Non-Odious Debts and South Sudan Independence Challenge

By Dr James Okuk

October 3, 2010 (SSNA) — This article is a critique of an excellent article written by James Alic Garang on September 27, 2010, titled “Odious Debts: The Sole Reason to Renege Repayment upon Secession,” and on a projection on the fate of South Sudan economy when the independence becomes the order of the days at the end-road of the full implementation of the Comprehensive peace Agreement (CPA). But Garang’s article failed to ask and answer an important question: what was the motive of what he categorized as the “odious debts” of the Sudan, which is almost becoming a stumbling block on post-referendum negotiations in preparation for South Sudan Independence after 2011?

Recalling the visit to Juba in the first week of September 2010 of the World Bank Vice President for Africa Region, Ms Obiageli Oby Ezekwesili, I have resorted to a position of supporting the issue of the discussed debts without shipping in extremism. It may look un-strategic to tell Khartoum and the North that Juba and the South shall have nothing to do with them once South Sudan becomes independent on 9th January 2011 if the CPA flight managed to land well on a smooth ground. The above-mentioned mentioned former Nigerian Minister – the lady who exactly looks like a gentlemen on the face – affirmed to government authorities in Juba that the World Bank will speed up membership for South Sudan in that international monetary management institution with quick relieve of its debts once the acclaimed independence becomes reality on the ground recognizable worldwide.

Now, given this assurance, should we not play the game in a cool manner and by avoiding extremism of total rejection of the debts share with Northerners? If the World Bank has promised South Sudan to this extent, should it not look wise not to worry about the debts anymore since they are going to be swiftly erased? Should the SPLM not accept willingly and quickly the share of the debts from the North since it will end up as no-debts once South Sudan becomes an independent state? Should we not worry much of the first things first; i.e., how to achieve our independence which is already a granted condition for relieving our part of international debts, be they odious or non-odious? I think the issue of debts comes second to our quest for independence and there is no need to complicate this with refusal to repay the said part of the debts share. With no much doubt, the rejection might hinder the independence of South Sudan. Again, it is strategically crucial to know our priorities, sine qua non.

Even if we accept Garang’s argument that the money the Sudan is indebted with was used to harm Southerners, it will also be true that a critical question might be raised: had not the people of Southern Sudan rebelled against the Sudan Government, there wouldn’t have been any need to borrow huge money internationally to buy arms and other military necessities of conducting the war against the rebels so that they don’t overrun the government by capturing towns and forming a parallel government of their own in the same country. In other words, it could be argued that the war in the Sudan has never been a one-sided affair otherwise there wouldn’t be anything called clash, conflict or devastation at all in Southern Sudan.

Brother Garang allegory of "an itchy-fingered, rich and adversarial younger brother who stole some cows from the neighboring cattle camp", is a bit problematic with one-sidedness of the issue because he didn’t bother to ask: why did this "rich adversarial younger brother" chose to go out and steal some cows from the neighbor? Remember the philosophical wisdom that says "everything even the chance itself have a reason for being". Our rebellion in the South cannot be denied as part of the reasons for our "rich and adversarial younger brother" in the North to get those debts, right?

Thus, metaphorically speaking too, and with acknowledgement that the North had stolen the cows, yet it should not be the only one alone to pay the consequences of stealing those cows because the South was part of the motive for stealing; the rebellion and the duty of government to contain it. Have it not been argued that the GoSS has the right to deal with any rebellion in Southern Sudan because it is its duty as a government to protect the land and the people within its jurisdiction? If the GoSS can buy heavy arms for the SPLA and police forces for this purpose, should we disown them in future for having borrowed money for the purpose of dealings with the rebels or invaders of South Sudan? Was it not the threats from those rebels and invaders that became the motive of spending huge amount of public monies (including borrowing) on these arms for the sky the land and the water? Surely, it was, and the rebels should not escape the responsibility of repaying the debts when they happened to reach peace deal with the government and become part of government or the whole of it.

It is never strange that the issue of international debts is not an issue of justice, par excellence, because after all there is no fairness in the Algebraic calculus of accumulating the debts by adding constant interest rate, which is so highly killing than the debts itself. The suffering we are encountering now cannot be ruled out as the result of greed of the Western systems of banking and loans. So, let us accept these international imposed debts on us willingly in order to secure our independence first, and nothing else but the first things first.

Debts Are Non-Odious if:

(1). They were borrowed for reasons though without improving the living conditions of those for whom they were borrowed for. Yes, Khartoum can show destruction in Southern Sudan as an outcome of these debts but with a justification that it was for carrying out the government duty of crashing rebellions? Even the US and other Western countries have gone as far as Afghanistan and Iraq to shun the terrorist’s threats to their governments and nations at home. That is why the Bush’s wars have been inherited by the successor and are now called Obama’s wars.

(2). They were borrowed on behalf of people who cannot be asked for consent since they (these people) didn’t recognize the government that ruled their country. In other words, they are debts created in the interest of the state even if it is a regime’s state. It is not the National Islamic Front (NIF)’s regime— which incurred have incurred alone the said debts because the civil war in the Sudan started long before they took over the government of the county; they must not shoulder all these debts.

(3). The creditors willingly made deals with the corrupt and anti-civilian government but on a basis that they are a government, anyhow. They lent to the governments of the Sudan even though they knew the nature of the regimes because, after all, they were governments with attorney powers to act in the name of the people, in ruling a country with embassies run by Ambassadors and diplomats from other countries.

This approach, though non-radical, is new. No country did it before even the Latin American countries that intentionally defaulted many of their debts in 1990s but have remained fragile to the date, except Brazil, Argentine, Chile and Mexico. The so-called Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) initiative came out of the need for debt relief but with strings to keep the old colonial masters on the high table at UN and other international arenas. Quite a number of Sub-Saharan African countries are beneficiaries of this program today but on condition of keeping the feet-licking of the colonial masters. At the moment, the Sudan is not part of the HIPC but South Sudan might speedily becomes one, given what the World Bank have promised in Juba this year. Even the African Development Bank, the regional leading lender on the continent now, does not lend to the Sudan but gives aid in the form of Multi-Donor Trust Fund (MDTF) with intention of launching the lending scheme in future. After all the banking system of this so-called African bank is never African but Western and unfair as well.

Yes the Sudan’s debts owed to international lenders are close to US$ 38 billion, one third of which is interest rate. No doubt, Khartoum shall have its way and Juba shall take half with Southern Sudan walking out of negotiation table with US$ 19 billion of debts. In 2010, Southern Sudan public sector budget was $ 2 billion. “Assume this budget figure remains constant for the next five years. Expressing the external debt as percentage of the annual budget, we arrive at 950%. This literally means, for every one dollar Southern Sudan government budgets for its day-to-day operations, it approximately owes ten dollars to its creditors." Very bad!!!

But here you can see how the so-called world’s money lenders are very oppressive to the poor nations even when they acknowledge the high level of poverty in those countries. They lend much money in order to take away the little that those poor nations have in hands. I think Osama Bin-Laden and his Al-Qaeda followers have the right to become terrorists to the West and their oppressive financial and economic systems to the point of bombing the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City on September 11, 2001 if what President Ahmedinejad of Iran said at the UN General Assembly in September 2010 was not correct.

In conclusion, Southern Sudan will not be abusing the doctrine of non-odious debts. We have every proof to show the debts had served to protect the government and the land of the Sudan and some of its people who did not take up arms against Khartoum and its successive regimes. The creditors were aware of this. Thus, the South should accept to take some debts from Khartoum, and should later lobby hard to get the grant of the World Bank promise during the visit of the Vice President for Africa Region to Juba, because such debts were not odious in the first place as there is a reason to build a new nation on the mountain of debts created out of rebellions. Working to relieve these debts on our part is the surest way to alleviate the external debt burden on the new nation to be born. After all there is no creditworthiness in those debts because the creditors can never be fair even when the indebtors become the IMF darlings with white rose. The Bretton Woods’ system of monetary managements has not been yet liberated from neo-colonialism tendencies in international economic sector, and we have nothing to do now but to accept being the perpetual prey of these predators.

Dr James Okuk is reachable at [email protected]

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