Sunday, May 28, 2006

Sheikh Hassan Al Turabi and the Crises in Contemporary Islamic Movement

By Dr. Abadal Wahap Afendi

Translated by John A. Akec for Sudan Tribune

The brouhaha caused by Dr. Turabi’s recent views on controversial issues in the Islamic thought has coincided with the publication of a new book entitled The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought. Dr. Ibrahim Abu Rabiae who lectures at Harvard College in USA, edited the book. I contributed a chapter to the book entitled: “Dr. Turabi and the limitation of modern Islamic reform movement.”

Many distinguished and internationally renowned academics and thinkers made contributions to the book. Each of the contributors tackled a specific aspect of modern Islamic thought as well as about the prominent contemporary personalities who shaped it. In the chapter that I contributed to the book, I tried to address the criticism and debate that was invoked by Sheikh Al Turabi’s interpretation of Islam; beginning with the controversy over Prophet's sayings about what to do with a fly when it falls in milk (hadith zubab), and through his doubts about trustworthiness of a number of the associates of the Prophet, to his scepticism about Bukhari’s volumes and collections on hadiths (conversations attributed to Prophet Mohammed), his views on women, marriage of Muslim woman to a Christian or person of other faith, and his views on apostasy.

It is extremely difficult to summarise in such a great haste all that has been covered in the chapter in regard to deep and detailed academic discourse about the contributions made by Dr Turabi to modern interpretation of Islamic thought, and the reactions that accompanied them. The chapter complements my earlier books in which I discussed in great detail the contributions of the Sheikh [Turabi]. Namely, Turabi’s Revolution (1991), and The Revolution and Political Reformation in Sudan (1995). It will only suffice to provide some pointers that I hope will help in understanding the current debate about Sheikh Turabi interpretation of Islam. This is a new but also old discourse whose importance is rooted not only in the opinion of an individual, but also in difficulties that encounter every effort to reanimate contemporary interpretation of Islamic thought.

The wide spread disapproval that was shown when Turabi rejected hadith zubab, is sine quo non of the various facets to the crises afflicting all attempts at the modernisation of the Islamic message in the face of the domineering traditional status quo. Hadith zubab represents a contradiction between widely acknowledged Islamic verses that appear in Bukhari's volumes on hadiths (or Islamic sayings by the Prophet), with the discovery of modern science. There is a general consensus amongst members of scientific community that fly can help in transmission of infectious diseases in addition to transporting dirt from one location to another. Therefore, following the advice that is attributed to a hadith by the Prophet (peace be upon him) that says if a fly falls in a drink, then it should be left immersed in it and not removed. This contradicts sound and established scientific hygienic practices. The alleged hadith bears semblance to the theory of antibodies that may suggest that the fly’s body contains substances that are capable of curing any diseases it may carry. This in turn implies that a fly in food or milk has health benefits.

It is worth pointing out that the struggle between the church and modern science is one of the principal causes that undermined the church and led to its subsequent withdrawal from the state in the West, leaving the state and all aspects of public life to be dominated by secularism.

Contemporary Islamic movement has endeavoured relentlessly to avoid a similar fate to afflict Islam by endorsing and reviving new interpretation of Islam, and eliminating any hadiths that contradict modern science or contemporary socio-political concepts (such as fundamental freedoms, human rights, women rights, and etc). This is being achieved either by doubting the reliability of the sources of hadiths, reinterpreting the suspected hadiths, or discarding them. Turabi's views are characterised by taking a fundamental approach that he first launched by categorically rejecting the authenticity of hadith zubaba, and moving from his previous traditional doctrinal position to suspect the reliability of all the hadiths. By doing so, Turabi casts doubts over the belief of great majority of Muslim Sunis, a belief that upholds as true all that has been written in Bukhari's volumes/collection of hadiths. This Suni's doctrinal position is not shared by the Shiites. Turabi argues that Bukhari is a fallible being and must have erred in some of his hadiths that he claimed were reported by the former associates of the Prophet. And even if Bukhari’s narratives were correct, according to Turabi, the Prophet's companions might have distorted some of the hadiths (sayings); or Bukhari had not understood the meaning of these Islamic sayings, as he should. Furthermore, Turabi asserts that the Prophet’s companions were fallible men, some of whom were accused of fraud and downright lying. Moreover, even if we were to assume that these associates of the Prophet reported all the Islamic sayings correctly, we still have the right to reject any saying by the Prophet that is concerned with worldly affairs, as opposed to divine issues. This is because the infallibility of the Prophet (peace be upon him) applies only to matters relating to religious instruction, as the Prophet himself once pointed out in an hadith in which he advised Muslim not to pollinate date tree: "you are the ones better informed about your worldly affairs." The advice not to pollinate date tree later turned out not to be correct.

Evidently, the principal motives behind the contemporary Islamic reformist movement include satisfying the requirements of modernisation, responding to criticisms by the West and Islamic world own secular intellectuals. Such concerns have been the preoccupation of Islamic reformists who have long embraced the fundamentals of democracy and human rights. Hence, they [the reformists] are often in direct confrontation with the advocates of traditional Islam who call for a literal interpretation and acceptance of the inherited Islam as is. More often than not, it is easier for the [contemporary] Islamists to criticise what they describe as the stagnation of traditional view, misinterpretation of the verses, and the dominant influence of non-Islamic traditions on the understanding of religion. However, the real difficulties arise when they are faced with Islamic verses that contradict their contemporary beliefs such as freedom of faith versus apostasy; equality of women and men versus women rights to inheritance and witness in the court, and so forth.

To deal with the challenge of modernisation, the Islamic pro-reform elite has resorted to many strategies. A majority of them have prefer to emphasising certain verses over others; or claiming that the more acceptable verses were meant to supersede those rejected. The most prominent and fundamental approach to modernisation ever taken was that of the late thinker, Mahammud Mohammed Taha and his Republican Movement. Muhammud Taha rejected all Al Medina Islamic verses, the Suna, and related traditions. He then embarked on the modernisation of Islamic Sharia from the scratch. However, the Republican solution faced two fundamental problems. First, by rejecting the entire Islamic tradition at the stroke of a pen, and replacing it with a view that is hundred percent match of the contemporary and liberal Western view about basic freedoms and human rights, this kind of message was met with great suspicion. Second, such a fundamental paradigm shift would demand nothing short of a new divine revelation (Dawa), and therefore a new religion. And this was precisely what the Republican ministry (Dawa) contained. It, however, aroused suspicion amongst the Islamic modernists who believed in the first revelation (Dawa) of Islam, but struggled to accept its Sufi’s -metaphysical content.

Sheikh Turabi’s adversaries have often accused him of emulating the Republican brotherhood movement in his reformist agenda. However, Turabi has never advocated for a new divine revelation (Dawa), but he called instead for greater modernisation (following the foot steps of earlier generations of Islamic philosophers such as Ibn Rashid), by claiming that human mind is, by itself, a source of authority that, in many occasions, is superior to any other authority with exception of that of Allah. Thus, argued Turabi, human mind is sufficiently capable of reinterpreting divine revelation in a way that is congruent with the demands of modern life.

From this viewpoint, Turabi employs the traditional tools of analysis such as careful research into the roots of the language, history, criticism, and reinterpretation of Islamic verses in order to eliminate any distortions caused by non-Islamic traditions and values that prevailed prior to the advent of Islam. For example, Turabi has brutally criticised the domination of the male in traditional Islamic societies, where the traditionalists, on the ground that they are no longer valid in modern age, have suppressed women rights that existed during the prophet’s times. Paradoxically, women rights are the only one area where traditionalists have been very willing to reject the Islamic verses and hadiths that granted rights to women in favour of women subjugation. In this respect, the traditionalists argue that what was good for women during the Prophet's generation may not be necessarily good in this day and age because, they argue, the standards of chastity are now far lower than they were at the time of Prophet Mohammed. The main dilemma encountered by Turabi is that the traditionalists have rejected him, while the reformists have refused to recognise his doctrine.

On the one hand, the modernists accept nothing short of the Republican brotherhood solution that totally discards the inherited traditional Islam, or at least carry out what Dr Mohammed Arkoi describes as “criticising the Islamic mind.” In other words, Islamic reformers call for external annihilation of the Islamic inheritance on the grounds that such inheritance has been the captive of external historical circumstances that no longer apply in this day and age.

On the other hand, the traditionalists rejected the interpretations of Turabi in the same way they have reject his approach to modernisation. And until recently, Turabi was more inclined towards the traditionalist camp and did not care about the modernists critique despite the fact that most of his views were directed at them and the West. Coming under fierce criticism from the traditionalists, Turabi even retracted some of his previous views such as on the marriage of a Muslim to a Christian, views on apostasy laws, his doubt in Bukhari, and his views on the fallibility of the Prophet. It is worth mentioning that Turabi published his first booklet on [the rights of] women in early 1970s under a faked name.

All this led to display of ambivalence in Turabi's reformist message. On the one hand, Turabi had an inner circle of followers whom he addressed with complete frankness. And on the other hand, Turabi had a different message for the general public. That led to mixed results. First, it led to emergence of a clique within his inner circle that claims to have better understanding of Islamic doctrine than their peers. This resembles what Imam Abu Ghazali narrated about his contemporaries. Second, Turabi's inner circle began to develop and display low opinion about the rest of Muslims, as well as undermining the understanding of the religion and religious teachings. This happened while the traditionalists continued to exploit their ability to mobilise the Islamic masses to aim their deadly criticism in the face of the secularists.

And if the reluctance of the [contemporary] Islamic movement to accept the religious inheritance poses a challenge to them, it also true that secularists face even greater challenge because all that they do is ignore religion and its teachings, or be hypocritical and pretend to live by religious teachings.

Furthermore, there is a huge body of evidence that traditional Islamic scholars and common Muslims prefer opposition against Islam to any attempts to distort it or change its original message. And for that reason precisely, the Islamic movement led by Turabi had experienced a double isolation as it simultaneously fought against both the secularists and the traditionalists. The inclination of the Islamic clique that surrounded Turabi has had many practical ramifications, which included: refusal to acknowledge the fact that traditional Islam has shown itself willing to embrace democracy. And despite that, this Islamic clique that developed around Sheikh Turabi has displayed utter contempt of democracy and of the masses that include the believers. It is the attitude that undermined the values of trust in people, as well as doing away with respect for the individual's rights which was mainly responsible for many human rights violations and acts of cruelty that characterised Inghaz [National Islamic Front] revolution under the leadership of Turabi. Moreover, it is the same mindset that is to blame for the mistreatment that Turabi received at the hands of his former pupils, who have learned in his hands to be contemptuous of the people and the values without showing the same level of understanding or knowledge as Turabi.

Thus, Turabi former pupils have come to see themselves as above Shariah and tradition. And we still do hear the same contempt being expressed time and again about the rest of Muslims; be they individuals, parties, or nation. And most probably, there may be worst things said by this group against Muslims in private, which we may know nothing about but which are reflected in their public behaviour. Such views may be betrayed publicly in the form of exaggerated self-belief in their ability to rule people with iron fist, with lies, hypocrisy, and conspiracy. That there is no one in the whole Sudanese nation- in the north, south, east, or west is capable of challenging their dominance. Turabi, their former mentor, once shared this self-delusion with them. And as these Turbi's pupils will soon find out, their previous mentor will be counted as the luckiest of the lot. This is because the fate that awaits them will turn out to be worst than that of their mentor.

The most recent views expressed by Turabi and the uproar it generated need not be seen as problems of an individual or a group. But rather should be seen as a predicament of a nation handicapped by religious inheritance that offers no tools or means for modernisation. Instead of changing the religious inheritance in order to secure its survival, the Islamic nation (Uma) prefers to hold to it for its own sake, while risking its total disappearance. It is also a crisis facing the contemporary elite that has neither succeeded to live up to Islamic traditional ideals, nor succeeded morally and intellectually to lead the nation in a direction of religious revival. The elite continues to waver between the bondage of the traditions, and the emptiness of modern morality.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Strengthening the Camel’s Back: The Role of Emergency and Disaster Preparedness of a Nation

By John A. Akec*
Knutsford, Cheshire, UK

Imagine that Mother Earth as we know it, ceases someday to be kind to humanity, and has let the hell to break loose by allowing all kinds of disasters such disease epidemics, famines, wars, volcanoes, floods, hurricanes, energy shortages, you name it, to inflict our world on unimaginable scale and beyond anything we have ever contemplated. This can possibly be likened to an Armageddonian scene unfolding before our very eyes, as the forces of evil are unleashed on humanity; and men, women, and children run for cover to save their lives. And if you think this is far fetched, recall the 9/11 and the Twin Towers in flames. Also, recall the television images of 1983 famine in Ethiopia, the Sudan’s famine and draught of 1984, Bhar el Ghazal starvation of 1998 in South Sudan, the floods in Mozambique, Goma’s volcano in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the sinking of Titanic, and most recently the outbreak of SARS in Asia etc. etc.

These disasters and catastrophic events tell the tale of great sadness, human vulnerability, and unimaginable pain that can befall on nations and peoples anytime, anywhere. But even more important, the way by which people survive disasters, be they man made or natural, portrays vividly and in unmistakeable terms the "real state" of the nation in which a disaster strikes. It speaks volumes about nation’s wealth, tenacity and adaptability of its people, and above all, its government.

Back to the scene in the Armageddon described above, what is going to happen to you and me? Well, it all depends on where you are at a time when such a thing takes place. Nations and governments ought to be fully prepared for disasters and to expect the unexpected at all time. In industrialised nations, whole ranges of early warning systems are often installed to monitor possible disasters as well as preparing plans of action and making available the necessary resources (trained and skilled workforce, equipment, and communication systems etc). The governments are expected to act quickly and decisively on the first early signs of a looming disaster. This happens at a national, local, departmental, and even at the individual levels. Response procedures are thoroughly rehearsed, and equipment checked routinely to ensure that it is going to work as intended when deployed. Briefs and information prescribing what to do in each specific situation is dispatched to all concerned i! ncluding the authorities, emergency services, and the ordinary citizens. More often than not, inadequate response to disasters has dire consequences on the position of governments, authorities, and individuals in the so-called advanced nations.
As an example, it is seen that in the developed nations most hospitals have emergency electric power supply backup in place. Death of a patient on a life-support machine or in an operating theatre due to power failure can cost the hospital’s governing body and the chief executive their jobs. In fact, nothing can stop nations with modest gross domestic income to install such contingency plans in their major hospitals. Even the richest and most advanced nation on earth, America, had to review and take stock of the quality of response of emergency services in the wake of September 11 attack on the International Trade Centre in New York, and to come out resolved that in future, they [the government] will "do a better job!". Furthermore, how long it takes an ambulance service or police force to get to a scene of accident in is often the problem of fierce debate between the governments and the opposition parties. The Met office provides, on day-to-day basis information about po! ssible wind gales, tornadoes, floods, and snowfalls etc. It is expected that all the stakeholders from fishmongers, to farmers, to tourists, to mountain climbers, and motorists to take heed and organise their activities accordingly!

All governments and companies in the West have contingency plans for a possible major chemical or biological terrorist attack to ensure a smooth operation of their businesses in the wake of such a disaster. Billions of dollars were spent by the governments, institutions, and corporations of all sizes around the world to combat the adverse effects of Millennium Bug (a possible failure of computers when the date turned 00 after mid night on December 31, 1999). It was feared that it could lead loss of data and catastrophic failures of vital utilities that depend increasingly on computers to operate). We can go on and on.

Even near to our own borders, countries like Egypt is believed to have enough water storage capacity in Aswan damp enough to enable the nation to survive more than 50 years of complete draught in the Upper Nile Valley (Ethiopia, Sudan, and Uganda etc). Today, governments in the developed and developing countries are already concerned about climatic changes induced by human economic activity. These include global warming, rise in sea levels, depletion of fossil energy resources, waste reduction, threat to biodiversity, and stress on arable land, and disappearance of rain forests as a consequence of increasing needs of a growing population size in Third World which is projected to outstrip the rate of food production. Their response is to form organisations such as Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change charged with the responsibility of establishing the impact of climatic changes and proposing of measures to mitigate such consequences.
Contrast that with what is happening in the underdeveloped nations, the majority of which are to be found in Africa. While one needs to be realistic about the levels of expected emergency preparedness in such countries, it is sad to note that a great majority of these nations should have done better. Take as an example the famine in Malawi in 2001 and 2002. The government of that country, aided by its corrupt civil servants, and with a push from the World Bank, sold all of its huge maize reserves and allowed the money from the sale to vanish in the pockets. In the year that followed the sale, there was serious draught and as a result there was poor harvest. More than three million people were threatened by starvation and acute food shortages. This was a typical African luck of foresight, prudence, and planning which is played over again and again, year after year across the continent. Another example that comes to mind is that of Goma volcano in the Democratic Republic of! Congo several years ago. Just a day or two after the eruption of the volcano, the un-warned population returned to their homes in Goma, a city which was still in flames. Some of the returnees attempted to vandalise a fuel station with disastrous consequences. The larva which was still burning set the fuel station alight. And as we all know, hundreds were engulfed by the flames and perished as a result. Again, a nation with good system of governance in place could have foreseen such a possibility and took adequate measures to protect the citizens from harming themselves.

Despite technological advances of this century, the gap between the poor and the rich will continue to grow. Not only that, economic activity, rising living standards in the world and the attendant pressure on dwindling earth’s natural resources, and adverse environmental consequences are believed to present the last straw that will ultimately break the camel’s back. It means there is a growing concern that the earth’s ability to sustain life may be terribly undermined, and the livelihood of future generations greatly jeopardised. Only by strengthening the back of the camel through prudent utilisation of resources, the employment of technology, and mobilisation of human intellectual capital to stimulate economic growth, will individual nations be able to withstand disasters and other dangers posed by the last straw.
All this will dwarf the need for governments to be on their guards and on lookout for possible disasters. Bearing in mind that disaster preparedness need not be a high tech, high cost activity. Even low tech and appropriate measures can still do the trick. Here governments of all sizes and shapes will be judged whether or not they have delivered. It may well prove the hypothesis that the underdeveloped equals the under managed.

* First Posted on SSFORUM on 26/04/03

Help for Small Firms in Southern Sudan: Borrowing the European Model

By John A. Akec*
London, UK

Business is war, goes a Japanese proverb. "The extreme view [in America] sees the Japanese in their 1940s war mode but with corporate buyouts and land grabs and fists full of patents in place of guns and planes and war ships", wrote Bart Kosko who is a professor at University of Southern California in his masterpiece book, Fuzzy Thinking (HarperCollins, 1993). The land of the rising sun has made it from a country that was famed for "improving" on what Americans had invented to a leading industrialised economy and a home to industrial-technological giants such Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Fuji, Mutsubishi, Sony, Hitachi, to name but few. Japan with current gross domestic product or GDP of $4.96 trillion has made great strides and has emerged from the devastation of the Second World War to become the world’s largest economy next to the US (GDP $13.18 trillion). However, Economist Intelligence Unit predicted in January 2006 that in 20 years time (by 2026), Japan will be pushed back to a third place by China which will be trailing just behind the US in the size of GDP. In fact, predictions based on price-power parity (PPP) that takes into account the real buying power of local income (instead of GDP that values national economies using market exchange rates), China is poised to overtake the US by 2017 as the world largest economy. This is war of a different kind. The ammunitions are the dollar, the Yuan, euro, and yen. There should be no mistaking the fact trade and doing business have been shown to be the only means by which nations can pull themselves out of poverty and step into brighter future.

In South Sudan, we are starting from virtually nothing. From zero, as our politicians have eloquently expressed it time and again. A one million dollar question therefore is: starting from zero as we are, how does our government go about revitalising our war-ravaged economy in the fastest way possible? The answer lies with our economic planners’ ability to pinpoint and manipulate the relevant economic variables in a way that can deliver the ‘right’ macroeconomic objectives, be they full employment, low inflation, economic growth, stability of market prices, or a trade-off between this variable and that. A fundamental problem of economics is the management and allocation of scarce resources or factors of production, namely: land, labour, capital, and entrepreneurship. Proper utilisation of these factors is rewarded with rents of the land (revenues from exploitation of natural resources such as oil, wood, etc), wages in exchange for labour, interest paid on the capital employed to produce goods and services, and profits generated by business enterprises. The aggregate of these rewards is what is referred to as National Income.

It takes no economist to recognise that our government spending on infrastructure projects and on free services such as education and health will contribute in jobs creation, and therefore income generation for a sizable proportion of our citizens. Initially, oil revenues, foreign aid, and external borrowing will form the bulk of the government public spending. But as the economy begins to take shape, income tax and corporation tax, among others should become central components of the government’s revenues. This contribution which small firms (SMEs) can make to national economy and wealth creation need to be recognised by our government right from the start and be made part and parcel of economic and development agenda.
SMEs tend to be privately owned businesses that employ between 0 and 250 people. They are normally independently managed by the owner (or the entrepreneur), unlike large publicly quoted companies with more than 250 employees, and run by management boards on behalf of the owners (the shareholders). In European Union alone, small firms account for nearly 98% of 25 million registered businesses, employ 66% the work force, generating 60% of turnover (income), and contributing about 90% of all exports from the Euro Zone. Many of the small firms start initially as commercial ideas by the entrepreneur who uses his or her savings to start a business to serve niche, and often, local market. Frequently, small firms struggle with cash flow problems at the start. This is because of their high-risk nature that does not encourage the banks to lend money to them before their profitability is proven. Great majority of small firms rely on borrowing from friends and family in order to fund their business at start up phase. However in industrialised countries, a few promising businesses may be funded by the so called Venture Capital funds or Business Angels in exchange for share in the business (equity or shared ownership).

Despite the many funding hurdles the SME’s have to overcome, many governments in the industrialised countries provide funds to help small start-up firms. For example, local authorities, regional agencies, the Irish and the UK governments, and the European Commission provide grants (free money) and soft loans (subsidised loans at low repayment rate of interest) that can total up to more than 3 billion Euros (US $ 3.5 billion). Regional agencies in the UK include Scottish Enterprise, the Welsh Development Agency, and Rural Development Commission. Local authorities in England and Wales have business advice units and award small grants to help with rent of premises for start-up companies. What’s more, the UK government offers a range of grants and Loan Guarantee Scheme through Business Link, and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). The awards include the Small Firm Merit Award for Research and Technology (SMART), and Support for Products Under Research (SPUR). Loan Guarantee Scheme authorises banks and other financial institutions to issue loans of between £ 100,000 and £250,000 to small firms wit promising businesses performance but whose owners cannot provide collateral (an insurance against failure to repay the loan). The government guarantees the payment of up to %70 of the amount lent.

The government of Irish Republic is famed for its unmatchable support of small start-up firms. All information about the Irish government help for start-ups can be obtained from Enterprise Ireland. County Enterprise Boards and Industrial Development Agency channel help to small firms through Small Business Programme, Enterprise Development Programme, and Business Innovation Centres. For example County Enterprise Boards pay out about grants totalling £12 million annually with each grant worth 5,000 for business plan preparation, and up to £ 50,000 to cover the start-up costs. Irish Science & Technology Agency funds research and development in technology and science for the development of new products and raising expertise in industry and academia. Small Business Programme provides grants of up to £ 425,000 to start-ups towards research and development costs, employment and equipment grants, and loan guarantees.

A study I came across that was published in 1997 showed that although one in five companies in the UK that received loans through Loan Guarantee Scheme failed to repay the loan, more than 44,000 jobs were created at a cost of £ 2,200 per a job. One may wonder as to why a government should spent public money to create jobs for individuals. The first answer is deeply rooted in the centuries of struggle for freedom and social justice in the Western societies. Here governments are bound to provide safety nets for citizens through system of social welfare while helping them to get back on the employment ladder to contribute to the nation’s economic life. It is better that they can catch the fish themselves as opposed to being fed with fish daily. Second, those economically active pay income tax and national insurance and pension and hence support those who have entered a life of retirement and the unemployed. Third, once a firm succeeds to survive and make profits, the government rips the benefit by collecting corporation tax as well as other indirect consumer taxes such as value added tax (VAT), fuel duty, tax on beverage (alcohol), and tax on tobacco, among others. Fourth, when people have meaningful jobs and are earning for themselves and their families, they are less likely to get involved in criminal activity. That helps in maintaining law and order as well as social cohesion. Because of all these invaluable benefits, governments around the world do not only support their citizens to start their own small businesses, but try their very best to bail out national companies teetering at the edge of bankruptcy in order to safe thousands of jobs and protect livelihood of families that could be affected by potential company closures.

Back to South Sudan, those individuals from the Diaspora with business ideas who made the long journey to Juba to discuss their bright business ideas with the authorities in the government of South Sudan (GOSS) discovered that there are no provisions or plans for supporting start-up businesses. The reasons? One reason given was the fear that giving money out to individuals to set up their businesses would be viewed as corruption. Sure. This is a great misconception! One simply needs to review some of many initiatives and provisions which European Commission and EU member states have made in order to help small firms, as mentioned above. Far from being called ‘corruption’, supporting small firms ought not be an after thought or low-priority issue in the allocation of resources, but an essential and indispensable component of the economic regeneration package. Mechanisms and organisational structures similar to ones established in the developed countries could be adopted in South Sudan to channel funds into helping small businesses during start-up phase without great effort to reinvent the wheel.

To remind us about the importance of small businesses in the enhancement of our freedom values, the words of the former British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, who more than any prime minister, dead or living, did so much to reinvigorate the spirit of entrepreneurship and small business in Britain:

""Small businesses are the very embodiment of a free society - the mechanism by which the individuals can turn his leadership and talents to the benefit of both himself and the nation. The freer the society, the more small businesses there will be. And the more small business there are, the freer and more enterprising that society is bound to be".

The great French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said: man is destined to be free. By that he meant all of us can only define our very existence through the actions we take and choices we make.

*First posted on splm-diaspora on 28 Feb. 2006

South Sudan and Banks from Hell: Why not introduce a more Hassle-Free Banking?

Asks John A. Akec*
27 Dec. 05
London, UK

Real business is about reputation, reputation, and reputation. But in South Sudan, this message is yet to go through. And so what goes for a "Bank" in South Sudan is nothing more than building in which walk up and down the corridors a bunch of smartly dressed folks and bureaucrats, in ties. As to long queues of sweating clients spending a whole day in a queue waiting to catch their cheques, they may as well go to hell. Even aliens from the outer space will laugh to be told these are banks. My memories of trying to catch a cheque from my own account in a Sudan’s bank are hellish. They were extraordinary trauma. Even from London where I currently reside, dealing with banks in Sudan still feels like a holiday gone terribly wrong. Not a pleasant experience.
In mid 1990s, Ivory Bank opened in Khartoum to our greatest cheers to a first private South Sudanese bank. Only to be disappointed. I do not know about you, but whenever I transferred money to relatives in Khartoum through Ivory Bank from London, it would be more than 3 weeks before money is released to the beneficiary. This was despite the information from my bank stating that money should normally get there in not more than 48 hours at the latest. Not only that, even when the banks fees were paid at this end, Ivory Bank would still deduct a mammoth amount from the transferred amount (sometimes as large as US $25.00 per US $ 200.00). This was when I had already paid about £ 20.00 (about US $ 30.00) in fees at the sending bank in UK. One time I had to complain to my UK branch, and the excuse given by Ivory Bank for deducing the amount from transferred amount was that an Arab Commercial Bank which, according to the Ivory Bank, acts as intermediary between Western banks and those in Arab world, deducted the amount. My Bank was not convinced and they paid me a goodwill compensation of £ 20.00 ( US 30.00). The next time I wanted to transfer money through Ivory Bank, my Bank in the UK told me: Not to Ivory Bank. Ouch! A lost business.
So I moved my business elsewhere - to Khartoum Bank. The delays in paying out the money to the beneficiaries were minor. However, Khartoum Bank deducted $ 7.00 to $ 10.00, irrespective of whether or not their fees were paid at this end. It was a day light robbery. Yet you still haven’t seen anything until you get to Wau. There, all the banking code of practice (if there is any in Sudan) just disappears. Khartoum Bank in Wau is a law unto itself. My recent experience as well as that of others say that it takes at least 3 weeks for money to be paid out from the date of transfer from Khartoum. Khartoum Bank would only pay you in local currency. Suppose, you were on holiday, and you run out of money could you ask money to be transferred to you from abroad and get them on time? The answer is a stupid no.
The question is why banking has to be such a pain in Sudan? Can anyone tell me why someone’s cash that has been transferred and confirmed on this one end have been received by the bank is slept over by the receiving bank? Who are the main losers: banks or clients? I suspect everyone is a loser including banks, clients, and the national economy. Why is it so impossible to fix the problem? I believe ignorance and mindless corruption is to blame. Even a layman like myself knows that so called banks in Sudan are just breaking banking law, and the banking code and are not making brilliant business out of it as they are not driven by the needs of the customer.
Over the last few years more hassle free ways of transferring money have opened up. One of them is a Somalis owned company called Dahabshill. For a small sum of US $ 6.00, you can transfer any amount to Khartoum with no extra charges at the end. The beneficiary can catch the money in dollar or local currency. The money is paid out to the beneficiary the next day. In my experience, in more than 99% instances of transfer Dahabshill delivers as promised. When they get it wrong, they would apologize and move speedily to fix the problem. This is what I would call great business. This is what I call reputation: delivering as stated on the tins. If the Somalis can do it, why is it proving too hard for northerners and Southerners to do it?
And to be sure, there is a lot of business to be made by banks that reliably transfer money and pay them out on time. According to World Bank’s 2004 Global Economic Prospect report, the value of remittances by emigrant African workers was measured at $70 billion in 2001 which nearly doubled the development assistance provided by the rich countries to Africa. As for case of Sudan, I have no statistics but I guess they are substantial amounts. And the banks that can deliver high quality services with integrity will attract more customers and will make great profits.
Cash is the most liquid form of asset. That means if one has liquid asset, then that asset is easily convertible into a form suitable for exchange to purchase goods and services. Now imagine your relative waiting for more than 3 weeks outside Ivory or Khartoum Bank in Wau with empty stomach while their cash languish in the bank. What a mockery to banking code of practice? And what would any one make of the managers of those banks? They are not up to the scratch. Put an engineer in charge only armed with common sense and they can do better job than those MBAs.
For me, freedom is a result of sum total of small things in a nation that make life sweet for everyone- hassle free. Banks in South Sudan, new and old, would need to take stock and take a hard look at this rotten practice called banking which is not banking at all: it is corruption, robbery, and theft. If one has current account or saving account, they would need to receive services as stated in terms and conditions of use and contract. Money transferred from elsewhere and received by a bank ought to be paid out immediately to the beneficiary. Banks need to have a code of practice that sets the standard of service delivery to its clientele across sectors and across financial products and services.
GOSS can do much to bring about a change in banking for the better. A banking regulation and code of practice needs to be passed. Bodies similar to Financial Service Authority in UK, need to be set up to monitor how banks are adhering to banking code and regulation. Every year, a performance index for all the banks operating in South Sudan should be published to praise the high performers and to name and shame the worst offenders. Banks themselves would need to monitor their customer satisfaction through random but regular questionnaires, and confidential customer complaint reporting system. Banks that perform to a high standard should be awarded a Mark of Excellence in area of their performance to dangle proudly at the entrances! The laggard will be forced to catch up.
Just more "new" banks will not add any value without a change in direction of more competitive, hassle free, and customer centred service delivery. This will attract foreign investment, revitalise business, and give more meaning to freedom. It is all about doing good, improving quality of life for all, and still make profits. Good banking is the lubricant that makes the wheel of the economic nation turns smoothly. Good banking will not happen by accident, it will have to be made to happen, by design.

*First posted on ssnet on 27 Dec. 05 London, UK

Saturday, May 06, 2006

If SPLM is the PLO of Southern Sudan, Where is Hamas?

Asked John A. Akec
London, UK
6 May 2006

South Sudanese have often drawn some inspiration from Israel: a tiny state of a few millions people that has managed to face the hostility of 300 million strong Arab League nations, and continues to survive against all the odds by sheer wit and determination, running as the only democracy in the region.

Yet of late, political analogies have been made between Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) and Palestinian Liberation Movement (PLO). I recall in London many years ago, a very cheerful SPLM supporter drawing parallels between Dr John Garang and Yaser Arafat (Abu Amaar). That meant John Garang, the former SPLM chairman, lived and breathed New/South Sudan wherever he went, and whatever he did. Right or wrong. Garang, like Arafat, was a man who had four beds: one at home, one in hotel, one in the bush under tree, and one in aeroplane as he trotted the globe ceaselessly in search for a solution to the problem of injustice in Sudan. Yaser Arafat had two beds: one in hotel, and the other in aeroplane, and later, one at home in the Gaza Strip. Yaser Arafat was the most inerrant figure of the PLO. Step on his toe and you were dead wrong. And so was it with John Garang, SPLM chairman. Criticise him, and you were labelled a traitor. If you did not like the SPLM mode of leadership, then it was your fault, not Garang's. At least, that was how infallible SPLM leadership was held, until just a few years ago when some 'constructive' criticism was accommodated.

PLO was the organisation of choice for the moderate Palestinians, the Arab World, and international community because it stood for the rights of Palestinians for a homeland and a peaceful coexistence with Israel. Formed by Arab League in June 1964, it was led by Yaser Arafat since February 1969 until his death in November 2004.

PLO is a broad coalition of more than 9 political organisations of which Fatah led by Arafat himself was the largest, followed by Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Democratic Front for Liberation of Palestine in the second and third position respectively. PLO did not advocate for the bombing of innocent civilians, which is a good thing. There were many old guards at the top of Fatah, which was a mixed blessing. Many PLO officials in Palestinian National Authority (PA) which was established in 1994 after Oslo Accord of September 1993, loved their expensive cars and hated accountability or transparency. Quite an unfortunate inclination. And for the last 12 years, PLO has been running PA with a foreign aid that amounted to about US$ 1 billion per year, mostly from the so called Quartet on the Middle East group ( with membership of UN, United States, Russia, and EU), without a significant change in the lives of the great majority of the Palestinians. PLO administration gained the image of incompetence, ineffectiveness, absence of proper accounting systems and and transparent governance structures, and spread of corruption. PLO leaders increasingly appeared arrogant and out of touch with the Palestinian street.

In comes Hamas from cold. This is the organisation better known for sending suicide bombers into Israeli territories. And yet Hamas went on to win a hefty majority of 60 percent of the seats in Palestinian legislative assembly (74 seats out of 132 total achieved by winning 42% of the counted votes) in free election conducted under international supervision in January 2006. Founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yasin in Gaza in 1987 as an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhoods movement, Hamas concentrated its effort in charitable work, community development, anti-corruption campaign, and religious preaching in Palestinian territories in Gaza strips. Later, Hamas established its military wing known as Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigade (named in memory of a Palestinian Islamic revolutionary killed in 1935 by the British occupation army). Apart from inflicting carnage on Israeli civilian population with suicides bombings, Hamas delivered social services to civilian Palestinian population through its wide network of charities in such areas as education and health in Gaza Strip and West Bank. Its leaders, mostly youthful, had acquired an image of honesty, commitment to the cause, effectiveness, competence, and awareness of what the man and women on the Palestinian street expect or need. Traits which were in short supply in PLO ranks. Following its sweeping victory in January election, one of Hamas leaders, Ismael Haniya, became Prime minister in the Palestinian National Authority, and Hamas member and economic professor from West Bank, Omer Abdal-Razeq, became the economic minister. Overall, Hamas members now occupy the majority of the 24 cabinet positions in the Palestinian National Authority. And at least for a now, the dominant position of PLO amongst Palestinians has been eclipsed by Hamas.

Likewise, SPLM has always been and continues to be the organisation of choice not just for the great majority of South Sudanese, but also for many democratically minded Northern Sudanese as well. Not the least, the vision of the SPLM found resonance amongst the marginalised people of Sudan in Nuba Mountains, South Blue Nile, Darfur, and Eastern Sudan. SPLM survived many splits and divisions, and with the backing of the international community signed a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) with the government of Sudan in January 2005 in Naivasha, Kenya. According to CPA, SPLM enjoys a majority of 70 percent of the government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), legislative Southern Assembly, heads governments of 10 Southern States and more. GOSS has more than US$ 1.00 billion of income from Southern oil revenues and more than US$ 4.0 billion donor' s money for development and and humanitarian relief in the next two years.

By misfortune, SPLM lost its long-time leader, John Garang at a critical time. Salva Kiir, a long-time SPLM deputy leader took the helm of the affairs. And with unsteady start, he recently launched the SPLM vision by promising a more co-ordinated policy, better articulated vision. Yet concerns have been raised about nepotism, tribalism, incompetence, and corrupt practises in the government of South Sudan (GOSS). 16 months have gone after signing the agreement, and 8 months after establishment of GOSS, and still there is hardly any news bulletin for reporting day-to-day government's activities or achievements except through third party media outlets. This is despite the formation of a Ministry of Information, Broadcasting, and TV! One one can ask how much does it cost to set up a government website where those seeking information can turn to, and for access to day to day news? Some government ministers have not been able to even recruit a secretary to organise their diaries, let alone higly qualified civil servants. If we can't do these simple things, then we migh as well forget about high expecation about skyscrapers, high-speed road networks, clean air and water, or what have you. GOSS, a hotchpotch of parties, compromises, rewards, and balancing acts, is a sort of a titanic in waiting. When it finally sinks, so will the SPLM - the PLO of Southern Sudan.

While one may agree that PLO might have done great things for the Palestinians, it is possible that it might has ran out of steam. The same could apply to SPLM historical leadership and many veterans of Southern liberation movement. How far or fast can they run with the task of development? Have they run out of steam? Who will pay the price of incompetence if that turns out to be the case? Don't get me wrong, at 54, Salva Kiir is a relatively "young" leader. But there are so many tired individuals in the GOSS. These individuals (kept as a balancing act) are a bottleneck in the system. The whole system just gets bogged down as many ministers struggle to deliver on the simplest of things. And with GOSS not delivering the goods, SPLM takes most of the blame. No one is advocating for age discrimination, but people must show competence and energy to make things happen. Otherwise, being in the cabinet is a missed opportunity for altenative, and more competence individual to serve. Hence, another poignant question that still impresses itself heavily upon us is: where is the Hamas of Southern Sudan?

In a society where everyone wants to get rich quick through being in the government, organisations ready to fight for principles are hard to come by these days. Our mantra is: find a gang and be a member, and have yourself nominated for a position for the share of power and wealth. Hence, if you hear loud bangs and see dense smoke rising over Southern Sudan, it is all fighting over positions, positions, and positions. It is not a war over principles and constructive policies and no one is ready to wait or invest in the grassroots for future political gains that can lead to achieving a Party's political vision like Hamas did.

And so, while we continue to whine and complain about the ineffectiveness of SPLM leadership in GOSS, we will have to wait for a long time before an Hamas appears in the horizon.