(California USA) - As southern Sudanese are preparing for the birth of the long waited independent state on 9 July 2011, it is natural that there are many nation building strategies being discussed within the government or among the ordinary people of South Sudan. One of the promising strategies highlighted by the Government of Southern Sudan(GOSS) through then the office of legal affairs, now office of the President, is “Vision 2040”. This strategy is very promising because it encompasses a modern nationhood building systems. The systems in my opinion are manifested in the seven pillars of this strategy which are: 1) educated and informed nation; 2) prosperous, productive and innovative nation; 3) free, just and peaceful nation; 4) democratic and accountable nation; 5) safe and secure nation; 6) united and proud nation; and 7) compassionate and tolerant nation.
All the mentioned seven pillars of “Vision 2040” are noble and appropriate to build a viable nation. Though there may be a low level and a more detailed document on how to build those pillars somewhere, I am yet to see it. The high level document published concerning “vision 2040” doesn’t include a clear execution plan to how to make this vision a reality. In this paper, I would like to shed some light on some ways that were previously demonstrated to have helped many developing countries to build similar pillars in a significantly short period of time. I will present one of the widely known economic development strategies fully recognized and supported by the World Bank for developing nations: Information –Led Development (ILD) Strategy. This economics-development-strategy-plan encompasses an execution-plan that can set South Sudan in the right course toward achieving the seven pillars of “ Vision 2040” within set milestones. This strategy is recommended for the developing countries because it has proven a success in many countries such as India, China, and South Korea. It has also shown an encouraging economics results to some African countries such as Ghana and Rwanda.
As South Sudan is planning many aspects of its infrastructure, it is a great chance to plan for a sustainable economic Information-led development strategy that will alleviate poverty and prepare its citizens to compete globally in the future. A vision for global competition is necessary because it instills in people a culture of productivity and sense of purpose. This paper will discuss how South Sudan could benefit from ILD strategy in terms of improvement of human resources, productivity and ultimately rapid economic growth. I will define ILD, information technology (IT) and its relation to ILD as an economic growth strategy, how it came to existence, and finally how to architect and implement ILD strategy in South Sudan’s specific situation.
What is ILD?
Information-led Development is an economic development strategy whereby the developing country makes primary economic-policy-focus the creation and development of national Information Technology (IT) sector and sets priorities to make it the engine of economic growth. In other words, the developing country would invest in engineering and development of its national IT infrastructure to promote development of its human resources which alleviate people’s economic conditions and boost the country’s overall production outputs.
What is IT and how it relates to ILD?
To define information technology, one has to go back to the historical definition of the word “information” and “Technology”. Information is derived from a Latin word “informatio” and the verb “informare” means to “ to give form to mind”, “ to discipline”, “ to instruct”, “ to teach”, or to form an idea. The ancient Greek also used the word form synonymously with kind, idea, set and shape and was famously used in the technical philosophies by Plato and Aristotle to term the essence of something. Some philosophical terms associated with the word form are thought, proposition or concept. Therefore, information is a concept of mind, a thought or knowledge communicated or received concerning a particular fact or circumstances.
For the purpose and scope of this paper, we will define technology as the branch of knowledge that deals with creation and use of technical methods to improve life, society or environment. The early use of tools such as stones and fire to better the quality of our human ancestor’s life are good examples of an early human adoption of technology. In fact, engineering or science as a discipline is very well rooted in technology. Information technology is therefore a method or a mean of acquiring, processing, storing, and disseminating vocal or pictorial information. Human language was believed to be the first technological method of communication or exchange of information.
There is no definite date as to when human first started information exchange, however, records indicate that throughout history, humans found ways to store or disseminate information for others to access and make use of. There are historical accounts which indicate that Egyptians, Greeks and Chinese made significant contributions on information scripting and use of symbols and later written languages. The most significant period of transformation for information technologies was between nineteenth and twentieth century when the world witnessed an explosion of telecommunications inventions. These inventions range from telegram, telephone, radio and electronics computers and ultimately internet. During the last half of the twentieth century, the world went through uniquely major transformation of information by finding ways to translate information into digital format and creation of data centers. In the late 1990s and beginning of 2000 during the telecom boom, major US corporations invested heavily in the global connections through fiber optics for high speed internet connection with the intention of an access to global market. This wiring of the globe through fiber optics internet connection turn out to bear more economic benefits to developing countries than for those US corporations. The fiber optics connection and the advancement of other information technologies created an economic environment which Thomas Freidman called, in his book: The world is flat, a flattened world where global economic competition is a fair game for any country whether a developing country or a developed country. The key for the developing country is how to take advantage of this flattened world.
Information-led Development (ILD) as an Economic Growth Strategy
There are many economic growth models known in the world of academia. However, all the economic growth models share the concept that there are three fundamental blocks that govern economic growth system for a country. These economics growth blocks are:
-Labor supply function (population)
For simplicity, Production function serves as the block which entails all the country’s production outputs or sources of income such as oil, agriculture, manufacturing, and other sources of revenues. The saving function can be described as the engine to curbing imports to reduce the deficit and also to circulate country’s income within the country to retain hard currency. The labor supply is the most important point of influence and leverage for ILD because it deals with human capital and ways to engage population in not only production outputs, but also to harness local skilled labor which can maximize national saving. The diagram below illustrated the relationship and interdependency of these economic blocks.
With application of hi-tech systems in work efficiency during late eighties and early nineties, the world through “digital revolution” witnessed unprecedented opportunities in the avenues of international trade and economic growth particularly in trading services internationally via IT enabled services, which permits less developed countries skip stages of economic development and leapfrog to much more advance service economy. India is a prime example of those developing countries which took advantage of these opportunities through policies of ILD.
As Tom Freidman described in his book: the world is flat, this leapfrog is now possible to these less developed countries because, the digital revolution of the eighties and the nineties coupled with the telecom boom of the early 2000’s flattened the world to the degree of bundling many steps of wealth-creation process into outsourcing. IT enabled services as a result of ILD policies not only solved the problem of retaining many educated and talented individuals in the poor nations, it also elevated the standard of engineering education to a world class education capable to competing in a global market. This form of brain-gain system gradually and indirectly mitigates many problems facing poor countries such as illiteracy, health systems, infrastructure and even tribal clashes. The ILD also has another advantage of increasing the local start-ups and entrepreneurship leading to an increased private and public sector investment in human and physical capital. Some of the areas where ILD policies are very crucial include:
-Educated and talented labor
If we look closely into the above ILD factors, they relate very well with the seven pillars of “vision 2040” proposed by GOSS. ILD as strategy and execution plan will ensure government investment in human and physical capital as well as creating an environment where not only new talented pool of skilled labor is produced, but also where southern Sudanese engineers and scientist in the diaspora are attracted and retained. This system of information led education and development will also stimulate the process of digitization of most of the work whether in public or private sector which increases efficiency and quality regulation. This can also have profound impact in reducing irregularities and corruption within the government. This method of quality regulation will indirectly encourage transparency across all government institutions and create accountable nation. As a big portion of South Sudan population is engaged in this economic development policy, this in long term will also reduce tribal clashes and insecurity because prosperity is sometimes the most unifying religion or tribe. A close example of this is when India started to bear fruits of long established ILD policies, most of the religious sectarian clashes between the Hindus, Muslims and Christians dramatically declined. This economic win-win for everyone regardless of religion or tribe which is induced by ILD policies creates a wide middle class and ultimately a stable nation economically and politically.
How can South Sudan architect and implement its ILD?
Creating a vision people can believe in:
People usually are moved by a vision which paints a colorful future about a change the end goal will bring into their life. ILD vision needs to be tailored to capture the imagination of each southern Sudanese about how they would like this policy to change their life. For example, a farmer in Anzara, Western Equatoria would probably like ILD to help boost his or her crops production in the next harvest season. He or she may also want to understand what seeds are more suitable to his/her environment and what ways to prevent parasites and diseases from hindering maximum crops harvesting. ILD vision could be presented to be the tool to provide detailed information about farming best practices at a fingertip. Another Cattle keeper in Rumbek, Lakes state may also like to find ways to track his missing cattle or find ways to make the best out of his numerous cows. ILD vision should present a future where there will be ways to remotely track his cattle and find best practices to industrialize his cattle keeping occupation at a fingertip. You can even stretch the vision to setting a national goal to have Juba city host the World Wide Web 2030 annual conference. This will create a strong creative tension within South Sudan nation and with serendipity of many activities within the IT sector; it will create a platform which will breed innovation that will exceed beyond the goal itself. Sometimes it is not what vision is, it is what it does to people.
Comprehensive policy across multiple government agencies:
ILD requires participation of every southern Sudanese due to benefit that the abundance of information sources brings to their life regardless of professions. As I mentioned above, ILD is itself a policy where the government makes the creation and development of the national IT sector as the engine of growth. Once the government acknowledges that ILD is a viable strategy to build the nation and make it a national policy, there should be a mechanism of leadership assignment, communication channels and assessment and control of the policy across multiple government agencies or ministries such as Finance, Education, Commerce, human Resources, Telecommunications,...etc. The private sector should also deeply be engaged to foster culture of innovation. First, the government needs to make clear the leadership assignment of the plan by identifying the roles and responsibilities of each government agency. This would encourage empowerment and accountability of each government agency. The leadership would also need to be supplemented by identifying channels to communicate the vision and the policy such as media, education curriculums, business start-up process,...etc. Finally, to assess performance of the country in term of ILD, there need be clear measurables of the progress. The measurables and milestones ought to be defined upfront and have every agency report data on the progress of each milestone and make appropriate plan refinement as necessary.
Setting up major R &D Engineering Schools:
R&D has become the source of innovation in many major public institution and private enterprises. It helps an enterprise find new ways to either improve their product or develop innovative strategies to better their best practices to be able to compete in the market. In the developed nations, governments heavily rely on think tank, advocacy institutes, and educational institutions to research and developed policies which could promote economic growth and political stability among others. The GOSS can integrate development of R &D culture into its ILD policy by strengthening the existing major universities in South Sudan such as University of Juba, University of Upper Nile, University of Bahr El Gazal, John Garang Institute of Technology, Rumbek University. To rehabilitate these Universities, the government can attract competent Southern Sudanese faculty and professional from diaspora and create programs to facilitate government funded research and development projects. A Pilot program to support the ILD policy can be started within the engineering schools within these universities.
Setting up Technical /Vocational schools
It seems that GOSS is already in the right track in terms of promotion of the technical/vocational schools. One example is the inauguration of Juba Technical Secondary schools. This promotion of technical and vocational schools can be further enhanced and extended to cover all ten states. The technical schools should be encouraged to, alongside all other variety of technical certificates, offer basic computer courses. Technical/vocational schools should also offer advanced computer certifications such networking, computer security, basic programing and web development. This is important because technical/vocational schools are the essential aspect of economic fluidity that will stimulate the ILD policy and move it forward. Also, you cannot have a functioning economy with only highly educated academicians without a strong base of skilled technicians.
Investing in IT infrastructure across South Sudan
As South Sudan is transitioning into an independent state, it will make sense to have its telephone code and internet domain gateway. I have heard an official in the ministry of telecommunications and postal services talking about a plan to extend the fiber optics from Kenya to South Sudan for high speed internet connection. This is an encouraging plan. I would like to emphasize that the success of ILD in South Sudan is absolutely determined by the speed of its internet connection to the world grid. Internet speed is governed by the bandwidth that IT infrastructure can allow. Some determinant factors may be attributed to the communication system and some are transmission medium based. In most cases the internet speed is attributed to the bandwidth of transmission medium such as cables, fiber optics, and air in the case of wireless. High bandwidth is very crucial to the success of ILD because, like a highway, internet bandwidth determine how much traffic it can accommodate. You cannot have ten cars in a three lane highway. Similarly, you cannot have so many active systems connecting into the internet without slowing down the speed. The reason they use fiber optics for long internet connection is because it have a high bandwidth and it allows transmission of huge bundle of data to a long distance before the signal can lose strength and fidelity. GOSS not only needs to invest in setting a good fiber optics internet infrastructure, it also needs to form a technical team consist of southern Sudanese experts in the field to oversee and regulate the contractors’ involvement in the building of the fiber optics infrastructure to avoid a similar case of the corruption that ensued in fiber optics construction in Uganda by a bogus Chinese company which used a cheap and degraded fiber material.
For ILD strategy to bear fruits in South Sudan, the government and private sector would need to join hands to develop and make the seven pillars of “vision 2040” a reality. There are competing assumptions that the private sector should do this alone or the government should take the lead role in this endeavor. But the fact of the matter is, building viable information and communications infrastructure that will transform a nation is the responsibility of both Government and the private sector. The private sector should try ambitious business investments and rollout while the government sets forth reform policies that encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.