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.