Article written

  • on 18.01.2015
  • at 12:00 PM
  • by Kevin

South Sudan’s slow liberation 0

South Sudan’s vice president Riek Machar was sacked in 2013 and after a political crisis that year, he ended up in the bush leading an armed rebellion that has turned into 13 months of civil war. When he received journalists in his bush headquarters, he displayed his latest reading to them: Why Nations Fail, by economist Daron Acemoglu and political scientist James Robinson.

It is a catchily-written economic history of world inequality with cover endorsements from five Nobel laureates. Why Nations Fail argues that unrepresentative governments create extractive institutions that are recipes for nation-failure.

Nations with inclusive market institutions based around private property, backed by strong governments with the rule of law have the recipe for success. Most countries get it wrong because they have extractive elites; looters who rig the markets and the law.

Other countries get it wrong because they have no government at all – no legal system to make private property into a social reality. World inequality exists because these two kinds of nations get it wrong. The book argues that it’s nationswhich fail – and barely engages with the argument that the world system might be rigged against some of them.

Some journalists chided Riek for reading economic history rather than reflecting on the child soldiers in his camp, or the corpses on his battlefields, or indeed the way that he and other defunct politicians had summoned up the apocalypse in what seemed to be an argument over government posts. But none of them complained that he was smoking the same dope as the neo-classical economists.

At the time of writing I was smoking a different kind of dope. I didn’t think that the South Sudanese nation could fit into the neat little templates set out in Riek Machar’s book. I do however think that those kinds of templates often influence assumptions about places like South Sudan – not least because South Sudan is easy to misunderstand.

It has the longest history of modern government of any part of the African interior. But because it’s underdeveloped – hyper-underdeveloped in fact – many people believe that it has never had any state at all, that it is a tabula rasa, or a nasty brutal state of nature, or a global victim of everything.

Continue reading at African Arguments

By Edward Thomas 

Photo Credit: UN Photo/Paul Banks.

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Direttore Responsabile Giuseppe Frangi