Southern Sudan: Building a New Nation

In seven days millions of residents in Southern Sudan have the opportunity to decide their future by voting for independence. The outcome is pointing towards a new nation state and the international community will rally around its birth. The real issue is whether the international community will help or hinder the development of Southern Sudan.

Adopting and Tackling Humanitarian Issues
The new nation, like many fragile states, will inherit a number of systemic issues. Ninety percent of the population live on less than one dollar per day. Approximately one in ten children do not make their fifth birthday and maternal mortality is the highest in the world. Southern Sudan doesn't only need doctors and clinics but an entire health care system. Then there is education. It is hard enough for a country to build a health system, try also having to build an education system, infrastructure and an economic base will be a monumental achievement. In an oil rich region, this should be the last place to be burdened with extreme poverty.

International NGO Involvement: Good or Bad?
The heavy handed approach by some well meaning international non-governmental organizations can spell disaster for a country trying to stand on it's own legs. In post conflict countries the international community steps in to help support a weak political and social system. The danger is when the international community unintentionally creates a 'hand to mouth' aid system that negates or overrides local small businesses and government initiatives.

Recently we worked in a city supporting a local low-cost health care business build and open a series of clinics. With a strong business model the clinics began to expand across the city only to find resistance from 'donor driven' clinics offering free services. Countries like Haiti have suffered from this competitive giving strategy. Where aid funding undermines economic incentive or a government's ability to develop local systems is dangerous and can lead to further destabilization.

Supporting Good Governance While Supporting Existing Government
Salva Kiir, voted in with 93% of the vote, will probably be the first president of Southern Sudan. How the world works with his government with make or break this emerging nation.

This is not a reboot. Academics and policy makers might have an idealized vision of starting a new nation but fragile states are never one borne from a clean slate. Most western states would not survive the sort of restrictions that get placed on developing countries in their bid to emerge out of poverty. We need to find ways to empower and support the new government without forcing predetermined notions of good governance.

Rule of Law
Beyond schools and health facilities the new nation state needs to support their governance with a strong rule of law. This is just not about police and judicial system but full accountability of aid and development -- for a new nation state, the biggest game in town. In our digital world it should be fairly easy to cross reference GIS mapping, crowd sourced information (using mobile technologies) and online accountability to create a more transparent system of aid.

Creating Communities Anchors
For the past decade community led or community-driven development has re-entered the rebuilding process. Those who look down on community involvement claim it allows weak local stakeholders the ability to disburse cash without proper oversight. This is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. There will always be a a number of bad apples but unless you are willing to trust local stakeholders there will never be local ownership of facilities. Given the percentage of aid siphoned off before entering local communities it's a little like complaining someone is taking the crust off the bread while tucking into a steak dinner. Communities need basic services, small business development and, in the case of Southern Sudan, agricultural innovation. Let's not tie down the community with heavy handed policy just to satisfy Western based reporting systems.

I'm not a policy wonk, nor an academic expert. I build communities, ones with integrated health and education facilities and woven together with economic avenues. Before we go in to build in Southern Sudan there must be a strong foundation, one that supports local governance and international collaboration. If you have ideas, thoughts or criticism, add them below.

This is part one in a three part series. I will be writing a second look at Southern Sudan post referendum results and the third six month on.