President Kiir: Between the rock and the hard place

By Elhag Paul

October 10, 2011 (SSNA) — President Kiir committed himself to democracy and to clean South Sudan of corruption at the UN General Assembly on 23rd September 2011. As always he might have thought that he would pull the wool over the eyes of the world as he does with South Sudanese. This time, it could be different. His speech was noted by the world and the world expects action. Whoever wrote the speech skilfully entrapped his boss. Whether this was a Machiavellian design or accident remains to be learnt. What was noticeable was that everybody, even Dr Lam Akol praised the speech of the president. The SRSG accredited to Juba called it a good start. Would this speech turn out to be the Achilles Heel of SPLM that finally nails them. If that was the case then it would be such a blessing to see the back of this lot who have controlled South Sudan for 28 years.

Kiir committed himself to clean South Sudan of corruption.   In doing this he boxed himself into a corner. Inevitably, soon he will find himself between the rock and the hard place which is of his own making. It is not a surprise that barely a week, the SRSG of UN in Juba, Ms Hilde Johnson asked GOSS to recover and repatriate 2 billion dollars stashed away in foreign bank accounts of SPLM party members running the government of south Sudan. On the same day Ms Johnson made this request, she held a press conference in Juba where she “highlight (ed) the steps the president referred to on transparency and accountability in his statement, and also to world leaders in New York, but also to the five critical actions for increased transparency and accountability that he launched upon his departure. This sets, as we know, new standards for the public finance and for government officials. This was well received among international partners, and I happened to be able to talk to quite a number of them.”

The president’s speech to the world body is taken as serious and the world through Ms Johnson wants to see him act. How GOSS reacts remains to be seen, but what is important is that president Kiir’s credibility is on the line. If he acts and throws his corrupt associates to the wolves, then he may save himself. Such action will see the president emerge as a strong person, but there is no knowing whether his associates won’t drag him with them. It is rumoured in the streets of Juba that the president himself is deeply involved in this corruption up to his neck. There is talk of him owning estates in Australia among other things. On the other hand, should GOSS through anti-corruption commission stall as always, then the president’s credibility will be damaged and it would offer the opposition a good chance to question his suitability to govern. This may be why Dr Akol has come back to Juba.

The worst case scenario which can be ugly and by all means undesirable is to let this process degenerate into violence. Dr Jok Madut Jok in his Special Report 287 of October 2011, published by United States Institute of Peace, titled, ‘Diversity, Unity and Nation building in South Sudan ’, points out that the military is part of the corruption. As the body that receives 40 percent of the total budget of RSS, there will be big fish in this joint to answer and we hope that they see sense and not resort to violence. This is the only sector that will pose real problems to president Kiir in dealing with corruption. If Kiir is the general that he claims, then his skills should shine here.

However, if the president fails to honour his commitment to the world, he must know that the good will extended to our country will dwindle, and he will not be welcomed in many quarters of the world.,40241 With that, his other side of character will come under the full glare of the world and no doubt the crimes that took place during the war under his watch will become an issue. Here, it is up to him whether he wants to follow his former boss Bashir to The Hague sometimes in future. Should it come to this, his very party the SPLM will disown him. President Kiir needs to learn from cases of similar nature. The Serbs abandoned their liberators of mid 1990s: general RadtkoMladic, SlovadanMilosovic, and so on. The Croats and the others did the same. Even NCP – it is just a matter of time, they too will abandon Bashir. So Kiir will not be unique to escape if he were indicted.

Ms Johnson’s call for recovery of the 2 billion dollars was followed by another important event in Nairobi, Kenya on 29th September 2011, that is, the meeting between president Kiir and the leader of SPLM-DC Dr Lam Akol. Just the day before Ms Johnson’s press conference in Juba where she said “the second issue she wanted to highlight is that the president reaffirmed his commitment to political pluralism, and he highlighted the recent formation of the new government that is inclusive of other political parties as a first sign in this regard. This is as an important step, and this commitment to political pluralism is very welcome and bodes well for broad consultations to ensure a stable, democratic transformation of the new and independent country.” All the signs are that the president’s speech in New York is fast being put into action by heavy pressure from the world.

A photo of the president in his trade mark hat at his residence in Nairobi meeting Dr Akol shows him flustered and very uncomfortable. He appeared to the camera as somebody who wanted to hurriedly stand up in anger. His facial expression did not helpful the situation. Contrarily his opponent, Dr Lam appeared relaxed, smiley with legs wide open. Ironically both men wore white shirts with similar red ties. Dr Akol’s smiles are understandable given the fact that he now has got a route back to Juba courtesy of the president’s speech. Dr Akol praised this speech and said that his meeting with the president addressed some political issues and that he was now ready to return home after a long period of absence related to personal as well as political climate prevalent in the country then. Diplomatically, the president, welcome the decision of Dr Akol to return home and lead his party: SPLM-DC.

What is interesting with the photo is that it is reminiscent of the meeting between John Garang and Sadiq El Mahdi on 31 July 1988 in Addis Ababa. As the story goes, the Umma Party and SPLM had made an agreement for their leaders not to be photographed together during the meeting because; Sadiq did not want to be seen back in Khartoum as sitting down with an infidel rebel. The Umma party strategists did not want the political ramification of any images with Garang to tarnish their Islamic credentials. The SPLM agreed on pretence and when the meeting was in full swing, the SPLM press invaded the meeting and took all the photographs they wanted. Sadiq, as you can imagine was powerless and helpless. Sadiq in some of those photographs looked flustered like Kiir in the photograph with Dr Akol. Did Kiir not want to meet Dr Akol in public? Who took the photograph? This question will give a clue to any political manoeuvre at play during that meeting? Also, it could provide clues to reading the photo fairly. Time will tell.

Defections to and from the SPLM has been going on since 1991. It has become a culture of this organisation. Dr Akol, Dr Riek and John Koang were the initiators of this culture in the movement. Since that time to now Dr Akol has been travelling around for sometimes until 2009 when he formed the SPLM-DC. It remains to be seen whether this new rapprochement is another prelude to return to the SPLM main stream in pursuit of a ministerial position. It appears that there are interesting times ahead.

The prospect for the president having to skin powerful corrupt members of his party and the army is a very undesirable thing as it will eat away his power base. I understand that making enemies in the ‘luak’ is very risky and this no doubt will be a headache for the president for sometimes. On one hand, balancing the pledges made to the world and on the other the security of power at home will prove to be the place between the rock and the hard place for the president. Also, for the president to turn into a democrat and to let Dr Akol in as he has done is not being received well in SPLM either.

SPLM is aware that the South Sudanese public have had enough of them and any robust opposition within is going to further weaken them. Not a good prospect for the die hard. For the last two years, the propaganda machine of SPLM/A demonised SPLM-DC to an extent the security establishment in Juba see every member of SPLM-DC as a traitor, which of-course is not fair and no doubt reflects the totalitarian and undemocratic nature of SPLM. The brutal beating of SPLM-DC leader in the parliament Mr Onyoti Adigo on the eve of independence proves this point. Again, the world now wants to see that SPLM proves itself as a democratic organisation. How they are going to treat Dr Akol and his party and all the other parties in South Sudan will be the measuring yard stick for their commitment.

Ms Johnson in response to a question posed by Radio Miraya during the press conference in Juba lectured them thus, “There are many ways of ensuring political pluralism and for me and for us the greatest test would be the practical implementation of the democratic transformation process. This implies that key legislation needs to be in place, political space needs to be secured and those that are active politically whether or not in position, are protected both in terms of human rights standards, in terms of their ability to have freedom of speech, as well as their political activity. So the test of political pluralism isn’t always that everyone should be in the government but that the opposition that holds government to account can do so without interference. It is also about being able to abide by democratic principles. As I mentioned in my intervention, it is going to be important what the Political Party Act looks like, what the Electrol Act looks like and that there have been adequate consultations with the different parties on the acts. In addition, we have a very important constitution review process coming forward. So both from the perspective of the community and the people of South Sudan but also of the parties, having an inclusive and broad consultative constitution review process is going to be one of the most important tests as well.”

This obviously is easy for any democrat to implement but a hard act for seasoned looters to implement. Let us see how president Kiir and SPLM are going to manage this situation. It looks like president Kiir’s speech has brought it upon them. They can not blame anybody for sabotage. It is their making.   They cooked it themselves and they should serve it and eat it.

While Ms Johnson’s actions so far are encouraging and we are grateful for it, her test for “practical implementation of the democratic transformation process” for South Sudan falls short. I do not know whether this is a result of Euro-centric bias normally seen in dealings between the so called first world and the third world or a genuine and an honest mistake. It is not clear to me, because if it is the former, it would indeed be very sad for it just confirms how difficult it is for people of European origin to shade their centuries old embedded bias against people of other cultures. Even universal concepts such as democracy is viewed and applied differently depending on cultures.

However, if it is the latter, then it is excusable. But the question I ask is: why is Ms Johnson prescribing for South Sudan a watered down version of something that resembles democracy? As the SRSG, Ms Johnson is expected to do better than that. Democracy is democracy. There can be no way of skirting in between. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 7th edition by Sally Wehmeier, Colin McIntosh, Joanna Turnbull and Michael Ashby, published by Oxford University press in 2007 defines democracy as “a system of government in which all the people of a country can vote to elect their representatives.” In short as the Americans always put it, democracy is government of the people, by the people for the people. The only credible test for democracy is free and fair elections; a constitution reflecting the will of the people coined by the elected representatives of the people; freedom of expression; freedom of press; freedom of speech; freedom of association; freedom of movement; etc and an independent judiciary.

Now, since the demise of the Sudan as we knew it and the birth of two new countries on 09th July 2001 there have not been any elections in RSS. Technically, all the current MPs can not be said to be the choice of the South Sudanese people. Three quarters of them are carried forward from the previous defunct two parliaments in South Sudan and North Sudan. These were elected in 2010 and their legal mandate came to an end on 9th July 2011. The other quarter was appointed by president Kiir. Let me draw you attention here to a one super family in South Sudan. The president appointed three siblings from this family to the parliament in addition to one other who already gained a seat earlier in the 2010 elections. In effect we have four sibling MPs from one family of the same mother and father. Really, which constituencies are these siblings representing? What makes them so important as to be the only representatives of the people in south Sudan? What special thing have they done to South Sudan that the others have not for them to deserve these positions?

As can be seen, arguably our parliament has clouds over its head. Thus the government has failed the test of democracy according to the above definition. This being the case, I expect Ms Johnson’s first point of call to be to ask president Kiir to dismiss the parliament and call for a general election as a prelude to ‘the new era of good governance, democracy, accountability and transparency’ the president announced at the UN General Assembly.

This is what we South Sudanese expect. However, it is not too late. Ms Johnson can and should on behalf of the world request president Kiir to dissolve the parliament and hold new elections in line with his pledge for “a new era of good governance, democracy, accountability and transparency.” President Kiir should not be let off the hook. He alone without any duress made the pledge to the world. He must now demonstrate to the world that when he stood at the podium before the leaders of 192 countries of the world during the 66th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York on 23rd September 2011, he meant every word he said.

For us, the victims of his misrule we want to see changes in the way we are governed. We want to see that we are governed by representatives of our choice. We want to see every MP in parliament is a choice of the people. We want to see that our constitution is a product of our legitimately elected MPs to reflect our will.   We want our MPs to hold the crooks to account. We want the thieves out of public offices.   We want our MPs to legislate for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We want……, we want………., we want…….. Joanna Adam’s article ‘Holding our National Government to Account” published in South Sudan Nation website on 3 rd October 2011 beautifully articulates the need and importance for such a body to address our sad past   and to bring peace and harmony to our country. Similarly, numerous articles written by Dr Justin Ambago, the secretary general of United South Sudan Party (USSP) in various websites brilliantly articulate our wants in South Sudan. Now that at last president Kiir personally has agreed to democratize, not only to south Sudanese but to the entire world, he must be held to deliver.

Penning off, from now on, president Kiir can rest assured that he will be consistently and persistently reminded of his pledge at home and abroad until he delivers. The era of rule by appointed poodles and lapdogs must end now. President Kiir has to demonstrate his credibility and avoid tarnishing the name of our new country at all cost by inaction on his words. The president chose to slot himself between the rock and the hard place and it is only him who can extricate himself out of it by honouring his own words. Good luck Mr President.

The Author lives in the Republic of South Sudan; he can be reached at [email protected]

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