Op-Ed | The South Sudan We Want in 2030

Jun 28, 2016

Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in South Sudan Eugene Owusu speaks at the launch of the National Human Development Report on February 24, 2016 in Juba, South Sudan. Photo: UNDP

This op-ed originally appeared in the Nation Mirror newspaper on 17 June 2016.

By Eugene Owusu

Few can deny the fact that the past two and half years have been an extremely devastating one for South Sudan. The hopes that characterized the birth of the world’s youngest nation were shattered by the conflict that began in December 2013. The largely avoidable conflict has not only torn apart the fabric of South Sudanese society, but crucially the conflict has been development in reverse.

The multifaceted challenges that confront the country are indeed monumental, but not insurmountable. Millions of South Sudanese have been displaced from their communities; livelihoods have been destroyed; lives lost; and the economy is in dire straits. The hopes of South Sudanese have been severely dented, and the confidence which the country commands in the international community has equally been eroded.

The formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) is an important step towards fixing South Sudan. But this will not resolve every challenge. The TGoNU must have one unshakable resolve, which is to lay a solid and enduring foundation for the resolution of the complex challenges that confront the country. Priority actions include addressing the urgent humanitarian challenges, ensuring macroeconomic stabilization, facilitating returns and reintegration of the internally displaced, and investing in the productive sectors of the economy to drive the transformational development of the country. The TGoNU presents a historic opportunity to dream again about the South Sudan that we all want, to take appropriate actions to rebuild South Sudan and put the nation on a path towards peace, prosperity and transformational development.

The year 2030, one-and-half decades from now signifies the end date of the global goals on sustainable development that South Sudan and the rest of the world have signed onto. In signing on the sustainable development goals, South Sudan’s leaders have affirmed that by 2030, its citizens will live longer than they do today, that they will have greater livelihood opportunities, and that children in all parts of this nation will have a choice to go to school and look forward to a bright future. There is no time to lose. As we progress towards 2030, each day the government and citizens of South Sudan must take actions that engender hope and ensures that hope grows stronger by the year and with each passing generation.

As South Sudan looks to 2030 and seeks to put in place the building blocks necessary for achieving the global goals on sustainable development, it must take actions that ensure that it is a nation where communities appreciate their interdependences rather than their independence. It must take actions that will enable it to be judged not as a country mired in internecine conflict and missed opportunities, but instead a proud and great country firmly moving on the path of sustainable development and realizing its full potential. As we look to 2030, South Sudan must aspire and stay the course as a proud nation with a single vision, not divided by ethnicity or tribe. This would be a significant contribution to a transformed world envisioned in the attainment of the global goals for sustainable development.

To achieve the South Sudan that we all want by 2030, the foundations must be laid today, and not tomorrow. I see six fundamental priorities that South Sudan and its leaders must focus on as we aspire for a peaceful, and prosperous South Sudan where all its citizens have an opportunity to live a life full of dignity.

First, South Sudan and its leaders must stay true to the spirit of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan and remain committed to its implementation. This commitment should be immutable. However difficult its implementation may be, the spirit of the Agreement is to restore peace and usher in opportunities to place the country on the path of sustainable development. Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved through understanding. And bringing about peace and sustaining it must be the business not only of the top leadership of the nation, it has to be the business of everyone that calls this great nation home. As Gandhi said; “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”, and every South Sudanese citizen must take the first step in being the change they want to see in this God-given country they call home.

Second, amid the complex challenges that confront the country, many of which are structural in nature, the Transitional Government must demonstrate a stronger and irreversible commitment to political, policy and structural reforms. This is what is needed to unlock the potential of the economy, the entrepreneurial energies of its people, and create the much needed opportunities for the peace dividend that everybody craves for to be realized. A stronger commitment to implement a well-crafted reform agenda will undoubtedly help narrow the credibility deficit that the country seems to suffer and hopefully unlock much needed funding from the country’s international partners.

The third priority directly relates to the preceding one. As a matter of urgency, the country must articulate a smart agenda of reform to stabilize the economy in the immediate term, and work towards its recovery and growth.  The economy seriously risks becoming the spoiler of the peace agreement, and urgent reform actions needed to stabilize the economy cannot be delayed. Whilst any macroeconomic reforms come with socio-political risks, the costs of doing nothing could be much higher and truly damaging. Sound analysis, smart strategic thinking, and optimal sequencing of the reform actions are vital for success.

Fourth, addressing the urgent humanitarian needs that confront the country should remain a top priority. With the cessation of hostilities, however, there is now an excellent opportunity to invest in rebuilding livelihoods. But this must start with facilitating the voluntary, safe and dignified return, and reintegration of large numbers of internally displaced persons. And the programme of returns and reintegration must be guided by international norms and best practices, and complemented by investments in recovery and stabilization initiatives at local levels. Communities can start to realize the dream of the South Sudan they want in 2030, and be an effective part of the process of transformation and nation building once their immediate humanitarian and livelihood needs have been dealt with.

Fifth, South Sudan and indeed all its citizens must subscribe to a truly shared national vision, anchored in a common sense of destiny and shared values. This is the software that has been so sorely lacking in South Sudan’s transitioning into a nation state and its nation building efforts. South Sudanese must call upon the enduring spirit and patriotism it exhibited for decades in its struggle for independence to define a shared national vision of the South Sudan they want to have, and indeed want to be.

This shared national vision must be actionable and inspirational, and be the glue that binds its different nationals together. And this shared national vision must be operationalized, with a sense of urgency, through a well-crafted, bold and ambitious national development strategy. The national development strategy must be based on sound and comprehensive analysis of the current state of the country, and also be shaped by a national conversation that involves all segments of South Sudan society, irrespective of where they live, what they do or their ethnicity.

Sixth, it is fundamental that South Sudan works towards nation-building and a true national identity. Building a true national identity will help establish the foundation for trust and compromise. In the absence of trust and compromise and a firm conviction to and reliance on peaceful resolution of differences, South Sudan’s transition to a dynamic and vibrant society will be at risk.

These priorities are not exclusive, but they are an important core set of actions needed to lay the foundation for the South Sudan that we want by 2030, when the country will be called upon to account for the progress it has made on the global goals for sustainable development. As the country embarks on this journey, each South Sudanese, whether they are young or old, educated or not, a minister or an ordinary citizen, must take one action each day to bring about the South Sudan we want by the year 2030.

If this is done by all, we can achieve the South Sudan that we seek faster. If you can’t take an action, speak a kind word in favor of the South Sudan we want in 2030. And if you cannot speak a kind word, think a kind thought. Count up, in a decade and half or about 5,500 days, approximately 11 million South Sudanese will have more than 60 billion actions, words or thoughts towards the South Sudan we want. That is the strength of consistent collective effort. Go for it. It is us alive today that must dedicate ourselves to “The South Sudan We Want” in memory of those who lost their lives for the sake of future generations.

Eugene Owusu is the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in South Sudan.

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