Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 4 September 2009

Youth tournament and misplaced priorities in South Sudan

By Athiaan Majak Malou

September 3, 2009 — A Kenyan friend of mine who works with an NGO in Darfur once told me about his experience with Congolese refugees in Zambia, where he also worked as a relief worker. The Congolese had just arrived to Zambia and as an effort to settle them, the relief workers rushed to the scene and provided them with basic materials with which they could make simple and temporal shelters to protect them from rain and other unfavorable weather conditions. When the relief workers came back in the following morning, they were astonished to find that the first structure the refugees built was Disco club which could also be used as a community centre for other social functions besides dancing. For the relief workers who were non-Congolese it was madness to build disco place before shelters for their families. But for the Congolese what mattered most was the social amenity that could bring them together as a community. In essence, it implies the sense of common good or the benefit for all.

What elicited my mind to think about this story is the on going Bashir’s Cup Soccer Tournament for the Youth of Central and Eastern Africa, known by its acronym as CECAFA which is being partly hosted in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan. What came into my mind is the dilapidated condition of the sole stadium in Juba, where this first international sporting activity will take place and the image it will show to outsiders. Needless to say, the stadium has no tiers of seats for spectators to watch the game and encourage the players to play with enthusiasm. In this respect, the people of Juba will not enjoy the tournament and so do the players.

If we southern Sudanese were to think like the Congolese refugees in Zambia, we would have thought of building, at least, one stadium to host local as well as international sport tournaments. Besides, the stadium could be used during national occasions such as 16th May SPLM/A Day, 9th January Peace Day, 30th July Martyrs Day among other important functions that can invite a huge gathering of the populace.

I happened to have attended two public functions in Juba near the Mausoleum of Dr. John Garang. In the two occasions, I couldn’t listen to the speech of the President of the Government of Southern Sudan because, like many other common citizens, I was not seated and by the time the president delivers his speech, after ten or so speeches before him, I was already tired and couldn’t stand any more. As a result of this, many members of the public do not listen to important speeches of the president when, he once in a while, explains the policies of the government and defends his development records, if any. Lack of such social amenities works against social coherence and therefore undermines government’s efforts to build a nation and nationalism. We need to have something(s) that brings us to gather as Southern Sudan and be proud of.

Unlike Congolese refugees in Zambia our government officials started with building of private houses and those who could afford have built impressive villas and mansions in more that one location. Within the last four years of CPA you get one person has built a concrete structure in Juba, another in his/her state capital, a third in his/her County HQs, a forth in his/her Payam HQs and a firth in the his/her village or Boma. Each of these buildings could cost a minimum of between US$ 50,000-100,000. That makes a total of US$ 250,000-US$ 500,000. Where could he or she have got this money when the highest paid civil servant, according to current Public Service scale (Grade 1 special), is supposed to earn US$ 1,200 (SDG 2500) a month? The monthly salary of such individual could have only added to US$ 57,600 in the last four years of peace. Even if he or she had other sources of feeding himself/herself and the family; he/she could have only managed to build one house of only two bedrooms and a verandah, not a villa or mansion. Not only houses, the same people have built hotels and countless business premises. Still, some have bought houses in Khartoum and in foreign countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Australia, etc. The authorities concerned look for evidence of corruption in southern Sudan and these houses are clear and obvious evidences.

Although we are aware of the fact that development in southern Sudan has been retarded by many years of civil wars and lack of political will from successive governments in Khartoum, we should have made our priorities right immediately after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and squeezed them within the spending of US$ 8 Billion or so which we’ve squandered so far. And our priorities should have included these among others:

1. Building a stadium in which we are going to celebrate independence, if the majority of southern Sudanese vote for separation, in 2011 Referendum. This stadium could be built right at the ground near the mausoleum of Dr. John Garang and name after him.

2. Make a nation wide call for the writing of ‘National Anthem’. It’ll be shameful to celebrate independence, if it is going to come, without national anthem. What are we going to sing in that historic day? I know that we’ve all sorts of revolutionary and patriotic songs which we’ve composed and been singing during the war of liberation. But still there is a need for national anthem and the time is now!

3. Well trained and well equipped police that can enforce law and order everywhere every time. A modern state cannot be run without efficient and effective policing and that is why we seem to be failing. Our police need to be equipped with at least three helicopters among others, which could be stationed at flash points of the recurrent conflicts like cattle rustling. In this connection, one helicopter could be stationed somewhere between Greater Bahr el Ghazal and Unity state where resource-based conflicts are rampant. Another helicopter could be based between Jonglei and Upper Nile state where communal conflicts have become a daily occurrence. A third helicopter should be put in Eastern Equatoria state, where cattle rustle within and across international bounders is common. These helicopters can patrol the area when deem necessary and can also do rapid intervention by the police and other organized forces.

4. Investments in agriculture so that we are able to produce our own food, since we have all the necessary natural conditions (fertile land and fresh water) for agricultural production. As a rule, we’ve to have food first in order to be able do other things. Depending on food coming from outside is a big threat to our national security and by implication national sovereignty. A person who always goes around begging becomes a nuisance to others and at the same time does not own his/her own will. I think what we lack at the moment is the capital and skilled human resources. However, world is full of people with a lot of money and skills but have nowhere to invest them. With law and order and proper private property ownership laws in place, we can attract them to invest in our land and we can still benefit a lot.

5. Investment in production of cement locally. After many years of destruction and underdevelopment inflicted by protracted civil wars, south Sudan is now being constructed and this cannot be done without cement. Cement is heavy, expensive and can be easily damaged, which makes its import from outside wasteful and unprofitable most of the time. South Sudan is rich in lime stone from which cement is made.

6. Construction of one all weather road to East Africa (Kenya or Uganda); that can ease the movement of goods and services. Since almost everything including food and clean drinking water come from East African countries, there is need for a road which is smooth for quick delivery and good enough to withstand rain-induced erosion.

7. Planning and survey of Juba and other towns. I believe it is a blessing in disguise to start building our towns and cities in the 21st centaury when technological applicatin has reached its zenith. With little efforts and strong political will we can do wonders and catch up with developed world. Although we are late, we’ve the resources that make us bridge the gap very quickly. What we need is good governance which can only be brought about maintain with the participation of each and everyone of one who considers himself/herself a patriotic Southern Sudanese.

8. Education for our children. Education is like the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. Without relevant and quality education we cannot achieve our desired goals as far as nation building and national development is concerned. As we contend with many enemies, we should think of education as our first and foremost liberator. We can be able to liberate ourselves from poverty, hunger and diseases unless we’ve liberated ourselves from ignorance.

What I’ve mentioned above may not be the most important issues, but are what I consider to be the basics, considering the situation we are in at the moment. As a matter of fact, things are never enough, and as such we need to prioritize by deciding which one is more important than the other, that should warrant doing/having it before others. And like Congolese refugees in Zambia, we should have the common good that would be accrued from each endeavor at heart. This way, we can successfully build our young nation and maintain unity of purpose.

The author can be reached at: athiaanm@yahoo.com