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Submitted by Amar on
South Sudan will become a new country in less than 24 hours. This modern baby state will be distinct from its earlier siblings in that its birth and its toddler years will be followed carefully by a much larger audience than ever before. The world today is very different place compared to half a century ago when most of the colonized regions in Africa gained statehood. It is increasingly visible, if not transparent. Technology, information, expertise, and knowledge are far more freely available and accessible. It is a much more balanced world, with higher opportunity costs associated with arm-twisting or blatant covert action by one nation in pursuit of its interests at the detriment of others. But, even if these conditions are favorable, the direction in which South Sudan will move will finally depend on South Sudan’s leaders and citizens. The leaders will soon appreciate that gaining independence, although more glorious, is a completely different ballgame compared to engendering a modern and progressive nation. My humble two-point advice to the leaders is:- 1. Nation-building before state-building: The euphoria of independence, while it lasts, must be harnessed effectively to translate into a firm national identity above and beyond tribal and community identities. They will have to give their people a powerful idea - an idea of what South Sudan is. This has been done successfully by nations, notably India. Although strengthening the state and its capacity has to go hand in hand with nation-building, in instances where these two goals collide, nation-building must prevail. 2. Institutions before economic growth: Although economic growth is extremely important, socially fair political, legal and economic institutions must be built before economic growth, just as a family must first be a family first before graduating on to be a happy one. Ethical conduct and reciprocal duties and responsibilities of the state and its citizens, respectively, must be de-jure enshrined in the constitution and other legal statutes, as well as de-facto imbibed in primary school curriculums, religious institutions and within families. Until ethical and desirable goals are internalized by the population, even the best designed social, legal and economic systems are doomed to fail. In sum, more than anything else South Sudan needs statesmen not politicians, who have the foresight to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong. Will Sudan’s leaders live up to history’s challenge? My view is that we might be pleasantly surprised notwithstanding the low levels of formal education and exposure among the leaders and the populace. A word of caution for the global community; just as we nurture young children, if we want them to turn out into confident and responsible adults, so should we, not only forgive early errors but also be careful not to burden South Sudan with unduly lofty expectations.