Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Scenes from Southern Sudan

Sunset In Juba
A glorious scene along the river nile in Juba, Sudan. (circa 8/2006)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Why we remain terminally poor in Africa!!!

I just read this very insightful article by Tim Hartford of the Economist. He dispassionately looked with a clear eye to the structural reasons that make upward mobility of many countries in Africa an almost impossible task. I could not help marvel at how endemic and typical the underlying problems he encountered in Cameroon are to the rest of our chronically poor countries in Africa.

Like many good articles, I found myself seeing how obvious are the root problems he diagnoses, and how the analysis of the baffling behavior of some of our leaders and institutions in Africa can sometimes be made easier when we dispense with the assumption that they are either unrepentant villains or purely incompetent idiots.

In the context of Sudan, and especially our emerging autonomous region of South Sudan, the potential for devastating duplication of what happened in countless African nations is very stark. While we are not a state per se, our government institutions are being tasked with mandates and resources that will certainly dwarf those at the disposal of many other countries. The problems of non-existing institution to regulate the nexus of interaction between and among the citizenry are in my opinion more destructive in the long run than our present day immediate political concerns.

It is prudent to assume that our future viability as a peaceful and stable state with-in or with-out Sudan will depend to a great extent on what happens in terms of cementing a working community of laws and responsibilities in this interim period. While the self determination vote is a precious prize that was acquired with the blood and sweat of many patriots, it should be seen as one achieved objective among many other equally important aspirations. . We should resist the mindset that our long bout of misery and marginalization will sunset with the conclusion of the Self-determination vote. The problem with that singular obsession is that it diverts considerable focus from the equally important task of building institutions and laying a solid foundation for a real society with strong governmental and civil institutions. It is also unhealthy in the current climate because it overstates the importance of whatever machinations are unleashed by the ruling party in Khartoum, and unwisely discounts whatever immediate roles we should be doing in the South and the three areas to chart a different course for our people and their future.

We should be more ambitious in a sense, to not only work to redistribute the country's wealth and power as stipulated in the CPA, but to also concurrently work to lay a stronger foundation for a more functioning state in the future if the vote is conclusively for separation. These are obvious prescriptions, and are only mentioned here for emphasis purposes because both the SPLM and the GOSS government have enumerated them many times in documents and strategy papers.

The fear is that we will be satisfied with a self determination vote coming up, and devote all our precious energies to safeguarding that while we mortgage the task of building the state into the future after the referendum. Other than the critical safeguarding of the agreement, our government is placing deservedly important focus on upgrading the physical infrastructure in the South. However, I would hope that we also place as much emphasis and allocate the relevant resources to the equally important priorities such as the judiciary, local civil administration, gender and social welfare, war widows and orphans etc. I believe we should resist the temptation to devote a disproportionate share of our oil and donated monies to buildings and urban structures in the towns, and neglect the country-side and the less affluent and educated sectors of our society.

We have a unique chance to avoid the class and social cleavages that are plaguing many countries in Africa because we are essentially starting from scratch and can at least strive to get it half right. The problems of tribalism and sectionalism deserve a more systematic approach that will address the underlying social and economical factors underlying them, and a slow disengagement from the usual practice of courting militias and their leaders. While the pragmatic realities clearly argue for the steps taken by the government to integrate all our warring brothers and sisters under one umbrella, we also need to find a more lasting prescription to reconcile all our people.