South Sudan’s Reforms Lost in Translation

By: Justin Ambago Ramba

August 21, 2013 (SSNA) — South Sudanese will have to take some time out, to come to terms with their attitudes towards issues pertaining to the transition and development of their nascent country. 

Too often our people have remained so much imprisoned in the war mentality. However to say the least, it is being both arrogant and ignorant if we cannot see the logic of adopting a different mindset needed for the promotion of  peaceful coexistence and prosperity  for our people, who have lived all their lives in ignorance,  insecurity, poverty and disease.

On the whole we need to be conscious that it is now over eight years since the war ended.  But we as a nation have collectively failed to apprehend the basic fact that there exists a great difference between fighting a war and building a country.

This observation shouldn’t be taken lightly, because unless we get it right and change the way we handle national issues and the basic rights of our citizens, it won’t be very long before we bring about our own peril and risk our country becoming even a worse place than it was ever before.

Many genuine voices have consistently and over the years drawn the attention of the president to trim down what was an unnecessarily huge post-independence government. Unfortunately he went with the idea of rewarding his cronies and thus created for them endless list of highly paid government positions at the expense of basic services.

On many occasions, he has clearly overdone it. Look at the excessively huge post-independence government with a fleet of first ministers and their deputies, and the equally unnecessary Council of States. Does South Sudan really need all these when its population is barely 8.5 million?

For the majority of poor people living in the villages and the rural hinterlands, even when others were enjoying the new found Oil wealth in Juba and the state capitals, life had never ever changed for them even at peace time, thanks to the directionless Kiir.

And because of his visionless leadership, ironically independence only began yet another serious cycle of hardship for many as it became increasingly difficult for the poor men and women in the villages, the cattle camps and the IDPs camps to get food, clean drinking water or medicine.

Completely carried away by the euphoria of the new found sovereignty, President Kiir and his aides only became concerned of the realities when he [Kiir] dared to shut down the Oil production in January 2012. Thereafter with every day the government coffers started to run dry, and the austerity measures, though hardly any at the top, begun also to bite.

At this time the popular calls for reforms got louder and more in favour a slim government of technocrats.

Yet all that the president and his cabinet of theoreticians did was some empty talks about alternate sources of revenues, which were not new to South Sudan. What is new, is how these new liberators instead of remitting the revenues to the government chest, they are pocketing it.

So one can say that ever since the people have requested for real political reforms that could put the country on the right footing. They wanted a slim cabinet, while the leadership opted for the opposite.

This is the same leadership that today, two years after squeezing the hell out of the people, has found itself forced to accept a slim cabinet, albeit for a different reason.

A very important point to stress here is that, it is important that our people keep a vigilant eye on the leadership. We should not allow ourselves to be fooled when certain policies are implemented only in the spirit of keeping a particular figure in office, while in the long run it will be the people to pay the price.

It is true that over the last three years the people of South Sudan, after having become disillusioned with the successive Government of South Sudan (GoSS) – aka Government of Self Service cabinets, they did call for a slim government of technocrats.

Notwithstanding the fact that there were indeed popular calls for technocrats to lead the ministries, but we need to remember that, these calls were prompted by the prevailing chaotic situation in South Sudan where as of late everyone has become a politician. And knowledgeable or not everyone is also being considered for ministerial positions by the current visionless leadership.

Talking about technocrats we mean individuals not only highly qualified in their areas of expertise, but also have had several years of working experience in that particular field – or ministry. These should have been the criteria for appointing ministers in any cabinet of technocrats.

However the pressure to become a minister at the expense of educational qualifications, experience and know how has become too high in our country and all sorts of people have looked up for these political positions. Yet it is the conviction of the few reasonable people that at this stage of our development, the country can do better under the leadership of technocrats.

Do we need anyone to tell us that it took a lot of time, money and technical expertise to construct all those buildings which are currently accommodating our government ministries and departments in Juba, while it will only take a few rockets to turn them into rubbles and in no time?

Anyone can carry out the destruction, not necessarily the best in the army, but construction isn’t the same thing. This is where having technocrats becomes relevant for constructing our post conflict country. 

On the other hand there were and still are much duplication of roles between the so-called specialized commissions and several of the national ministries.

One thing for certain is that when those ministries and specialized commissions were created in the first place, the SPLM Political Bureau as the decision making body until 2012 was more concerned about distributing ministerial and highly paid jobs among its members, some relatives and cronies as a form of patronage.

Without the least doubt, the current new cabinet is the brain child of president Kiir’s kitchen cabinet, albeit it came slimmer than its predecessor. However it lacks that experienced entrepreneurial touch to make it look, function and relate to one another as a truly technocratic cabinet, by putting the right persons in the right places.

In short many key ministries are still led by people who haven’t any clue of what they are about to engage in. One such example is the Ministry of Environment, which should have been led by an environmental scientist to say the least. How on earth is this Islamist scholar any relevant to this role? 

The same applies to the other ministries like the Ministry of Information; such ministries are now obsolete in the 21st century, as no government has any monopoly on information in this age. However for argument sake, assuming that the leadership’s mindset is still in the 20th century, then the president should have still hired a qualified journalist for this role. This is if we want a cabinet of technocratic experts.   

On the face of it the cabinet is now slim and inclusive and president Kiir will further tell you that this is what the people asked for. But we are not fools fall into that trap when he has only served his ego for power when many of his choices remain at the best of it, characters of great controversy.

President Kiir who has now replaced the peoples’ interest with his own interest, is on a mission to bamboozle us into believing that his personal interest is the same as the state’s interest and vice versa.  Questioning his decision would be to question the very existence of the state itself.

The author is only stating this here for the benefit of some of the readers whose government cabinets are not the products of the “Politics of the Belly”. Otherwise for the large portion of our people, the new minsters included, they already by now know what exactly it is that the president expects of them.

At this point some people may want to register their disapprovals or reservations, but as the train of totalitarianism has long left the station, any other talk should be about how it can be stopped.  For this trend must be stopped before it anchors its roots any deeper into our country, which is a land fertile with tribalism, ignorance and illiteracy.

Nonetheless it was long known that the people will never get what they ask for from president Kiir. Those who lack it can’t give it. But rather as it is the case, our people are now getting what the president wants them to get. Why?  The answer simply is, because this is what the president believes will win him the 2015 elections and see him crowned as RSS’s President for Life!  

At the end what was a popular call for a genuine reform to save the country has now been hijacked to serve the president’s personal interest and guarantee him his calculated victory over anyone who dares to talk of challenging his authorities. This is how South Sudan’s reforms became lost in translation.

Dr. Justin Ambago Ramba can be reached at: [email protected]

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