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Sudan Tribune

Plural news and views on Sudan

South Sudan needs informed public

By Steve Paterno

May 28, 2007 — It is not just building of schools or hospitals that
the South Sudan is desperately needed. It is not even
just the construction of roads and highways that is
needed in South Sudan. And it is not even just
building of the army and paying them—because South
Sudan also needs to build an informed public—the sort
of the citizenry that is severely in short supply
today, before the South could effectively found itself
as a governing entity.

Studying the foundations of democratically successful,
economically prosperous, and militarily powerful
countries such as the United States of America, one
cannot help it but envy the American Founding Fathers
who put so much emphasis on the informed public to
uphold the U.S. Constitution and keep the country at
one piece and yet running successful. Some of the
most influential among framers of the U.S.
Constitution, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison
wrote, “the aim of every political constitution is, or
ought to be, first to obtain for rulers men who
possess most wisdom to discern, and most virture to
pursue, the common good of the society; and in the
next place, to take the most effectual precautions for
keeping them virtuous whilst they continue to hold
their public trust.”

In the case of South Sudan, whether it has rulers who
“possess most wisdom to discern, and most virture to
pursue, the common good of the society” is another
subject, and whether those rulers hold “public trust”
is even another subject that stands on its own.
However, what is at stake here is that there is no
informed public who will make up good leadership or
who will in turn influence good leadership for the
common good of the society.

It is not the knowledgeable leaders but knowledgeable
public who provides a life-support for democracy and
good governance. In speech of ratification of the U.S.
Constitution in Virginia, James Madison argued, “to
suppose that any form of government will secure
liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people,
is a chimerical idea, if there be sufficient virtue
and intelligence in the community, it will be
exercised in the selection of these men. So that we do
not depend on their virtue, or put confidence in our
rulers, but in the people who are to choose them.”
Because of this, in the U.S., the president is not
elected by the popular votes but by the electoral vote
who are supposedly informed citizens, which the
general public putting their trust onto them to cast
on their behalves the votes to elect the president.
Samuel Adams beautifully summed it when he said, “let
each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his
vote that he is not making a present or a compliment
to please an individual–or at least that he ought not
so to do; but that he is executing one of the most
solemn trusts in human society for which he is
accountable to God and his country.”

The role of informed and knowledgeable public is not
only to elect good leadership because among them
emerge good quality of leadership. When the society is
full of informed and knowledgeable individuals, there
can be no trouble in finding leaders with good
qualities among them. Such makes the selections of
leaders easier than it could have been in the absence
of those knowledgeable individuals in the society.

Another role that the informed public could play in a
democratic and free society is by fully engage and
participate in the governing of their own affairs.
Such an engagement may come into different forms, and
prominent among which is acquiring of information and
knowledge. It was James Madison who wrote, “A popular
Government without popular information, or the means
of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a
Tragedy; or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever
govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their
own Governors, must arm themselves with the power that
knowledge gives.”

Today in South Sudan, information about the government
affairs is difficult to come by, and to make matters
worse; there are no responsible efforts from citizens
to acquire any information. The case involving the
arbitrary detention of Cdr. Isaac Obutu Mamur, one of
the most senior military officer in the South, is just
one of the examples to illustrate this point. Cdr.
Mamur has been under detention for months and all the
public can get regarding his detention are dubious
charges, which their merits cannot stand scrutiny of
any kind of existing laws. And even worse, this case
left some of the general public fall into rumors as a
way of addressing the issue.

However, what is even more disturbing about this case
is that most of the general public are coerced and
intimidated to be silent about this issue. The fact
that the public are coerced into silence on a public
issue like this, it clearly indicates an assault on
the core of democratic principle of the citizens to
participate in governing their own affairs. This is
where this issue is not about Cdr. Mamur as an
individual anymore but about the rights of the
citizens to know, which is being suppressed.

Another good example of government of South Sudan
withholding information from the general public is on
how it spend its finances. To the surprise of
everyone, the government of South Sudan squanders its
two million annual budget before the budget circle
could end, and there is no convincing information on
how the budget is spend, and worse no effort from the
general public demanding any explanation on the
expenditure.

Anyway, the lack of informed public of South Sudanese,
cannot be blamed on anyone but on the South Sudanese
society, who opt not to develop informed public.
Perhaps a lesson from James Madison, which states, “a
people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm
themselves with the power that knowledge gives” can
propel the South Sudanese citizens or otherwise, they
are in for the foundation of a government of “farce or
a tragedy” as Madison said.

* Steve Paterno is a Sudanese residing in the U.S.A., and he can be reached at [email protected]