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Jobs in South Sudan: Old guard and new guard in a new nation

By Parselelo Kantai in Nairobi
Posted on Thursday, 25 August 2011 14:19

Leaders in Juba are charged with building a state from the ground up as new citizens clamour for roads, electricity, healthcare and jobs

As the streets of Juba were cleared of their celebratory rubbish, Republic of South Sudan vice-president Riek Machar led a delegation to the United Nations in New York to confirm the process of UN membership for the world’s newest independent state. Now that the rituals of statehood, formalised on 9 July with the raising of a flag and singing of an anthem, alongside the launch of a national currency, the leaders of the new republic are getting down to the business of state-building.

“We didn’t walk into offices like many ofAfrica’spost-colonialadministrations. They inherited colonial administrations, there was a system already in place. In the case of Southern Sudan, there was no government. There were only army garrisons and buildings that needed extensive renovations after the war. We were living in tents. When we buried our late chairman, John Garang, there were only 15 cars in this city. What you see now in Juba is the work we have done over the past six years,” recalls information minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin.

Juba, South Sudan’s bustling capital, is perhaps the first post-independence African city built almost entirely through the collective efforts of the country’s diaspora, the use of humanitarian aid and a kind of ‘grassroots imperialism’rendered by East African governments, entrepreneurs big and small, professionals and journeymen.

Rags-to-riches stories are told around bar counters, over a Kenyan Tusker Lager, a Ugandan Nile Special or even a Sudanese White Bull. So are the stories of entrepreneurs irked by the heat, the mosquitoes, the lack of power.

While the challenges ahead may dim the romance of freedom somewhat, for the South Sudanese, the majority of whose children grew up stateless and in refugee camps, the idea of a homeland is now a reality that cannot be erased. “Independence has given every Sudanese hope that we are no longer inferior. We can walk tall among the peoples of East Africa,” says Jervasio Okot, who until recently was a coordinator for the Countdown to South Sudan Referendum.

While the lack of qualified personnel is an administrative headache, it is instructive how – despite the on-off interventions of North American and European governments – neighbouring governments have stepped in to bridge some of the more glaring gaps. In March 2007, the Government of South Sudan signed a $35m cooperation agreement with the Kenyan government to train 2,000 civil servants. Administrators studied at the Kenya Institute of Administration while others received basic training in diverse areas such as aviation, criminology and wildlife management.

There is, for all that, a deepening pool of professionals from which the new republic can draw, not least the cadre of more than 300 professionals who were boys when they were recruited into the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army in the mid-1980s and who returned as doctors, engineers,lawyers.

For younger Sudanese, however, dreams of success come with a sharpening recognition of class divisions and are complicated by the competing expectations of the returning diaspora and the lack of educational opportunities in South Sudan. There may be jobs available, says a young law student who resides in Australia and who returned for the independence celebrations, “but if you did not get out of Sudan, they are not for you”.

An ageing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement elite also occupies top positions in government and are loath to cede leadership to the youth. The government talks about fighting corruption, but this has not prevented a culture of impropriety from taking firm root in government circles.

Within the civil service, the country’s largest employer, there are loud murmurs about the rising levels of tribalism and nepotism. Representatives from Greater Equatoria, one of the three administrative regions in southern South Sudan, held a meeting a few months ago at the University of Juba, reopening the public debate on the ethnic rivalries that have been long simmering beneath a pre-independence united front. “The issue of Dinka domination and tribalism was one of the reasons we went to war in the first place. If it’s not handled well, it is a time bomb for us,” says Jervasio Okot.

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