Tuesday, April 06, 2010

South Sudan presidential candidates’ manifestos and the economy

By John A. Akec

Over the last few weeks, I watched South Sudan Presidential candidates Salva Kiir Mayardit and Lam Akol Ajawin fighting back to back in the Citizen newspaper. I mean, their campaign teams have been hiring the back and front pages of the paper in order to divulge the content of their electoral manifestos. Lam Akol campaign advert occupies most of the front page, while Kiir Mayardit’s team hired the back page. This exercise in itself contributes positively to advancing the cause of democracy in South Sudan. Yes, change or reelection ought to be through the ballot as opposed to bullet.

Our two candidates are promising voters all kinds of agendas. For example, Salva Kiir, the incumbent president of government of South Sudan, is asking to be elected for good governance, reconciliation, freedom of expression and association, fighting corruption, national security and stability, empowerment of women, teachers’ training and universal education for all, reduction of infant mortality rate, commitment to the right of self-determination, promotion of traditional authority, promotion of multicultural, ethnically and religiously diverse society.

On the other hand, Lam Akol, Kiir’s sole challenger, is promising good governance, capacity building and transformation of SPLA into a professional army, reform of civil service, fighting corruption, modernization of agriculture, fighting the encroachment of desert by planting of trees, South-South reconciliation, protection of human rights, and adoption of sound economic policies, among others.

It has to be noted that what our presidential candidates are advocating for can be classified as general stuff. Much of it is common and there is little by the way of differentiation. In fact South, Sudan is in need of all these things like good governance, freedom of self-expression, security, education, health, food security, and clean water. It is also not surprising that their campaign teams would like to fill their candidates’ wish list with as many politically trendy catch phrases as they can muster.

Yet, shockingly enough, few of what the candidates advocate for would be taken seriously by the voters in South Sudan where literacy is only 15% compared to 65% in North Sudan. In other words, how nice their manifestos look, is unlikely to significantly impact on who will be voted in or who will be voted out. These things are more or less pre decided by other factors that bear tenuous relationship to election manifesto.

This bitter truth was echoed yesterday by Professor Hassan Maki, the renowned Sudanese political analyst and Vice Chancellor of African International University (based in Khartoum). In an interview with El Sahafa newspaper (a leading independent Sudan’s daily) on Sunday (4 April 2010), Prof. Maki commented on the insignificance of political manifesto as the determinant of voting a candidate into office in Sudan, and I quote:

“There is little weight attached to political manifesto in this election. It is all about sectarian, tribal, and racial tussles. In essence, what we describe as political manifesto is really comprised of 20% candidate’s charisma, 20% candidate’s tribal weight, 20% candidate’s financial muscle, and 15% due to the weight of the political party behind the candidate.”

That being the case, we still insist that election ought to be a battle ground for various visions that are intent to positively impact people’s quality of life by directing spending in targeted programmes such as education, health, and security.

One area of great interest to any nation is economy. Without good economic policies, all these promises will come to nothing. It is essentially about how to allocate scarce national resources to produce goods and services which people need. And also to create, spend, keep, and distribute national income in most optimal and satisfactory way.

Reading Salva Kiir’s campaign website, one notes that he promises to: “work to stimulate economic growth and create jobs; use oil revenues to fuel and develop agriculture as the main engine of development, as oil is a finite and non-renewable resource; transform subsistence economy into efficient, self-reliant economy; develop small and medium size industries through domestic and direct foreign investment; create opportunities for equal participation in trade, giving priority to the socially and economically disadvantaged groups in society such as youth, women and ex-combatants; provide an enabling environment for the Private Sector to flourish as a prime driver for job and wealth creation etc…“

On the economy, Lam Akol promised among other things to ensure just distribution of national income, creation of self-reliant economy, adoption of stringent fiscal and structural policies, control of government expenditure, control and auditing of public finances, exploitation of animal and fish resources, protection of wild life, opening of export markets, encouraging planting of trees, revision of banking polices, introduction of mechanized agriculture, rehabilitation old factories, and creating of new ones based the raw materials available in the locality.

It is all about economy and what needs doing. However, in my opinion, none of the presidential candidates has really diagnosed where they should concentrate their efforts. Yes, stamping out corruption will contribute to the improvement of economic performance. So far, this has been one of the hardest nuts to crack. An important issue that the next president would need to address would be to close the many loopholes in South Sudan economy that are responsible for massive unemployment and loss of our national wealth to neigbhouring countries.

One important area of economy that merits greatest attention is empowering local entrepreneurs who are loosing the market to foreigners (mainly Kenyans, Ugandans, Somalis, and Eritreans, and Ethiopians) due to lack of financing and dearth of entrepreneurial skills (which can be taught and cultivated if the government wants to do so). The other is employment of foreign skills in service sector such as catering, restaurants, hotels, and offices. While avoiding outlawing the employment of foreigners in these sectors, there ought to be policies in place to regulate the process of taking on foreign workers, while ensuring that local citizens have priority in employment.

For instance, foreign businesses housed in South Sudan must be asked to train and employ certain percentage (say 60%) of South Sudanese and to raise the level to 95% in a number of years as condition for granting them operating license. That way, many South Sudanese citizens will find employment, pay taxes, and lift their families out of poverty.

In order to provide skilled workforce to service sector, vocational education should be given great priority so as to make available a workforce with skills in plumbing, electrical wiring, auto mechanics, and construction.

Furthermore, South Sudan needs to start to implement strategies to create its manufacturing industrial base by sending on scholarships something between 50 and 100 bright young people from all over the South to go and train in management, marketing, and manufacturing technologies (in areas such as food processing, chemicals and textiles, plastics, building material, agro-chemicals, poultry, animal production and breeding, and so on). When they come back, they should receive government support to begin establishing our manufacturing base by pairing up with foreign investors.

Last but not least, South Sudan needs to take due dilligence to avoid falling victim to global financial piracy. We need to be aware that the third world countries are currently indebted to developed nations by an staggering sum of US$ 2.5 trillion (where Sudan share is US$ 43 billion). The indebted nations pay some US$ 375 billion annually to service this debt (measured at 2004 rate). This figure far exceeds the budget the indebted countries spend annually on education and health; and ten times the amount of funds received in foreign aid from the developed countries.

Most of these debts were engineered and did not achieve the goal of lifting those nations out of . Instead, it kept them in a system of dependency and bondage to global corporate interests. The would be president of government of South Sudan needs to carefully read John Perkins’ book: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, not to take it literally, but to learn something from it. No tongues in cheeks.


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