By Beny Gideon Mabor
“When our children are assured of survival and health, provided with a good education, protected from war and violence, and when youth participate in the democracy and development of their countries, then Africa will be set to claim the 21st century” – K Y Amoako
December 3, 2013 - After having said the above quote from great man by name Kingsley Y. Amoako, a Ghanaian-born international civil servant and diplomat who led the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in 1995-2005 at the rank of UN Under-Secretary-General, I am delighted and with honor to have chosen amongst numerous topics for the political parties youth leadership academy this topic on “democracy and good governance” with specific context of South Sudan. However, it will be absurd to talk of this important agenda without first defining what is meant by democracy and good governance.
According to my own conviction about definition of democracy and good governance and in line with international overview of democracy and good governance, it is when the people are freely involve in the design of their direct participation in managing their own affairs without imposition of a third party’s influence or dictating terms. It is inclusive perfection in the decision making process between and amongst the society in governance. In other words, democracy must be based on the particular conditions of each society, but also on the shared values of the equal dignity and rights of all human beings. For democracy to work, it requires a well-functioning judicial system based on the principles of the rule of law and a just political settlement.
Why democracy and good governance is important in a political stability of very state? It is essentials because it allows free elections, functioning political parties, independent media and vibrant civil society organizations and NGOs that can operate freely for welfare and development of state. In democracy and good governance, there is a political, social and economic accountability of people in positions of power for their actions. On the other hand, the notion of good governance and democracy is centre-stage for development. Good Governance has broad principles such as follows:
- Fiscal responsibility
- Good Leadership
- Respect for Human Rights and Rule of Law
- Democracy and Fair competition for public offices
In South Sudan, the legitimate question now is where are we in regard to the above principles of democracy and good governance? Are we doing well or has derailed from the trend? The political leadership adopted a decentralized democratic system of government. Article 1 (4) of the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan, 2011 says ‘South Sudan is governed on the basis of a decentralized democratic system and is an all-embracing homeland for its people. It is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-racial entity where such diversities peacefully co-exist.
In theory, the rationale behind this legal framework is to grant an equal opportunity and consideration of all people regardless of size, sex, political color and other factors to participate fully in the said decentralized democratic governance. Yet, the guarantee and implementation of these promises remains a litmus test for democratic governance in South Sudan.
As I said earlier in other policy research, any attempt by the government at all levels to ignore the accommodative shared vision on inclusive governance in South Sudan, will automatically sparks rivalry and may reflect negative impacts and develop into an acute range of tribalism, nepotism and other harmful social corruptions to a final threat of political instability and thereby arises symptoms of a fail state. It is due to the existing ethnocentrism why South Sudanese fail to arrive at common factor to achieve cohesion of national identity for decades.
Unfortunately, our politics and governance in South Sudan are shaped along tribal lines and definitely became the basis of forming the governments and even determining the allocation of basic services. Others are bluntly saying that their revolutionary rights are indisputable, and therefore the fellow liberators can use anything including corruption as the least common multiples just to quench their thirst of liberation struggle on the expense of public funds and there is no question of accountability.
Now let me turn to the practical situation in South Sudan on youth population and challenges facing them in participation of democracy and good governance. According to the fifth population and housing census, 2008, 72 % of total population in South Sudan is under 30 years, 51% is under 18 years and 32% is under 10 years respectively. In education sector, literacy rate for the population aged 6 and above is 29%. In urban areas, literacy rate of people aged 6 and above is 51%, compared with 24% in rural areas. Therefore, the analysis of challenges facing youth in South Sudan is summarized into the following five key issues:
- Poverty: In South Sudan, there is poverty despite rich agricultural land, but due to lack of working appetite and absence of some necessary tools, equipment and seedling for large agricultural productions contribute to only subsistence farming that has no food surplus production for economic development. The percentage of households for which the main source of livelihood is subsistence agriculture is 74%. This is highest in Western Equatoria State with (90%) and lowest in Upper Nile State with 57 % respectively.
- Illiteracy rate: In South Sudan, according to fifth population census, 2008, 91% of the total population has no qualifications, 5% have some primary qualification and 4% have secondary or higher qualifications. This high illiteracy rate cannot allow youth as the majority in this category to participate in democracy and good governance, because democracy is rights and it is much more connected with reading in order to know what your rights are and duties in a democratic governance spelt out under the constitution and the law.
- Lack of political space for youth participation: The government of South Sudan is seriously lacking political will to involve youth on policy formulation. Little so far, youth are divided along tribal lines and that is why majority of youth have no common agenda for nation building. Few radical groups remain helpless and are continuously becoming victims of harassments, killings, segregation and all form of mistreatment. This is because such conscious groups do not follow their fellow youth who stood behind uncles and cousins for political gains, but purely independent and aggressively questioning public affairs. Example of this radical group and a victim is political commentator late Isaiah Diing Abraham Chan Awuol evelevn months ago, who was killed on December 5, 2012 at his house in Gudele, Juba by unknown assassins. yet there is no justice done so far and they alleged perpetrators under detention continue without due process of law. In other words, justice delay is justice denied.
- Lack of Platform for exchange of best practices: It is only Republic of South Sudan where youth are not organized into youth governing body to raise their issues to the government for consideration including their representation at all level of government directly as youth representatives. Certainly, there are youth in some positions of power but they there on their individual competitive basis. They were not elected by youth. Although there is singlehandedly appointed President of youth leadership, then such provisional appointment by the then Minister of Youth and Sport was in the first place unconstitutional and such youth body lack legitimacy from youth. It may be a body enterprises calculated for private interests, but not inclusive youth leadership
- Social factors: Alcohols, excessive drinks and drugs: These three negative social factors in South Sudan are now engaging youth more than older people. The prevalence of these factors almost everywhere in South Sudan considering high rate of unemployment admire youth to divert their full attention to drink and drugs. As a result, it has reduced their commitment to educate themselves and some with relative education have no interest to participate in the advocacy of democracy and good governance.
After having read through literature review of this paper and indeed stipulating challenges facing youth in the participation of democracy and good governance, the following key and policy recommendations are necessary to be considered with immediate effect. It is evidence that investing in the young people is today and tomorrow’s peace, stability, security, democracy and sustainable development.
• Education: Education as the foundation of knowledge is the basic key to level of participation in democracy and good governance. The government of South Sudan has already adopted alternative education system which is quick learning package but a lot need to be done. In Venezuela, for example, the government provides free education including at the university level, where students can learn the country’s various indigenous languages.
According to UNESCO, Venezuela is an “illiteracy-free” nation and post-secondary enrolments doubling over the past decade, while in Cuba, one person is asked to teach three students on condition that if one or more students fail your exams, then you will bear the responsibllity. This is how these two countries eradicated illiterate rate in just 16 and 14 years respectively. Why can we do the same or design better way in South Sudan than this model of the said countries? Our Ministry of General education has Directorate of Alternative education system and it is a job well done. It is only that the Ministry lacks action plan for how long we will eradicate illiteracy in South Sudan.
• Establishment of National Youth Policy. The political leadership and indeed the Ministry responsible for youth, sport and recreation should design national youth service council where they will be trained to participate in national building that constitute democracy and good governance. They current youth Unions and associations at various levels are not organized with competence to neither participate in democracy and good governance nor challenge the government in the management of public affairs.
• Professional Dialogue on Democracy and Good Governance: There is a great concern about youth coming together and discuss issues by emphasizing the important role that youth can play in addressing corruptions at all level of public and private sector, so that it demand accountability and concrete actions from their government to address youth unemployment. There are many jobs here in South Sudan, only that wrong people are place at wrong places when right people are unemployed. This confusion must be corrected to allow youth to work. Youth cannot be compared to older people because youth are engine of change; they are easily transformable into what is needed for betterment of the nation and they should not remain unused.
• Definition of Youth and 15% Affirmative Action: I call upon the youth to come together under South Sudan Youth Forum, which has been established by South Sudan political parties youth leadership wing to discuss amongst themselves and present their uniform position to National Constitutional Commission for inclusion in the permanent constitution. Different youth group have already expressed their opinion by defining a youth as a person from the age of 18 to 40 years old. The government must also consider 15% affirmative action for youth in allocation of public offices at all levels of government and this must be expressly provided under the permanent constitution.
About the Author
Beny Gideon Mabor is a Human Rights Activist who works for the South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy (SSHURSA). Prior to joining SSHURSA, the author worked for South Sudan’s Ministry of Justice and as a columnist. His research interests include governance, human rights and social accountability. This represents the opinion of the author and not SSHURSA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org