Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 27 March 2007

World Bank involvement in Southern Sudan: an asset or liability


By Jacob K. Lupai*

March 25, 2007 — Southern Sudanese who are regular visitors to Southern Sudan from the Diaspora and those who live inside share one thing, their common perception of the miserable slow pace of development two years on after the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) in January 2005. The visibly dilapidated colonial built houses in Juba probably symptomatic of conditions of houses all over Southern Sudan, the sickening sewage and sanitary conditions in and around the Southern Sudan capital city, the lack of trusted clan drinking water system and the disgraceful road conditions to mention but a few, may lead one to conclude that Southern Sudan is more or less like an orphan left at the mercy of a tyrant custodian who may not care at all.

It is sometimes amusing to see the colonial dilapidated houses which have lived their useful life are strenuously being maintained but with poor results. A colonial built house was maintained for a state ministry. However, when the rains came the maintenance work gave way to the rains to the extent that staff had to evacuate a room because despite the maintenance the room was leaking profusely. This clearly shows the fallacy of spending huge sums of money on maintenance of overused colonial houses in Southern Sudan instead of constructing new ones. There seems to be no culture of modernization in new construction of structures because people probably are still medieval despite seeing skyscrapers in world’s cities and towns. Those old dilapidated colonial houses in Southern Sudan should have been pulled down and new ones erected. However, in Southern Sudan people are still near to nature that they do not value the outcome of an investment but worry about the amount of money spent. People are preferred to defecate in open public areas instead of investing on modern sewage and sanitation systems for public health.

It is extremely unbelievable that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) which fought a protracted war precisely against underdevelopment and won in achieving the CPA should be seen like a spectator with folded arms watching on the sidelines the perpetuation of underdevelopment of Southern Sudan since the colonial times. The SPLM as the dominant political party and its executive organ the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) may owe the people of Southern Sudan an apology or an explanation of the sad situation of development after two long years of waiting for the peace dividends. They cannot push the responsibility to some one else because the CPA gave them the mandate to govern in Southern Sudan.

Without beating around the bush too much the question to ask is who is responsible for the miserable situation of development in Southern Sudan. In all fairness the SPLM and the GOSS are doing their level best in the circumstances. There are evidently nationalists within the SPLM and the GOSS who are committed to the common good. The problem may be that of poor judgment on the choice of an appropriate approach to development. The choice of the World Bank leaves much to be desired. However, the question is did the SPLM and the GOSS on their own accord choose the World Bank to be the master of development of Southern Sudan or was it a choice imposed on them by forces beyond their control.

When the SPLM and the GOSS chose the World Bank on their own accord even with the best of intentions it is difficult to see how they may gain sympathy from already frustrated public of rampant corruption and nepotism. Also with the wealth of knowledge and experience, and qualifications of the individuals in the SPLM and the GOSS it would have been something else to choose the World Bank as the master of development of Southern Sudan. The World Bank is very notorious in dictating conditions for its services. It has been a liability to any developing country on the surface of the earth. The World Bank may be seen as more of a saboteur than a promoter of development to raise the standard of living of the people in the developing countries.

After independence African governments approach to development was to draw up five-year plans in which much was initially achieved but then the African countries began to face widespread problems of declining economic growth. As a solution to the problem the World Bank came up with an initiative known as structural adjustment programme (SAP). Face with chronic economic crisis many African countries had little choice but to accept the World Bank stringent conditions of SAP in an effort to avert the disastrous trend. Didn’t the SPLM or the GOSS have any other choice other than the World Bank? The SAP was based on the understanding of economic development with emphasis on macroeconomic stability, elimination of market distortion, subsidies, price controls, liberalization of trade and exchange transaction, reduction of government and elimination of parastatal activities and encouragement of the private sector.

By the look of it the World Bank seemed to have tried to promote the SAP as a way of improving economic growth in eradicating poverty in Africa. However, African economies performed poorly over the period of the World Bank SAP and the evidence is overwhelming as by 2001 Sub-Saharan Africa gross national product per capita had fallen 43 percent since 1980. The World Bank SAP entered popular discourse as a synonym for economic misery.

It is obvious that the World Bank SAP was a miserable failure. Many people in Sub-Saharan Africa still live on less than £1.40 a day and every year more children die of hunger and preventable diseases, and the bold target set to halve poverty by 2015, the millennium development goals (MDGs), still appear out of reach. No doubt the World Bank is the cause of poverty in developing countries, for example, by encouraging huge surplus of the supply of coffee over demand where coffee farmers become poorer and support for large dams which have flooded millions of hectares of fertile land where millions of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people have been forced out of their homes as a result.

Within a few years of the World Bank intervention with is infamous SAP, it was apparent that poverty situation in Africa was not improving. Although Mali in Africa as the World Bank model of having fully implemented all key elements of the SAP, saw its purchasing power declining by over 117 percent since the start of the SAP and people finally rebelled against the World Bank’s SAP. If it may be asked what makes the SPLM and the GOSS to think the World Bank will be any different from its imposed disastrous conditions in Africa? Conditions have already been imposed on the GOSS for the World Bank to be the sole master of disbursing the money from the MDTF. This is nothing but holding the GOSS as a hostage two yeas on with the miserable situation of development after the CPA was signed.

Another serious problem the SPLM and the GOSS have to grapple with is the over reliance on foreign agencies. Didn’t the southern regional government of the Addis Ababa Agreement surrendered the development of Southern Sudan to foreign agencies and what was achieved in terms of the improvement of the standards of living of the majority of the people of Southern Sudan? Most residential areas in Juba are still the same as they were when the British left. Ultimately somebody has to be responsible to take decisions when performances are sub-standard. For example, in case of poor performance what powers does the GOSS have over GIBB Africa, the Kenyan consultant company which seems to be responsible for vital services concerning development in Southern Sudan?

One can observe that GIBB Africa is nothing but more of a jack of all trades and a master of none than a serious company that will deliver timely services to the people of Southern Sudan. One also hopes that GIBB Africa is not an extension of a massive corruption syndicate into Southern Sudan. GIBB Africa seems a money grabber exploiting the absence of a robust system of scrutinizing those who may dubiously operate in Southern Sudan. For example, what is the justification of paying $14,000 to $29,000 per month to GIBB Africa consultants for unseen services? Was payment not conditional on the delivery of services? How on earth can anybody pay restaurant for food not delivered? The SPLM and he GOSS have a lot to do in cleaning up the mess that seems to being imported into Southern Sudan. A Director General in Southern Sudan who may be higher in qualifications and experience than a GIBB Africa staff does not even receive £1,000 per month.

There may be local companies owned by Southern Sudanese that may have the skills and qualifications to deliver services. After all the foreign companies rely on getting money from what is supposed to belong to Southern Sudan to implement projects. The monopoly enjoyed by the World Bank and GIBB Africa is a liability to the development of Southern Sudan. The SPLM and the GOSS may need to rethink. There is no way Southern Sudan is going to develop through the World Bank and GIBB Africa. These agencies are nothing but money grabbers and will not care whether Southern Sudan develops when they are gone from the scene. For now they are playing a smart game of enticing the virgin Southern Sudan to milk it clean.

The President of the GOSS Salva Kiir Mayardit and the Secretary General of the SPLM owe the people of Southern Sudan an explanation of the miserable situation of development two years after the signing of the CPA. This does not suggest the two leaders are responsible for the situation. The explanation is so that people do not misunderstand the SPLM as the obstacle. However, the President is already trying to urge the World Bank and donors to speed up the delivery of services. At least the GOSS is now waking up no doubt in response to public frustrations. Nonetheless the response from the World Bank representative for Sudan and Ethiopia was very disappointing. The representative said that processing cash through Multi-Donor Trust Fund was bureaucratic but less open to corruption. It is taking too long to start and complete a project. This in itself may indicate a grain of corruption within the World Bank. If the money is there and projects are clearly budgeted and accepted why is the World Bank dragging their feet?

Something is seriously wrong with the World Ban k. The sooner the GOSS gets rid of the World Bank from meddling in the development of Southern Sudan the better. Southern Sudan is a virgin land and one wouldn’t like to see it being destroyed by the World Bank the way its SAP had damaged Sub-Saharan Africa. GIBB Africa should also pack and leave as it seems to be playing games by claiming payment without the delivery of services to Southern Sudan. The SPLM and the GOSS should seriously rethink of encouraging the development of local companies. After all some foreign companies rely on the money from the MDTF earmarked for Southern Sudan. Local companies should also have the privilege of receiving money from the MDTF to implement projects in Southern Sudan.

In term of qualifications there’re qualified Southern Sudanese both inside and in the Diaspora as those found in GIBB Africa. We shouldn’t belittle local talents for probably corrupt foreign ones whose interest is nothing but money to only disappear without any concern for the people of Southern Sudan. Local companies will have the moral obligation to serve their own people. We should remember that those who ultimately sacrificed with their lives for freedom were not foreigners but the sons and daughters of Southern Sudan. Peace dividends should also include contracting local companies to carry out development work in Southern Sudan.

Naturally there will be some corrupt people who may put their personal interest over and above that of the public. Such people, however, are most probably a minority and shouldn’t be allowed to have the upper hand. The way forward is a bumpy one but there is no way people should surrender when the CPA has shown that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

* The writer is a researcher on household food security with focus on smallholder agriculture. He can be reached at jklupai@yahoo.co.uk

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