By Beny Gideon Mabor
September 21 September 2013 - This policy brief is an attempt to decry in good faith a situation faced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. It’s likely perceived why the author this time round is seen taking side and speaks out for the first time. By necessity, one must cry louder to be heard in anticipation of immediate solution. The President of the Republic of South Sudan Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit began his anticipated response when he reduced the size of his cabinet which was long overdue in a public interest calculated for competent delivery of most needed services and development. Yet, a lot of reforms need to be done to complete a full package of change and effective governance structures. The presence of some retired civil servants in the government in general and some occupying strategic institutions in particular is another threat to accomplish the political will of the leadership and citizens in a struggle for fundamental change.
In fact, some of these individuals got retired during the then Republic of Sudan until they received their post-service benefits and subsequently re-appointed in the public service institutions in South Sudan. No proper rationale behind their appointments in South Sudan civil service when already they had attained retirement age in the past. Others should have been retired now in accordance with the civil service laws and regulations, but they are still occupying positions. Consequently, their continued presence causes the present low level of productivity in public sector and therefore becomes an issue to be addressed. However, it is known that change is always a threat to the status quo and may likely dismantle status of equilibrium of every system, provided that potential successors are smart enough to overcome the previous deficiencies.
Furthermore, President Salva Kiir almost every time and gain promise with his government to deliver services and realize development but to no avail since 2005. It is difficult and must correctly underline that services delivery and infrastructural development will not be achieved if there is no plan of action designed and implemented by competent public servants. The last stronger promise was declared by the President when the new cabinet took oath of office dated 7 August, 2013 where he gave them three months’ contractual obligations either to do what is required of them or otherwise seek another opinion. The public in general and socio-economic and political analysts in focus agreed with the president in his undertaking mission. There is a need to bring in energetic, fresh minded and committed public servants to make a difference.
In a closer attention, I must revisit my scholarly archives when I wrote an opinion piece dated 3 April, 2011 titled ‘Achieving Independence and Failing Our Country’. I said state building is centered on four pillars namely national defense and security, national economy, well articulated foreign policy and political settlement. In this piece, I will talk about foreign policy alone and other pillars may come separately in due course.
At the outset, the question remains where is South Sudan now in its foreign policy formulation which according to my opinion is an imperative agenda for the political leadership to pay close attention and commit to its success. The Foreign Affairs Ministry usually referred to as external office of the President must be one well equipped and bear torch of the state on behalf of the people and government of South Sudan. It needs well informed, highly educated, patriotic and committed diplomats to serve there and not otherwise. Street talks in Juba always say the President should have sent away some disgruntled politicians to represent South Sudan abroad as diplomats. In a similar move, the appointment of 92 diplomats including first grade ambassadors was widely seen a partial fulfillment of the prophecy to sent away the said politicians because some of them lack basic requirements of a diplomat. God save South Sudan!
Therefore without any doubt in the mind of a reasonable person, the timely appointment of Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin as the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has truly met the good attempt to clean the whole image if not the face of South Sudan in the eyes of international community and the law especially on leverage trade accusations between Khartoum and Juba that the previous administration under Minister Nhial Deng and company failed when dealing with Khartoum-Juba shaky relations. South Sudan was almost forgotten by other countries due its silence in the geopolitics engagement which happened as a result of deliberate sabotage, ignorance or total failure. Indeed the ball is now thrown back to Minister Marial to realize his unfinished vision towards South Sudan foreign policy which he has worked for during the SPLM liberation struggle and shortly during the interim period.
In fact Dr. Marial was once a Minister of Regional Cooperation of the former Government of Southern Sudan and it was during his time when some GOSS liaison offices were opened abroad. Historically, Minister Marial is one of the people who had served in the SPLM Foreign Service starting from SPLM office in London, then shortly in Addis Ababa and finally posted in the Southern African Countries with a base office in Zimbabwe. It is known how the SPLM was overwhelmingly supported in that part of the African continent. In other words, his appointment today shown how much the president is confident in him to address all challenges faced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Nevertheless, the successful foreign policy guide and direction of every state is always designed and shaped in the Ministry’s headquarters and implemented at the embassies and missions abroad. Despite potential expectations about the new Minister in place, it is not an automatic redress of the mess in itself if no support is provided. Unfortunately, the current setup of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation both from within and at the foreign missions particularly diplomatic personnel is seriously questionable. Let me start with the current Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Amb. Charles Manyang Awol who was a career diplomat and got retired in the then Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Although his subsequent appointment as Undersecretary in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs right after his retirement was merely a political arrangement between SPLM and NCP-led governments allocating each other 20 % share of civil service posts during the interim period. The question is what brought him again as the Undersecretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of South Sudan when he retired from civil service work? Is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs exempted from civil service laws and regulations contrary to the Diplomatic and Consular Service Act, 2011 or is it a new discovery the SPLM-led government would want to teach the world that civil service work in South Sudan is non-stoppable until you are lowered to rest in peace? With due respect to individuals’ personality, I beg to differ that Amb. Charles Manyang should honorably retire to leave the chance to other young and energetic diplomats to occupy that important docket.
My second observation is the deployment of diplomats. It is ridiculous to understand why do South Sudan have 9 diplomats in Brussels, 9 in South Africa, 9 in France, 9 in Berlin, 9 in Moscow, 7 in Geneva, 11 in London and 11 in Oslo, Norway according to the data obtained so far. By comparison, there is no any African country that has an equivalent number of diplomats in any of these capitals except South Sudan. How much is the budget as a matter of procedure to maintain huge number of diplomats at this austerity budget at such expensive economies when there is nothing to offer to the poor citizens in dire need of basic services? On the other hand, it is much bothering whether the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation ever checked how do South Sudanese diplomats behaves in term of socio-economic and political organizations to some extend suit spirit of diplomatic confidentiality?
Can South Sudan learn from few mistakes that happened to some of the country diplomats abroad? Is it fair for an Ambassador or any diplomat to be seen publicly drunk and talking in a loud voice discussing policy issues that may crossed into hear of an innocent bystanders and by passers? Honestly speaking, I am afraid that South Sudan foreign policy can be built with current setup of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation if no immediate change is done. I therefore pray that the competent authority will answer these questions in honest possible way.
Last but not least, I appeal to the President and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation to comprehensively reform the ministry by evaluating performance reports of diplomats and other relevant expectations. It is noteworthy to recall back diplomats at the embassies and missions particularly at the mentioned locations and the United Nations offices in New York and Geneva to mentioned a few. There is a need to reduce the number of diplomats due to budget restrictions. The Minister is now subjected to critical observations by the public whether to fall in the same shoe or make a difference. Otherwise the people expectation is to see the ministry of Foreign affairs in a better shape and direction.
Beny Gideon Mabor is an independent commentator on governance and human rights. He can be reached at email@example.com.