Nation Building: Citizens’ Participation in the Development of South Sudan

Published January 9, 2011

JAN.10/2011, SSN; A long awaited independence of southern Sudan from northern Sudan is approaching. Celebrations are already underway even though the polls do not open until Sunday, January 9, 2011. It is clear that the people of southern Sudan will vote for separation from northern Sudan. However, even though independence of southern Sudan is the choice of the people, it is not the ultimate solution to southern Sudan’s problems.

Problems will continue to occur between the two nations. Fears and speculations are already circulating about the formation of a new nation. Countries supporting the south becoming its own nation have expressed concern that southern Sudan could be added to the list of failed states in Africa unless the international community participates in development, especially building infrastructure and training present leaders and citizens in good governance.

Considering the legitimacy shown by the regional government in southern Sudan, one can see indications that the southern Sudanese are able to govern, provide their own security, and build their sprawling economy in the coming years.

In this article, the writer wishes to explore what is next after the independence of southern Sudan is established and how the citizens of this new nation could best participate in nation building.

Since the civil war started in Sudan in the 1950s, the people of southern Sudan have maintained hope and determination regardless of the political, economic, and social marginalization by the north. Peace and unity have been given enormous priority in the last five decades by the south but lack of political will on the part of the north has resulted in the split of the country.

As the countdown begins with the results of the referendum voting being announced in early February, southern Sudanese must begin to think about building their new nation. Like any other nation that has recovered from war, southern Sudan has a critical opportunity to legitimize itself as a functioning and viable state.

Nation building

“Nation building” is a generic term that “refers to the process of constructing or structuring a national identity using the power of the state. This process aims at the unification of the people within the state so that it remains politically stable and viable in the long run.” ( The legitimacy and functionality of a state is measured by the state’s capability to provide security, education, health, infrastructure, and maintain the citizens’ civil and democratic rights. The stability of any nation is centered on its ability to provide security for its citizens. All of the security sectors in southern Sudan have been transformed into conventional units that are ready to provide this level of security. This ability was made possible through the assistance provided by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the international community.


Development is the foundation of any nation. The level of development in any nation varies from place to place and is based upon the cultural environment. It is connected to the land in which people are residing and how to make use of the local resources of that area in a productive manner. This section of the article discusses development in an economic perspective.

The generic definition of “development” is an increase in national income per capita and an increase in the number of people in the nation’s population with sustainable growth from low-to-a growing modern economy. Southern Sudan is the richest region in the continent in terms of unprocessed resources. But in accumulated wealth, it is one of the poorest in the world. The people of Africa have different worldviews about development. The term development is understood by many Africans as the building of skyscrapers and the provision of humanitarian projects. The number of years spent depending on foreign humanitarian aid has impacted the way in which Africans perceive development. Dependency on outside support systems has had deleterious effects on southern Sudanese citizens. Success is a product of hard work and sacrifice.

Citizens’ participation in the development of south Sudan

The importance of citizens’ participation in nation building can be seen in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. The government loosened its powers by delegating responsibilities to the grassroots organizations and local governments. If southern Sudan is to be a viable and peaceful nation, it needs to look at the model used in Rwanda and apply it to its current population in the south. People are the custodians of their own problems. The government should be the guardian that provides resources and protection to solve those problems.

In 2001 when the “lost boys” went to the United States, they worked diligently to raise awareness of the challenges facing the nation as a whole. In part because of this educating, the United States government has stood firm in its promise to help the people of southern Sudan. Over the years, the Sudanese Diasporas have contributed economically, politically, and diplomatically to the government of southern Sudan. Power cannot be measured by the position you have, but by what you can produce and do for your country. This is nationalism.

Many projects have begun in southern Sudan since the CPA was signed and these projects are evidence that the people of southern Sudan are ready to begin building their new nation. Over $7 million dollars have been raised and invested in a variety of projects in the south by the Sudanese Diasporas. In this regard, involvement of the media is crucial as well as making sure that there is the inclusion of all taking part in this nation building process. When President Kiir has come to the United States, he has received overwhelming support of the southern Sudanese living in the United States. This exhibition of support has led the U.S. government to have greater trust in Kiir’s leadership in Juba.

Dependency on external ideas

Western credentials, ideas and advice are highly regarded in Africa, often before any credence is given to ideas offered by the African people themselves. There is no question as to how much the west has helped African countries in terms of economic development and education but what works best in western culture may not yield the same results in Africa. Economics is tied to political culture and the political climate of a given society. The western economics paradigms work in the western world because of their political and cultural resonation with the people. For decades the developed world has tried to sell their economic agendas to the Africans and most of these attempts have ended unsuccessfully.

Lack of trust among Africans themselves is a major deterrent to the development of Africa. I am embarrassed to write that my young government in Juba is the number one recruiter of foreign workers. Many of the private secretaries in the government ministries are foreign employees. The reason behind their recruitments is because with their higher education it is presumed that they will build stronger relationships between their governments and the government of southern Sudan. Even jobs that southern Sudanese meet the qualifications for are often not given to the southern Sudanese. Their ideas and skills are being ignored. If it is believed that western education can offer much in building capacities in southern Sudan, then it would be best to make use of those southern Sudanese who have received their education in the U.S. People see the government as an island and the government officials doubt the capacity of their own people.

The United Nations and other non-government organizations working in Sudan are very expensive. Much of the money given to these NGOs for development projects is used for salaries which leave much less for the goals of the projects. The lack of cultural understanding and misinformation as to what the needs are can end up in corruption. The empowering of community -based organizations with resources so that they can be in charge of development could create an environment for much more successful growth.

“Taking of Towns to the villages” (vision of Dr. John)

The vision of our late hero Dr. John Garang when it came to an economic strategy was to take the towns to the villages. The idea is to avoid migration of people from their localities in such for services in the modern cities. Having resources and services available in the villages would diminish economic dependency on foreign governments and on the working class in the cities. This would result in resources costing less if people were able to remain in their villages. Transformation of an agrarian economy into an industrial economy in a transparent manner will help speed development and growth in what will be the newest nation in the world.

Michael Ayuen Kuany holds a masters degree (MA) from Eastern Mennonite University and a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and Political Science from the University of Wisconsin. He is the founder and Executive Director of Rebuild South Sudan. He can be reached at:

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