Published on Saturday, 01 December 2012 02:16
Written by Unity State Agency for Development Services (USADS)
Promoting Development, Cooperation, Security, Peace and Harmony, and Celebrating our Diversity are vital in Creating a Vibrant and Prosperous
UNITY STATE AGENCY FOR DEVELOPMENT SERVICES (USADS)
South Sudan’s Unity State Citizens in North America Diaspora 1st Open Dialogue Conference
July 6-8, 2012
Malcolm X Memorial Foundation Activities Hall, Omaha, Nebraska
On the eve of South Sudan 1st Independence anniversary, July 6-8, 2012, Unity State citizens in North America (U.S., & Canada) descended upon the city of Omaha, Nebraska, for a Three-Day Open Dialogue Conference. The idea of a conference was conceived in the summer of 2011 by a group of concerned citizens who questioned their obligations and responsibilities in contributing and shaping the future of Unity State. We were resolved to discuss post-independence challenges facing Unity State.
Although this conference was the first of its kind, it came at the right time when our beloved nation, South Sudan, and Unity State in particular, are experiencing economic and security uncertainties. As the title “Open-Dialogue” suggests, it was an open discourse whereby participants were split into two groups (1 & 2) in a round table discussion that allowed everybody in each group to express their viewpoints on a host of problems affecting Unity State citizens here in diaspora and back at home.
On the first day of the conference, each group generated a list of the specific problems or issues participants identified as of critical concern, and a similar exercise was repeated on the second day by producing or discussing solutions to the problems or issues identified during the first day discussion. The lists containing problems and solutions identified during the opening two days were combined together into a blueprint for building a sustainable future.
Despite the fact that, Unity State is facing severe economic difficulties and security challenges following the shutdown of oil production and deliberate sabotage by the Khartoum regime, the participants approached these discussions with a rejuvenated sense of optimism.
- Serve as a platform on which to unite Unity State citizens in Diaspora so they would interact, discuss and exchange ideas, and identify common challenges or problems facing our people back home and seek meaningful and collective solutions forward;
- Promote solidarity and foster cooperation between Unity State members in Diaspora and home so we can work together for common interests and destiny;
- Form a think-tank consulting associate or group in Diaspora that will work closely with our state legislators and policy makers from various departments or ministries in developing coherent and informed strategies regarding how to build a vibrant society.
Common challenges participants identified during the two days round table discussions:
- Lack of Properly Equipped Health Centers (hospitals and clinics). Health centers in all 9 counties are dilapidated (not renovated, no running water and medical supplies) and have no trained health personnel (doctors, nurses, and midwives), making it difficult for the state to combat widespread health problems that has led to high:
- Infant and child mortality
- Maternal mortality
- Death from preventable illnesses such as water borne diseases
- Eye diseases (which have caused blindness of a huge number of Unity State citizens)
- Child malnutrition and developmental diseases
- Poor health among young adults and elderly
- Increase in children dropout rate from schools
- Increase in child homelessness
- Rundown schools and lack of educational facilities and well trained and motivated teachers ( no incentives for enhancing teachers motivation for teaching as a professional career);
- Lack of adult education (vocational and technical programs such as carpentry, masonry, welding, or auto mechanic) to allow war veterans and other war-affected people to acquire skills necessary for making a comfortable livings for their families;
- Children low enrollment rate in schools, in part, due to lack of motivation to study as there is no breakfast or lunch provided. A hungry or empty stomach means unhealthy mind, which means our children will continue to lag behind in competing with children from other states or nations;
- An absence of sound and guided educational curriculum as there is still unnecessary competition between English and Arabic over which language should be adopted as a primary language of instruction. Currently other states in South Sudan have already transitioned to English as required by South Sudan educational system. Continuing the use of Arabic and English interchangeably or concurrently would cause a great deal of confusion, which will deny our children the opportunity to acquire cutting-edge transferable skills they can apply in competing for employment in East Africa. While Arabic is an important language to learn, it would serve our children well if it were to be taught as a subject in all schools, not the primary language in instruction, especially in sciences.
- Surface and ground water contamination by heavy metals such as lead and mercury, etc.., affect not only the people, but also sources of survival or food such as fish and soil from which our food is grown.
- Dumping of oil tailings into the river and land pose a great health risk, now and in the future.
- Deforestation that affect rainfalls pattern
- Food Security and Chronic Hunger: Many heartbreaking accounts by people who recently visited Unity State, coupled with the UN projection that South Sudan is at greater risk of food shortage due to poor yields and underutilization of the agricultural sector on which our people have depended for many centuries, tell a tale of food shortage which is particularly exacerbated by Khartoum or the Republic of Sudan’s decision to close down cross border trade from where the majority of our people obtain their food and non-food items. We associated the lack of food security with the possibility that frustration and anger may get the best of them. We could witness an increase in an illegal acquisition of other people’s possessions or properties (such as interstate cattle rustling or stealing), either from within or from neighboring states. Starvation also comes with lots of health related problems such as:
- Poorly Equipped Schools and Lack of Sound Educational System:
- Poor Infrastructure and Absence of Economic Development and Growth. Inaccessible road and rivers impede free and quick movement of goods locally and from markets from neighboring states; therefore, rendering it virtually impossible for our economic growth as it depends on an interstate trade and free flow of goods.
- Land Disputes between and among Various Counties within Unity State and interstate communities cattle rustling.
- Lack of Political Decentralization and Bad Governance (tribalism, corruption, nepotism, favoritism, and etc….).
- Press or Media Censorship and Intimidation: Free media is often a powerful tool that a state or nation can utilize in keeping its citizens informed and involved in the day to day operations of the affairs of such state or nation. Freedom of speech is one of the reasons that hundreds of thousands of Unity State sons and daughters have made the ultimate sacrifice in death and/or amputation. Information is knowledge; and knowledge is power, and power is development and prosperity!
- Environmental Degradation: Lack of strictly imposed environmental regulations has enabled oil companies operating on our land to not respect and honor its sanctity which has sustained us from time immemorial. A polluted and damaged environment usually causes a myriad of problems which are unhealthy and hazardous to the local populations, e.g.
Recommendations, suggestions, and Proposals:
- Build more health centers or renovate the existing clinics in all 9 counties and employ qualified and well trained doctors and nurses. These clinics should have the following wards:
- Children (including feeding centers)
- Mental health counseling
- Disabilities (eyes, ears, and etc…)
Furthermore, in addition to recruiting more medical practitioners there is also high need of civil education on the paramount importance of hygiene and keeping our environment clean as many of the water borne diseases and other illness come as a result of dirty and contaminated environments. Encouraging citizens to buy water purification filters and treated mosquitoes nets (if they can afford) is crucially vital for maintaining a healthy society. A healthy population means productive and vibrant community. There is need to designate landfills and contract a local or foreign waste management/collection company that will be responsible of collecting of waste or garbage from all counties to ensure that our environment is less exposed to contamination and pollutions.
Local and foreign oil companies should also be held accountable and ordered to pay fines and compensate communities whose way of life have been affected through gross negligence and violations of their international operation standards and obligations. Implementing and ensuring oil companies compliance would need Unity State to network and partner with international agencies or organizations that defend and represent indigenous communities that have been harmed or exposed to risk and hazards by powerful oil companies. Having water sewage treatment facilities would also be effective in maintaining healthy environment. We should also encourage our people to take personal responsibility by digging and building latrines, not cutting down trees, but rather plant more to prevent desertification occurring.
- As a tight budget might not permit building additional schools, renovating and caring for the existing schools would save the state more money funding other educational problems such as:
- Building kindergartens
- Building libraries
- Building feeding or nutrition centers
- Building adult learning centers and technical and vocational
- Provision of school materials or supplies
- Building an orphanage center
Hiring qualified teachers and putting competent administrators in charge of our educational system is something that cannot be overemphasized as it is the key to ensuring that our children receive quality education so we can have sustainable development that would lead to prosperity.
- Promote Agricultural and Economic Development: This, we believe is in line with the Government slogan of “taking towns” to the rural communities, not rural communities to towns or urban centers. No society or nation can function normally when its citizens are faced with food crisis or are unable to produce foods. Even developed countries with advanced economies still rely heavily on developing and supporting their agricultural sectors by providing farm subsidies and other incentives to farmers that are the engines to sustainable growth and development. Put simply, we need to diversify our economy. The following recommendations were stated:
- Encourage subsistence and commercial agriculture. There should be no rush to modern and mechanized agricultural methods because it will dissuade or force farmers that use only the traditional methods out of business, which will significantly contribute to the pain of food crisis from which we have suffered. Modern methods of agriculture also comes with heavy application of an environmentally unfriendly chemicals in the forms of farms fertilizers that may cause adverse effects on the land on which many make a living;
- Provide incentives and establish micro-finance or loans system for farmers that may not have the capitals for starting their own business;
- Empower women to also invest in agriculture as they have traditionally been producers of food in our society;
- Establish at least one agriculture training academy in the state capital, Bentiu.
- Build Roads By Connecting All 9 Counties. Nothing promotes accelerated economic development in any nation so much as accessible roads which makes it easy for traders or retailers to transport their goods or commodities from local markets and across state borders. This is the most effective and efficient way of promoting local and foreign investments which Unity State desperately needs for developing its’ economy. It is also important that we develop our water transportation by dredging the River Nile tributaries connecting Unity State to neighboring states for easy flow of goods.
We should also develop a taxation system from which the state can generate additional revenues, but we should get rid of some of the unnecessary roadblocks between Bentiu and 9 counties. This fleeces local traders of their money and discourage them from continuing their transportation businesses that are important to the state as not everybody own personal means of transportation. Equally important as accessible roads, is the development of communications, which is vital for maintaining information flow and keeping people connected all across the state.
- Strengthening the Judiciary System (Constitutional & Customary). A state cannot develop peacefully without the presence of law and order. It is crucial that nobody is above the law irrespective of their social and/or economic status. That means, Unity State, like other states in South Sudan, needs an independent judiciary systems in the form of constitutional court and customary courts that will ensure an equal protection of every citizen’s rights and punish culprits whose choice of actions are destructive to the society. This also means continuing to strengthen the police department and other law enforcement agencies so that the relationship between law enforcers and ordinary citizens is clearly defined and respected.
Counties Border Demarcation: There are unresolved issues regarding the traditional boundaries between various neighboring counties. Existing and potential conflicts over land ownership should be solved by setting up a task-force committee of elders and chiefs and religious leaders that will seek solutions through dialogue and workshops involving all parties to conflict. Delimiting and defining borders legally would minimize incursion and potential and actual conflicts trigger by land disputes between and among various counties in Unity State as well as with communities from the neighboring states of Warrap and Lake.
In the event that somebody or people leave and settle in another county, they would become members of their new county and acquire land through legal means so that nobody is accused of land grabbing, something which is spreading like wild fire all across South Sudan, which could cause violent conflicts if not addressed by using peaceful and legal means in the constitution or customary courts as the law requires. This would be instrumental in cultivating harmonious relations among our communities as a peace loving and law-abiding society.
- Human Rights Abuse: Although we cannot cite specifics cases for we are not indicting or point hands at a particular group(s), there have been many reports by non-politically affiliated human rights organizations alleging some human rights violations in Unity State during and following the disputed April elections in 2010, as well as when the SPLA forces clashed with various South Sudanese armed groups operating at our northern borders.
Action Plans and Priorities
We the Unity State citizens in diaspora are aware that, there is no easy fix to problems of such magnitude, however, we should evaluate what, where, and how things currently stand. We need to and take a collective blame and responsibility to ensure the future of our state is better than today. We need to devise an effective, efficient, and coherent co-operative system which will allow us to participate in projects that will usher our state towards a correct course of development and stability.
That means some of these proposals or resolutions can be implemented in short term and some will require a longer time. We should develop an action plan framework now so we can have our priorities in proper order as necessitated by an urgent nature of some needs, as there are certain things we can do and cannot in short window of time with resources at hand.
We in Diaspora do not pretend to have solutions to all the problems affecting Unity State, however, we would like to form a united front and establish communication corridors or channels with our people back home so we can work together as a team in finding ways through which we can best serve our people by meeting their needs and aspirations now and in the future. Working together and moving forward as a team requires us to evaluate first where things went wrong and what we are not doing right so we can avoid repeating similar mistakes in the future. That means our involvement from Diaspora is not politically driven, but guided by a fervent desire to focus on development, which is an area we believe we can make positive contributions in terms of consulting with the state government on important matters related to development. Furthermore, in addressing or responding to such difficult and pressing challenges, development programs or initiatives initiated by the government should be much better aligned with and according to the people demands for services.
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