natural wheels of life. In this respect, they are like the rest of people in Western world. Few people in free countries write letters to the editor or campaign actively to change laws. But the extent and duration of dictatorship in South Sudan are such that political police or military force is not enough to explain it.
The ability of southerners to put up with difficult and mistreatment is reflected in the historically low incidence of depression and suicide in the country. There is a pain and suffering in South Sudan and yet people continue to accept bad governments for three reasons. First, the local culture induces them to respect their elders and accept their fate.
Second, patronage and corruption have a complex stranglehold on national life. Third, South Sudan has become a heavy-handed police state and dictatorship, where President Kiir and his cohorts do the dictating. Like the former colonial master, it is a one-party state, but the ruling elite is not disciplined and serious.
It lies on an elaborate network of the cell leaders who suppress inconvenient points of views, and these kleptocratic leaders have given South Sudan a bad name. They have plunged their people into abject poverty and despair, and incited bitter ethnic violence and even armed conflicts. They are the ones largely responsible for underdevelopment, food scarcities, rising infant mortality rates, soaring budget deficits, human rights abuses, breaches of the rule of law and prolonged serfdom for million South Sudanese.
They have, in short, brutally complicated the very sever political, economic, ethnic and health issues that challenge South Sudan. The new state will most probably continue to crumble until the new leadership come to value the long-term betterment of its population over its own personal and political interests.
With terrible weak national and state governmental institutions exacerbating South Sudan’s trauma, the leaders of the capitalist West, whose timorous approaches to African problems have been documented, cannot be expected to take strong hands in helping to resolve the political, social and economic problems.
Even as regards peace making and conflict prevention, only other African countries are likely to see the Western activity. On the other hand, there are ongoing conversations in the various South Sudanese online media about the lack of political democracy, but elections are merely indicator of the democratic process. They are not worth very much if one leader, or group totally dominates the system and if oppositions are harassed, intimidated, often shoot at, even arrested, and obligated to campaign fearing for their very lives. Sometimes they are even killed along with critical journalists.
South Sudan held elections in 2010, the year before independence, but now it is a new authoritarian state dominated by Kiir and Machar and their respective supporters. The lack of political democracy overall, the general weak economic growth, poverty, rampant diseases and sweeping neglect of the country’s agriculture by politicians does not bode well for South Sudan’s near-term future. As some local rights activists have indicated, South Sudan’s positive role models need to be offered to the new leaders.
John Juac Deng
Country: Windsor, Canada