South Sudan’s Development Agenda: What role can China play?
By Makwei Achol Thiong,
Nov 09, 2020(Nyamilepedia) — South Sudan’s development agenda is based on the SPLM’s vision of taking towns to the people. The vision is aimed at taking services to the underprivileged majority in rural areas and transforming their villages into cities. Over 80% of the population is rural.
So in order to take town to ‘the people’, two important parameters must be kept constant. Firstly, “the people” must reside in the countryside in order to take services and town to them. Secondly, rural setup must be peaceful and economically stable. Economic stability must originate from sustainable source of livelihood that would need gentle development instigators to response. The instigators must integrate harmoniously without interrupting local cultures and social ways of life. If the bulk of the population is urban, the government would be forced to prioritize service delivery to them and this would encourage rural-urban migration, thus killing or slowing down rural development agenda.
Factors hindering the SPLM’s vision of ‘taking town to the people’
Just as we’ve seen that economically sustainable, populous and peaceful rural communities are core basis for rural development, the viability and stability of this setup is being threatened across the country. Inter-communal violence among rural communities creates insecurity and motivates dissidents to rebel against the government. They would then operate in the countryside killing and displacing civilians, rendering our precious land useless, perturb our cultural and social settings, weakens national unity, cause destruction, pause and debilitate development.
An insecure rural population is an incentive for rural-urban migration or at worse refugees seeking asylum in foreign lands. In the event of rural-urban migration, the mostly agriculture dependent population would fall prey of expensive cost of living in cities. Families would be unstable as cases of divorce and street children would rise. Street kids would grow up as would prefer to find livelihood in the displaced/UN camps where there is free food. The resilient criminals, grabbing handbags of pedestrians on the roads, among other crimes. Some parents ones who remain in the countryside, mostly the elderly, are either fearful or too weak to produce enough food for their own livelihood.
The supply of agricultural products to urban markets from rural areas would halts and both the displaced and city dwellers would be at the mercy of hunger. Goods previously supplied by the locals would add onto the imports, prices would sour and economy weakens. The deserted countryside would increase or create security gaps, including along major highways. Idle urban population becomes government burden in terms of providing relief assistance, educational needs, health services, clean drinking water, etc.
As for the working class, the burden of supporting relatives who are displaced would increase their chances of compromising public funds as salaries cannot meet all demands. Municipalities would be overwhelmed and slums boom. Long term development plans would be relaxed at the expense of emergency responses. At this stage, there are a lot to think about than rural development agenda. The more it takes to revive the countryside and encourage urban-rural migration, the more likely is the wait for political stability, economic growth and development and the shorter is the DRC situation – natural resource rich country with history of instability.
The China’s rise
In early 1980’s – shortly before the launch of the SPLM/A war of liberation – China was a poor country. 80% of the population was poor peasants. 20 years later, a quarter-billion person was out of poverty and 15 more years afterward, the country was already one of the industrialized powerhouses in the world.
The Chinese economic reform under Deng Xiaoping in 1978 took bottom-up approach which protruded from stable political base. The land being controlled by few wealthy individuals was re-appropriated so that the poor majority gets and makes it agriculturally viable. The bottom-up approach brought the best out of each rural household as each rural family was apportioned a plot to cultivate. This didn’t only improve their livelihood but also implanted the spirit of hard-work in people. Today the Chinese people are among the most hardworking in the world. The policy was an inclusive agenda for solving the mother of all problems; poverty.
With huge government infrastructure projects, favorable privatization and investment policies and homegrown development approach, the country moved up the industrial ladder from light to heavy industries, from labor- to capital-intensive production, from manufacturing to financial capitalism. High speed trains, longest (glass) bridges, highways and rail lines, automobiles, heavy machineries, tunnels, computers, cell phones, are few areas China either dominates or rubs shoulders with the elite worlds today.
All the countries, we say are developed today were once poor. A rich person was once a poor one. To change the status quo does not mean to forget the past but rather learn from it. A violent past must usher in peace and promising future. Creating a peaceful country with stable political system as medium for growing and nurturing sound economic policies for country’s prosperity is the secret behind China’s rise. A nation cannot thrive in the event of political volatility. Individuals can but there is no country of individuals. The China’s 1978 economic reform policies were based on sound political will to lift the standard of living of 80% of its population who were poor peasants but didn’t own land. Their villages would later transform into cities just as the SPLM envisions it in its slogan of taking town to the people. This is the common ground for future engagements.
Endowment with natural resources is not a ticket alone for development. How far has the DRC gone? Not even strategic location along international waters, Somalia would’ve gone far in development. Poorly endowed with natural resources but how did South Korea find herself among the 12 largest economies in the world? How about Rwanda’s rapid development when it had the most recent history of genocide in 1994? Being the most populous country and one of the oil producing states, Nigeria is not the most developed country in Africa. Tanzania is home to more than 100 tribes but it’s one of the peaceful and developing countries. So a country is not volatile because of ethnic diversity. Not how quickly you transfer power like it has been for the last 32 years in Central Africa Republic – eight presidents and heads of state (1986-present) including the Caretakers – but it’s how peaceful and sustainable power transfer occurs. Endowment with natural resources, strategic location and power transfer are important to country’s prosperity but they act in such a way as to hurry the processes of economic growth and development. Since 2005, Uganda has achieved significant progress because of political stability.
South Sudan cannot be China in 40 years or Rwanda in 20 years if the South Sudanese people don’t recognize that the past has been troublesome and that there is need to eat in the same plate, drink using the same cup and participate equally in state (re)building. We can’t be South Korea in 35 years if our masses don’t stop surviving on UN food now. Sustainable peace comes when citizens have the ownership of their country, not territorial boundaries but positive mindset. Have faith and commitment towards homegrown solutions. The advice from local professional carries much truth than wolves hiding in the name of foreign expertise. Domestic research institutions are very important. China and South Korea emerged while against flawed development lectures from anyone. Yes, no country is its own heaven. Globalization binds us together but any assistant should not insubordinate the homemade model of development.
Peace is a supreme precondition for development!
The second attempt is the Chinese’s bottom-up development approach already captured in the SPLM’s development strategy – taking town to the people. Develop people to develop themselves. The bulk of people live on subsistence farming. Primitive agriculture is the primitive stage of industrialization. Encouraging farmers by advancing them loans, infrastructure support by linking them by roads to markets in the cities, supply of agriculture tools, seeds and equipments, etc would mechanize agriculture.
Prioritizing agriculture would give rise to textile industries, food processing industries and leather industries as raw materials would be available. This method is labour-intensive and it goes well with the yet illiterate bulk of the population. To develop you don’t need food aid from China or the USA, you need skills and equipments to produce food. Later on, you’ll not need to import these equipments but produce them locally. This is why the recent/current Chinese scholarship to South Sudanese is commendable.
Extending this goodwill to providing research equipments/facilities to universities and polytechnics would help researchers solve key problems as best practices not only in agriculture but also in other sectors could be adopted. Our biggest resource is not oil, it’s the fertile land and Sudd region which are necessary for sustainable agriculture and tourism. Oil money can only hasten growth because oil sales suffer from shocks like drop in oil prices in the world market. Agriculture solves two major issues; poverty and rural under-development. A busy rural community is a relief for all. And through favorable policies, private investment would be encouraged in all sectors. Development would be a dream comes true.
Conclusively China’s experience in rural development projects through its bottom-up development approach makes her a key development partner. South Sudan should adopt a development model resting on four major pillars; political stability, rural agriculture program, import substitution and industrialization driven by technological advancement through domestic research institutions.
Makwei Achol Thiong holds Master of Industrial Engineering from Hunan University. He is the Cofounder and former Chair of Board of Directors of Alliance High School-Bor. He’s currently a lecturer in the college of Science & Technology at Dr. John Garang Memorial University of Science & Technology. You can reach him via his email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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