Governance mistakes South Sudan must unlearn from Kenya to succeedBy MWANGI KIBATHI | Thursday, July 14 2011 at 09:46
The euphoria displayed by the South Sudanese during the voting and recent independence celebrations can perhaps be equated to the independence celebrations in Kenya 48 years ago.
After decades of colonial plunder, Kenyans looked forward to a new dawn full of prosperity as promised by their leaders. Hunger, disease and extreme greed were finally to be banished.
But half a century later, half of the population lives on the margins of these maladies. A notable proportion of the remainder hovers precariously around these extremes. What went wrong?
Are there lessons for South Sudan to draw from the Kenyan experience? After independence, the political elite distanced itself from the people.
They largely comprised Western-educated minorities that had quietly admired the privileged status of colonialists. Their first preoccupation was to plunder natural and financial resources.
Corruption quickly replaced racial privileges. Resources meant for basic services and infrastructure development were corruptly acquired for private gain.
Several parts of the Republic were starved of any meaningful development. The majority continued in abject poverty as they did during colonialism.
Governance instruments and practices were reviewed to support private interests. The constitution was amended to increase presidential powers and emasculate governance institutions like Parliament and the Judiciary. Political opposition was outlawed.
The ruling class had to look for ways to keep the citizens perpetually subjugated. This they did by strengthening ethnic identity at the expense of the national identity.
Development initiatives were decided on the basis of tribal and regional considerations. Plum government jobs were dished out to trusted ethnic kingpins. Ministries and parastatals became cash cows for personal enrichment.
To further entrench ethnic identities, political leaders started organising political violence against ethnic groups seen as supporting opposing political forces. The nation effectively broke into a conglomeration of ethnic states each in active or passive rivalry with the other.
Could this also be the fate of South Sudan? Yes it can, and it will, unless the new government learns from the mistakes of its neighbours. First, natural resources can either build or destroy. If a significant proportion of the population feels marginalised, it will take up arms.
The early years of independence will bring about a lot of infrastructure development. Schools, roads and hospitals have to be built. This means massive procurement and unlimited opportunities for corruption.
As in Kenya, the economic and political elite may try to win these tenders through corruption. If such tendencies are not nipped in the bud early, major projects will be overvalued to siphon public funds.
Well-connected contractors will also try to carry out sub-standard works and still claim full pay. Major projects may also be delayed by contractors with the intention of inflating costs. Public service delivery will be seriously impaired.
There is a risk that the South Sudanese Government may weaken institutions of governance like Parliament, the Judiciary, and the Auditor-General. Temptations of this nature arise from the need to control national processes.
Control tendencies are even stronger in a newly-independent country. The ‘‘founding fathers’’ may demand some sort of reverence as an appreciation to their sacrifices during the struggle. This is how Kenya acquired an imperial presidency.
Ethnicity may rear its head in the allocation of government positions. Two facts conspire to make this issue even more acute in South Sudan. First, it has more than 50 ethnic groups. Secondly, the civil service will be created from scratch.
Must South Sudan take the beaten path of State failure? Absolutely not. Avoiding this failure must be done through conscious efforts to promote good governance.
South Sudan has a great opportunity to start on the right footing, an opportunity that almost all other African countries failed to grab. If this is not done, the South Sudanese do not have to look far to predict where their country will be in the next 50 years.
Mr Kibathi is the Research Programme Officer, Transparency International-Kenya.
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