The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) is providing seed funding and advisory support for the Sudd Institute, a new, nongovernmental policy institute based in Juba, South Sudan. Abraham Awolich, a South Sudanese specialist in public administration with experience in development and governance issues and the acting executive director of the Sudd Institute sat down with USIP.

USIP Interview with Abraham Awolich
Photo courtesy of NYTimes

Abraham Awolich, a South Sudanese specialist in public administration with experience in development and governance issues, is the acting executive director of the Sudd Institute, a new, nongovernmental policy institute based in Juba, South Sudan. The U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) is providing seed funding and advisory support for Sudd, as USIP intends to promote the development of an informed, effective policy-making process in a new nation that faces tremendous challenges in resolving internal and external conflicts, in all facets of development and in building the capacities of the state and the society to address policy issues. USIP receives financial assistance for this effort from the Office of the U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan.

What are the needs that the Sudd Institute will address and the role it will play?

Awolich: The people of South Sudan had long lived under regimes based in Khartoum, and we are contending with a legacy of oppression, humiliation and even denial of vital services like education. Unrelentingly, the South Sudanese persisted in demanding our freedom and achieved independence on July 9, 2011. The country that emerged from the ashes of successive civil wars has just begun the daunting task of state formation and nation-building.

Nation-building is a very broad undertaking. It includes establishing good governance, governmental systems and structures, reconciling communities and consolidating peace, forging a national identity, providing a national vision for development and transformation, ensuring the rule of law and public order and developing an economy that is vibrant and sustainable, among other tasks.

Given the lack of quality institutions of higher education and research and the dearth of experienced researchers in the country, critical skills are lacking and most governmental institutions are dysfunctional. That explains why all public and private institutions in South Sudan are inundated with foreign consultants who have become the brains behind the set-up of critical institutions. When the contracts of these consultants end, they leave and create a knowledge gap, forcing institutions to run for more foreign consultants.

Indefinitely relying on these consultants can lead to the perpetuation of disjointed policies that do not align with the real priorities and challenges facing the nation, and since the consultants come and go, sustainable institutional development may not happen. Similarly, long-term dependence on outside expertise poses challenges for sovereignty and national security. This equally leads to little sustainable knowledge and professional development in the country.

The Sudd Institute was therefore established to conduct strategic policy research, provide cutting-edge policy recommendations to help tackle the development and governance challenges of the twenty-first century in post-independent South Sudan, contribute to the creation of sound and holistic institutional design and policy-planning frameworks, enhance collaborative work that seeks to streamline policy-formulation and decision-making processes of public and private institutions, provide strategic capacity-building trainings and professional development to members of the public and private institutions and publish and disseminate research findings to cultivate informed, constructive public discourse on the policy agenda.

This can be done in three ways:

First, the Sudd Institute will provide decision-makers with high-quality research and analysis that is both rigorous and relevant. The Sudd will address the current knowledge gap in South Sudan by conducting and sponsoring action-oriented research and analysis.

Second, the Sudd plans to facilitate dialogue between policymakers and their constituencies and between academic and policy communities. The Sudd Institute will directly inform the policies and practices of its stakeholders by disseminating its research, communicating key findings and policy recommendations through user-friendly print and online publications and events and offering in-person and online forums for relevant discussions and debates.

Third, the Sudd will build capacity in and demand for evidence-based research and analysis in South Sudan by building a cadre of indigenous researchers and analysts, skilled in professional research methodologies, tools and practices, as well as by demonstrating to policymakers that independent analysis can add value to ideas.

Why is it critical at this early moment in South Sudan’s history to launch such an institute?

Awolich: Nations afflicted with civil violence generally suffer tremendous losses of skilled human resource, and they experience institutional collapses that depress development. Even when this violence recedes, challenges of reconciliation, unity and development programming come to the fore. This is particularly the case for South Sudan, a nascent state that endured one of the longest and most vicious civil conflicts in the history of mankind.

After decades of marginalization and the devastating effects of violence, South Sudan finally gained its independence in July 2011, a transition made possible by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). Though it has been nearly seven years since the signing of the agreement, progress has been slow, a reality that reflects our nation’s torturous experience. Ensuring a sound exit out of this tumultuous history requires a fast response predicated upon improving public policy, human resource capacity and institutional structures.

This is where the Sudd Institute comes in: to assist by objectively informing planning for and directions of policy initiatives to ensure the country’s stability and growth. This new nation needs a new direction that is rooted in democratic values, is centered on the needs of people and rises above ethnic cleavages. This is critical because there is a tendency for newly established countries in Africa to drift toward disastrous policies or those of brinkmanship. The Sudd Institute will ensure that the alarm is sounded if the nation takes such a turn.

 

How important is USIP’s financial and technical support, and how useful has it been so far?

Awolich: The seed funding provided by USIP is critical for the work of the Sudd Institute because many great ideas die or remain on paper only due to lack of financial capital. The Sudd is currently made up of a team of 7 young professionals, inspired to use their hard-earned skills for the development of their country. This funding comes at the right time, as it helps us in our ambitious quest to put our country on the right path toward durable peace and stability. The funding, besides providing us with financial sustainability for our operations this year, will also lend credibility to the Institute and open more doors for partnerships with other institutions. Although we are all committed to the cause of the Sudd Institute, the USIP funding provides some sense of accountability, as we will be required to show something for the support received.

The funding, in short, creates the attention we need to move forward with our own vision to improve the policy and decision-making environment in our country. Similarly, the technical support we will receive from the USIP will make us more competent in all our undertakings. This is essential because the Sudd must embody and practice everything it preaches. The Institute needs to develop critical skills to enhance its management practices and ensure that it operates with a high degree of integrity and professionalism. We envision that this relationship with USIP will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the Sudd staff and makes our work worthwhile.

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