6 January 2014

South Sudan: The Economics of Stability in South Sudan

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Civil servant recruitment and salaries are on the rise and currently constitute more than half of government budget leaving little money for delivery.

If anything, the first two years of independence have only managed to convince South Sudan's leadership how difficult it is to meaningfully deliver services within any particular election cycle.

It is abundantly clear to even the casual observer that promising and delivering better services is an unlikely path to securing power simply because it is so difficult to meet the population's expectations in South Sudan.

Accordingly, the promise of a democratic system that grants power in return for service delivery appears hollow to many power brokers in South Sudan.

These dynamics shape the raw economics of decision making in South Sudan. When combined with low life expectancies, risks of continued internal and cross-border conflicts, a politics dominated by ethnicity and tribalism, worrying signs of baked in corruption and nepotism, a stark and dangerous incentive structure emerges.

While the government postures about spending on high profile projects and the international community presses for service delivery, South Sudan's leadership is more likely concerned about getting their share of the oil before it runs out. While it is possible that the country's leadership may be able to resist these incentives, it would be naïve to expect a politics that is not inherently shaped by them.

Sadly, South Sudan might be misled by the optimism of the very partners it relies most on. The international development community is weary and stretched thin after maintaining an expensive, on-going humanitarian operation in some of the world's most hostile terrains.

South Sudan's donors want to see the government spend on social services, infrastructure and agricultural development both because these are the best bets to alleviate poverty and because they will allow donors to finally plan their exit.

Current development plans expose a blind-sided focus on poverty alleviation and service delivery without any means to address a loss of revenue that makes the US fiscal deficit look like a walk in the park.

Without a realistic long-term plan, government officials will likely do as anybody would on a sinking ship; spend now and be long gone by the time the waters reach the upper deck.

Already, many of South Sudan's elite have cottoned on to the wisdom of using the good times to secure a future offshore. Simply put, two thirds of the oil will be gone in less than twenty years and the demands from the population will only be greater.

With that short a horizon, the temptation to get rich now and get out is going to be a lot stronger than the pull of a mediated solution to the current or indeed future internal conflicts.

Alexander O'Riordan has been working on projects in South Sudan with the European Union and United Nations Development Programme since 2007.

O'Riordan is an Aid Effectiveness and Donor Funding Researcher.

Read more articles by Alexander O' Riordan.

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