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A LEAKING BARREL: Finding an economic foothold.

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Atem Gai de Dut 29 February 2020– The rationale for war, at least in a utilitarian viewpoint, is to sacrifice less for the greater good of many. The premise is based on the belief that if few could suffer for the greater good of all, then decisions must be made such that the sacrifice does truly lead to the well-being of the many, and if it can be helped, at the detriment of as few as possible. This has been seen to be true in many instances and on many different sectors of human society, either in war (collateral damage), or in business (calculated losses). In both cases, however, someone is bound to be on the short end.

But what happens if the premise fails?  What if it does not hold true?  This counter-argument is seen generally in situations where a rebellion leads to liberation, which in turn leads to oppression because the liberators did not have a liberation agenda in the first place. They might have felt compelled to borrow a leaf or two from the oppressors to help them run society. In the same feat, a corporation that makes drastic investment decisions later realizes that the overall welfare of shareholders, the driving force for such decisions, was a means to an end, to begin with. It is possible that other factors might have been at play.  There are countless examples of organic failures of such well-intended decisions across the globe. But there are fewer places these illogical rationales are more pronounced than in the Sudanese revolutions.

Before the South took half the country with it, Sudan had been a battleground for decades, with a dozen do-gooders who believed they had the right ideas to set the Sudanese people free and create functional public systems and harmonize the vast country’s rough edges. None succeeded, some nearly did while others fell off a little further from their objectives. This phenomenon dated back to the days of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan when the North, a predominantly Afro-Arab culture was thrown in with the South, a collection of different African tribes. The union was faulty on several fronts and created problems that later led to the breakup of the country.

The idea for the separation of the South from the North was a volatile issue that served no purpose at the time and did not resonate with many peripheral allies of the South. Most of these allies were regions geographically within Northern Sudan but were pushed down to the short end of the social and economic ladder and had little to do with the central government. John Garang had his reasons for not claiming the South too early because it would have been tantamount to failure. Many would have judged him a tribalistic separatist who saw nothing in the unity of Sudan.

 Such high-ended accusation was going to play into the hands of the Sudanese government who were already dealt with a stack of favorable cards including better resources, access to capital goods, access to military hardware, better trained and fed army and religious fanaticism as crucial motivators on their side. The South, on the other hand had little to no training at all. The base supporting the rebellion was mostly Southerners, and it was important and certainly critical that the drive for army recruitment be extended to other areas of the Sudan that were faced with the same economic and social challenges the South was laden with. But no amount of diplomacy could have deterred the close-minded central government from carrying forth their inherited bigotry and the agenda for perpetual social stratification. The south left the union anyway.

While this breakup managed to solve a handful of problems for the Southerners, it, however, created another half a dozen maladies, invented entirely by South Sudanese themselves. The absence of the natural enemy (the North) was a new loss. They had to quickly find a new one in tribal supremacy and class struggle.

Within two years of becoming an independent country, South Sudan was already on the path to a bottomless pit. It was suddenly gripped by actors who were interested in establishing themselves as the emerging bourgeois without doing the work. Statehood and accountable leadership were riding in the backseat. Acquiring wealth and keeping it at all costs became such profound desires that those who acquired it at the speed of light tended to struggle with their job descriptions. But the job did not matter; it was simply a means to an end, and they were prepared to see that end.

There are countless examples of organic failures of such well-intended decisions across the globe.

To acquire wealth and take complete control, there were two distinct players who emerged on the scene as soon as South Sudan gained independence. One conformed to the needs of those who wielded power with trickery and with detrimental outcomes, and the other were backed by guns and rode mostly on emotional and irrational threats. Both were fundamentally the same. The difference was in their toxicity, relevance, and methods.  The gun class were determined to keep what they thought was theirs by way of natural blessing, while the emerging ‘modern’ bourgeois wanted to wrestle it from the former. And the problem became the metaphorical tug of war.

 This struggle enhanced public discomfort and thickened tribal lines to dangerous ends that it was impossible to maintain integrity without fearing for your life. The barrel was already leaking before the oil was at the three-quarter mark. Without accountability, government coffers became tools for enabling relationships, funding militias and acquiring armory. The development of the bourgeois class meant that they had to find ways to protect their new loot.  It was a hopeless race to the top. The circus was a rat race with consequential results. There were tactics at play including blatant disregard for basic human decency in the absence of enforceable laws.

In the heat of this intragovernmental strife, some were more conniving than others and appealed to the president’s heart and made their loyalty known by providing faulty advice or by being sycophantic altogether. Those with their acquired wealth were able to consolidate resources and allocated them to their friends, allies and, of course, family members.  This began a little earlier before independence. The cycle had to be completed, they mulled, before the north crept in on their newfound wealth. Such fears were central factors encouraging the looting of hard currency reserves from the Bank of South Sudan, and the ensuing money laundering, the Dura Saga and other breakneck financial frauds that characterize the very heart of the South Sudanese government and economy.

The ruling party was never vocal about corruption. This only became pronounced when members of the party and ex-ministers were shuffled to lesser than ideal ministries or terminated on national TV. These individuals, whose hearts might have been in the right place but whose timing was off, became advocates for the anti-corruption crusade. But it was too late. Trust with the public was broken long before they had the chance to clear themselves. The facts were bare, and corruption was evident for all to see, but who was the Messiah with a clean pair of hands? Many petered away at the slightest criticism or when their authenticity was openly questioned. Their initiatives were dismissed as the cries of disgruntled ex-employees who only spoke up after losing their bourgeois status. The ex-ministers were cornered and there was nowhere to go. For some, this was the end of the road, but for others, it was the beginning of a new playing field, with armed rebellions whose missions have been closer to incoherent.

Now as the parties sign up to give the country peace, some questions remain unanswered. How long can this peace last? How can a government whose participants carry bullets in their pockets build a successful society and encourage open thinking to grow the economy? There absolutely no mention of prosperity and economic growth. The prosperity gospel should be in the minds and lips of those who hope to create a functional state because, without it, it is impossible to maintain stability for years without creating deeper issues. Sophisticated governments understand the need to maintain tranquility and harmony whilst at the same time, endeavor to increase the wealth of the nation by examining its economic potential, listening to diverse opinions and critically evaluating the trade practices of other countries.  

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