David Majok: March 9th 2012
Like South Sudan, Russia obtained its status as a state after the break-up of the Soviet Union. And prior to the collapse of the Soviet Empire, the surest way to attain status and influence in the Communist Party is to be a member, hence increased social status. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the creation of Russian Federation, this marked the end of the communist era and with it the egalitarian society it once wanted to create. Society and social structures has been totally re-aligned, from a supposedly classless society that is modeled after the much renowned Karl Marx, Socialist society, to a less ideological one, but highly fractured, where the former die-hard socialist transformed themselves to new capitalist, acquiring most of the vast and underperforming industries to private entities.
Most of those who succeeded in acquiring the vast wealth are those who were either within the system or former security agents of the regime (KGB). Their close proximity to power and knowledge of the system gave them unprecedented access to decision makers, which allowed them access to the nation’s resources, hence, the creation of supper influential communists, to overnight rich oligarchs. The new rich in Russia have completely parted ways with the communist identity and accepted or embraced true liberal market philosophy.
The early 1990s were exceptionally prosperous to the former communists who have gained from the windfall of the demise of the USSR. However, the level of embrace to the global new liberal market economy led to the unruly collapse of the market and introduced Russians to the reality of free market corrections that spared nothing on its way, whether rich or poor; hence, social stratification or restructuring of society in Russia highly deepened. Those who have made huge sums of money through the stock market found themselves, either at the bottomless pit of the new demon (free market, class dominated social order) or highly protected from it all, through their continued connections to the powerful within the Russian Federation.
Now, like Russia, the new super-rich in South Sudan can be associated in the same parallel. Those who are currently enjoying the riches of the nation are either political operatives of the SPLM, whose wealth and fame, in most cases came about with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) or following thereafter. Like Russia too, the elite in South Sudan or the rich have strong ties to the ruling party, as such, won favorable terms by which they were able to gain access to unprecedented amount of riches.
The class, which is something new to our vocabulary, is now alive in South Sudan, with vast disparity between the new super-rich and the poor, with no supposedly middle class that can tamper with clear separation between the top and the bottom strata of our society. Even though there is somewhat a middle class, the number of which may not be big enough to act as a buffer (such as in the developed world), between the rich and the poor, are less influential either. And according to the recent data released by the RSS about the state of civil service (which should have acted as educated middle class), are substantially minimal in affecting any balance in the disparity between the rich and the poor. As well, with the high rate of illiteracy (rated at about 80%) to cite a conservative estimate, the disparity may continue to provide the new nation with daunting task to surmount in the near future.
On the other hand, rural population have been largely abandoned in the unintended endeavor of social stratification, where majority of the population reside; with limited access to equitable share of the national wealth and a heavy burden of the national problems, such as insecurity, famine, disease and lack of means to extricate themselves from their predicaments. It is clear the disparity between urban/rural and rich and poor will likely continue to negatively affect social stratification and allocation of resources, if not adequately addressed, to correct the imbalance in the between the rural/urban centres divide and especially, the ones who are connected within the system. As the social stratification continue to take roots, concerted efforts by policy makers to balance the divide through well crafted policies, to put a human face to the disparity that is growing in South Sudan, insecurity and other social problems will continue to dominate our moral consciousness.
Furuther, as the government strives to lay down the foundation for a more equitable society, the need to engage those who are affected so as to create ownership in the process of state making or nation building will be crucial. This is very important specially when using non-indigenous experts with limited understanding of the locally important indicators, much associated with cultural traditions and regional/tribal politics in the development process is very important, to say the least. The model that has been deployed so far has presented more studies, confined by the donor willingness to engage, under solely self-interested geo-political dynamics and far removed from the transparency they require, will continue to prevail.
Thus, confronted by these new realities of class and wealth distribution, the government must be keen at leveraging the talents of its educated diaspora to fill in the gap that seems to be widening daily. This is not only for the long term viability and credibility of the government but also for effecting credible institutions that can deliver on these needed social programs that must address the increasing gaps or divide. Additionally, engaging the diaspora at this nascent stage will surely provide the grounding needed in developing best practices and experiences in addressing the current challenges, instead of using highly paid foreign experts, while creating an underclass of well deserving and educated South Sudanese diaspora that are willing and able to deliver on all the indicators that are pertinent to the development of our nation.