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Africa in focus

Dear South Sudan’s Leaders

John Mukum Mbaku

Dear South Sudan’s Leaders:

Today, the country that all of you and your fellow citizens fought to establish is at a crossroads. And you, the country’s leaders, are now standing at the proverbial “fork in the road.” The question now is: Which road will each of you take? Your choice will determine not only your place in history but will significantly impact the future of your shared country, its diverse peoples and your neighbors. Each of you can choose to chase after personal power, primitive accumulation, and self-enrichment—using the ethnic group that you belong to as a foundation for that quest. This disastrous decision would plunge your country further into violent and destructive mobilization, effectively shutting the door to the type of state formation that is undergirded by a desire to achieve national integration, peaceful coexistence and sustainable development. Alternatively, each of you can opt to maximize a different value, one that places you among the world’s greatest leaders—that is, those who, when they came to the fork in the road, chose to lead their people down the road of opportunities for peaceful coexistence, prosperity and liberty.

As the citizens of South Sudan watch and wait in utter fear and disgust, it is time for you, the country’s leaders, to decide whether you want to lead them into a future filled with unending violence, hunger, and desolation, or into one where all of the country’s various peoples, regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation, gender, and economic status, can live together peacefully and pursue their values and interests without molestation from others.

In the early 1990s, Nelson Mandela and his compatriots found themselves at a similar crossroads. They chose not to act opportunistically and retreat to their various ethnic enclaves.  Like the great leaders that history has proven them to be, they knew that, as apparently beneficial as such an option would have been to them, they would have plunged their country into an abyss from which it was unlikely to recover anytime soon. Instead, they chose the road that led them and their country to the type of state formation that is undergirded by institutional arrangements that provide an enabling environment for wealth creation and economic growth. That is why, today, the country that they founded has one of the world’s most progressive and human-rights friendly constitutions.

South Sudan is a new and relatively underdeveloped country, but it has the potential to emerge as a highly developed and peaceful one. However, in order for that potential to be fully exploited and used effectively to enhance development, the latter must be provided with institutional arrangements that guarantee the rule of law.

To you, the leaders of this new country: All of you can gracefully exit the scene, serve as elder statesmen, and provide the country’s new crop of leaders with the type of advice and support that can help the country successfully emerge from its violent and destructive past, as well as chart a path towards peace, sustainable economic growth and development, and equitable and fair allocation of national resources.

How will history judge you? As tyrants, opportunists, despots, exploiters, and oppressors, who used their public positions to grab power and riches for themselves or as public servants who spearheaded and led the transformative processes that brought peace, security, and development to their country? The choice is yours.

Posterity will judge you well, but only if you choose wisely!

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