By James Manyiel Mayen
September 3, 2014 (SSNA) — Prior to the demise of John Garang, the then leader of SPLM/A, ‘the take town to people model’ was popularly marketed as both the SPLM’s signature policy as well as a political platform. Its conception and championing was underpinned by understanding that civilians, particularly those in rural areas had played pivotal patriotic roles in the struggles and liberation of the New Sudan. From this perspective, the take town to people as a policy was seen as a reciprocal measure or overdue dividend to be delivered to the rural masses by the system embodying accessibility, equity, social justice and citizen participation.
However, the implementation and the realisation of this important policy has been fiercely rival by many factors including among others the death of Garang followed by subsequent vicious cycle of rebellion, further compounded by rampant corruption. All these phenomena have provided Kirr’s government a pretext to justify a deferral or an indefinite shelving of take town to people policy. This article therefore, wish to resurrect a take town to people policy’s debate, with quest for a support for NGOs to take a more active role in the debate about the disappearance of take town to people policy from government’s vocabularies. However, before I embark on discussing about the role the civil society should play in this debate, I firstly wish to shed a light on the architect of “take town to people vision”. People who knew Garang well described him as a military strategist, a charismatic and a visionary leader.
The assertion of Garang being a visionary leader was strongly echoed by many including his wife in her eulogy after he perished in the mysteries plane crash in July 2005. Nyandeng metaphorically told the grieving mourners that her “husband was not dead, but will surly die if the vision for which he had fought for in decades is not fully implemented”. Nyandeng’s statement implied that Garang would be symbolically alive if his vision, which encompasses equality, justice and progress, is effectively implemented to the satisfaction of rural peasants of Southern Sudan. Born and bred in a deliberate deprived economic and political part of Sudan, Garang envisioned a society in Sudan, particularly in the South that is free from discrimination, exploitations and injustices. The best way he wanted his vision realised was to create a secular, but a viable and a resilience social, economic and political institutions from periphery that put the needs and aspirations of a common man before the bureaucracy. This model of development is what Garang used to fondly refer to as “take town to people”- it is an ideal of a decentralised democracy in which services are brought closure to citizens and elected representatives selflessly serve their constituencies as servants, but not as masters.
But now that the architect of this policy has gone, where does this policy fit in the now independence Republic of South Sudan? To answer this question, I allow me again to give you a brief background about the current public policy trend in the nation of South Sudan. The current dominant discourse in the public debate in the Republic of South Sudan is about the lack of skilled workforce and resources -all dressed up in the name of ‘infancy’ of the country. This narrative, although fiercely disputed by domestic constituents has nevertheless prevailed and won the hearts and minds of regional and international communities in terms of aid and grant assistance. Accordingly, South Sudan by 2012 was a home to over 144 NGOs and this number excluded the nationally based organizations. The influx of these organizations to South Sudan, I believe was justified on the ground that South Sudan was a new emerging country from protracted decades of civil war and as such it needed everything to do with resource and viable social, political and economic institutions. All these things cannot be achieved without active citizenry, particularly from rural areas and it is here where the NGOs can blend the gospel of ‘take town to people’ with principles of community development such as active participation, bottom-up, ownership, sustainability and empowerment. In the heart of the community development process is a belief that the advancement of the social justice and democracy can only be achieved if the local cultures, resources, knowledge and communities are valued and use as the basis of any policy intervention.
In doing this, the NGOs will need to embark on endeavours, which have potentials of bringing about alternative interventions that are opposed to the current government intervention typified by centralisation, hierarchical, top-down and institutionalised structures of decision making. In that,they will have to create a context that question political and economic status quo by using empowerment, participation and active citizenship as the processes of bringing about a change. This will involve a creation of necessary climate for undertaking programs of economic betterment, based on maximum use of available community resources and local initiatives. Integral to this process is the importance of ‘strengthening institutional capacity at the local level, enhancing social capital and personal networks, and developing of local leadership capacities. The overarching goal here is to have an innovative and participatory community based organizations that are accessible; that empower citizens; that generate income and local job opportunities, and finance community infrastructures and social services.
To achieve this, NGOs would need to have understanding of the local situations, build on the local people’s material resources, creativity, knowledge, and views, strengthen local collective actions, and facilitate a process in which the communities propose and pursue ideas that are organic to them. Once this is done, it will provide humble opportunity for people of South Sudan to begin constructing new lens through which their communities can start assembling their strengths into new combinations, new structures of opportunities, new sources of income and control, and new possibilities for production of power call ‘people’s power’. And in doing so, the NGOs would have not only honoured Garang’s legacy, but also helped local communities in drawing on their locally available resources within their networks of mutual support, reciprocity and trust, and in scoping alternative futures and finding better ways of addressing their conditions- making them active agents in their own destiny.
In summary, NGOs can engage in Take Town to People Policy debate by firstly engaging in strategies that shift control of resources and power to the community level; secondly, at the ideational level, where local communities are empowered to understand their interdependence, mutuality and reciprocity, and finally, at the skills level, where communities become skilled in identifying their needs, articulating their concerns and resolving conflicts. In achieving this, the NGOs would be seen to have not only justified their presence in South Sudan, but government also will have a lesson to learn and local communities too will have a reason to believe that late is better than never.
If you wish to know more about this article or about the author, please don’t hesitate to send your query (s) to James Manyiel, email: [email protected]
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