By Baak Chan Yak in Juba South Sudan
Nation-building has many important aspects. Firstly, it is about building a political entity which corresponds to a given territory, based on some generally accepted rules, norms, and principles, and common citizenship. Secondly, it is also about building institutions that symbolize the political entity – institutions such as a bureaucracy, an economy, the judiciary, Universities, a civil service, and civil society organizations. Above all else, however, nation-building is about building a common sense of purpose, a sense of shared destiny, a collective imagination of belonging.
Nation-building is therefore about building the tangible and intangible threads that hold a political entity together and gives it a sense of purpose. Even in these days of globalization and rapid international flows of people and ideas, having a viable nation remains synonymous with achieving modernity. It is about building the institutions and values which sustain the collective community in these modern times. I shall return to the imperatives of institution-building later in this presentation.
In South Sudan, however, there are some people who represent our national importance by calling us the ‘Rich of Africa’. This is an inscriptive perspective. We are seen as Richest not necessarily because of the quality of our national institutions and values, but simply by virtue of our small population and oil wealth. But in reality, the greatness of a nation has to be earned and is not determined just by the size of its population or the abundance of its natural resources.
China and India have the largest populations in the world, but they are only now rising as important global players. On the other hand, Japan has few natural resources but has long managed to turn itself into a global economic powerhouse.
In today’s world, skills, industriousness, productivity, and competitiveness are the determinant factors of national greatness. Not even the possession of the nuclear bomb is enough to make a nation great without reference to the industriousness and creativity of its citizens. Since the time of Adam Smith, every serious nationalist, and the politician has come to know that the wealth of a nation is not based on the wealth and the opulence of its rulers, but on the productivity and industriousness of its citizenry.
The real question is why has the task of nation-building has been so difficult in South Sudan, and the fruits so patchy, despite our enormous human and natural resources? I suggest that we should look for the answer in three critical areas:
(1) Threats and challenges posed by the environment for nation-building;
(2) The quality of leadership that has confronted these challenges; and
(3) The fragility of political and development institutions.
We need to understand the environment for nation-building in South Sudan, so we can clearly identify our strengths, weaknesses, and core challenges. We also need to evolve a system of leadership selection and accountability which produces the sort of leaders that will confront the challenges of the environment in a way that is beneficial for nation-building. As I have argued at the beginning, nations are a product of the human will and imagination and the institutions that
sustain their collective efforts. Therefore, we must find these resources in ourselves if we are to succeed in building our nation; otherwise, to paraphrase Shakespeare, “default would be not in our styles but in ourselves”.
Challenges before South Sudan Nation-building:
South Sudan faces five main nation-building challenges:
(1) the challenge from our history;
(2) The challenge of socio-economic inequalities;
(3) The challenges of an appropriate constitutional settlement;
(4) The challenges of building institutions for democracy and development; and
(5) The challenge of leadership. In our quest for nation-building, we have recorded some successes, such as keeping the country together in the face of many challenges. But these challenges continue to keep us from achieving our full potential. It is to these challenges that I
devote the rest of my presentation.
The Challenge of History
The historical legacies of colonial rule create some challenges for nation-building in Sudan. Colonial rule divided Sudan into North and South with different land tenure systems, local government administration, educational systems, and judicial systems. While large British colonies like India and Egypt had a single administrative system, Sudan had two, one for the North and one for the South. It was almost as if these were two separate countries, held together only by a shared currency and transportation system.
Many members of the Sudanese elite class in the 1950s and 1960s had their education and world outlook molded by the regional institutions. Some had little or no understanding of their neighboring regions. Under these conditions, it was easy for prejudice and fear to thrive.
During the period of the decolonization struggle, Sudanese nationalists from different regions fought each other as much as they fought the British colonialists. Sudan never had a central rallying figure like Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana or Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Instead, each region threw up its own champions.
From this historical legacy, therefore, regionalism has been a major challenge to nation-building in Sudan. To their credit, however, the founding fathers of our nation tried to deal with this challenge byadopting federalism and advocating a policy of unity-in-diversity.
Unfortunately, the lack of consolidation of Sudanese federalism around commonly shared values and positions means that this challenge of disruptive historical legacy continues to undermine our efforts at nation-building. One current manifestation of this historical legacy is the division between ‘indigenes’ and ‘settlers’.This division has been a source of domestic tension and undermined our efforts at creating common nationhood. While we should learn from history so as not to repeat its mistakes, we must never see ourselves simply as victims of our history; it is our responsibility to overcome the challenges posed by our history.
The Challenge of Socio-Economic Inequalities
An important aspect of nation-building is the building of common citizenship. But how can we have common citizenship when the person in Does Equatoria has a radically different quality of life from the person in Bhar el Ghazal? Or when the woman in Apuk is more likely to die in childbirth than the woman in Yei? Through the development of the economy and equal opportunities for all, or through the development of social welfare safety nets, mature nations try to establish a base-line of social and economic rights that all members of the national community must enjoy. Not to enjoy these socio-economic rights means that the people involved are marginalized from national life. That is why in many Western European countries, contemporary nation-building is about preventing ‘social exclusion’ or the exclusion of significant segments of the population from enjoying basic social and economic rights.
In South Sudan, however, not only are many of our citizens denied basic rights such as the right to education and health, but there is also serious variation in the enjoyment of these rights across the country. As a consequence, the citizen is not motivated to support the state and society, because he or she does not feel that society is adequately concerned about their welfare.
Secondly socioeconomic inequalities across the country fuel fears and the suspicion which keeps our people divided. These inequalities pose two related challenges to nation-building.
Firstly, high levels of socio-economic inequalities mean that different south Sudanese live in different parts of the country.
Your chances of surviving child-birth, of surviving childhood, of receiving education and skills, all vary across the country. If different parts of South Sudan were separate countries, some parts will be middle-income countries, while others will be poorer than the poorest countries in the world. Common nationhood cannot be achieved while citizens are living such parallel lives. Inequalities are a threat to a common citizenship.
Secondly, even in those parts of the country that are relatively better off, the level of social provision and protection is still low by world standards. The 20% that are poor and unemployed in the same State are still excluded from common citizenship benefits. We, therefore, need a Social Contract between the people on the one hand, and the state and nation on the other. The state and nation must put meeting the needs of the disadvantaged as a key objective of public
policy. Such an approach can make possible a common experience of life by South Sudanese living in different parts of the country and elicit their commitment to the nation.
Instead of resorting to the divisive politics of indigene against settlers as a means of accessing resources, a generalized commitment to social citizenship will create a civic structure of rights that will unite people around shared rights and goals.
Poverty and nation-building are strange bedfellows, whether the poor are 20% or 85% of the population. A largely marginalized citizenry, increasingly crippled by poverty and the lack of basic needs, can hardly be expected to play its proper role in the development of the nation. Nations are built by healthy and skilled citizens. On grounds of both equity and efficiency, we need to promote the access of the bulk of the South Sudanese population to basic education, health, and housing. South Sudan needs a social contract with its citizens as a basis for demanding their loyalty and support.
Nations are built by men and women who have the will and vision to accomplish greatness, not for them alone or their immediate families and friends, but for their country. I believe that if we can find the will to offer such leadership, and support it by strong and dependable political and economic institutions, we will find a way to our national greatness in South Sudan.
May God Bless South Sudan.
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