The Conundrum of Building a New Nation

Does the Contemporary Circumstances in South Sudan Epitomize African’s Post Colonial Period of the 1960’s?

By PaanLuel Wël (Washington DC, USA)

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it—or to put it differently—those who can’t/don’t learn from history are doom to repeat it” by George Santayana.

January 31, 2011 (SSNA) — Across Africa in early 1960s, as it is these days in South Sudan, there was a great euphoria in the air as several former colonies of the Western Imperialism were on the verge of or had already achieved their hard-fought and long-dreamt liberty. Having lived through and bitterly fought the shackle of colonization, there was little doubt in their minds that the dawn of the new era would not only bring political freedom but would also result in the fulfillment their long-denied economic freedom and social prosperity hitherto unseen on the African continent. The victorious accomplishment, and the ultimate envisaged future, was famously portrayed along the line of the Biblical arrival of the ancient Israelites in the Promised Land, following with milk and honey. And to some few visionary freedom fighters like Kwame Nkrumah, the Africans Project—the destiny of their struggles—was nothing short of emulating the founding fathers of the United States of America by proposing to found the United State of Africa that would be strong enough—politically, economically and socially—to keep at bay any future threat from neo-colonizers.

As these newly liberated citizens of African countries were reveling in the midst of their pristine self-determination, just as Southern Sudanese are presently savoring the favorable outcome of a triumphant referendum vote destined to bring about a new country; lurking at the back, however, were a bigger but subtle quandary impedingly awaiting to strike. These cancerous incarnations of colonialism obliviously unveiled themselves in various forms: bad governance, rampant corruption coupled with dictatorship; tribalism and ethnicity; grinding poverty, debilitating diseases and deplorable health conditions; dilapidated public infrastructure and pitiable underdevelopment. And as if to add salt into the injury, the remnants of dying African Civilization were abandoned in the hustle and bustle to embrace alien gods and religions—Christianity and Islam—that culminate in the institutionalization of neo-colonialism on the African continent that remain to these days.

Although the African people were successfully liberated from the draconian manacles of colonialism and formal exploitation from the West, the telling inevitable consequences for Africa, brought about by these new Africa predicaments, judging from the perspective of today ailments wherein Africa is synonymous for untold misery, persistent diseases, chronic hunger and all the disfigurement of this world, was much more than anything imagined by those citizens who were out celebrating the end of colonization.

Unfortunately, in the classic characteristics of most African leaders of that era, of whose those defective genes were faithfully passed down and wholly inherited by the present day leaders, rather than manning up to the crisis and provide plausible and practical resolutions to their failings, they started shopping for scapegoats. Fortunately for the leaders, but devastatingly for the African people and the African continent, those perfect scapegoats were found in the slogans of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism. Characteristically, all problems bedeviling the African countries were explained away and dismissed as mere, but inevitable, ramifications of the combined legacies of slavery, colonization and neo-colonialism. The resounding and immediate response taken was the overwhelming adoption and consolidation of power under dictatorial regimes sustained through tribal politicking. No one even bothered to acknowledge the present of and the responsibility to tackle the incessant problem of poverty that was largely caused by factors generated by appalling leaderships and terrible policies that resulted in the misallocation of scarce resources and rampant corruption leading to widespread unemployment, inaccessibility to basic education and credit facilities for trade and investment, deprived health care facilities and poor farm policy, war and armed conflict etc.

But was it the case that the African leaders of the newly independent countries were utterly helpless in the midst of situations brought about by factors beyond their control—those instigated and imposed on them by outsiders? I think it was not and here is the refutation. The Asian Tigers—China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore—that are the envy of the world today due to the spectacular successes of their respective economies’ blue-prints, were once, in one way or another, subjected to the same fangs of colonialism and imperialism before they fully regained their bona fide independences from the West. Economists estimate that some African countries, Kenya for instance, were more or less economically developed than South Korea or Taiwan in the 1960s. Today, these nations, who were once like the newly independents Africans countries of the 1960s, have caught up with the so called First World countries. How and why they did succeed in spite of their colonial history and insidious neo-colonization during the cold war era is the solemn reminder to most concerned sons and daughters of Africa that the ball is in their court.

Still, the most glaring contradiction about the adverse effect of colonization on African continent is the ironic fact that the last country to shed itself of Western colonization and imperialism—South Africa—epitomizes today the hopes, the aspirations and the leaderships of all African people both within Africa and on the international stage. How on Earth could that be if indeed colonization explains the apparent backwardness of the African continent? Shouldn’t Ghana, the first to attain and harvest the fruit of freedom, have taken the lead, and naturally assumed the leadership South Africa occupies today? Though it would be outlandish to deny the heinous legacies of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonization that, respectively, deprived Africa of its young, energetic productive labor force, depleted African natural resources and still maintain and perpetuate puppet governments in Africa with the sole aim of securing and safeguarding the interests of former colonial masters on the continent; still, the bulk of the tribulations bankrupting Africa of noble ideas to solve and rid itself of all plights it faces squarely lies at the door of the African people themselves. Seen from within, whether those problems lie with the leadership or the general populace, among whom leaders emanate from, is another debate itself.

Be that as it is, assumed that you concur with my assessment to some extent, what lessons, if any, can the new country to be, The Republic of South Sudan, glean and learn from these seemingly total mess and unfortunate package of misfortunes and contradictions? In other words, does the African’s post colonial period of the 1960’s perfectly capture and mirror the current situation in South Sudan? Whether or not, I still do believe there are plenty of lessons, bad or/and good, that South Sudan can collate and take note of from the dispositional conducts, failures and successes (if any) of the then newly independent African countries as it transition, just like her counterparts of the 1960s and 70s, from dominations and repressions into independence and self-determination. These lessons, the bulk of which consist of the DOs and the DON’Ts, by providing a flashback to the trodden past, would act as a guiding post to the present sticky situations South Sudanese would, in no time, find themselves in. It would also be a glimmering gleam into the kind of future the presently constituted political and economic policies of the Government of South Sudan would take her citizen into. Phrase differently, it would assist South Sudanese and their leaders to avoid the mishaps and blunders, but emulate the successes, of the former colonies of Western imperialism as they, in the 1960s and 70s, maneuvered their ways into then uncharted territory and uncertain future.

Among numerous others, here are the few notable lessons that South Sudanese leaders must take note of:

From the outset, the governments of the newly independent Republic of South Sudan must avoid being mired down, afflicted and bedridden by combined forces of grand corruption, bad governance and dictatorialness that never recognize nor tolerate, but actually betray, the very democratic principles they had championed during the liberation struggles spearheaded by the SPLM/A. Were these evils to take root and flourish, corrupt government officials would embezzle, misallocate, mismanage, and pocket government funds and other resources meant for national development. Thus, South Sudan would undoubtedly end up with ruling political leaders, government officials and their political cronyists enriching themselves at the expenses of the mass, subdued and impoverished populations.

Furthermore, the court system, instead of upholding the law and spearheading the fight for justice, would become a government’s branch of and a tool to perpetuate corruption and bad governance by shielding corrupt officials. And as staged and bogus elections would be part and parcel of the political gimmickry, the judiciary would also be used to settle political scores with opponents who challenge the hegemony in power.

Consequently, this officialization of mass corruption, poor governance and dictatorship would lead to few influential and powerful individuals oppressing the majority poor. Thus, it would creates an imbalance in South Sudanese society, leading to poverty, diseases and hungry populace that, out of pent-up grievances, would inevitably end up causing civil unrests and armed conflicts across the country. If civil wars and armed conflicts were to occur, God forbids, it would scare away potential investors—within and outside the country, significantly disrupting economics activities, and rendering warzones economically unproductive and unlivable. This would further increase social and political miseries, leading to more conflicts and poverty. The end result, for the ruling elites, would be the increases in the national headache as a result of the tumultuousness their policies, actions and rulings. Call it the Somalization of the country!

Feeling threatened in their newfound paradise but yet unwilling to give up their crookedness, the leaders of the newly independently South Sudan, just as their African counterparts had done in the past, would dig up the old draconian policy of divide and rule perfected and used against them by their former colonial masters (Europeans and Arabs) to fight, conquer and rule African societies during colonization. Naturally, Africans are made of various tribal groups; some of which have acrimonious past owing to fights picked up over grazing land feuds, cattle rustlings and tribal raiding. Once exploited by the Europeans and the Arabs to divide and rule Africans, the ruling elites in the South Sudan, should they choose impunity as has been done by almost all African leaders, would dust up and entrench the politic of tribalism and ethnicity which would become the springboard for the ruling class to attain, promote and maintain their political survivals. In the words of one African commentator, by abusing African ethnocultural diversity “the oligarchy [would] exploit the notion of ethnicity to retain political power and the status quo. This [would be] effected by leaders of dominant ethnic groups exploiting their members’ lineage of their kinds, for their own selfish interests. In this state, ethnicity is essential for political advancement of the few, to the domination and deprivation of the many.”

The consequences of these official thieveries, bad governances, totalitarianisms, social unrests and armed conflicts, assume our leaders embrace the disastrous footstep of former African leaders, would be immediate and upsetting on the populations of this young country of ours. First would be the absence of any meaningful development within the country, even after several years after gaining independence from Northern oppression. Corruption, poor governance and overwhelming civil wars, the consequences of awful leadership, would sap national resources. Therefore, South Sudan would be dispossessed of vital drivers of economics engines and prosperity. As a result, the country would end up with shambled industries, poor roads and railways systems, pathetic sanitation and water facilities. Schools and health centers would be underfunded and underdeveloped. Still, should we be lucky enough to evade national turmoil of civil wars, these basic rights the citizens are deprived of would become indispensable political tools use during bogus elections seasons marred by tribal politicking.

Through corruption and abhorrent governance, politicians would master the art of lip-service in which they would passionately argue and convincingly urge the poor impoverished citizens to vote for them in return for serviceable roads and railways system, clean water and better social amenities, reliable electricity and telecommunication systems, better schools and health care systems etc. Whereas the constitution would guarantee and accord these basic rights to the citizens, not only would they be disinherited of them; the services would be shamelessly employed as political tools to entice and purchase their votes. And in order for easy long-term manipulations and subjugations, most people would be kept impoverished, illiterate, uninformed, untraveled, clueless, divided and tribalized. Perfected by the Europeans and inherited and harshly used on our people by the Arabs, future leaders of South Sudan, should they decide to go rogue, won’t have hard time figuring out these technique of suppression and coercion.

The proliferation of grinding poverty across the country would be other further dire consequences of afflictions perpetuated by the ruling class of the newly independent country. To successfully end poverty, South Sudan state would require the services of strong institutions, equitable distribution of national resources and an incorruptible government. However, because of corruptions and cronyism, the gap between the rich and the poor would grow wider and wider as the few rich become richer and the numerous poor become poorer and poorer. The disgraceful health care system would mean that there would be acute shortages of family planning units in many rural areas. As population blossom, with little or no resources to support these running away population growths, many would be left to fend for themselves on the streets of many major urban centers such as Juba, Wau, Malakal, Bor, Torit, etc leading to big slums and street children. Gangs, drug abuses, prostitutions and other illicit trades would spring up. And since large parts of South Sudan still rely on outdated traditional tools and archaic methods of subsistence farming, under-utilization of national land across the country would undermine and limit the amount of food available for both domestic consumptions and export. Frequent droughts and seasonal flooding due to changing, unpredictable weather pattern would usually lead to poor yielding and skyrocketing food prices. Hence, poverty would reign prominently and kill abundantly!

Additionally, because of malnutrition and dearth of better equipped health care facilities, diseases such as Malaria, HIV/AIDS and TB would spread and maimed many people. Fuel by poor lifestyle largely based on traditional beliefs and norms, these maladies would deprive families of breadwinners and the national economy of young productive workforce. The resultant spikes in death would leave families in abject poverty, with no schooling for the orphans. Emotional and psychology losses, worsened by the insufficiency of food, would cause more deterioration in health of the remaining family members. National resources would be diverted for treatments, and since diseased citizen are unproductive economically while at the same time draining the resources, economic growth and development would stall. As per capita income decline, poverty set in and the standard of living worsens, leading to uprisings as we are currently witnessing in Tunisia and Egypt.

Is there a way forward (not a way out of this mess since, luckily, we are yet to get entangle in it)? Yes, there is! First we must learn from history by being avid student of its secrets—ugly or marvelous ones! There are two quintessential lessons to note well here: what to avoid and what to emulate. Prevention is better than cure! As speculatively expounded on above, all infirmities and detriments brought about by corruptions, bad governance and tribalism, among others, must be avoided like leprosy. Secondly, successes, whether from African countries—South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda, Botswana etc; from the Asian Tigers—Singapore, South Korea, China, Japan etc or even from our former colonial masters—the West, must be diligently sought out and emulated. No nation is an island. All recorded successes in history were built on available knowledge and technologies before they were expanded and innovated on.

However, this task calls for visionary and ideologically motivated leadership lest it would just be but a mere wishful thinking. Lack of political, social or economic ideology among the ruling elites that guide and direct their policies would mean that they would stand for nothing and can therefore fall for anything: shorted sightedness, self-delusion and political expediency. Politically, the government of South Sudan must guarantee the protection and promotion of basic rights—freedom of speech, personal liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Economically, a well thought out, meaningful balance must be struck between social and economic equality, on the one hand, and free market economy, on the other hand, in which the gap between the few rich and the majority poor is not outrageous. The ills of corruption and dictatorship inhibit economic and political freedom. And when the channel of expression is block, people’s imagination, abilities, talents, and creativeness are forfeited and the marvelous inventions that propel and keep the West on the center of world power are tragically foregone and sacrificed on the altars of egos of few selfish and visionless leaders intoxicated in the poisonous and addictive perfumed of power and self indulgency.

Moreover, as far as outward opportunities are concern, the newly free South Sudan, by adopting effective economic ideology, must make use of the ample labor force, subsidies and appropriate tax incentives, export promotions, increased free access to all land, and the use of tariffs to stimulate the growth of industries. It should also, as one African commentator captured it so well, effectively utilized her cheap labor force as a competitive advantage, focusing on industries or niche markets in which they can excel and as a result increase their exports to the developed world, thereby generating much needed foreign exchange with which to purchase imports and other essential not produced within the country. With unselfish and patriotic leaders in power whose sole goal are not only to rule, plunder and intellectually oppressed the people, South Sudan will definitely make it into the bright future envisaged by the freedom fighters and the general laypeople celebrating the triumphant voting process and the release of the preliminary results of the referendum today which show that over 99%, across South Sudan, are in favor of secession.

As a final end-note, this call is especially so compelling and urgent not least because, as George Santayana, a Spanish born American philosopher, once quipped, “Only those who don’t learn from history are doom to repeat it.” I think, as highly inconceivable as it may sound to you, that it is self evident and certain that we are not doom not to remember and learn from history, are we? You bet!

Mr PaanLuel Wël can be reached at [email protected] or through his blog:

Previous Post
The new nation should retain the name “South Sudan”!
Next Post
South Sudan Needs an Inclusive Constitution Review Commission

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.