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Q&A: How to stop south Sudan becoming a failed state?

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 9 Feb 2011 13:37 GMT
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NAIROBI (AlertNet) – South Sudan faces immense challenges as it prepares to become the world's newest nation on July 9, following a referendum in which voters opted almost unanimously for independence. Cynics fear the state will be plunged into renewed warfare and corruption will spiral out of control, condemning its people to further suffering and poverty.

AlertNet's Katy Migiro asked Clare Lockhart, co-author of the book Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World, what south Sudan should do to avoid this fate.

Lockhart is the co-founder and chief executive officer of the Institute for State Effectiveness (ISE), described by Foreign Policy as "the world's most influential state-building think tank". The journal listed her as one of its Top 100 Global Thinkers.

The ISE works on a range of programmes to build states, markets and civil society in crisis-scarred countries ranging from Afghanistan and Nepal to Guinea Bissau and Haiti.

Q: South Sudan will become independent in a few months. What should its priorities be?

South Sudan faces enormous problems of poverty, conflict, corruption and constraints in capacity. An important first step is for the southern leadership to understand the dimensions of these challenges and address the most urgent ones to maintain stability in the short term.

It is critical that the government addresses only a handful of key decisions every few months, and matches these with a real focus on implementation of a limited number of programmes that can reach people in the villages with tangible benefits.

All too often countries set up thousands of individual projects which cannot be completed. Focusing on a few, top-priority initiatives can build a sense of momentum and provide the basis of a partnership, with international funding and expertise where necessary.

Q: Is dependence on outsiders inevitable during the first few years?

Too often, foreign donors see what is not present in a society and look to bring services in from the outside. Sudan must emphasise an effort to mobilise its own strengths.

The ISE's experience indicates that sustainable development requires a movement away from dependency on aid and a greater focus on domestic revenues and expenditures, with market-based growth and job creation to generate stability and prosperity.

South Sudan has significant assets within its borders that can be used to support stability, from natural resource wealth to local governance structures. The youth of any country is often its greatest asset - and Sudan is no exception.

Instead of wasting billions of dollars on technical assistance contracts importing "advisers" from the outside, south Sudan could break the tradition of reliance on foreign expertise.

It could focus on investing in the secondary and vocational training of its own people so that they are equipped to become the doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, agriculture and construction workers of the future. This is a much more cost-effective way of managing human capital in the medium to long run.

Q: But donors tend to focus on primary education as being the most important investment?

Domestic education plays a vital role in preparing the next generation of leaders. Sadly, donors and development agencies often prefer to focus on individual education projects, mainly at the primary and secondary levels, rather than viewing human capital development as a component towards long-term stability.

The successful transitions that we (at the ISE) have observed prioritised higher education and vocational training pegged to relevant skill sets and targeted, small amounts of technical assistance to specific remaining challenges.

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