Managing the Caesarian birth of Africa's newest state

Category: Diaspora
Published on Sunday, 21 November 2010 20:00
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Managing the Caesarian Birth of Africa’s newest State

 Presented by Parek Maduot 

at  Southern Sudan and Abyei Referenda Conference

University of Calgary

Calgary, Alberta

Canada, November 20, 2010

SouthernSudanMapI AM delighted to be participating in this conference under the auspices of the Government of Southern Sudan Liaison Office, and our good friends at the New Sudan Vision. I am convinced that the very act of successfully holding this sort of conferences in the Diaspora is a testament to the burning desire of many of our compatriots in this hall to play an active role in shaping the future of Southern Sudan. It is therefore important to note at the outset my sincere gratitude to all of you in the organizing committees who worked ceaselessly to bring us here together to share ideas and plans for our collective future.

My brief presentation will address the question of post-referendum issues facing our leaders and all other stakeholders over both the short and long term. Of course, the immediate task of determining the shape and nature of the relationship between the North and the South if secession is the prevailing choice of the people of Southern Sudan rightfully occupies significant focus and attention at this moment. However, while I would briefly touch upon this obvious challenges, I would like to range a little further down the road beyond the marathon negotiations between the SPLM and NCP, while focusing on what I call the caesarian birth of Africa’s newest nation-state.

A North-South compact

The two partners are faced with the following immediate issues that need to be resolved before the referendum for Southern Sudan or reasonably soon thereafter:

 These are certainly issues that deserve the attention they are getting, even though it is worth mentioning that the protracted nature of some of the items like Abyei and border demarcation is mostly the result of persistent obstruction by the ruling National Congress Party. The Abyei issue has been exhausted and even revisited by the two partners under significant international community guidance, and should not still be outstanding if not for its use as a bargaining chip by the National Congress Party.

The manufactured crises over who is eligible to vote in Abyei as formulated by the NCP and some of the Misseriya leaders is contrary to the spirit and intent of the Abyei Protocols, and makes a mockery of the very concept of self-determination. The people who are accorded that right logically must have asked for it, and that right cannot be sensibly exercised if their will could be trumped through sheer numbers by others who have no obvious grievances with the central authority in Khartoum. It does not make any sense for the Misseriya to be granted the right to vote on whether they want to join the South or stay in the North when they were essential partners of the central authority in its suppression of the people of Abyei. Ultimately, the SPLM must negotiate all these tracks honestly in the interest of peace, but make it abundantly clear that resolving the issue of Abyei justly is an essential condition before the two potential new states can agree on the shape of their future relationship.

The challenge of proving the doubters wrong

I conjured up the image of a caesarian birth of a new baby to illustrate the nature of the pain and agony, but also triumph and happiness for its people, that the emergence of Southern Sudan as an independent state signifies. Like any caesarian birth, it will need many midwives who are frantically committed to its birth as an entity able to overcome the obstacles and growth pains it will surely encounter.

Among all these midwives, the people of Southern Sudan are the most important factor as to the possibility of the South succeeding to prove many people wrong about their forecasts of a failed anarchy-filled cesspool of war and poverty. Beyond the previously discussed question of relations with the North, the South will have to put its house in good order and lay the foundation for a democratic system of governance that recognizes its immense diversity, justly manages and distributes its natural resources, sensibly maintains relations with the rest of the world, and most fundamentally, finds a way to tap into its most important resource, its people.

The development challenge

It is critical in my opinion that we define what we mean by development, and identify the different variables that are essential to attaining quantifiable and sustainable community or societal development. The themes of Education and development are all very broad and important issues, but they are all linked and need to be equally pursued.

As you all know, the desperate state of our people is borne out by dismal social indicator numbers across the whole region, and they are not just data points but real manifestations of serious human suffering and deprivation. What these numbers highlight is the obvious toll that decades of war, displacement and official neglect have wrought on the fabric of the community of Southern Sudan as a whole. Now that we have mercifully achieved a modicum of peace and stability in the region after the signing of the CPA, we must pivot away from the total war for survival and liberation to the monumental challenge of developing ourselves and our land.

It goes without saying that all of you in this hall enjoy unprecedented advantages in comparison to your fellow compatriots in the poor villages around places like Tonj, Kapoeta, Bor and Nasir. That sweeping statement is also true of the vast majority of our officials at all levels of our state and local governments. The key then when we are talking about development is to be cognizant of our own biased inclinations to favor approaches that will primarily benefit the elite in the short and long term, while sweepingly calling it development. Building office buildings and residences for our officials with foreign expertise and labor at significant cost to our treasury might be called development by some of us, but is really a serious public policy error.

We are essentially bankrolling the economies of neighboring countries and their private sector with our limited resources, while not making any progress to that day when a building in Torit could be exclusively designed by an Architect from Gogrial, built by a Contractor and his/her crew from Tonj, and all along having been reviewed and approved by the Town Planner and Inspector who both hail from Malakal. Granted, it is not completely attainable overnight, but we have instruments at our disposal both as officials and citizens to work to bring that day sooner rather than later.

Mass education

We need to significantly address the educational system that we hope to produce the men and women who can really power the engine of development in our state. We must first shift our outlook as citizens to a longer horizon for planning and implementing initiatives for the future. We are mired in a deadly focus on the immediate political and social challenges, without recognizing that long term solutions take time and should be accordingly planned. I am sure that our parents’ generation had the same earnest discussion we are having today about these problems as youth decades ago, but we are still debating them now because the wheels of change were not strong or focused enough to resolve some of our elementary problems.

To lay down some concrete ideas, we need to seriously commit ourselves to the idea of mandatory primary and secondary education across the whole region. It should not be left to the discretion of the parents whether they want their children, and especially their daughters, to be enrolled in school. The government must apportion a significant part of its budget to invest in the long decimated network of schools in the area, and build new ones to extend this primary right to all the children who will be the future leaders. The struggle for justice and equal rights in Sudan cannot be won by people who allow their societies to sustain high double digits in illiteracy without tackling that with the same zeal of a war for survival.

Moreover, this network of schools provides the best mechanism to address the issues of sectional and tribal over-identification at the expense of the wider commonalities that bind us, and reflect one of the legacies of our previous efforts that produce some of our most visionary leaders from institutions like Rumbek Secondary School and Tonj Primary School.

We also need to reinvest in our dormant vocational education institutions, and even more critically, to require that these institutes and their students become partners in rebuilding their states, and not just spectators watching all the work being done by foreigners with no stake in the long term future of our new country.

People-centered development schemes

I strongly believe that our work should focus on initiatives that deal with the man and woman on the ground with as wide a scope as possible, and not be sucked into objectives that appear worthwhile but are actually detrimental in the long run. I am referring to the obsessive desire for physical reconstruction goals, all which are laudable and useful, but cannot succeed or bear the desired fruit in the midst of a community decimated by illiteracy, starvation, sectional divisions and mal-administration.

Allocating our meager resources towards development schemes in the education and health sectors, and shoring up viable economic industries such as animal husbandry and agriculture, will ensure that a wider slice of our people begin to inch up from poverty and neglect. Even in the unlikely case of ensuring a graft and corruption-free government, we would still be treading the same water like we have done in Sudan for the last fifty years and never make a serious dent in developing our people.

Holistic approach to development

Culture and music are essential to our sense of history and to the sense of pride and connection that every society must have with its people. Our conference should resolve to explore ways to initiate or identify projects in these critical areas, and to empower in whatever form feasible efforts to further develop our languages, transcribe our oral history and folklore and help develop musical groups in the area. This is an example of the holistic approach to development that goes beyond tangible physical improvements and towards longer-term strides in areas such as culture, art, music and sports.

 Networked initiatives

All of us have at one point or another dreamt of being the one to save the day and have the accolades and legacy that are bestowed on the heroes and trailblazers. Think of lauded figures in their societies like Nelson Mandela, Kamal Ataturk of Turkey, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro.

What these people have in common is the attainment of mythic status in their community because of the good works they put forth during their lifetime. Maybe not at that epic scale, but each one of you does have a burning, and in some cases flickering, desire to do something that will last for posterity, even if in your own small village. The reality is that all these giants did not achieve and make their mark until they were able to work and network with other equally committed compatriots.

In the context of our discussion, we need to coordinate and link the disparate elements of youth and civil society initiatives in the whole Southern Sudan if we are to make any progress. As regular people outside the corridors of power in Juba, you cannot effect the type of change you want without applying a coordinated mass of people behind your ideas and vision. I hope we come out of these conference more determined to share our different endeavors under various associations and organizations, and that we pursue different projects but with tighter linkages between the people pursuing them.


I must conclude finally that I strongly believe that our civil society should and must be proactive players in this effort, and that our leaders and officials can significantly reduce the load on the public treasury if they work hand in hand with these other sectors. The burden is on all of us to acknowledge each other as important stakeholders in this future and to find ways to harmoniously assist each other.

 Thank you.

*Parek Maduot is graduate of the University of Maryland at College Park and a regular analyst and contributor to The New Sudan Vision. He presented this paper at Southern Sudan & Abyei Referenda Conference held at the University of Calgary on Nov. 20 2010. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.