Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A People's Sweet Conspiracy!

John A. Akec

A people conspiring?
Such a thing exists!
An angry mob feeling despised,
Powerless and without dignity.
Mountains of wrongs unpunished,
Compounded iniquity.
Countless life lost,
No freedom in sight.
The guard robbing the guarded,
People can't manage a sigh.
Bruised and defaced,
Such has been their lot.
With a thousand kicks and beatings,
Left for dead!
Curved and bent,
Such has been their yoke.
Retreating for ever
A people in flight.
Crying in anguish,
Long has been their night.
But look!
Hands waving,
A sign of awakening!
Lips moving,
Uttering condemnation:
of Mountains of wrongs,
and Compounded iniquity.
Lips moving,
Singing songs
of Freedom,
There begins the march,
To dream land.
Where they own:
Masters of their destiny
Hasten O days,
of People's sweet conspiracy!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

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.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Flashback: What's New in Era of Choice?

By John A. Akec

Today, I looked with fresh mind at this article written more tha 3 years ago (and reposted below). I was in Diaspora then when I wrote it (very idealistic, even divorced from reality, perhaps). Or better, probably playing the role of an intellectual as a "creative liar" to borrow from Prof. Abdallah Ali Ibrahim of the Citizen newspaper.

There has been lots of reference to tea-man in my article. Yet, to my great shock now in retrospect, not a single reference to "tea-woman" was made. Sorry. For sure, since I got back home more than 2 years ago, I noticed that the "tea business" is dominated by women in both our capitals (Juba and Khartoum) and probably all over the country. The good thing is that they (the women) do offer better choice than the "tea-men" I knew when I was growing up in my native home town, Gogrial, which has been referenced in this article.

Forget about tea-man. This is about politics. Good politics ought to translate to more choice and plenty of life's sustaining needs such as cheap bread, clean water, good schools, and hospital, and freedom from fear of any sort.

Comrades Salva, Pagan, Yasir, and Malik (the list is very long as there are countless unsung heroes behind the scene) did put a fantastic fight against NCP this and last week. They deserve our applauses. We love them dearly, to bits, that is. What excellent fighters we have in them!

I wish Comrade Salva and his comrades can be as well the "good tea-men" or "tea-women" for that matter to give us better choices.

You see, in Britain they say, Labour is the Party of services. Conservatives is the Party of war. That explained why the Labour party lost elections to Churchill’s party, the Conservatives, when Hitler threatened to invade British Isles. Churchill won the war but lost the elections at the end of war. Labour came back to power, thankfully. They deliverd the NHS, the Britih answer to heallth system. Thus give to each according their ability. SPLM is the Party of war. No match.

Where is the party of Services?

I bet the answer lies within us all. Just a quick thought to share. The article below was my full thought on the the issue of choice. Looking forward to your comments.


Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Era of Choice is here!

By John A. Akec

As school boy in my hometown of Gogrial in early seventies, I recall the time when many South Sudanese entrepreneurs had rushed to open up their own restaurants and teashops under small tukuls. The notion of having your own shop was unheard of then. Business was the preserve of Northern traders (or Jalaba). Little did we know that for the vast majority of Northern traders, the tanks in the army barracks gave them security. That situation changed overnight when Addis Ababa agreement was signed in 1972. The army and their tanks withdrew from the South except in large provincial capitals such as Wau, Juba, and Malakal. Even so, the new barracks were a mixture of brown-eared Northerner and blue-eared Southerners. Also, the police force got fully southrenised.

In short, it was a new order- that of freedom, choice, and opportunity. Many Northern traders packed and headed home. A few well-rooted individuals remained behind. It was an opportunity for the long deprived and marginalized Southerners to open their own businesses. Many of them did. Except that many of them not know how to care for their customers.

The brown-eared trader was out. The dark-eared trader was in. When the "tea-man" was asked: why there is too little sugar? Or why is my cup not filled to brim? The answer that frequently came back was: Take it or leave it! But as more teashops opened up, it became extremely easy to switch one tea-man for another. And quickly, our entrepreneurs learned to listen and do as the customer wanted.

A British entrepreneur Richards Branson, founder and majority shareholder in Virgin Trains says: "Customer complaint is a free market research!"Such civility as putting the customer in the driving seat will not come over night. It takes time. It is always a pain for me when I go out eating in London. When thought I have already made my choice of what to eat from the menu, the waiter comes back with more questions before accepting my order as a done deal: do you want it large, medium, or small? Would you like it with hot, medium, or mild chilli sauce? Would you prefer fried rice or boiled rice, white rice or brown rice? Or is it white bread or brown bread? White coffee or black coffee? It is an endless choice. But the secret is that they want to make good business and know that people have different taste.

Choice, and more of it seems to be what defines the last part of last millennium after the defeat of fascism in Europe. Choice is also very much at the heart of this 21st century culture. The right to choose the government we want. The religion we want. The partner we want. The career we want. The life we want. The newspaper we want. The websites we like. The TV and radio channels we enjoy.We need regard the lack of choice in any environment to be an abnormal situation that people in that environment must overcome.

This needs commitment from all. If we all do not believe in free choice, it is inevitable that somebody, somewhere is going to fiddle with the rules of the game in order to create unlevelled playing field.We can learn a great deal from the tea-man that gained customers as well as one that lost.

One thing is clear: you cannot convince people's hearts to part with their money or their votes by being bad or intimidating. You can only win them over by being nice to them. It does not matter what kind of trade you are in. The rule of free choice will still apply, even behind your back.

Aristotle once explained gravity as the tendency of natural objects to settle in state of rest on earth surface. In the like manner, human nature has the tendency to gravitate towards more freedom and more choice. And as long as this law of nature holds, the future belongs to those who want us to have more choice, not less.