By Apioth Mayom Apioth*
We have heard it so many times that we are starting from scratch and everything is new to us. Those statements are even crystal clear to both the mute and deaf alike, but what we have to be extra careful about are the influx of foreign companies and foreign nationals that are buying up big chunks of lands and taking away our jobs at a colossal rate.
This dire situation is further perpetrated by the level of poverty we are currently facing in the country. When you see your family members with little to eat or you are expecting nothing to eat the next day, you are bound to do everything in your capacity to find connections that are supposedly to help you, even if you end up meeting crooked companies.
For a highly ambitious country like ours, there is no doubt that we want foreign companies to help us industrialize into the 21st century. After all, we could benefit from the revenue generated from doing business with foreign companies. What we don't want to see foreign companies continue do to us is buying our lands for their commercial usages without beneficial economic returns in jobs and infrastructure improvement.
When Nigeria gained independence in 1960, their population was close to 92 million and as of December 2011, their population exploded to 170 million. Since South Sudanese are done fighting the treacherous war of our lives against Khartoum - backed regime, we are expecting to grow our populations that were heavily decimated by the war that was fought for over 20 years. Since we are finally at peace, we want to avoid giving our lands cheaply to foreign investors given that our future generations' lives depend on them.
If these foreign companies continue to snare away these mammothal pieces of lands from us, we could end up with nothing, let alone the future we envision for our future generations could be shattered into naught. What we rather should be doing is to lease out lands to these foreign companies for a certain period, say, contracted them to lease out certain lands for a period of 15 years and see the performance of their businesses. If they perform to a satisfactory standard, then lease the same lands to them for another 15 years or more until we find out their ulterior motives.
Land privatization should be given to certain few companies with healthy records of business success. The successful foreign companies should also hold impressive records for creating jobs, environment conservation and respect for human rights and values.
These broad daylight plundering of our lands have even led David Deng, who recently wrote a report on a comprehensive study of land investments in South Sudan to say," if this land rush is left unchecked, it will almost certainly undermine efforts to secure a lasting peace in South Sudan" ( Gurtong, Dec.13, 2011).
When these foreign companies buy our lands, they are given all the rights to use them in whatever way they see fit and those are lands privatized forever. None of those lands will be within the reach of our citizens again.
Another problem that could arise from land privatization is that our citizenry space become limited and we could end up being crammed into small renting communities where we would have to pay rents from month to month.
Another contentious issue that comes to light is the large number of foreign nationals working in our country. Everywhere you go these days in South Sudan, you see foreign secretaries holding down jobs that should be slated to South Sudanese citizens. With every salary they pocket, they send it back to their home countries or waste it on indulgences of their choice.
Last year, Waakhe Wudu of Gurtong reported that the illiteracy rate in the country stood at 73% (Simon, Waakhe, June 3, 2011). Yes, we are facing a saddening illiteracy rate which leaves us with few alternatives in many economic sectors. But that doesn't mean we have to throw away our jobs because we don't have enough well qualified workers to fill those vacant positions. Our priority in the meantime should be to employ our citizens first before giving any considerations to foreign nationals. The more foreign nationals we hire, the more we help them to develop their home countries' economies.
The small qualified percentage of our population will enable us to last the rough ride we are expecting ahead. This percentage of our total population need to be given the green light to spearhead our economic initiatives and the rest of the population should follow their lead.
On the other hand, if you are a well-travelled South Sudanese, you may run into another African brother or sister from another country who would recognize you and ask, "you are from South Sudan, right? Then he or she may continue with, well, are you going to develop your country with that oil?"
It seems our country cannot escape its association with petroleum industry the world over, but if we are to avoid the so-called the Dutch Curse, we need to start on investing our petrodollars on important economic initiatives. Our ultimate purpose should be to diversify our economies with the petrodollars we are expecting to receive from our natural resources. The revenue from the petrodollars should in turn be used to invest in weak economic sectors such as Agriculture, Transportation, Education, or whatever area we may deem appropriate.
Our natural resources are the lifeblood of our current crops and future generations given that if we use our resources wisely we would expect to grow a robust economy in the not so distance future. We are lucky that we are gifted with these resources because unlike some countries like Rwanda or Burundi that had no foundational cornerstone like petroleum to spearhead their economic aspirations, their economies remained stunted for so many decades before they actually got something going.
These resources aren't going to stay for a lengthy time, so we need to buckle up, tighten our belts and get our engines running without spilling any drop of it or spending any of it on beer.
Deng, David. Gurtong. (2011, Dec. 13). Caution Against Private Land Investment in South Sudan. Retrieved from http://www.gurtong.com
Simon Wudu, Waakhe. (2011, June 3). South Sudan Illiteracy Rate Reduces to 73%, Minister Says. Retrieved from http://www.gurtong.com
*By Apioth Mayom Apioth. A South Sudanese national living in USA.