Policy proposal: Promoting Strong Property Rights via the South Sudan Diaspora

Note: I was contracted to write this proposal for a cool site called WonkTonk, which was trying to encourage creative problem solving and social media tools for policy wonks. That site appears to be down. I spoke with the founder who said it was because he’s in the process of “bolting it on to the steem blockchain” as a way of getting compensation for future authors. However, I wanted to reference this proposal in a Quora post I did. So, here is a draft version of the proposal that I sent the founder of WonkTonk. For context: it was in response, as an alternative proposal, to an interesting suggestion that recommended a cattle banking system.

From the signing of a disarmament agreement in 2016 in Rumbek, South Sudan. One of the few surviving photos of that event, the rest having been stolen in New York.

PROPOSAL:

To overcome the degradations of civil war and climate change on the pastoralist economy of South Sudan, the internationalist community should encourage the development of a rural market economy. To do this the internationalist community should offer funding to the diaspora to run pro-property rights initiatives in the region, in addition to providing small stipends for regional entrepreneurial efforts. Property rights initiatives would entail small grants for local schools to increase economics and agricultural tutelage. It would also include public workshops and discussions in the community, led by diaspora members, to get community buy-in. These workshops would offer assistance to community members in setting up businesses. Perhaps more importantly, it would offer stipends to potential community leaders, identified from the communal engagement discussions, for entrepreneurial efforts. This would have several nice side benefits: namely, anti-conflict would be wrapped up in economic development initiatives, being pushed by the community and former community members and not from the “outside.” Moreover, this would allow the country to reframe the issue from one of lack of infrastructure and assistance funding to one of resources and community building, which would possibly encourage anti-conflict attitudes. The stipends would be aimed at business ranging from computer cafes to sewing and agricultural efforts: small and manageable ventures that could be run with little to no outside help and can be set up with minimal need for outside advisors. Much of the barriers to medium/long-term development and short-term inflows are tied to the conflict — ethnic and family rivalries, cattle rustling, the preference of customary practices over established law — many of these barriers are merely entrenched by government corruption and dysfunctional customs. This method offers several benefits. First, it uses ethnic Sudanese to drive negotiation and advocacy efforts to get social buy-in to development efforts. This counteracts several inherent problems for stabilizing efforts in the region. Notably, South Sudanese in the region don’t trust internationals and are inherently suspicious of efforts from the internationalist quarter. Events like the massacre at Malakal, in which UN forces refused to protect a sanctuary, are regnant in their minds. Therefore, major efforts tend to be either tied to internationals and have a hard time getting off the ground or are tied to local interest structures and are both partisan and prone to corruption. The South Sudanese diaspora has grown since the initial outbreak of the conflict with North Sudan. Though precise estimates are hard to come by, there is a presence in several developed western countries including the US, Canada, and Australia. Moreover, members of this community have self-collected before for similar anti-conflict measures in South Sudan, which have been funded by institutional bodies like USAID. So a pipeline already exists. The entrepreneurial stipends will aid the pastoralist economy in the following ways. Old customs like dowry negotiations and polygamous marriages keep women on a conveyor belt system of childbirth and encourage community buy-in for practices like dowry negotiations, which function as a form of community mortgaging due to the absence of traditional banking structures. It will also aid the acceptance of the initiatives by building good faith between the international community and the region, and among rival groups in the region. For this reason, the entrepreneurial stipends ought to be aimed at underprivileged sectors of the community — such as women and minority ethnic groups — with incentives for inclusive ventures. The cost of this sort of campaign would be fairly modest. In addition to the entrepreneurial stipends, which could be small, it would entail arranging travel and accommodations for members of the diaspora, as well as small grants for regional schools. Admittedly, it would be a mostly medium-term effort. However, there are immediate, short-term gains to be had for the pastoral sector. For instance, community dialogues would likely raise many of the grievances keeping community trust low and could immediately kick off conversations between groups that don’t talk much. It would also move the region away from assistance funding which has proven unstable, and which is currently as much of a short-term consideration as a medium or longterm one.

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