Engaging South Sudanese Professionals and Intellectuals in the Daunting Task of Building the New Nation
By PaanLuel Wël, Washington DC, USA
Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them—By Paul Hawken.
February 27, 2011 (SSNA) -- Speaking to the gatherings of South Sudanese professionals and intellectuals marking the founding of the South Sudan Academics Forum for Development in Juba, February 22nd, 2011, Dr. Machar, the Vice-President of the Government of South Sudan, made two long-known, but never publicly admitted, concessions.
First, he conceded that most learned South Sudanese are not well integrated into the running and reconstruction of the burgeoning country. Thus, he called upon them to “use their acquired knowledge and assist the government in the daunting task of building the new independent state on a solid foundation.”
And as a result of these South Sudanese commended experts and top-rated scholars being at the periphery of nation building, Dr. Machar “revealed that 60% of the current employees in Southern Sudan have no [basic] skills” and necessary experiences to accomplish their assigned task in building the nation.
So what do the professionals, intellectuals and citizens of South Sudan make of this blatant admission, one that is long over-due, from the government? The unmistaken spoken message from the lips of Dr. Machar is that South Sudan, as a rising nation from the devastation of wars, can’t and won’t manage to get on its feet without the aid and backing of the South Sudanese professionals and intellectuals, both within and/or outside the country.
Therefore, this is undoubtedly a distressed call for the well-read sons and daughters of South Sudan living in the Diaspora to come back home and embark on the demanding responsibility of rebuilding the country, a noble cause that all are, and should be, honored to be part of. Seen this way, the onus then is on the knowledgeable South Sudanese whether or not they will heed the call and take up the challenge from the government and assume their rightful place in the jihad of national development and advancement.
Yet, paradoxically, the very South Sudanese living overseas being implored by the government to return home are, and have all along been, seeking ways to contribute to the development of the New Country. Given the chance, many would rather be in South Sudan where their collective pools of experiences and exposures would be put into a good cause within the country of their origins rather than in their adopted nations.
Majority of these South Sudanese skilled professionals and academically recognized intellectuals—scientists, medical doctors and nurses, lawyers and judges, engineers, university professors and lecturers, economists, educationalists, information technologists and other highly skilled connoisseurs—have the competencies to achieve what it take to reconstruct and develop a war-torn country like South Sudan.By competency I mean the appropriate kind of actions that can be seen when a job underhand is performed satisfactorily according to the stipulations of blueprint plan for national development. Scores of these South Sudanese Diasporas have, through many years of rigorous schooling and steady top-notch job held, acquired valuable knowledge (information that has to be learned and recalled to carry out a job) and time-tested skills (the application of that knowledge in a practical way to achieve a constructive result).
Tapping into and the exploitation these reservoirs of waiting-to-be-use knowledge and skills should be the government first priority as it embarks on building the new country from scratch. This venture can be accomplished by assembling wide ranging programs to entice skilled professionals to actually return to South Sudan. Secondly, the government of South Sudan, or the South Sudanese professionals themselves, can organize a round-table conference wherein discussions and planning would revolve around the best way forward in the amalgamation and employment of this under-utilized section of the citizenry.
Another possible, and somewhat favorable, method would be to tap into the knowledge, skills, experiences and expertise of the learned South Sudanese specialists while they don't necessarily transpose to South Sudan. This proposal would be informed by the fact that much of the country is still politically and economically unstable, not least because it just recently materialized from a vicious war.
Therefore, schemes of transferring skills from abroad-based South Sudanese scholars through internet based conduits, visitations; fellowships etc can be explored, contrived, and rapidly put into operation instead of spending millions of our limited resources on foreign expatriates from Kenya, Uganda, etc. These so called expatriates are mere rejects of their own nations who are no better than the over 60% of the workforce Dr. Machar mentioned above.
South African government is one body that has successfully formulated and deployed this approach so far in Africa. Through the South African Network of Skills Abroad (SANSA), the ANC-led government has been able to tap into and exploit the expertise of their estranged sons and daughters, many of whom are products of brain-drain pandemic. Since many of our skilled experts do reside in technologically advanced countries—North America, Western Europe or Australia—it is easy to set up a trustworthy website(s) where they can freely sign up and contribute to the development of their motherland.The government can then make the most of these pools of know-how at the click of a mouse to help out in the reconstruction of the country. South Sudanese professional and intellectuals can operate as think-tanks groups for research and development just like the Kenya-based Research and Development Forum for Science-Led Development in Africa (RANDFORUM) where leading intellectuals and celebrated scholars apply their skills and experiences to tackle pressing problems of the day.
In so doing, these army of acclaimed South Sudanese, to the letter and spirit of Dr. John Garang's vision of the Seventh Front, would facilitate the transfer of much needed technologies such as computer software, engineering techniques, latest educational tools etc. Additionally, several of them can lend their hands in capacity building in the embryonic government of South Sudan by organizing workshops, seminars, fellowships and conferences offering trainings in nation building, human rights, democracy and developmental projects.
They could also prop up the government of South Sudan in the establishment of bilateral and multilateral relationship both politically and socio-economically. No nation exists as an island. South Sudan, as the newest nation on earth, will, and does already, has national interests to protect and advance, in one way or another, either on the international stage or in Africa.
But for our political and socio-economical ambitions to survive and succeed in the rough waters of the cut-throat international politics, we need allies. Our sons and daughters, many of whom with citizenship in the leading nations of the world, are the right guys at the right time to connect and cement our affiliation with those potential political and economical associates we shall soon be trotting the globe courting earnestly. South Sudanese Diaspora communities are our natural ambassadors that South Sudanese leaders in Juba can't afford to neglect nor ignore lest the reconstruction process would lag behind its otherwise scheduled time-frame.
In spite of these immense benefits accruable from attracting back our foreign trained professionals and scholars, it seem puzzling that the government in Juba is yet to, apart from paying lip services to the problem, initiate any viable bona fide program to magnetize and tap into their vast wealth of skills and experiences amassed from all corners of the world.
If indeed the government is keen on drawing in, retaining and integrating the accomplished specialists as Dr. Machar suggested, and the skilled professionals themselves are no less enthusiastic about being the key component behind the reconstruction and development process in South Sudan as their perpetual grumblings on the internet attest, why then are we still talking about how to attract and maintain the certified experts in South Sudan? And when and where the government is the one doing the talking instead of doing the "doing", who then should be listening and do the real business that must be done?
Obviously, a cocktail of economic and political conditions in South Sudan dissuade many skilled experts and professionals from returning home. On top of the economic woes are the dismally performing economy characterized by high unemployment rates and/or miserable paychecks, unpredictable social and security upheavals and dearth of ample social amenities—health and education etc—for the families of South Sudanese professionals.
On the political front is the opaque and highly restricted political system with notable human rights abuses. Brought up in a pluralistic political environment in the West, most of the skilled professionals find South Sudan politics, dominated by one major party, too dictatorial and impenetrable. That politics, landing a job or securing a top position in the government are invariably intertwine in South Sudan only help to exacerbate the tribulations for most trained professionals, many of whom with no close working relationships with the government of Southern Sudan.
There is, besides political and economic obstacles afore-mentioned, a widespread suspicion and antagonism between our applauded intelligentsia and the war veteran commanders wielding power in Juba. On the one hand, our war veterans consider our erudite men and women, especially those returning from abroad, with deep suspicion that sometimes border on trepidation. Suspicion and fear because, to the war veterans who receive a skilled professionals—say, ones with assortments of doctorates or masters in their briefcases—in his/her ministry in Juba, it is inconceivable for him/her how on earth these skilled experts get the time and the resources to get all these education while s/he was busy fighting for [their] freedom. Secondly, the minister would wonder how dare they come back home when the war is over to come and replace him/her when it is time for him/her to harvest and eat the fruits of his/her sweat? Simply put, the war veterans see our professionals and intellectuals as plain opportunists who, having abandoned the cause and the country, ran way during the war only to return home when it is time to eat.
On the other hand, our skilled professionals, for their parts, view the ruling class in Juba condescendingly and despicably. To the learned, but majorly sidelined, sons and daughters of South Sudan, the ruling class in Juba is overwhelmingly incompetent, unschooled, corrupt, tribalistic and egotistical. Consequently, there is no way South Sudanese can rely on them to spearhead the developmental phase and usher in a brighter future. The ready solution, in the opinion of the intelligentsia, is for them to either work hand in hand with the war veterans or an outright replacement of the old guards altogether—nothing less than a political coup to the war veterans. The war veterans, in the thinking of the professionals and scholars, have already done their parts when they liberated the country. Now that we are entering a new kind of war in the process of building the new nation, professionals and intellectuals maintain that our esteemed war veterans are badly prepared and ill-equipped to handle this kind of struggle. Therefore, the only remaining honorable thing for them to do is to throw in the towel and allow better prepared Seventh Front battalions to take over from where they had stopped.
And because much of the policies driving the talk about attracting South Sudanese experts back into the country, and especially in the running of the government, is informed by these obviously distorted, overly suspicious outlooks from both sides of the iron-curtain, a lot of time and considerable amount of effort will be needed to actually succeed in bringing in and assimilating the capable professionals in South Sudan.
This would ultimately call for a holistic approach and engagement in strategies and programs to attract and retain foreign-educated South Sudanese skilled professionals and intellectuals. A present of a free and open political and economic environment devoid of corruption, nepotism, tribalism and god-fatherism would be a prerequisite for a stable, co-operative relationship between the two groups. Meanwhile, it is important to appreciate the fact that tapping into the professional skills from South Sudanese Diaspora community won't be an easy task or a quick one to realize any time soon. This is because it would inexorably involve the daunting task of reconciling political rhetoric from Juba with factual reality going on behind the scene.