Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Economic Consequences of Peace in South Sudan

By John A. Akec

South Sudan owes its recent peace agreement to the mediation endeavors by the African countries. Particularly, to efforts of Ethiopian, Ugandan, South African, Tanzanian, and Kenyan governments; as well as to the support and persistent pressure from global political and economic powers through the UN Security Council. Specifically, United States, Britain, Norway, China, Japan, and Russia, among other players.

The epitome of these relentless efforts was the formation of the long-awaited transitional government of national unity (TGNU) on 28 April 2016. That is, the expected baby of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS) was finally delivered: safe and well. Everyone who was involved in the antenatal care - from the doctors to nurses to midwives, could breathe a sigh of relief. Until now.

Ironically enough, as of last week, the concern of the peace monitors and former mediators and their powerful backers in the West was to push for implementation of what has remained of the clauses in the peace agreement: completion of the redeployment of all troops out of Juba, fine-tuning of the security arrangements, the scrapping of the newly instituted 28 states, and so on.

It is ironic because no one seems to realize that for this ‘baby’ to survive, it needs to be cuddled, wrapped up nicely, and fed. Otherwise, it will soon catch cold and other nasty childhood ailments and die prematurely. And that means everyone who has invested in South Sudan’s peace will be a loser. What’s more, everyone who has pinned their hopes on it will be thoroughly disappointed. And disappointed, many already are.

And way from this rather teasing baby metaphor, all parties to ARCISS - ranging from mediators, to monitors, to political parties, and ending with our political backers from global north and south should be equally, if not more concerned with the delivery of services to the citizens by the new government, resuscitating the war-ravaged and cash-strapped South Sudan’s economy (a situation which has been aggravated by the collapse of oil prices in global market), and improving the capacity of law enforcement agencies to fight organized crime.

And as of the time of writing of this article, the employees of public institutions across the nation are completing their third month in a row without receiving their wages. The great majority of them are well informed about the challenges their government is facing in terms of insufficient financial resources for meeting its obligation. They are patient for now but none can be sure of when they will reach the end of their tether. In fact, many informed citizens have already begun to doubt the seriousness of the US, Britain, Norway, and European Union countries to assist financially in South Sudan’s transition to sustainable peace so long as they continue to put demands after demands on the parties to the peace agreement, while paying no attention to the deteriorating economic situation in the country.
Many a citizen make no secret about their fears that the real interest of these powers is to ensure a regime change in Juba at all cost: irrespective of whether or not the country descends into chaos or sink in blood bath of the scale being witnessed today in Somalia, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq. That these citizens may be right in their assessment is troubling, to say the least.

A Western friend recently commented about this situation saying: “The US, UK, Norway, and other peace partners should financially reward the parties to the agreement for progress that has already been made to implement the agreement before insisting that what has remained of the clauses or contentious matters in the agreement be dealt with.” And I do concur with him.

It is not unreasonable to defend the viewpoint that the new government of national unity deserves to be supported with a good financial package by the peace partners in form of budget support so that it is able to pay salaries and deliver on other vital services such as overcoming the current fuel shortages. At least in short to medium terms while it is encouraged to embark on fiscal and monetary policy reforms, among other transformational agendas needed for sustainable peace and prosperity.

The current indifference and insensitivity by those concerned with the implementation of the peace agreement to the dangers posed by the worsening economic situation to the nascent government of national unity is a serious mistake which needs to be redressed. The sooner the better.

On the other hand, the parties participating in the national unity government should take it on themselves the responsibility of articulating clearly the challenges they face, what their priorities are, and how best peace partners can assist.

In other words, the government should not shy away from asking for financial assistance to use in budget support, in addition to using some of the funding to improve economic infrastructure and building human capital. Moreover, it needs to move fast to improve the economy and create jobs for thousands of unemployed South Sudanese university graduates, and tens of thousands former child soldiers and demobilized combatants.

Furthermore, the government of national unity should begin to move the country away from the crippling dependence on oil revenue and get to grips with collecting taxes as the mainstay of government’s financing of public expenditures. Floating the exchange rate in December last year was a step in the right direction. The next big fiscal reform agenda should be to overhaul tax administration and increase tax rates across the board. Without improving our ability to collect sufficient taxes to fund development and service provision, we as people of South Sudan will be struggling for a long time to come to build a safe, stable, and prosperous country.

And while it is important to be assisted by friends and partners in the global community, it is equally pertinent that we as a people be seen trying our hardest to help ourselves. By demonstrating that we take our own prosperity seriously (doing the needful), we make everyone with interest in our affairs take us seriously.

And to be sure, a stable and prosperous South Sudan is an added value to the economies of region, the African continent, and the world.