South Sudan’s young scholars, Nhial Tiitmamer and Abraham Awolich, wrote a remarkable policy update paper for their weekly review for The Sudd Institution on March 11, 2014. In that paper, Nhial and A
braham presented arguments against two different proposals presented by ‘South Sudanese analysts’ as possible ways forward for South Sudan. The said two methods are UN Trusteeship and a Joint
Administration by South Sudanese and selected international bodies. These suggestions are presented as part of restructuring, institutionalizing and anchoring of South Sudan as a nation with functional structures, institutions and policy framework.
UN Trusteeship was proposed on January 6, 2014 in ‘African Arguments’ by Hank Cohen, a former US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs. The joint administration was proposed by Princeton Lyman (et al), a former US envoy to South Sudan and Sudan. Lyman is now with United States Institute for Peace.
While I’m not going to recommend any of the proposed methods, I’d like to caution readers and policy writers against any rush to dismiss the proposals without their proper appraisals. Sadly, I’m not going to appraise the two methods; however, I’m going to vaguely show how such methods would be advisable for South Sudan as far as institutionalization and development ambience are concerned.
Policy advisors, like The Sudd Institute, would be better placed if they comprehensively present both sides of any policy situation in order to afford the readers an avenue to consume chiefly contextualized policy positions. The manner in which Nhial and Awolich dismissed the two suggestions they focused on, without presenting any would-be benefits of such undertakings, is a policy angle I’d not advise.
I would advise that the authors present the pros and cons first before settling for what they believe is their preferred policy advisory; in this case, the rejection of the said governance and administrative proposals.
While the authors have agreed with the proposers on some points (especially with Lyman), they’ve not dwelled appropriately on the merits of both the Trusteeship and the Joint Administration. Proper policy advisory would present the merits of the two methods comprehensively before the presentation of the arguments as to why they’d not work in South Sudan.
Protecting a failed System vs. Building a strong and functional system
There’s no question that South Sudan has adequate manpower to build strong institutions for a prosperous way forward. And with no doubt, the best way to bring change and long-term prosperity to any given country is to make sure such parameters are internally generated. Externally generated success modalities sideline the internal creativity and frustrate long-term sustainable development.
However, the problem in South Sudan is not manpower per se and I agree with the authors. It’s the political atmosphere, institutional capacity and maturity. But one has to ask oneself. Do we have a conductive atmosphere and a strong institutional soundness that can allow educated South Sudanese to effect the required change? If not, then what are the indications that this would be effected anytime soon?
The authors know very well that South Sudanese leadership has failed miserably to establish institutional capacities that make a nation functional. What are the causes of this failure over the last eight years? Why would the authors believe the leadership that has failed over the last eight years will all of the sudden build institutional capacities that would allow development of institutional professionalism? It’s Einstein who once said that doing something over and over again in the same way and expecting a different result is madness.
The authors will have to convince us that there has developed an appreciable change in Juba for development of independent and functional institutions. Otherwise, a depressing, stagnant and failed merry-go-round is a support to the intransigent elites and a support for a failed system.
Creating ‘Enabling Conditions’ for South Sudanese
UN Trusteeship and Joint Administration (if necessary) would not discount South Sudanese contribution and their place in charting a new, development-conscious and transparency-friendly South Sudan. In a word, Educated South Sudanese would still be central to all development initiatives and leadership. Whether it was in East Timor or Namibia, the citizens of those countries were never left out. What UN officials did was to act as impartial guidance and expert voices together with their indigenous counterparts. Citizens have a say regarding the methods to be established.
Even with South Africa occupying Namibia illegally after UN deemed its mandate over with the end of the League of Nations, UN, through UNTAG, still found it imperative to allow South Africa to administer elections with UN supervision. Martti Ahtisaari, then the UN Special Representative for Namibia, made sure all the stake holders were involved in not only the elections process but the transitional process.
What they would do, in the case of South Sudan should that be absolutely necessary, is to create the atmosphere that would allow educated and knowledgeable South Sudanese to effectively contribute to national development. The culture of favoritism, nepotism, rampant corruption and inter-tribal animosity would be checked by a neutral guiding voice given a specified period of time. This period would still be agreed upon by South Sudanese politicians and the guiding body (UN or otherwise).
As the authors note very well that “inflated political egos, ethnic politics, and lack of peaceful political culture” are “the root of the current violence.” Keeping those in mind, what are the indications that these attitudes have changed (or will change) among the ranks of South Sudanese ruling elites? What are the indications that the current leadership will create ‘enabling conditions’ for development of across-the-board institutional strength? What has the government done so far to give South Sudanese some hope that governance, accountability and rule of law will be the face of our new South Sudan?
We have to remember that the UN Trusteeship or any Joint Administration would not be the sole brains or the manpower behind the country’s development. They would only act as impartial facilitators of development and transition. The onus would still be on the citizens to take advantage of the conducive atmosphere otherwise nothing would change. So, whether or not South Sudan changes for better if placed under such administrations rests solely with South Sudanese.
‘Wounded Egos’ vs. South Sudanese Future
I rather see my people live in peace and looking forward to a prosperous nation in which they use their potential for the betterment of the country regardless of who brings it. What I’d reject is perpetual dependency on others. However, we can’t put our egos before our national interest. We are a new nation; a nation on transition. Besides, we have a ruling political party that is trying to shed the scales of militarism. These are things that need time. However, we need help to make sure such a transition is made possible within a reasonable time.
We should not be worried that the world would see us as incapable of taking care of our affairs. We are not incapable but we have obstructive conditions that are frustrating our ability to show our national capacities. In a sense, we need appreciable humility to accept conditions that’d ensure we actually show the world that we are able.
I understand, as Rüdiger Wolfrum argues that “Such intervention from the outside faces the dilemma that by influencing or even by taking over governmental authority, either totally or partially or to establish new governmental structures for that territory in turmoil such intervention interferes with the right of self-determination of the respective population to decide on its political and economic future.” “However,” Wolfrum adds, “without assisting activities from the outside the population would not be able to exercise its right of self-determination due to the lack of representative institutions.”
What’s best for our nation should take primacy over our would-be wounded egos. Part of being a decently educated population is the ability to see when something isn’t working and being able to humbly look for an enduring solution.
We need help, serious help, and it’s up to us to wisely know how to fish out the best solution for our people with the help of people who are willing to help us.
UN Trusteeship and Joint Administration would be a possible alternative because
· The current South Sudanese administration has not created and is not capable (or unwilling) of creating a conducive atmosphere for South Sudanese with skills to contribute toward national development.
· There’s no any impartial development champion or practical promoter of development. Development initiatives are outlined but not followed through.
· Financial issues: South Sudanese go for months without being paid and no one is held accountable. Embezzlement of public funds is acknowledged but not punished.
· Media Institutions are tightly controlled and intimidated. Without any free press, the people lose their voice.
· The national constitution is not adhered to by its very custodians; only cited if the leadership feels it helps them. The culture of belligerent militarism is the attitude leading the country instead of the national constitution.
· The current administration is encouraging the development of the country as a nation of a single opinion dictated by the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). Different opinions and perspectives are either vilified or seen as views of enemies of the state. The merits of different opinions are not even considered.
· Protection of civilians is not a government priority and this creates a culture of mistrust and tribal feuds. The strength of the nation is perceived as the government rather than the people.
· The leadership doesn’t feel it’s accountable to South Sudanese. Decisions are made without being explained and those who suffer are the average South Sudanese. The government works for itself rather than for South Sudanese.
· Leaders see themselves as unquestionable demi-gods. This is not good for good governance, development, and the average South Sudanese. Good leaders are supposed to be questioned.
· Praising the president is one of the ways of landing a high-paying job. Criticizing the president jeopardizes one’s job. This atmosphere prevents truth from being told and people, who have different opinions but can benefit the country, are shut out of leadership positions.
Word of Advice
I’m not going to recommend any of the two methods because South Sudanese need to be given a second chance to prove themselves; however, I’d want us to be conscious of our shortcomings. The culture of dismissiveness is what’s killing our people.
I’d like to advise Nhial and Abraham, as people working for one of South Sudan’s respected
scholarly institutions, to be wary of the dismissive attitude among South Sudanese intelligentsia and ruling elites. We are a proud populace, however, we should be very careful regarding the detriment excess pride can engender. Nations don’t fail because there are no educated people in the country. Nations fail because of the nature of the political culture in the country. Without any enabling conditions, no amount of education and creativity can help.
I would also advise the authors to avoid the developing culture in South Sudan in which ideas are dismissed without prescribing a viable alternative. If they dismiss the two methods and believe that South Sudanese can actually bring about these enabling conditions, then they also need to present an alternative administrative and political framework and how it would bring about this enabling conditions. As policy advisors, the authors should not only talk about the what? but the how?
The how should be presented step-by-step with clear time-frame, the governance mechanics, the mechanics for the avoidance of past mistakes and the central, unifying political figures to make the methods both plausible and efficacious.
Institutions become functionally strong and respectable if they are led by people who not only know how to identify problems, but also how to solve them with vivid appreciable transparency and competency. This, South Sudan lacks! Consequently, I see the two proposed administrative methods as not ‘outlandish, but as necessary insults.
 Cohen, Hank, South Sudan should be placed under UN trusteeship to aid development of viable self-government.< African Arguments, January 6, 3014, http://africanarguments.org/2014/01/06/south-sudan-should-be-placed-under-un-trusteeship-to-aid-development-of-viable-self-government-by-hank-cohen/>
 Lyman, Princeton N. et al, Crisis and Opportunity in South Sudan, January 8, 2014,
 United Nations Transition Assistance Group
 Wolfrum, Rüdiger International Administration in Post-Conflict Situations by the United Nations and Other International Actors, Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law, Volume 9, 2005, p. 649-696.