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July 8, 2011

South Sudan – Another black nation

by Nilio Gumbs 08.JUL.11

The Dark Continent, a metaphorical expression used by the West to describe the backwardness and underdevelopment of the African continent, will give birth to another nation. On the 9th July, the new nation (South Sudan) will be born, becoming the 55th nation on the continent.{{more}}

The largest country in Africa will be split into two separate nations – Sudan and South Sudan. The Muslim-Arab North and the Christian African south. The mantle of Africa’s largest nation will now pass to Algeria, followed by Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo), an acronym used to make the distinction from its smaller neighbor, the Peoples Republic of Congo (Brazaville Congo). Sudan itself will be relegated to the third position.

South Sudan will be no minnow in size either. It is 239,285 sq miles with a population of 8,260, 490, according to a 2008 census.

South Sudan will face insurmountable challenges as a nation state. Sovereignty of the oil rich region Abeyie will have to be resolved with its northern neighbor. The country will have to open peace talks with a breakaway rebel faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) that is fighting to topple the government in Juba, which many believed are sponsored by the present Sudanese government in Khartoum, to destabilize the young nation.

The lack of basic infrastructure, high levels of illiteracy and weak institutional capacity will have to be tackled by the new government.

Despite the many caveats, there are many pluses for the new nation. South Sudan is well endowed with oil, the proceeds of which will be used for rebuilding the country.

The new government can learn from the mistakes made by many African countries since Ghana became the first black nation on the continent to gain independence in 1957. African nations’ development has been hamstrung by military conflicts, coups, corruption, poor governance and the lack of individual property rights.

Along with poor governance, the lack of individual property rights is another bane to Africa’s development. An Economist Magazine Special Report on Africa (2004) noted that “Less than 10 per cent of the continent’s land is formally owned, and barely one in ten Africans live in a house with title deed”. Hernando De Soto noted that the failure to replicate the success of capitalism outside of Europe and the Americas lies in the inability of other countries to legitimize (make legal) individual property rights, thus enabling the conversion of dead capital into monetized assets. The lack of a deed to land prohibits one from using such as a collateral to raise capital.

There are numerous examples around that will serve as a reminder and a guide to “South Sudan” as its traverses its way towards national and economic development. The experimentation with socialism was a dismal failure in many countries that newly won their independence in the 1950’s and 60’s (Ghana and Tanzania). The Marxist experiments in Ethiopia, Angola and Mozambique and Guinea Bissau have fared no better.

Then there is Nigeria – through rampant corruption and squandering of its oil wealth by its political elite – most Nigerians live in poverty, and leaving them to ask the question – what have they done with and achieved with more than 200 billion dollars worth of oil revenue.

Just like Nigeria, Zimbabwe is another moribund example, whose economy has witnessed the sharpest decline in modern times, leaving many to wonder whether black people can govern themselves.

Many African leaders have problems relinquishing power, so much so that they have either tinkered with or sought to tinker with the constitution to remain in power. However, there are few exemplary African leaders who have gracefully walked away from power (Julius Nyere, Lepold Senghor, Nelson Mandela and Festus Mogae of Tanzania, Senegal, South Africa and Botswana, respectively).

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation award, which remunerates African leaders handsomely, once they are democratically elected and have served their limit set by the constitution, acts as an added incentive for the Sudan government to manage the country efficiently.

There are other extraneous factors that will be a plus to the new country. There is one dominant economic doctrine in neo- liberal economic, hence no room for experimentation. Despite the short comings of neo-liberal economics, its adaptability and ability to generate greater prosperity (China and Vietnam), rather than statist policies, should encourage a nascent private sector that should be the engine of economic growth.

While Zimbabwe has seen the sharpest economic decline in recent times, China has experienced the sharpest economic turn-around in history and is now challenging the once Western dominance in Africa. China’s trade with Africa now exceeds 100 billion. Most of this trade is in oil, which South Sudan possesses in considerable quantity.

China has been investing heavily in Angola, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo, building schools, roads, hospitals and colleges. More than 70 per cent of South Sudan population is illiterate, a daunting task for any nation at the outset, which China’s capital in building schools and colleges can help to remedy.

Freed from discrimination and the imposition of Sharia by the Muslim dominated North, the government in South Sudan should seek to deepen the democratic process by ensuring multi-party elections, an independent judiciary, a free press and ensure a strong civil society, then it may not suffer the fate of most other African nations.