By Zechariah Manyok Biar
June 29, 2013 - After the failed states report came out in June, 2013 showing South Sudan as ranking forth of the failed states, a friend whom I did not know before but knew me through my writing, sent me an e-mail with a link to the article I wrote in 2010. The article I wrote in 2010 is entitled: “Will South Sudan be a failed State?”
In that article, I doubted the belief that South Sudan would be a failed state. Now that it has failed, my friend wanted to politely remind me that I was wrong in my prediction. I completely agree with him that I was wrong. But I will briefly show in this article what I based my prediction on and I will again make another prediction that could still make me wrong next year.
I based my prediction on the SPLM/A records of self-rule in the bush during the civil war. This logic is shown by this paragraph from the above motioned article as published by different media websites: “The fact that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/A (SPLM/A) managed to control Southerners during the war would have been a good indicator on how South Sudanese can rule themselves. SPLM/A was undoubtedly one of the most organized rebel groups over the last two decades. SPLM/A even had better human rights records, compared to the government in Khartoum. SPLM/A was able to educate its soldiers during the liberation war not to kill the prisoners of war (POWs). After the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, SPLM/A set free thousands of the POWs of Sudanese army. Those freed POWs are still alive today. How many POWs from SPLA did the government in Khartoum release? None.”
I strongly believed in what I said in that article and I still believe in it today, despite our current failed status. There are examples showing how SPLM/A could make people change within its ranks during the war. When the civil war started in 1983, SPLA soldiers thought that anybody captured from the enemy could be killed. They killed some POWs from the Sudan armed forces (SAF) before senior SPLM/A leaders, including the current President Salva Kiir, learned about what was taking place in front lines and started disapproving of it. The practice immediately stopped, resulting in the keeping of thousands of the Sudanese POWs who were set free after the signing of CPA in 2005.
Furthermore, after the SPLM/A split of 1991, the killing of members of tribes that were regarded as enemies by each side in the split took place. Many important people were killed in less than two months. But senior SPLM/A leaders, including the then Commander Salva Kiir, started condemning the practice within the SPLA and it stopped immediately.
The above examples show how South Sudanese can quickly change bad practices when they understand that top leaders disapprove of them. If words are combined with action today, then change for the better will be realized in all sectors of our society, pushing the country to a better position in the rating of next year. I strongly believe in this. Because of this belief, I will still make a prediction that South Sudan will move away from the Sudan in the ranking of failed states next year by at least one point.
South Sudanese are competitive people who do not like what makes them look bad. They will aim higher next year partly to show that South Sudan is better than the Sudan. But above all, they will aim higher in order to improve their images abroad.
We know that we will now all be seen as failed people regardless of individual’s achievements. Our leaders will now find it difficult to condemn bad behaviors of other countries without being reminded of the failure of South Sudan. I cannot now accuse Kenyans of pretending to be holier than us, like I did some years ago when they accused our government of being weak. I know they will prove me wrong by pointing out that Kenya is graded higher than South Sudan when it comes to failed states. There will be no way I will prove them wrong in such a statement.
If we try to take refuge in the idea that South Sudan is very young and we use China as the example by saying that even China which is more than 2000 years old still has bad records in human rights, then Kenyans are going to say that the irony of the example we have given is that what matters is not how old the country is, but its determination to change. If it is the age of the country that matters, they will argue, then human right records in China would have been better than those of the United States since the USA is less than 300 years old.
If, on the other hand, we dismiss every report like we often do without questioning the methodology used to arrive at a particular conclusion, then countries like Kenya whom we had been accusing of being the same with us will say that they are better than us because our way of reacting to issues show that we are not even able to differentiate fiction from reality.
We are aware now that it will be difficult for us to find excuses that will make us feel better or look equal to better countries that are not Somalia. Somalia which made our leaders angry in 2010 when Dr. Lam Akol compared South Sudan with it is just three points away from us now. So, we know now that we are not better than Somalia.
This reality will make our leaders work hard to move South Sudan up next year by one point, if the anger in 2010 meant we did not like to be like Somalia. They will achieve this by targeting at least two issues that make South Sudan a failed state and improve on them. I know Sudan will not do this because it is, as Dr. Garang once said, too deformed to reform. South Sudan will be deformed by choice but not because its leaders are too deformed to reform like ones in the Sudan.
I am aware that making another failed prediction will make me lose confidence of my readers. But I am not afraid to take risk again in making another prediction because I know South Sudanese are competitive people who do not like to be seen as failures. I will be surprised if we do not improve by at least one point next year.
Zechariah Manyok Biar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org