Human Capital

South Sudanese Youth

Some last months, others only weeks before they head back to the West in disappointment. Is South Sudan making enough use of its skilled Diaspora?


Although of great consequence to the development of our nation, I find the online media has a near overwhelming commentary and analytical emphasis on central government and its political personalities to the detriment of socioeconomic and developmental considerations.

The predominant challenge that our nation faces is the effective delivery of services to a citizenry that had been to all intents and purposes abandoned by central government for decades and burdened with the consequences of chronic underinvestment in the region.

The South Sudan Office of National Statistics has some interesting statistics – albeit a little dated.  Although crude oil accounts for 98% of nation’s exports, our Republic’s economy is overwhelmingly agrarian.  78% of households depend exclusively on subsistence crop farming or animal husbandry, with 53% of the working population classified as unpaid family workers.

The 2010 Business Survey Listing, recorded just 7,333 registered businesses (1 business per 1,100 citizens).  84% of these business were involved in either wholesale/retail trade or hospitality.  Putting this into context, in the same year, the United Kingdom (where I live) registered 2.1 million businesses (1 per 30 citizens) of which only 23% were involved in wholesale/retail trade or hospitality.  Unemployment is high because we just don’t have the businesses to deliver employment opportunities.  Consequently, people scramble for public sector jobs.  This I believe is a main driver of the rampant clientism you mention in your article.  I would not expect any attempt to reduce clientism to succeed unless there is a dramatic increase in employment opportunities in the Republic.

Our nation is in dire and urgent need of investment capital.  Unfortunately, our government clearly doesn’t have enough in the treasury to provide this investment.  We are left to rely on foreign aid and foreign investment.

Foreign aid is too unpredictable to rely on.  Donor countries all too often renege on pledges, focus too narrowly on ‘quick win’ projects to the detriment of long term strategic programmes or are susceptible to switching from development assistance to disaster relief activities in knee jerk reactions to perceived crises.

We will also continue to struggle to attract quality foreign investment.  Insecurity, transparency, capacity and corruption concerns not only discourage foreign investment in general but also create a vacuum that invites the most opportunistic and disreputable of foreign investors – focused on maximising the return on investment without ethical, social and environmental regard.  I fear that under pressure to deliver services and in desperation, our government will turn to these investors thereby sowing the seeds of community discord in years to come.

I, along with many who live abroad, would be more than willing to return to the homeland.  Our efforts would have a far greater impact back home than in the already developed economies in which we work.  But what incentive do we have to give up highly paid jobs, our houses, excellent healthcare, quality schooling for our children and the reliable security of our host nations?  Many who have returned have since abandoned the homeland.

The cultural and religious directive that the Jewish people have to return to the land of Israel was a powerful driver for the return of millions of their Diaspora. As an analogy,  returnees used their energies to turn the arid Negev desert into a bread basket.  In just over half a century, Israel has transformed itself from a sleepy backwater to a regional superpower.

They did this by making use of all of their human resources.  Although we don’t have this directive to return to the ‘promised land’, we can still learn and apply lessons from the Israeli experience.

There should be a strategic plan to attract skilled workers living abroad – a partnership between the public and private sectors aimed at placing potential returnees where they are most needed to fill the holes in the indigenous workforce.  The critical point is that returnees must be seen as complementary to and not competition for those who are currently living in the homeland.

Potential returnees should be actively assisted in securing nationality papers, finding the right place to relocate and good housing, finding a suitable job or starting a business, shipping their possessions as well as language lessons and acclimatisation for the youth who have grown up abroad.  They should also be provided with some sort of support network when they arrive to ensure that they are able to better weather the challenges of return.

Coupled with this, there should be a sound framework of policies to provide direct investment opportunities to those living abroad who have no intention to return, but who would be willing to send their money back home – 3.55% growth, although lower than other nations, is still a hell of a lot better than the 0.7% growth rate we have in the UK.  In fact, interest rates are so low, due to economic recovery policies, that inflation means we’re losing out by putting our hard earned cash.  Provided that there was a trusted, independent and well run investment vehicle, then investing in South Sudan would not only allow me to beat inflation, but would also give me an avenue for helping the development of the homeland.