Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Economic Consequences of Peace in South Sudan

By John A. Akec

South Sudan owes its recent peace agreement to the mediation endeavors by the African countries. Particularly, to efforts of Ethiopian, Ugandan, South African, Tanzanian, and Kenyan governments; as well as to the support and persistent pressure from global political and economic powers through the UN Security Council. Specifically, United States, Britain, Norway, China, Japan, and Russia, among other players.

The epitome of these relentless efforts was the formation of the long-awaited transitional government of national unity (TGNU) on 28 April 2016. That is, the expected baby of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS) was finally delivered: safe and well. Everyone who was involved in the antenatal care - from the doctors to nurses to midwives, could breathe a sigh of relief. Until now.

Ironically enough, as of last week, the concern of the peace monitors and former mediators and their powerful backers in the West was to push for implementation of what has remained of the clauses in the peace agreement: completion of the redeployment of all troops out of Juba, fine-tuning of the security arrangements, the scrapping of the newly instituted 28 states, and so on.

It is ironic because no one seems to realize that for this ‘baby’ to survive, it needs to be cuddled, wrapped up nicely, and fed. Otherwise, it will soon catch cold and other nasty childhood ailments and die prematurely. And that means everyone who has invested in South Sudan’s peace will be a loser. What’s more, everyone who has pinned their hopes on it will be thoroughly disappointed. And disappointed, many already are.

And way from this rather teasing baby metaphor, all parties to ARCISS - ranging from mediators, to monitors, to political parties, and ending with our political backers from global north and south should be equally, if not more concerned with the delivery of services to the citizens by the new government, resuscitating the war-ravaged and cash-strapped South Sudan’s economy (a situation which has been aggravated by the collapse of oil prices in global market), and improving the capacity of law enforcement agencies to fight organized crime.

And as of the time of writing of this article, the employees of public institutions across the nation are completing their third month in a row without receiving their wages. The great majority of them are well informed about the challenges their government is facing in terms of insufficient financial resources for meeting its obligation. They are patient for now but none can be sure of when they will reach the end of their tether. In fact, many informed citizens have already begun to doubt the seriousness of the US, Britain, Norway, and European Union countries to assist financially in South Sudan’s transition to sustainable peace so long as they continue to put demands after demands on the parties to the peace agreement, while paying no attention to the deteriorating economic situation in the country.
Many a citizen make no secret about their fears that the real interest of these powers is to ensure a regime change in Juba at all cost: irrespective of whether or not the country descends into chaos or sink in blood bath of the scale being witnessed today in Somalia, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq. That these citizens may be right in their assessment is troubling, to say the least.

A Western friend recently commented about this situation saying: “The US, UK, Norway, and other peace partners should financially reward the parties to the agreement for progress that has already been made to implement the agreement before insisting that what has remained of the clauses or contentious matters in the agreement be dealt with.” And I do concur with him.

It is not unreasonable to defend the viewpoint that the new government of national unity deserves to be supported with a good financial package by the peace partners in form of budget support so that it is able to pay salaries and deliver on other vital services such as overcoming the current fuel shortages. At least in short to medium terms while it is encouraged to embark on fiscal and monetary policy reforms, among other transformational agendas needed for sustainable peace and prosperity.

The current indifference and insensitivity by those concerned with the implementation of the peace agreement to the dangers posed by the worsening economic situation to the nascent government of national unity is a serious mistake which needs to be redressed. The sooner the better.

On the other hand, the parties participating in the national unity government should take it on themselves the responsibility of articulating clearly the challenges they face, what their priorities are, and how best peace partners can assist.

In other words, the government should not shy away from asking for financial assistance to use in budget support, in addition to using some of the funding to improve economic infrastructure and building human capital. Moreover, it needs to move fast to improve the economy and create jobs for thousands of unemployed South Sudanese university graduates, and tens of thousands former child soldiers and demobilized combatants.

Furthermore, the government of national unity should begin to move the country away from the crippling dependence on oil revenue and get to grips with collecting taxes as the mainstay of government’s financing of public expenditures. Floating the exchange rate in December last year was a step in the right direction. The next big fiscal reform agenda should be to overhaul tax administration and increase tax rates across the board. Without improving our ability to collect sufficient taxes to fund development and service provision, we as people of South Sudan will be struggling for a long time to come to build a safe, stable, and prosperous country.

And while it is important to be assisted by friends and partners in the global community, it is equally pertinent that we as a people be seen trying our hardest to help ourselves. By demonstrating that we take our own prosperity seriously (doing the needful), we make everyone with interest in our affairs take us seriously.

And to be sure, a stable and prosperous South Sudan is an added value to the economies of region, the African continent, and the world.

Friday, January 01, 2016

South Sudan: Choosing Peace and Prosperity in 2016

By John A. Akec
Rumbek Community Reconciliation - Lakes State 

Whether or not the fortunes or misfortunes that come our way as peoples and nations are a predetermined work of fate for which we cannot take credit nor do anything about, is a perennial question that has engaged philosophers and thinkers for millennia to this day. Yet, there are very persuasive arguments out there that say it is indeed up to individuals and nations to alter future possibilities through the exercise of the power of free will.

And we as people of South Sudan are proud to have waged one of longest and most brutal civil wars on modern African continent in order to have a dignified country which we would call our own. But unfortunately for our newborn country, and especially if you have been reading the New York Times, or has been listening to the latest US Congressional hearings on South Sudan, or have watched Al Jazeera or BBC World Service; or have been browsing World rankings of every ill imaginable in the last two years; you will come to conclusion that our demonization as a member of World’s community has been complete and thorough.

Like this author, you will come to a conclusion that we as a nation-state have become the very personification of the old Ebenezer Scrooge character in Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol. So bad and heartless was Scrooge had become in the eyes of those who knew him that he had to be visited by the Ghost of the Christmas Yet to Come; shown soon-to-be his “corpse” in waiting which appeared “plundered, bereft, unwatched, unwept, uncared for” ready to be buried in a church graveyard “overrun by grass and weeds.” All the bad publicity received by our new nation was because no sooner after clutching our independence in 2011 than we began to engage in war over political power that in turn has destroyed our social fabric and ruined our economy. A war that has won us nothing but scorn and contempt from friends and foes alike. A war that caused death of thousands and brought displacement and destitution to millions others amongst our fellow citizens. A war that totally eclipsed the best in us as dignified people; and portrayed us in the worst light possible as a nation of clueless bunch who have no ideas how to build and run a country, although nothing could be farther from the truth.

That was the picture until November 2015. However, judging from the joyous Christmas of 2015 celebrations that were sweetened up by the creation of 28 states and subsequent appointment of governors on Christmas eve; the adoption of floating exchange rate; the prospect for increased government tax revenue through an improved tax administration and widening of tax bases; the arrival of the opposition figures back in Juba in December as first step towards the implementation of peace agreement signed in August 2015; the call for forgiveness and reconciliation from our President and our religious and political leaders; the expressed commitment by the opposition leaders to peaceful dialogue and peaceful transfer of power; there is every reason to believe that South Sudan has resolved to make 2016  a year of great hope and optimism, by choice and not by fate (just as Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ Book (A Christmas Carol) subsequently did when he began to mend his miserly ways that  very same Christmas that was supposed to spell his doom.  That mending of ways landed him a different, far less grim prospects but happier endings).

Hence, year 2016 will be a turning point for the better in our short and troubled history as a sovereign nation. Like rest of humanity, we have recognized what is best for us and have elected to pursue the path of peace over the path of war. To embrace peaceful dialogue and coexistence and shun violence as a means of settling political differences and transfer of power. That we will use or God given ingenuity to bring about the badly needed development and social services to our impoverished citizens.

In 2016, we are going to work hard to steer clear of our heavily oil-dependent economy by quickly establishing National Revenue Authority; reviewing the tax rates; identifying more taxable entities; and set up a working pension fund which will allow us to retire those well beyond retirement age.

Guided by the roadmap in Agreement for Conflict Resolution in South Sudan (ACRISS), we must also reactivate and implement South Sudan Vision 2040 whose objectives are (by 2040) South Sudan will be: educated and informed nation;prosperous, productive and innovative nation; free, just and peaceful nation; democratic and accountable nation;safe and secure nation;united and proud nation; andcompassionate and tolerant nation.
And as a Pan-Africanist state that we are, while executing South Sudan’s Vision 2040, we must be bear in mind, and indeed mirror at national level, the Africa’s Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want whose aspirations are: a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development; an integrated continent, politically united and based on the ideals of Pan Africanism and the vision of Africa’s Renaissance; an Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice and the rule of law; a peaceful and secure Africa; an Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics; an Africa where development is people-driven, unleashing the potential of its women and youth; an Africa as a strong, united and influential global player and partner.

Some of reforms that need to happen in 2016 include establishment of professionally staffed civil service; move to a centralized economic development and planning; centralized monitoring and evaluation; investment in education, research, technology and innovation; widening access to quality higher education through improved funding; widening the provision of technical vocational education, empowering women and youth;  enactment of laws that ban early girls marriages; speeding up the electrification of urban and countryside; investment in ICT, communication, and roads infrastructure; raising 80 percent of government revenue through tax that excludes no one, among others.

Finally, and more pertinently, in 2016, the President of our Republic will not only be seen as Commander-In- Chief of our armies, important as it is, but more importantly still and in the new context and reality of South Sudan, he needs to be seen and felt in real life as the Chief Finance Minister, the Supervisor of the Central Bank of South Sudan, the Chancellor of Public Universities; The Minister of Ministers; the Champion of Agriculture, Innovation, Science and Technology; the Defender of Women Social, Economic, and Cultural Rights; the Coach of Youth; the Father of the Nation and Its Guiding Star. The Defender of Democracy and Good Governance; a President surrounded by able, wise, and patriotic advisors; a listening and responsive President who is anxious for results and less tolerant of the incompetent and the underperforming. A President of one united people, prosperous, and proud nation. A President who is all these in equal measures.

By our free will and conscious choice, year 2016 could be the year when South Sudan will begin to take off.