Envision the first foundation stone of the new republic of Southern Sudan

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Tuesday, 22 February 2011 04:30
Written by Joseph Deng Garang, The New Sudan Vision (NSV), www.newsudanvision.com
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(OMAHA, Nebraska) - IT IS without a doubt the people of Southern Sudan will go through periods of healing after half a century of civil wars, the most decimating being the second war, which cost over 2 million lives. The journey to consolidate and translate the triumph of peace has just begun. And although the region is on a short wait to formally declare independence on July 9, 2011, the people have already witnessed a historic moment of the birth of Africa's newest nation.

It is a moment that became magnified when the final results of the January 9-15 referendum were announced and made permanent on Monday, February 7, 2011. And, never in the shortest course of my human journey, have I seen so many people jolt into prestige as a result of the recent participation at the ballot box. I did not know the kind of respect that a single vote could command until I cast it last month.

But in order not to be blindsided by the giddiness of the moment, I would like to turn a laser focus on the work that lies ahead of us by looking at the following recurring themes as we begin to choose and lay that first foundation stone of the new republic.

A watershed moment for Africa and the world

Evidently, the world is waiting for July and for sovereign borders to be drawn before the new republic joins the community of nations. But the referendum vote has already bestowed international recognition upon South Sudan. The successful outcome of a January plebiscite is the subject of secession overtures by scholars across much of Africa. And of course it bears mentioning that many people are scrambling for clues as to what Africa and the world can teach the new republic of Southern and vice versa

When asked about the impact of the French Revolution of 1789, former Chinese premier Zhou Enlai famously said: "It is too early to say.” This was in 1972, 183 years after the said revolution took place. But time has a different way of capturing moments of eloquence for different generations. In 2005, the man who brought us the Comprehensive Peace Agreement best articulated that Sudan was not going to be the same. Six years later, the tidal wave of human dignity created by the January 9 self-determination vote is indeed one for the rivers of history.

For some time to come, the world will learn many great things about the liberation movement that waged a relentless revolution in Sudan. For now, the 2005 peace blue print on power sharing and the fact that the war went on for over 50 years really stands out and the liberation struggle waged by the marginalized people of Sudan will be the talk and study of the century by realists and idealists, both in the global north and global south. The Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement will not only be credited by history for its articulation of the liberation for the marginalized masses but also for being one of few if not the only guerrilla movement in the course of human history that allowed back into its rank leaders and members who turned on their own civilians after they had joined the enemy.

As student of geopolitics of the Central Eurasia, I was also pleased to see the sacrosanct self-determination vote in Southern Sudan being cited as precedent by the top leadership in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh republic. They were the first to congratulate Southern Sudan when the preliminary results were announced in January and they are planning to bring up the case of self-determination for Nagorno-Karabakh, which was botched back in 1991 when it failed to win the recognition of the international community. The region had been a source of dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

As I wrote in my last column, a new chapter is unfolding for us in Southern Sudan but it is not chapter 11. It is a chapter where we will have clashes of priorities as we try to build and provide for everyone. But it is one full of belief that children and women will have to come first. We will face many competing priorities when it comes to our approach to development. But I also get the sense that the one thing that our leadership will have in large supply is advice. They are poised to receive a torrent of free advice from Southerners and foreigners on how to build the new nation.

By way of extrapolation, much has been said about the key lessons Southern Sudan must learn from African countries that have been plagued by pitfalls since independence. The list of things to avoid has ranged from anemic institutions to corruption to lack of solid policy projects on social, economic and political development. But there is one pressing observation I can also add: free expression, which is the least understood aspect of liberation in Africa. More on the need for free expression next.

For those Southern Sudanese who love reading and are interested in reading up about political, and socio-economic development or philosophies of any given nation, I highly recommend three books for you: The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith; Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville; and the most recent and my favorite, Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle, co-authored by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. Building partnerships and a network of global solidarity will be critical at every turn for us in Southern Sudan. It will dictate how the new nation begins to build an educated workforce that will in turn create a 21st- century economy.

Strategic communications as an effective tool of self-governance

Free expression has struck me as the least understood aspect of liberation.Take for example the many countries in Africa, where majority of citizens cannot speak freely either for fear of reprisal or because they are not well informed on how to exercise. Too often those who speak out vocally either risk their own lives or get exiled for life. What is more, the military sometimes meddles in the politics of several states in Africa. And if history is any guide, the lesson we can quickly take away is that in nations where citizens are never fully vested or not involved at the outset, people have become disillusioned when expectations are not managed well.

As ethnically diverse as Southern Sudan is, it is true we have not learned how to openly and honestly describe ourselves as a people given how busy we were dealing with the north. Let's face it, this is the one area that remains worrisome and we will have to think hard.

The only thing that kept us united during the war was the rallying cry of marginalization. Now that we are free, we have the daunting task of defining who we are. It is true much of the post-referendum challenge will fall to our leadership who will have to shoulder the heavy duty of strategic communications---making sure the message, all channels of communicating and the audience are in line.

We should develop a zero tolerance for xenophobic talks in the South. We can start believing in ourselves whether we are in the country or outside, because Southern Sudan, sincerely, of all places, given its epic struggle for freedom, where people still hunger for change, must not be a place where people are advised to always talk cautiously because of fear. So for us who are about to build a new nation, this must give us pause and ask ourselves the question: what role will free expression play in rebuilding Southern Sudan?

After decades in which we were virtually allowed no role to play in determining the course or direction of the country, times during which our voices were categorically marginalized in the decision-making process, I believe the best and precious gift this new independence must give every Southerner is the ability, the right and responsibility to speak his or her mind freely, because doing otherwise will serve to bring back the vestiges of a system we have fought to replace.

The citizens must be allowed to speak without fear provided what they speak is reasonable and devoid of treasonous acts. Of course no society or nation can let the right to speak go astray into the realm of speaking without any basis in facts, which is why it is going to demand each person's responsibility to stay well informed. Speaking freely does not mean dealing in wholesale rumor mongering. Ditto for irrelevant schools of thought supported by outdated world views or prophecies.

Maybe if we are not too fearful, the conversation can be made easy given the way information technology has revolutionized the way societies do things. Our new government can partner with all sorts of media on matters of positive cultural programming as well as disseminating key policy information to our society.

Free expression can accomplish for us a few things. For example, we can learn to hold ourselves accountable and demand that of our leaders regardless of whether or not we are related, because protecting members of one’s tribe either through condoning of their scandals or by failing to correct or point out their leadership weaknesses just because of the relationship or loyalty is tantamount to promoting gross incompetency.

In matters of self-governance, Southern Sudanese can find an agreement that improper defense of leaders has nothing to do with true patriotism and everything to do with blind patriotism. It cannot serve our new nation well. Leaders, too, must learn to resist temptation that seeks unquestioning obedience from their subjects because that, too, will not do us any good. If anything, leaders must not lead by fear but rather through moral example.

The terap phenomenon

Terap is the word our leaders drilled into us when we were little. It is an arabic word for seed, used a lot during the struggle to refer to children as future of the liberation movement. The bulk of nation building agenda will require that we all commit by developing a sense of national consciousness---a shared responsibility to forge a national character---the collective embrace and a true sense of citizenship, where all the young people will be called upon to play their part. The youth will build bridges of understanding for the postwar society.

Before we tap into our vast natural resources,and indulge the talk of all the grand buildings or wealth, our leadership must enshrine basic rights for everyone and develop a capacity to communicate all the core values to the post war society: ensuring there is fairness in public sector  and that climbing all the social and economic ladders is done through meritocracy. It is the cheapest policy project I can think of. It costs nothing. It just requires leadership and a change of attitudes. It is one that can serve us well for generations.

As I previewed on Martyrs' Day last year in an article published by The New Sudan Vision, Southern Sudan needs a 21-for-21 national project, where we will commit to another 21 years of hard work, the same number of years it took to bring about liberation. It is the only way we will make the fallen heroes proud. It is the simplest, most meaningful and lasting honor we all can give our late leader John Garang and all the martyrs who will always guide and lead us from their graves.

For his upcoming major speech in July, President Salva Kiir should talk to us and the world, in declarative terms, by calling for the rule of law, one that is anchored by a national constitution and an independent branch of Southern Sudan judiciary, where every person shall be treated equally under the law. His recent promise to take up the gauntlet with those who threaten misuse of public resources is a welcome break.

So to all those who would like to start making careers of these great causes on behalf of educating our new nation, the time is ripe to get to work. Let's make sure the dream of an independence is fully expressed---let's envision the day when Southern Sudan will become the most welcoming place to live---a society that accommodates the views of minority---where all citizens are encouraged to be assertive and able to question their business and political leaders without fear whatsoever. And when that day arrives, we all will proudly say in unison: ode to all the imaginings and the triumph of peace.

Joseph Deng Garang is the President of The New Sudan Vision