By Deng Riek Khoryoam, South Sudan
April 5, 2011 (SSNA) — I am of a view that this constitution, which was commonly known or cited as “interim constitution of Southern Sudan, 2005” (ICoSS) currently under review, will not reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people of Southern Sudan. A couple of reasons explain why this will not achieve the intended purpose of reviewing it for the common good of the people of Southern Sudan, and in light with the overwhelming vote for secession in January. I am not a pessimist myself; I just smell a rat from afar and I hope time will prove me wrong, that is if one of my (very important) senses isn’t functioning very well. Let me belabor the obvious, once more, even though belatedly like this!
South Sudan government, led by SPLM as the ruling party, is currently reviewing or revising the interim constitution, which came into force after the signing of the CPA in 2005. The aim is to effect some changes: – remove some unnecessary or call them irrelevant articles, sub-articles and clauses, which were used when Sudan was still one united country with two parallel systems provided for by the CPA. We all know and remember quite well what transpired in the process of selecting a committee to review the current constitution. Some said it would have appeared as an abdication of responsibility while for others, they said the process was hijacked by the known parameters of power.
It was two and half weeks ago when I attended a public lecture on “constitutional making and constitutionalism” at Nyakuron cultural centre, organised by Justice Africa, South Sudan Human rights commission and the civil society organizations. H.E. John Luk Joak, the GOSS minister of legal affairs and constitutional development, who by the virtue of being the minister of the said ministry was also appointed as the chairperson of the so called ‘technical committee’ to review the constitution of 2005, gave a lecture on what constitutional making and constitutionalism entails for us as a people who have just emerged from a protracted and costly civil war; the longest running in Africa, yearning to gain independence from the domestic colonizers.
Judging by his explanation, it was crystal clear that the constitution which is now being reviewed and which must go to parliament this month for further deliberation and approval is indeed an SPLM owned project, not a people’s constitution as many previously thought, author included! This is the saddest reality we all need to prepare ourselves for since our leaders or liberators still need a few more years to stay in power – perhaps for the next 20 years before they could hand it over to the people. five or six years of enrichment program was not enough, they still need a few more years to amass resources unto themselves. There are a lot of reasons of this cynicism. Firstly, the composition of the said committee leaves a lot to be desired as the committee drew its membership exclusively from SPLM party, most of whom are raw on constitution making – others can’t precisely define what a constitution is, let alone its pronunciation.
We learned through the media that as of now, the number of people sitting on that committee rose from 24 to 52 now, after the opposition parties pulled out of the committee citing SPLM’s unwillingness to allow members to reach consensus on contentious issues but instead insisted on simple majority voting, rendering their presence meaningless as this would mean that in a every single item being discussed or voted for, especially on the simple majority; it would come out in favour of SPLM due to their huge numbers on the committee. Thus SPLM is adamant to get what it wanted by employing such political manoeuvres and double trickery. Very unfortunate for the new state of South Sudan!!
Secondly, the committee is not a technical committee as the honourable member of SPLM party would want the public to believe. It’s not a technical committee but a political committee appointed by the president through political patronage so as to protect his tinny little interest. I actually made this comment on that day of his lecture and I could read from his face or response, the guy became hot and uncomfortable over this comment. My argument was/is that if the said committee is indeed a technical committee, then why didn’t we look for constitutional lawyers and international experts on constitution making, with no affiliations to any political party in South Sudan?
People who possess values such as impartiality, integrity, professionalism and competence in regards to constitution making in other parts of Africa or the world at large. Wouldn’t it have been good if we went the Kenyan way, which hired independent constitutional lawyers and experts to draft their constitution, which they inherited from their colonial masters since almost 50 years ago and called it “committee of experts” (CoE)? When I asked him as to what they were doing to ensure a broader participation of all the political parties in South Sudan, especially after they’d pulled out of the committee, he started saying that he didn’t have time to go and look for them or even beg them to come back to the committee and further asked me if I could go and convince them to reverse their decision and get back onto the committee. It goes without saying that it’s a mission in futility! It seemed as though the forum was meant to lash out at the opposition, to an extent of even shamelessly calling them ‘briefcase parties’ as if SPLM was not at one time a briefcase party.
To recapitulate, I think we already have some clues that the current constitution being reviewed and which will go to parliament this month is an SPLM owned project. It’s not a people’s constitution as we initially thought. Remember this is not a government of the people by the people and for the people, though some will argue unconvincingly that it’s the people who gave them the mandate to serve themselves. It’s going to take long – perhaps, 15 to 20 years before we can expect things to turn the people’s way. I am foreseeing a scenario whereby the people of South Sudan will have to go through the same bitter experience of repressive laws under Arabs. From repressive laws of jallaba to another even more repressive law administered by your own fellow Southerners; who took up arms to free you from domestic colonialism.
I am of the view that this constitution currently under review will not reflect the wishes and aspirations of the people of Southern Sudan because of the aforementioned reasons. Look at how they tried in vain to include one from civil society group and they just handpicked without leaving the show to the people concerned to choose who would represent them at the committee. I penned off here with a vote of thanks to Nhial Bol Aken, the editor in chief of the citizen news paper for being outspoken about the unfair and unpopular decision to pick or choose Bego for civil society. I don’t want the government to choose for me and dictate on what is right for me.
The author is a civil society activist living in South Sudan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org