On Wednesday this week fighting broke out in Army barracks in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. This fighting, however, was somewhat different than other the other forms of violence that has recently engulfed the young country. This battle was over pay, as the soldiers in the barracks claimed that they were fighting for their salaries. This story actually highlights two major issues that have been problematic for many African states, as they seek to consolidate their power.
The first issue is that of ghost payrolls. Earlier this year, Cameroon sought to eliminate payments for non-existent workers, which cost the state up to $12 million each month. These ghost payrolls are just one indicator of government corruption that plagues nations worldwide, including in Africa. This can happen in a number of ways, from individuals claiming false benefits from the state, boosting their own incomes while depleting state resources to the actual insertion of names onto government payrolls to receive the salary for the imagined worker. This creates immense problems in seeking to consolidate democratic processes, as it enhances corruption and drains state coffers leaving states less able to help meet the basic needs of their citizens.
The second issue the South Sudan story raises is the reality that government salaries in Africa are often insufficient or too inconsistent for employees to live on. Multiple studies have demonstrated that one of the common contributing factors to coups in a state are low pay for the military. When security forces are not paid adequate salaries, they are often forced to seek funding from other sources, often turning to illicit means. One clear example of this is in the DRC, as the country’s poorly paid and trained troops have frequently been noted for human rights abuses, including preying on local populations for resources. This is also clearly problematic for consolidating states as it will increase alienation from the state apparatus and enhance internal violence and dissension.
These problems are clearly overlapping, and both must ultimately be confronted by African states if they hope to fully consolidate to democracy. Part of a functioning state is the ability to have adequate pay structures leading to a less corrupt governmental system. Not only will this improve government effectiveness, but it should also lead to a reduction in violence as security forces no longer need to find alternative ways to make ends meet. What is less clear, however, is how African states will confront these issues. Facing debt and limited funds already, it is unclear exactly how these problems could be solved.