The Nexus between Poverty, Illiteracy and Political Instability in South Sudan

Posted: June 7, 2018 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Ajang Barach-Magar, Economy, Junub Sudan

By Ajang Barach-Magar, Bor, South Sudan



Wednesday, June 06, 2018 (PW) — In this article, the central quest seeks to examine the tangled web involving illiteracy, poverty and violent insurgencies in the world’s peripheral societies. There is both theoretical and empirical evidence to suggest that a positive correlation exists between bad governance and backwardness. In many developing countries, the problems emanating from politics and poverty are enormously pervasive.

Compared to their affluent counterparts who mainly occupy leafy suburbs in large metropolis, the marginalized segments of populations in nearly all less developed nations bear the brunt of greater health threats, are considerably susceptible to environmental degradation, overcrowding in informal settlements, political marginalization, economic exclusion leading to abject poverty, rampant corruption and civil strife.

A decade leading up to the turn of the new millennium, the most popular mantra in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean was the “Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)”. The vision in the document was swiftly heralded as the best hope for humanity’s down trodden. Fast forward and two decades later, that dream is fast threatening to fade into irrelevant part of history.


Secondary sources of information and a comparative historical narrative approach – sources such as books, Journal and Magazine articles as well as newspaper reports were heavily consulted. Necessary background checks were carried out to ascertain whether useful generalization was achievable by statistical sampling procedures. This provides basis for confidence about the representativeness of the figures cited herein which in turn paves way for broader inferences.

Wherever applicable, some confusing concepts and problems requiring solutions were phrased as questions. Conversely, questions which beg answers were framed as problems. With the above approach, topics which could often be used interchangeably were treated in terms of specific, researchable intellectual puzzles.


South Sudan being a nascent country still reeling from decades of civil devastation features some of the worst statistics on human development index. Our illiteracy rate is comfortably among the highest on the entire planet. This is a result of continued neglect from successive administrations, who, lacking economic and social vision, place little value on education.

History tells us that the availability of a well-informed citizenry is the single most important factor in bringing about social, economic and democratic transformation. The political scientist Lipset, argues that “The more well to do a country is, the greater chances that it will sustain democracy”. He goes on to further argue that if the hypothesis is subjected to a test using the common indexes of economic development, one finds that the average wealth, degree of industrialization and urbanization, and the level of education are indeed much higher for the more democratic nations.

This is a statement of fact, for relatively speaking, in Europe and North America where wealth is the rule and poverty the exception, veritable threats to democracy are minimal which sharply contrasts with the African situation.

In this regard, an illiterate populace often have very high growth rate since they seldom practice any form of birth control such as contraception, family planning etc. Overcrowding leads to emergence of informal settlements where crime activities would soon flourish. Reports suggests that about 44% of Yemen’s national population are illiterate. Of these, a frightening 85% of the poor reside in rural areas and get by the day on less than $2.

In Bangladesh, the challenges associated with overpopulation are more intense. Ranked as one of the most densely populated countries in the world, Bangladesh has a population density of 1078 persons per square kilometer. With nearly half of their large population being either illiterate or semi-literate, people from such societies are restricted to rudimentary forms of technology as sophisticated, high technology skills can only be acquired through carefully structured formal educational programs.

Consequently, the vast majority of citizens in developing countries engage in low productivity output, manual farming. Without advanced technology, infrastructural development remains ever elusive. In the case of South Sudan, the country’s capital city – Juba, represents a giant village in certain aspects. Ground and aerial photographs of the city provide interesting impressions.

Ultra-modern structures are so interspersed with low grade, informal houses that you would be forgiven to conclude that whoever generated Juba’s blueprint – if we can even call it one, is either a consummate genius or a downright quack. After 13 years of relative development, the kindest possible description of the city of Juba, is that it actually resembles an expensive jigsaw with so many pieces missing while others are in the wrong place.


There is a convincing relationship between poverty, illiteracy and political violence. For the purposes of this article, our working definition of poverty would be that poverty represents a state where the income level of an individual is insufficient to sustain him/her and their dependents in terms of food, housing, clothing, medication and other basic requirements. If anything, the broader definition of poverty becomes problematic across population spectrum as the wealthy may not define their wealth in the same way as their fellow poor countrymen.

Extreme poverty exhausts governing institutions, depletes resources, weakens leaders and crushes hope – fueling a volatile mix of desperation and instability. Political and ideological engagement increases when people reach a “fairly high standard of living” (Pipes, 2002).

Evidence suggests that the bottom 40% are not only often bypassed by development, but are also too preoccupied with their basic survival to participate actively in national politics, sporting activities, scientific and philosophical discourses (Mahbub Ul Haq, 1989).

In poor nations, violent uprisings clearly offer visible opportunities for immense personal influence and power; something that would otherwise be very difficult to attain. Militant insurgents exploit the masses’ poverty. This is mainly the case with FARC in Colombia, Hezbollah in Lebanon, The Tamils in Sri Lanka, SPLM-IO in South Sudan and LRA in Uganda. All of them draw their support from marginalized socio-economic groups.

The above assertion is supported by a 2004 study by McCulloch. While sampling about a quarter million people, McCulloch concluded that “the less poverty there is, the less support there is for revolutionary violence” (McCulloch, 2004).

Corruption, Political Oppression and Violent Insurgency

The final item in this article would focus on corruption and bad governance. Leadership in developing countries is predominantly characterized by predatory political systems. In Africa, the elite create strategies to maintain hegemony. These may include crudely coercive agencies and promotion of social stratification through class espionage.

In this regard, ascribed inequality works by placing individuals in distinct social categories at birth, often based on religious, ethnic or racial characteristics. In certain autocratic countries, governments openly favour a specified creed or race. This is evident in Sudan, where Arab Muslims are prioritized over indigenous African tribes.

Corruption, on its part often accompanies centralization of power. It acts as both a major cause and a consequence of poverty around the world. Corruption undermines democracy and good governance by flouting formal processes. It increases the cost of business through the price of illicit payments, the management cost of negotiating with officials and the risk of breached agreements or detection.

Also, it generates economic distortions in public sector by diverting public investment into capital projects where bribes and kickbacks are more plentiful. In Nigeria, more than $400 billion dollars was stolen by Nigeria’s leaders from 1960-1999. In South Sudan, in just under a decade (2005-2011), the then semi-autonomous government officials has helped themselves to a reported $4.

Forms of corruption include embezzlement, bribery, crony capitalism, nepotism, graft and structural adjustment policies – which is a legal leeway to corruption. The counter-elites being mostly disenfranchised, marginalized and unable to participate in the spoils due to the above named factors and other more crude strategies e.g military favouritism and electoral fraud, fight back as agents of regime change. The so-called counter-elite is comprised of what Gramsci called “critically self-conscious” revolutionary elite, i.e intellectuals who, realizing the reality of the situation, would lead the masses against the political elite whilst always maintaining contact with the social base (Gramsci, 1971, pg. 334).


From the above narrative, it is plausible to conclude that most governments in developing countries are utterly incapable of governing in ways that would progressively reduce the level of absolute poverty, backwardness and disease burden among the people.

It is, however, imperative to acknowledge that exceptional cases abound – countries where high levels of corruption, autocratic regimes and real economic development have been achieved. Such success stories include China and some countries in the Arab world. It is also instructive to ask the question; which comes first? Does a country become democratic because of being prosperous or did the current prosperous nations become affluent because they were democratic?

In this article, the central argument has been that illiteracy, poverty and political instability reinforce each other. This is far from a mechanical cause-and-effect. Therefore, proffering progressive recommendations in educational sector alone, for example, may not always be sufficient.

The educational approach has been tested and miserably failed in countries such as Zimbabwe. Educating the masses, restriction of economic opportunities, granting of little or no political space to the people spawns political unrest leading to violent uprisings and we are back to where we started.

A holistic approach encompassing the above three components would go a long way to mitigating the African, Caribbean and Asian situation. It was President Roosevelt of the United States who declared in his 1944 state of the Union address “we have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence”.

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website. If you want to submit an opinion article, commentary or news analysis, please email it to PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website do reserve the right to edit or reject material before publication. Please include your full name, a short biography, email address, city and the country you are writing from.

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