Monday, November 12, 2018

Building a Functional State in South Sudan

By John A. Akec
Political and economic literature is replete with books describing the causes and reasons behind states’ failure. ‘Failed states’ are polities that do not function properly, and hence are incapable of delivering stability and prosperity to their citizens. This is according to Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart, authors of a book entitled “Fixing Failed States: A framework for rebuilding a fractured world” (Oxford University Press, 2008).

According to the authors, the number of states in the world today that fall in this category range from 40 to 60 in total; and are home to 2 billion people, representing almost half of the population of the globe. Failed states, as described by Ghani and Lockhart, are “either sliding backward and teetering on the brink of implosion or have already collapsed”. What’s more, a state is said to have failed when “vicious networks of criminality, violence, and drugs feed on disenfranchised populations and uncontrolled territory.”

Unsurprisingly, many of us will rush to a conclusion that such a description fits South Sudan’s political and economic situation squarely, like a glove. May be. Yet I beg to differ with this characterization in some ways. South Sudan never had a state to speak of before 2011 so that we can truly describe as failed. What is true is that South Sudan is striving to build a functional state from scratch after half a century of devastating conflict with Sudan, and in the last 5 years with itself. It is not an easy task, and it is a goal being pursued with slow and varying degrees of success.

That being the case, one cannot entirely dismiss Ghani and Lockhart’s and other similar works as such as that of Acemoglu and Robinson (Why Nations Fail), Greg and Obasnjo et. al (Making Africa Work), David Landes (The Wealth and Poverty of the Nations), Osborne and Gaeble (Reinventing Government) etc., as irrelevant. In fact, these works have much to teach us about how a nascent nation like South Sudan can accelerate success in building a fully functioning state. They provide useful tips and clues.

At the very core of Ghani and Lockhart’s book is a framework within which success can be measured against 10 cardinal functions a state is expected to deliver on. In other words, the 10 functions of the state, if correctly understood by policy-makers, can serve as the barometers against which progress can be assessed.

These functions are as follows: rule of law which is concerned primarily with making rules that regulate how society operates, while  defining powers and limits of the state and citizens; monopoly on the the legitimate use of violence; full administrative control of all state’s territory; sound management of public finances to minimise corruption and create public value; investment in human capital necessary for economic growth and industrial development; creation of citizenship rights through developing and implementing social policy that gives citizen a stake and boost trust in government; provision of infrastructure services; creation of favorable conditions for development of markets and jobs creation; prudent management of public assets such as land, equipment, buildings, cultural heritages, and national capital such as rivers and forests; and last, but not least, effective and responsible public borrowing that allows the state to accelerate socio-economic development without losing its economic and decision to lenders.

What it takes to achieve each of the 10 functions of the state can be a whole article. Suffice to say that effective performance of the above functions by the state leads to synergies that create virtuous circle of mutually reinforcing decision processes and expand opportunities for the citizens. This is what Ghani and Lockhart describe as “sovereignty dividend.”

On the other hand, failure to deliver on some of the above functions leads to vicious cycle in which various centres of power compete over control of the state, the prevalence
 of multiple and contradictory decision processes that confuse government’s priorities, citizen loss of trust in their government, loss of legitimacy by institutions of governance, disenfranchisement of the citizens, and, in many cases, the eruption of violent conflict.

When this second scenario persists, it gives rise to “sovereignty gap.” This means the government of the country concerned is required to do more to reduce the sovereignty gap and increase the sovereignty dividend.

For South Sudan, we can agree that there is currently more “sovereignty gap” than “sovereignty dividend.” We should not lose hope, though. To be able to fulfill the 10 functions of the state as enumerated above, enabling conditions must to be created by our government.

These conditions include but not limited to reforming the civil service to raise its competence and capacity to design and implement policies, creation of institution for strategic and centralized planning, creation of a ministry for coordination of all the government, strengthening of the revenue authority to mobilise domestic revenues, and investing in education and skills training in order to raise nation’s scientific, technological, administrative, and managerial capacity.  Without these ingredients of success, nothing can really move forward.

Above all, our government must muster strong political will so as to take all such measures as would propel our country out of conflict, insecurity, and poverty, into the league of functioning states, among the world community of nations.  

The goal of building a fully functioning polity in South Sudan in one generation is a challenge pregnant with opportunity. It is an opportunity worth ceasing.


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