By David Mayen Ayarbior, Juba, South Sudan
February 1, 2017 (SSB) —- As Israelites found themselves in the wilderness of Egypt without food they blamed Moses for their plight. He had taken the mantle of leadership and claimed to have God’s favour on his side, which he later proved through miracles. While trapped in the desert without food, the legitimacy of Moses was questioned and almost stripped until God intervened with Manna from heaven. That was an example of how economic wellbeing is at the heart of the sources of legitimacy.
In all African tribal communities chiefs confirm their legitimacy through providing economically for their tribes. If their spear masters fail to conjure the spirits of rain; if hunters fail to catch preys, and if harvests continue to fail, then the chief and his henchmen would be accused as having fallen out of favour with the gods of rain and harvest.
Whether harvest failure could be caused by locusts or flooding is always immaterial. Consequently, new tribesmen would claim to have those powers to communicate with the spirits of rain, hence given legitimacy to rule and provide for the wellbeing of the tribe.
At the level of nation-states, the social contract between citizens and government is premised on a programme of social service provision on the interior and protection from external aggression. The former is purely security, economics and economics.
The longevity of governments have always depended (70 per cent) on economic success. Just like Chiefs and their councils and spear-masters in the tribal setting, whether a government blames its economic shortfalls on the lack of rains or insecurity, tribesmen/women will always listen to those who promise better economic outcomes and elect them to office.
This is not a call against a government to which I am a technocrat, it is rather an appeal to urgently rethink and adopt new strategies that could salvage the dire situation of the downtrodden citizens of South Sudan.
It would be foolhardy of ten to twenty senior citizens (leaders) to think that the delusional exclusionary rhetoric of owning the people’s revolution (“we liberated you”) should bestow eternal legitimacy to their rights to rule. Legitimacy must be earned and sustained by uninterrupted economic success throughout a political party’s time in government.
What I am endeavoring to project here is that government legitimacy, even in kingdoms, is performance-based. In our current unfortunate economic reality, induced inflation has hit over 1500% (one thousand five hundred percent). Goods that used to be ten (10) SSP before December 2015 are now more than 160 SSP. Those that were 150 SSP like a 20 kgs bag of maize flour are now 2400 SSP.
Many government employees especially in states have started running to UNMISS PoC sites just to get a monthly ration for their kids to survive, since their salaries couldn’t afford to just pay transport costs, let alone feed and medicate their offspring. The streets are full of innocent children who are begging left-and–right instead of being at school. Some civil servants have preferred to ride Boda-bodas (motorbike for transporting people) than wait for a government pay that is worth less than a 20 kgs bag of maize flour.
The economic cataclysm which has befallen our helpless people could be more a consequence of erroneous application of economic theories than it might be an unavoidable outcome of the civil war and international oil prices. While war is surely a factor which negatively affects economic growth everywhere, it is not the main reason why we have economically underperformed.
There may be some logic in those excuses (i.e. war, oil prices, etc.), but they constitute less than half the truth. As a matter of fact, our “prominent” economists have perfected the act of misinterpreting, misunderstanding and misapplying economic theories, leading to dragging the country (people) into the mud of abject poverty and indignity.
Unless one is spiritually (or financially) detached from the hardship the masses at the grass roots are undergoing, reports of mass starvation in our country should not be brushed aside as propaganda. Most of the agricultural fields around Juba that used to compete for market with the foodstuffs from Uganda are now abandoned because of insecurity. Those formerly lush green villages along Juba-Nimuli road and Juba-Morobo-Kaya road which used to provide cassava, sweet potatoes, and all kinds of vegetables are now like ghost towns, totally deserted.
Now we have a new Minister of Finance with a new team to manage the country’s fiscal policy. We also have a new Governor of the Central Bank and a new team to manage the country’s monetary policy. They just had a meeting where they brainstormed on how to streamline the country’s fiscal and monetary policies so us to force a U-turn on the current bumpy path on which the country was erroneously forced.
Because of the new changes, the country is awaiting positive results from the new team. Civil servants and their dependents are in prayers that they will soon be able to take their kids to school and avail them two square meals per day, let alone medication.
An economy that cannot enable a senior civil servant to afford his/her children the three basics of life (food, shelter and medication) is a failed and mismanaged economy.
Let the new team not listen for a minute to those who already destroyed the economy. If they must succeed in their work, let them not get any advice from those people (we all know them, the camouflaged economic rebels).
We all wish them success, for their work shall contribute a great deal to government legitimacy and electability in 2018.
Mayen Ayarbior (BA, MA, LLB) Author of: House of War (Civil War and State Failure in Africa) 2013. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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