South Sudan: Police conscript 'idle youth' to work on farms

Charlton Doki | 9/13/2012, 3:01 p.m.

Since April, in Eastern and Central Equatoria states, officials have given civil servants Fridays and Saturdays off to farm.

Eastern Equatoria state's Governor Louis Lobong Lojore threatened to cut the salaries of civil servants who do not use the time off to work on their farms. He said that the measure was necessary as some civil servants were drinking and playing cards and dominoes instead of farming.

Those who did so, he said, would lose two days of pay every week while the program lasts. Eastern Equatoria state's Information Minister Felix Otudwa told IPS that he believed the government's initiative would lead to an increase in food production and security this year.

"These days, you do not see people sitting under trees drinking tea or playing cards the way it used to be in the past. Everybody is busy farming, even on weekends. The governor, minister and other senior civil servants are all involved in cultivation these days. This year, we will all harvest in a big way," Otudwa said.

But not everyone is comfortable with the forced regulations.

Edmond Yakani, the coordinator of local rights organization Community Empowerment for Progress, told IPS that the policy was illegal.

"Where is the law that allows them to arrest people simply because they are not on a farm during work hours? Who passed that law and when?" Yakani asked.

He said that it was equally wrong for the government of Eastern Equatoria to cut the salaries of civil servants who do not use their given days off to farm.

"Where is the law that allows them to cut people's salaries?" Yakani asked.

"A law has to be passed, and this can only be passed by the South Sudan National Assembly so that it becomes obligatory for everyone to farm," he said.

He said that the government needed to facilitate voluntary farming by improving access to land, tools and seeds.

A state official who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the decision to designate Friday and Saturdays as farming days for all civil servants would affect the delivery of health services and affect patients who badly needed treatment.

But Isaac Woja, an agriculturalist and natural resources management expert, said the initiatives might turn out to be successful.

"I think people are taking farming seriously as compared to previous years. When you travel you see more crops on more farms along the roadside, and this means that more people have gotten involved in cultivation this year," Woja told IPS.

He added that only an assessment after the harvest season would determine whether or not the initiative leads to an increase in food production.

Central Equatoria state's Agriculture Minister Michael Roberto Kenyi told IPS that the policy of giving civil servants days off was making a difference and that civil servants had to lead by example.

"Leadership in the past used to be that you should have a house, a garden and a granary. A leader must have these things to be considered a leader. As a civil servant, you need to be exemplary to the community, and you cannot be exemplary when your granary is empty," he said.

He said that an assessment would be done by the state after the December harvest.

"We are going to conduct an assessment. We will be asking people to tell us the size of area under cultivation or the acreage, the number of hours worked to and the quantity of produce harvested to determine if there has been an increase in food production due to the new initiative," Kenyi told IPS.