By Paan Luel
August 27, 2010 (SSNA) — Among the myriad injustices that compelled us to take up arms against Khartoum’s successively oppressive regimes was the idea that, with political and social liberation from the North, there would be economic liberation for our long impoverished region. Almost six years into the day that SPLM/A triumphantly entered Juba city and five months into the CPA-mandated referendum in the South, nothing much has changed as far as the living standards of Southerners are concerned.
In spite of our partial political and social freedom, which has bestowed upon us, for the first time, the means and the necessary resources to make visible differences amongst our people, the economic condition is still as dire as it was prior to and throughout the war. Abject poverty, dilapidating corruption and nepotism in public offices, poor public infrastructure, weak educational systems, chronic diseases, pathetic health care systems, intensified inter-tribal wars and political rebellions reign in every region of our land. So what has become of our economic liberation? What could possibly explain this absurd abnormality at a time when our own sons and daughters are in charge of our national welfare?
Although there is no simple or single answer to that question, there are, still, many contributing factors that can be postulated as possible causes of our pathetic and gloomy economic condition. Among these are inter-tribal conflicts and political rebellions; weak public schools and poor health care systems; our government’s utter failures to enforce the rule of law; and low rates of saving and investment among the Southerners. All of these have perpetuated the vicious cycle of poverty in the land.
First and foremost, South Sudan has witnessed a consistent number of inter-tribal strife since the advent of the CPA, and the subsequent constitution of GoSS, in 2005. Many reported cases of cattle rustlings by various tribal bandits across Jonglei, Eastern Equatoria, Lake State, Unity and Warrap, among others, are widespread. Moreover, some of these tribally instigated skirmishes were, and are being, fought over land, Upper Nile for instance; while others were motivated by a perceived encroachment of foreigners on ancestral land, as happened in Western and Central Equatoria. As if all of these were not enough, persistent LRA’s attacks and fresh political rebellions spearheaded by contenders of the last general election, George Athor, Gatluak Gai and David Yau Yau, have added fuel to the fire.
For South Sudan, which had just barely emerged out of a long destructive civil war, experiencing such an extended period of violence made it impossible for enough capital to be accumulated and new technologies to be imported and adopted by entrepreneurs and firms. This has made it near difficult for business-minded individuals, firms and government to initiate and conduct any meaningful type of business in order to change the economic situation of the country. Thus, there is general stalemate in economic emancipation.
In addition to the extended period of civil strife and the politically motivated rebellions, South Sudan suffers from the presence of two other major problems: weak public schools and poor health systems. The prominent ingredient in the theory of economic development is that human capital—the accumulated knowledge and skills that workers acquire from education, training or from their life experiences—is a main determining factor of labor productivity. The higher the labor productivity among the workforce of a country, the faster and higher is the economic growth and development of the country, and the brighter is its economic future.
However, South Sudan has a weak public school system to produce such productive labor force. As a result, a large number of people who are unable to read and write could not be useful in economic productivity since they are virtually incapable of obtaining the necessary skills such as the acquisition and application of the latest technology. This means that even if factories, machinery and computers are made available by the government or by a Good Samaritan NGO; in most cases, many of the technical jobs would be taken up by expatriates whose chief driving force for seeking such job opportunities runs contrary to our national economic wellbeing. A barely educated and inadequately trained workforce, like what we got in the South, cannot be the beacon and the backbone of economic transformation in any country.
Coupled with this poor system of education is the prevalence of chronic diseases across the South. Even though many of these pervasive diseases, such as the killer malaria, waterborne diseases and tuberculosis, have long been eradicated or are easily treatable in the developed world, they are still thriving in South Sudan, maiming countless victims yearly. Others such as HIV/AIDS will soon deprive the nation of its workforce, especially the energetic middle age group that is the substratum of our economic growth. This is especially true since the government, which is largely ineffective anyway, lacks the required resources to combat these social maladies by providing medical care for the sick, childhood vaccinations for newborns, or even ample nutrition for the whole population as a preventive measure against malnutrition which causes permanent mental retardation among the young. Poor nutrition, exposure to deadly diseases and an ineffective system of education have led to economic deterioration in the south as an ill-prepared and sick workforce cannot contribute fully to the success of economic liberation.
If communal wars and a poor system of education and health care are to blame for our dismal economic performance during the last five years; so, too, is the utter failure of our Juba based government to enforce the run of law in the land so as to inaugurate, promote and maintain entrepreneurship. In order for our indigenous entrepreneurs and start-ups firms to emerge, open and flourish in the South Sudan economic setting, the rule of law–the ability of a government to enforce the laws of the land and especially with regards to protecting private property and enforcing business contracts–must be guaranteed by the government in Juba. It is only through such execution and observance of the rule of law that private property can be guaranteed and contracts enforced. This, in turn, will signify that entrepreneurs and firms can feel secure in their property and confident enough to embark on new business ventures across the country. This is the prerequisite condition for progressive economic growth and development.
Guaranteeing private property rights and the enforcement of business contracts, however, calls for the establishment of an independent court system to administer the rule of law on the participants of the economic system. Unfortunately, vast parts of our country has no known functioning, independent court system that is effective enough to uphold and enforce the rule of law to make it possible for firms to operate efficiently. The few courts that do exist are mired down in cases of bribery of judges, pronounced inefficiency, wanton corruption, grand mismanagement and political and tribal favoritisms. If entrepreneurs and firms in South Sudan can’t trust the public court system to uphold the rule of law, few will risk starting new businesses or expanding existing ones for fear of losing their private property to economic banditry.
Consequently, economic growth has been hindered in the South by the absence of an effective, functioning independent court system that can guarantee the enforcement of the rule of law. This is why it is the case that developed countries, such as the USA, that have the strongest rule of law, grow more rapidly and much greater than developing countries, such as South Sudan, that have the weakest rule of law.
Lastly, South Sudan seems to be entangled in a situation infamously described by developmental economists as a vicious cycle of poverty. Economic growth and development come about through saving and investment by the citizens of the country in business enterprises. For Southerners to save and invest in businesses, however, they first must secure well paying jobs, meet their basic needs and pay other expenses from their disposable incomes before they can think of saving surplus income for investment in firms.
But the situation in the South is far from that rosy paradise where job opportunities are readily available. Hardly above poverty line, almost no households in the South have enough basic income to make ends meet, let alone to save for business investment. It is these low saving rates in the South that deprive businesses of the funds to make investments in new machinery, factories and equipment that generate economic growth. Lack of funds for business investment leads to economic decline which means that household gross income and saving rates remain low. Hence, there will be no future funds to finance business enterprises which are fundamental to economic growth, and to alleviate poverty. Therefore, the cycle of poverty burgeons and blossoms. This is the vicious cycle of poverty!
To diagnose a cause of a disease, according to our medical experts, is one step toward the long pursuit of seeking full treatment. By now, we must have realized that winning the war against the enemy, that resulted in our political and social liberation, was one step toward full liberation. Now is the right time to ponder over our other heavy yoke which has been bogging us down all these decades: economic emancipation from abject poverty, chronic diseases, notorious ignorance and overall lamentable underdevelopment. For us to win this next fight, we must be cognizance of the fact that we are confronted with cocktails of inter-tribal conflicts, endemic corruption and nepotism, political rebellions, weak public schools, poor health care systems, jarring government failures to enforce the rule of law, and above all, low rates of saving and investment among the Southerners that deny business-minded individuals and firms the needed capital to expand their current enterprises or to finance their new investments. What is the panacea?
Mr Paan Luel, a concerned Sudanese student studying in the United States, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org