The world just welcomed South Sudan as a member of the International Community. This marks the end of a bitter war of over 50 years between the south and the north – at least on paper. Reminiscent of the 1960s African independence era, many countries have taken turns to send good wishes to the new nation. The messages have been messages of hope and goodwill for the United Nation’s youngest member. For many of us, our prayer and hope is that Southern Sudan will not go the way many African countries have gone since the independence era in the later part of the 1950s. The 53 countries of Africa provide enough examples about the consequences of greed and bad governance. My message to South Sudan is, there is no need reinventing the wheel – please just learn from the mistakes of your brother/sister African countries. Specifically, you must try to avoid these destructive pitfalls
Ethnicity/Tribalism – Africa is a mosaic of ethnic groups and contrary to what many experts thought in the 1960s, it is obvious that ethnic identifications will remain with Africa for the foreseeable future. For many African countries, the oppression of colonialism untied the different ethnic groups to fight for independence. Yet, as soon as the common enemy, the colonialist was gone ethnic difference sprang up and many people began to jostle for power using their ethnic affiliations. From Nigeria to Somalia and from Chad through Dr. Congo to Zimbabwe it has become obvious that the excessive use of ethnicity in the political, economic and social arena only spells doom. Today most of the conflict spot in Africa have as their underlining course, the issue of ethnicity. To our brothers in South Sudan we admired how Dinkas, Shilluks, Nuers, Acholis and Lotuhus have all banded together as brothers and sisters to secede from the brutal rule of the North. Remember how important your unity has served your independence course and do not let your ethnic and tribal differences spell doom for your young nation. Look to the examples of Botswana and South Africa and work hard to foster a society that affords equal opportunities to all and also allows the various ethnic groups to compete within the bounds of a democratic state.
Irredentism – Irredentist tendencies have led to unnecessary tensions between Ghana and Togo and between Senegal and Mauritania. In the case of Somalia and Ethiopia and also the countries in the Congo basin irredentism has led to full fletched war that has claimed many lives and destroyed national economies. We know as part of the vestiges of colonialism, the Acholi people located in the southern part of your country have their brothers and sisters living in Northern Uganda. Learn the lessons of Ghana and Togo, Senegal and Mauritania and the countries in the Congo basin. Do not interfere in the affair of the Acholi people in Northern Uganda. The Ugandan’s will not take kindly to any unwanted interference in their domestic affairs. You are becoming a nation at a time when there are numerous international institutions to channel any grievances you may have with Uganda in respect of the Acholi people to. No matter what you do try to avoid any confrontation with Uganda or any of your neighboring countries. Good neighborliness is good and you may also need your neighbors as leverage for any curve ball Republic of Sudan may throw you.
Military Coups – Thank God the Americans, the French and co are helping you to design a modern military force. Please make sure that you build a professional military force that will respect the principle that civilian control of the country and the military is sacrosanct. You have to draw a wide margin between yourself and military coup d’états. Once again you have numerous examples in Africa to tell you about the ills of military dictatorships. No matter how brief these dictatorships are they bring so much economic retrogression that you want to steer as clear from them as possible. First during military rule, security issues become the number one concern of the state and every other important issue become relegated to the background. Second, in today’s world it is all about credit ratings and the perceived or real risk of doing business in a country. In any case you find yourself in a continent that is noted by the international business community as the most risky place to do business. Thus you have to make a conscious effort to distinguish yourself from other African countries and prove that there are minimal political and military risks for doing business in your country.
Good governance – My brothers and sisters in South Sudan, I cannot stress this point enough. If you want to be a well respected nation then you must strive to pursue the principles of good governance with all your heart and with all your soul. Build strong instructions and not strong personalities, pursue participatory democracy that ensures the rule of law and respect for human beings. Build a government that is transparent, responsive and accountable to the people. Mr. Salva Kiir Mayardit, congratulations for being the first elected president of the Republic of South Sudan. Please, when you exhaust constitutional mandate just leave gracefully like President Kufffour of Ghana or Alpha Oumar Konare of Mali. Distance yourself from any advisors who will urge you to change the constitution to extend your time in office. They are sycophants who are probably thinking about what they will continue to get from you. As Kenneth Ashworth said, “sycophancy is like elephantiasis. The longer it goes untreated the more stolid and immobile it makes you.” Just look at what became of the attempts of Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal to pursue third terms in office. And certainly don’t be an albatross around the nation’s neck like Mobutu of Zaire or Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Make no mistake if you try to perpetuate yourself in power you will be removed. According to Victor Hugo “When dictatorship is a fact, revolution becomes a right.” Don’t make the mistake of arguing that you are the only one who has the power and knowledge to govern Southern Sudan. Trust me no one is a repository of all knowledge. Togo and Gabon have fared much better after Eyadema and Omar Bongo even though both of men felt they were the only ones who had the ability to govern their respective countries. Just leave gracefully and you wouldn’t have to face the disgrace of being drag out of power like Laurent Gbagbo in Cote d’Ivoire.
Mr. Mayardit, please be careful also how you deal with the press in your country. They can be your partner for development or your worst nightmare. Don’t ever think about caging the press, as the event in the Middle East has shown the press is an animal that cannot be caged by the most determined hunter or even the most fortified cage. In any case, thanks to the internet anybody can be a journalist just with the help of a cell phone. I admit that the press can be a pain in the back side and in a country as young as yours with its many challenges; an overzealous press can push the nation to the brink. However as President Clinton said, even the most controlled state cannot resist the winds of change. Press freedom has come to stay and there is nothing you can do about it. Rather engage the press, make them part owners of the development agenda is your country and when you disagree with them voice your disagreements within the bounds of law and do not seek to kill an ant with a sledge hammer.
Economy – Today, socialism and communism have been defeated in their intellectual homes. There is no doubt that capitalism and free market economics have become the dominant economic model of our time. Please do not pursue any experiment into any African socialism nonsense. Tanzanians have still not finished paying the economic price for the adventures of Nyerere in the ujamaa socialism experiments of the 1960 and 70s. Likewise, don’t be an ideological hog and pursue capitalism like Kenyata under Kenya. Capitalism has it flaws too – look at the current economic crisis in the intellectual home of capitalism and free market economics, the United States.
The World Bank and other renowned western economists and these days their African protégés will insist that you buy into theories like comparative advantage, economic liberalization and privatization. Although these theories in principle are very sound, they operate under certain assumptions. Examine your economy very critically before you buy whole heartedly into these theories. You must rather be a prudent pragmatist. Your attitude should be that no one principle/theory has all the answers. Your guiding principles should be, how is this policy going to advance the development agenda of our country? What are the short term and long term benefits of this policy? Work hard, pursue innovation, invest in education, infrastructure and health care and don’t use your money to buy guns. Develop a strategy to sustainably grow indigenous industries and pursue policies that will help you raise capital at home. Don’t be a typical African country and go round begging the western countries for aid all the time. There is always a huge price for aid dependency. As Carter G. Woodson once said, “History shows that it does not matter who is in power – those who have not learned to do for themselves and have to depend solely on others never obtain any more rights or privileges in the end than they had in the beginning. “
International relations – One of the things that you will quickly learn is that the world is not fair. Don’t be fooled by the intentions of all those ‘good’ nations that are sending you good will messages. Most of them are sending you these messages because everyone is doing it and they don’t want to be left behind. Others are warming up to you because of potential benefits they are hoping to get from you, especially from your oil fields. Never let your guard down about the intentions of other countries including your sister African countries.
At the UN General Assembly you have one vote and you are regarded as equal to member nations like France, United Sates and Russia and yet you will find out that these nations and others have enormous powers within the international community that you can only dream about. You will certainly need to hold onto the coat tails of one or two other nations to navigate the treacherous waters of the international community. But don’t be a pawn for any other nation. As much as possible, adopt the strategy of the United States. Have no permanent friends, only permanent interests. Since you have large deposit of oil and a vast arable land, you should be able to manage your international affairs well if you take the time to plan and strategize well.
Please be careful how you choose your friends and how you pick your fights. From a brother to brother, make sure you stay clear from any differences that the powerful nations might have. As the African adage goes, when two elephant fights, it is the grass that suffers.
Our hope – In the end you are the hope of Africa, Southern Sudan. One of the popular refrains of the great Kwame Nkrumah in the run up to Ghana’s independence was that the black man was capable of governing his own affairs, but events in Africa following this statement have put this popular refrain in doubt. More than 50 years after Ghana the first black African country attained independence, Africans have demonstrated that they cannot manage their affairs. Africa continues to be heavily dependent on foreign aid to the extent that we even need foreign aid to run elections. Africa leads in only the negative indicators of the world – HIV rate, poverty rate, bad governance, illiteracy etc. Our brothers and sisters in Southern Sudan, the clock has been reset for you. Please do not make the same mistakes that the rest of Africa have made in the last 50 or so years.
To the ordinary people of Southern Sudan, ‘fight’ with every being in you to protect the freedom you have fought so hard to win. As Thomas Jefferson said, “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” Be vigilant and protect your freedom from both internal and external detractors. Good luck