With only two months left on the clock to referendum, building a prosperous and democratic new state in the turbulent Horn of Africa region has become a challenging undertaking for the semi-autonomous government of southern Sudan. The referendum to vote for either unity or secession will take place in southern Sudan in January, 2011, according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed by the north and the south in 2005 to end Africa’s longest civil war in modern history, and to establish a crucial framework for democratic transformation in the country.
It is widely expected that people in South Sudan will choose independence, driven by long years of bitterness and mistrust of the current government based in Khartoum; anticipation has been growing for a better life in the new state as the referendum looms.
Transparency International recently listed Sudan among the most corrupt nations besides Iraq, Somalia, Myanmar and Afghanistan, in the 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index. Foreign Policy’s annual Failed States Index last summer confirmed that Sudan keeps its ranking as one of the top failed states in the world. These reports among other indicators make the prospects for a new state in south very difficult and challenging.
Corruption and security are important factors in carving out a new state from a failed state. Endogenous processes and efforts to build the capacity, institutions, and legitimacy of the state may need support, if they can be identified. A productive state-society relationship will take time to build. Building a state is neither a program nor a project and it certainly goes beyond post-conflict reconstruction; it is deeply rooted in history and is an ongoing process of institutionalization, reform, and change.
The purposeful intervention of international nonprofit organizations can indeed accelerate endogenous processes led by those who share common mandates and common interests. During the crisis the support of nonprofit organizations was a primary factor in preventing the humanitarian situation in the region from further damage; yet there is much room for improvement on the part of outside supporters of endogenous processes, particularly when it comes to supporting policy reform.
A real democratic commitment from the new government in south Sudan means fighting against corruption must be integrated into state-building from the start. That begins with the government in the new state taking the responsibility for setting up a new financial system to control and manage public finances, constructing major infrastructure, and promoting economic growth for the many rather than growth for the few. If corruption limits growth for the many, the security situation will remain precarious.
Broad-based economic growth demands adopting market-oriented strategies in addition to institutionalizing accountability, both of which can be achieved by widening the circle of those involved in governance, paving the way for the democracy to emerge in the newborn state. A new democratic state in southern Sudan doesn’t have to be limited to a victory for the southern Sudanese people; it can become a new bright spot in the war-torn region of east Africa.