South Sudan: Averting joining the list of failed states is a tough job worth trying
By John A. Akec
Recent report by Brussels-based think-tank, the International Crisis Group (ICG) cautioned of South Sudan becoming a failed state should South Sudanese vote for independence in the referendum scheduled for January 2011. Insecurity and potential for tribal fragmentation were amongst the reasons cited. South Sudanese political commentators, church leaders, and civil society groups had echoed similar sentiments in the past in one form or another.
However, the current South Sudan President, Salva Kiir Mayardit, disagrees with these commonly expressed sentiments. In a Christmas address to members of Presbyterian Church in Juba, Mr. Mayardit told the congregation: “I don’t think that is true…you are capable of managing yourselves.” And to be sure, comrade Salva Kiir is right. South Sudanese people, like any other people of the world, are capable of managing their own affairs. I could have said the same, if I were in his shoes. Except that, such a statement needs some backing up with more concrete evidence.
For one thing, it is not right if we were to hear of such sentiments and dismiss them out of hand without pausing for a moment to critically examine the reasons behind such pessimistic predictions in regards to the future of our young nation. We can do that without much ado if we firmly believe in prevention as a far better alternative to cure.
And without further ado, I would like us to look at the symptoms of the so-called failed state. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace defines a failed-state as a state that is characterized by a loss of control of its territory or loss of the monopoly on the legitimate use of force.
Some of these characteristics are said to include the lack of ability to make collective decisions, or inability to deliver public services. The warning signs that a state is headed for failure may be manifested in prevalence of black marketeering, the lack of capacity to collect taxes, or repeated episodes of large-scale civil disobedience.
British Department for International Trade defines a failed state as one that “cannot or will not deliver core functions to the majority of its people, including the poor.” These functions include functions necessary for poverty reduction such as territorial control, safety and security, capacity to manage public resources, delivery of basic services, and the ability to protect and support the ways in which the poorest people sustain themselves.
Social indicators of a failed state include: border disputes, lack of clear laws for ownership or occupancy of land, prevalence of environmental hazards, singling out of groups by the state authorities for marginalisation and repression, prevalence of communal violence and existence of unaddressed human right grievances, institutionalized political exclusion, flight or voluntary emigration of intellectuals and political dissidents.
The list of economic indicators encompasses group-based inequality, inequality in provision of education, jobs, and economic status, acute poverty levels, high infant mortality rates, failure of the state to pay salaries of government employees and armed forces or to meet other financial obligations to its citizens, such as pension payments, massive unemployment, and progressive economic decline.
Finally, political indicators include: endemic corruption or profiteering by ruling elites; resistance to transparency, accountability and political representation; widespread loss of popular confidence in state institutions and processes; failure to protect citizens from terrorism and violence and to provide essential services, such as health, education, sanitation, public transportation; use of the state apparatus for agencies that serve the ruling elites, such as the security forces, presidential staff, central bank, diplomatic service, customs and tax collection agencies; abuse of legal system and political power in many ways such as the harassment of the press, politicization of the judiciary, internal use of military for political ends, and public repression of political opponents; emergence of state-sponsored or state-supported private militias employed to terrorize and repress political opponents, suspected "enemies," as well as civilians seen to be sympathetic to the opposition.
As things stand, these indicators fit South Sudan like a glove. I expect the situation to get worst before it gets better. We have so many unresolved tribal conflicts. Whole communities have been single out for political and economic marginalization (even in Warap State, comrade Mayardit’s own backyard, in his full knowledge if not his blessing). We have failed to provide basic services to our citizens such as health, education, and clean drinking water. We have failed to protect citizens from economic and politically motivated criminality. Criminals have got away unscathed with their crimes due to incapacity of the authorities to investigate and detect the sources and perpetrators of crime. For too long, we have resisted enacting land laws to resolve land disputes. We have been reluctant to pass media laws to facilitate democratic transformation and establish free press that will help government and the public expose and fight corruption without fear. There has been high concentration of political power in the hands of unrepresentative few, leading to lack of collective decision-making. There is a wide spread insubordination: ministers refusing to execute presidential and legislative assembly orders (as exemplified in shelving of a number of Bills and refusal to carry out executive orders regarding appointments to some top civil service positions in GOSS). We have not been able to come up with clear vision for economic development. One could go to no end just to state the obvious.
Hence whether or not South Sudan is capable of managing its own affairs in case of a successful independence vote during and leading to 2011 will largely depend on what we (as rulers and the ruled) can collectively do to reverse the trend.
Something somewhere must change. It is a tough job, but a job that worth trying.
The question is what is it? Extraordinary situations demand extraordinary measures and making tough choices. Unfortunately, continuing to live in state of denial is not one of the options. Nor is the slow pace of taking vital political decisions that we have been accustomed to in the last 5 years.