South Sudan: No Taxation, No Representation

No taxation without representation!

When King George imposed increased taxes on the American colonists in an attempt to pay British debt from the Seven Years War, his colonial subjects were not too happy. They chanted, they protested, they fought for the right to be represented in the Parliament; only then did the Government have the right to tax them.

No taxation without representation was an American complaint, yet the inverse of the slogan is also true. Without taxation, there would be no representation. Western nation states are influenced by notions of sovereignty developed in the 1700s, where thinkers such as jean Jacques Rousseau contributed to the idea of a social contract between the sovereign and his subjects. The sovereign derives his power from the efforts of the people, and he is thus beholden to represent their general will.

This creates issues in certain artificially formed states. Rulers are sustained by a wealth of natural resources in many states in Africa; consequently they are not supported by the taxes of the people. In a newborn Southern Sudan in 2011, the sale of crude oil and natural gas accounted for 98% of government revenues. In these circumstances, taxes, customs receipts and revenues from the sale of state assets – the things on which industrialized nations rely on to fund the state and require the acquiescence of the population—matter far less than to keep the resource money flowing.

And when the money slows down, the government is in trouble.

South Sudan is currently trapped in a vicious circle where control of the kleptocratic state with institutions designed to benefit off oil wealth has resulted in a civil war, prompting an economic breakdown of society. While oil barrels would have cost around $100 per barrel in 2012, the outbreak of the war in 2013 slashed oil production such that revenues fell by 50%.

Over the past year, the situation has gotten even worse. South Sudan is currently plagued by famine, civil war and consequent refugee crisis. However, the rampant hyperinflation currently occurring in the nation is only exacerbating the problem. The value of the South Sudanese pound has collapsed. The biggest banknote in circulation, the SSP100, is not the world’s least valuable highest-denomination national note.

As one of the least diversified economies in the world, South Sudan depends heavily on oil revenue for its exports and imports most other goods. The value of the South Sudanese pound has deteriorated in the past few years, resulting in a dramatic escalation in the price of imported goods. Even basic necessities such as food—imported from Uganda and Kenya—have soared in price, adding ot the cycle of hunger present in most of the country.

In the past, South Sudan’s economy has been able to self-correct. In 2015, farmers in Equatoria—a fertile area south of Juba—began selling their produce to Uganda as they reversed the normal trade flow. But as the civil war zone spreads through the nation, production has been halted. As farming has all but stopped, villagers flee the country to Uganda.

Despite the urgent need to stabilize the nation, the South Sudanese government have failed to do so. Unregulated public spending continues as rival groups spend money on propagating armed violence for political control rather than ensuring the population does not starve to death. Ministries in the government still continue to write checks to contractors for procurement deals and other expenses. The provision of basic human necessities to its people was never a priority of the government and as political groups focus their eyes on the prize—control over South Sudan’s oil wealth—the inflow of state funds into public coffers and outflows for public services stagnates.

Horrific and brutal things that have happened in the South Sudan, including the destruction and pillaging of villages, leading to the exodus of 10,000 civilians from their homes. Yet, despite the efforts of relief organizations, the suffering of the South Sudanese can only end once the government becomes accountable to its people.