Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 2 April 2008

International NGOs vis-à-vis Local Community of South Sudan


By Chuol R. Kompuok

April 1, 2008 — Southern Sudanese communities have maintained peace and stability for two solid years or so after signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Governments of the Republic of the Sudan, represented by the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLM/SPLA) in January 2005. After enjoying the tranquility of the relative peace, the South Sudanese public expects now more than just peace. The service delivery system which they were deprived of for many decades before and after the birth of SPLM/SPLA in 1983 should have been put in place. But, the prevailing scenario points to the opposite direction. This is to bring to the attention of the readers that the social services which serve as spring board for fundamental changes and bring about positive economic growth have failed to exist in the area. If those services are not there, how can we talk of independent South that we have all yearned to see for all those long years of war and put much blame on the northern government? It’s up to South Sudan and its people to carry their cross now. It is not now as it used to be when all the resources were controlled by the merciless government of the north, which used to channel the money meant for the south to individual’s accounts. When this was squandered, no one was held accountable. Shouldn’t the SPLM/SPLA live by its words and promises to deliver what the South and its people want? The unfortunate experience over the last two years indicates that there are individuals in the government who will always use all opportunities to derail any move towards changes for positive economic growth of the nation.

Experience shows that development can be brought forth only when efforts are put together than they are scattered all over the place. Contrary to that, then at the end of the planning horizon, it is more likely than not to achieve anything but losses in all spheres whereby a country’s economic growth can find itself in stagnation and decline. I believe South Sudan would have made a tremendous progress given the meager resources it has mobilized both internally and externally. This could have happened if and only if sound economic policies have been put together for the betterment of its society. The infrastructures are in bad shape all over the South and the worst time, the rainy season when most of the places in the South are completely inaccessible, has come. The air strips all over the South are badly managed by the local authorities who don’t have anything rather than sapping the energy of the local poor who look malnourished for the lack of basic services at their disposal in general and food deficit in particular.

South Sudan has now become a “melting pot” of people from all walks of life, be it Southerners, Arabs, internationals and the organizations. Most of these go to the region with the intention to acquire quick wealth in the shortest time possible. The None Governmental Organizations which go to South Sudan with a declared mission to help the local people turn to profit-making activities as soon as they set foot on the land. The fundamental issue one raises is “what are the functions of all the international NGOs in Southern Sudan?” What are their duties, obligations and their rights, and who is responsible for the monitoring of their programs? The legitimacy of these questions comes from the fact that for more two years since the formation of the government of South Sudan, a number of NGOs have moved their headquarters from Nairobi to Juba, the seat of government of South Sudan. This was supposed to give South Government an opportunity to closely monitor and evaluate the activities of the said NGOs. But it appears that the government seems to have no clue on what these giant NGOs are doing at all. A good example to be cited is the “HOTELLING BUSINESSES” run by the International NGOs in their respective locations, particularly Juba and Lokichoggio, just to mention a few. It is a shock for me to learn that International NGOs working to restore and improve the welfare of South Sudanese people have decided to run hotel businesses which were not part of the agreement when presenting their proposals to both the donors and the Government of South Sudan.

The humanitarian organizations have made their ways through business circles instead of assisting the poor South Sudanese, who have suffered the war badly, to realize their hope for a better life in their country during peace time. These organizations have pledged millions of dollars for rehabilitation and reconstruction of the country ruined for so many decades of war. But, these organizations have now shown total failure in the service delivery system, and the money meant to cause a trickle-down effect on the community in question is being repatriated to Western World and the nearby neighboring countries such as Kenya and Uganda in the name of brotherhood. These are some of the black African nations who have just come out from their hideouts recently and have been known for showing less interest in helping the suffering South Sudanese brothers. Kenya—a country known by many South Sudanese of deporting to north Sudan the Anya Nya I political activists, who came to Kenya to form the first rebel movement in the 1970s—seems to have spearheaded the activities and has all the opportunities to sap every single coin meant for the survival of the Southerners. The country in question seems to have forgotten the pain inflicted on the Southerners and now adding too much salt on the unhealed wound as its citizens embark on dishonest activities such as the mysterious disappearance of about 140 million Ksh from the KCB-South Sudan branch in Juba. Whether the money is stolen by the Kenyans or Southerners, the practice is copied from Kenyans who are known for gang robberies in many Kenyan banks. If such scenario persists, there will be many more gang robberies in South Sudan encouraged by this first move whereby the culprits have gone unpunished. This is a practice of its own kind in Southern Sudan for the first time in the history. If the government of South Sudan is not taking care from now on, much havoc will be wrecked.

I am not very sure whether South Sudan government is aware of the Asian financial crisis in the mid 1997 when the World Bank and IMF came into the picture by introducing the Structural Adjustment Programs into Asian and sub-Saharan Africa economies as a policy instrument. The result of the policies produced the opposite effect. It invited financial crisis, instead. Initially, Asian governments did not know for sure whether the policy instruments would work the improvement or deterioration effect on their economies. It appears that the liberalization of these financial sectors introduced by the Western World seems to have impacted on the Asian economies negatively. This result can be attributed to the fact that the policies were not in conformity with the prevailing Asian economic conditions at the time. As a result of blindly taking the directives from the Western World, a devastating financial crisis transpired in Asia. Among these Asian countries, the hardest hits were Thailand and South Korea. This is because when these policies were designed, they were actually meant for the rehabilitation of the European economies as Post War Aid Program commonly known as the Marshall Plan in 1947. The structural adjustment policies did not fit into the Asian economies. Further more the World Bank and IMF worked very hard to make sure the less developed nations remained in abject poverty and would always be surviving at the whims of the Western World. Due to the interception of the tricks played by the giant organizations, the SAP (1986) changed to PRSP (1990), and then again to MDG (2015). All means one and the same goal that one would wish to achieve at the end, though coined differently. To this effect, Asian countries have learnt a great deal of lesson from the Structural Adjustment Policies and turned the evils to prosperity as well as effective economic growth and development. This experience was made into prosperity by a few Asian countries nick named the “Asian tigers” after Asian financial crisis. It is to be emphasized here that Asian counties did not follow any contemporary conventional economic models to reach where they are. Then, what makes it so difficult for sub-Saharan African countries to emulate these policies? Though the World Bank and IMF criticized Asian countries for bypassing the economic conventional rules, they appear to have moved miles and no one will stop them any more. This is where the South Sudan Government can pick up from and be able to make a fundamental change with regards to what the NGOs should come in with, what projects to carry out, what labor to require and with what qualifications. The point that I am trying to make is that the NGOs should not spend the majority of money on expensive Western consultants and other experts. The ordinary people of South Sudan know exactly what they need to survive. They should always be involved in the identification of the projects, skills required by the project and whether there are qualified members of the communities to act as consultants or experts.

The Government of South Sudan should not commit the same mistake committed by the Asian governments of liberalizing their economies without taking into account the real economic conditions of their respective nations by then. This is a relevant case that the Government of South Sudan needs to appreciate. It must look into its policies of inviting International NGOs with their recruits from outside the country. I am very skeptical that recruits from the outside the country are all qualified for the jobs that they come to South Sudan for. But conditions that would have allowed the locals to participate in the job markets were not conducive. It is ironic that the locals are considered irrelevant in the economic and social considerations of projects that are supposedly meant for their benefits. Most of the jobs advertised are either carried out in Nairobi or in Juba, the Southern capital whereby the locals—due to lack of proper infrastructure in place and finance—cannot make their ways up to compete for the jobs. In effect, the self-claimed international experts grab the opportunity and the poor Southerners who are locked up in the rural areas with authentic certificates cannot avail themselves for the competitions. At the end of the day the job is taken by the self-claimed international scholars. This is the scenario where South Sudan government should not lose sight because this is where the Asian experiences come in handy. At the end of the project, these individuals leave nothing behind in South Sudan. This proves that they lack commitment to the development of South Sudan. But South Sudanese nationals working on those projects would positively contribute to the growth of our national economy as he or she would not have any other foreign country to which to repatriate his/her income. But by not involving itself in the policy determinations of the NGOs, does this mean that the Government of South Sudan has left its doors open for free labor mobility for foreign nationals to grab whatever little is available for South Sudan nationals so much that the citizens are not participating in the job market? What about the fact that South Sudanese nationals are nowhere to be seen participating in the job markets of the neighboring countries? How else is the Government of South Sudan going to create employment opportunities for the locals? To my understanding, South Sudan government has guiding principles which govern and grant internationals job opportunities under its law, meaning that jobs which the locals cannot perform can be taken up by the international experts. But this is abused under the guise that the job requires certain minimum expertise that the locals do not possess at all.

To compound the problem, the little that these internationals are supposed to inject into the national economy by spending is spent in the local “tents” put up by the international organizations, some of the most expensive ever hotels in the world. It can only be seen in South Sudan capital city where tents are to be rented out for about 120 US dollars a day. It is also a place the GOSS Generals spend much of their times wasting millions of dollars on daily basis for their upkeep. I am not opposing to the welfare of the Generals. But, would it not be a wise idea for the government of South Sudan to put up Tukuls for its own Generals instead of spending millions of dollars in tents owned by foreigners? The money could have been spent on productive services for the poor community of the South. It would have had the spillover effect on the community by creating local employment opportunities. All of that money, whether spent by the internationals or Generals in the tents erected by foreigners, ends up being repatriated to foreign countries. It is when it arrives in a foreign country that something permanent is constructed with it. But, the source in South Sudan remains a temporary tent. This practice leaves the country’s infant economy devoid of real functioning and positive economic growth.

Given the above circumstances, South Sudan appears to have experienced a scenario of “tragedy of the commons” whereby nobody cares for his/her own action but only to maximize personal interest. The Government of South Sudan is the guardian and protector of the rights and interests of its citizens. Some scholars came up with the game theory approach to tackle such problems as managing the commons. The concept of costly cooperation is based upon McCarthy, de Janvry and Sadoulet’s (2001) paper regarding pasture management in Mexican ejidos. The cost of cooperation in their case follows the game theoretic ‘best deviation’ framework, whereby a participant in the commons will cooperate if it is a best response to do so. The best deviation is what the individual would make given that everyone else in the community cooperates and he chooses to go it alone. Monitoring and enforcement of particular extraction schemes help decrease this incentive. To this end, the community determines their management (cooperation) choice by implementing particular punishment schemes.

The preceding paragraph passes a message to the government of South Sudan to be vigilant of the game theoretic approach used mostly by the International Organizations and its experts to sap or exploit the poor Southern people to the maximum and extract the resources with no reservation while competing only with the time. This is the right time for the Government of South Sudan not to sit behind as an observer. It has to take part in evaluating and monitoring activities of these International NGOs and by enacting laws that possibly protect the rights of its citizens and positive economic growth. Given the pace at which the International NGOs and its experts take to extract the resources from the South without any discounting factor, the resources in question will be depleted sooner than later. This implies reducing the number of years the resources would have been utilized. The fairly expected intergenerational equity in the future would not exist. In this case the “tragedy of the commons” appears to be the “tragedy of the open access” in South Sudan.

In conclusion, the government of South Sudan should take keen interest in monitoring the activities of the International NGOs. It seems like the degree of freedom is so much to the extent that the government does not seem to have been informed of the act of those NGOs as well as their role in peace building after 21 years of war. Experience in South Sudan shows that International NGOs have gone as far as hiring international experts to be food distributors and community mobilizers who hardly know a single local language. It is with great emphasis that the posts I made mention of above do not require basic degrees. The best qualification would be a Standard six or else Form I drop-out. These individuals would again look for middlemen to translate for them. But, again they would pay them nothing. These are the real people who actually do the main job, but they gain nothing out of their labor. They are exploited before the government that they have been waiting to see delivering the services and offering jobs to them. It is the right time for the government to right these wrongs. The international organizations that have come to render humanitarian services to the Government of South Sudan and its people have moved into a different venue as semi-investors, and their task now is to crowd out domestic investment. This practice in many part of sub-Saharan African nations have shown negative consequences in the economies and led into dwindling and paralyzing of the nations’ economic growths. Should the Government of South Sudan lose sight and fail to take proper action in dealing with this matter; the scenario will have far reaching implications for the development of South Sudan.

Chuol R. Kompuok, a PhD (Economics) candidate in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and he can be reached by chuolr@yahoo.com.

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