South Sudan Must Reform Its Army to Avoid an Inevitable National Crisis! (Part Two)

"South Sudan’s unity and stability lies in having a non-partisan, regionally representative and ethnically balanced national army"

By: Justin Ambago Ramba

February 10, 2013 (SSNA) — This is a follow-up article to the first one which appeared under the title of "South Sudan must reform its huge army to avoid an Inevitable Crisis. (Part I)" and a sub-titled "The unnecessarily huge Army is an economic burden on the new state of South Sudan."!

As the country’s dominant and ruling political party the SPLM is about to bring the whole country under one roof to start the long awaited process of national reconciliation and healing, it is only logical to tackle the project from its true perspective.

Besides the half a century long liberation war that South Sudan fought against its colonizers including the successive Arab and Islamic regimes in Khartoum, it has also during the same period of time fought within itself some of fieriest inter-factional and inter-tribal wars that are marked by horrendous internal massacres.

The fact that it takes two to tango means if a true national reconciliation and healing is ever to be achieved then the people of South Sudan across the various sectional divides must be prepared to incise open their old sores and abscesses and drain the" accumulated pus".

It cannot be overemphasized that unless the “pus” is drained completely and the wound resulting from the surgical procedure is well dressed and treated, the healing process is likely to be compromised.

All this points towards one important step which must be undertaken before proceeding with all this rhetoric of healing relationships between tribes, leaders, individuals and political parties.

There must be a truth and fact finding commission to start with or else we are better not even starting.

For since the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM] and its former military wing, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army [SPLA] took up the responsibilities of running the new country of South Sudan – the former became the dominant and the ruling political organization and the latter the national army respectively.

And criticizing any of these two organs remains an increasingly risky business in a setting where the freedom of speech and free press are virtually none existent.

In many cases things don’t only stop there for many critics in this kind of situations have been for propaganda purposes called names and often labelled as agents of the "Jallaba" – which means working for the enemy in Khartoum.

Paradoxically though it was in fact the SPLM party top leadership who first openly came out to demand that the military be kept out of politics. So where does this leave the argument?!

On the other hand the SPLA top generals have also tried on more than one occasion to at least give that impression of the army now being divorced from politics, especially so following the official declaration of the country’s independence.

Much of this remains to be translated into action, otherwise it is just a talk, isn’t it?

We all understand why the new country continues to languish under the iron rule of a corrupt, totalitarian party like the SPLM and some of its equally corrupt elements in the SPLA. This without the least doubt has its roots back in the bush days and will need a good deal of political will if things are to reversed for the better.

If you are familiar with the factual background of how these two organizations came into being and how inseparable the two were and are up till the moment of writing this article, then you know that the rhetoric to separate the two is a thing easily talked than done.

The writer would also want to make it abundantly clear here that it’s never this article’s intention to undermine the fact that it was the inevitable need of the liberation war which married the SPLM and the SPLA together.

And this goes on to explain why some nostalgic members of the ruling party remain mentally imprisoned in the old belief that, SPLM should be synonymous with the SPLA and the two should continue to dictate the politics of South Sudan to the exclusion of the other political groups.

In this post-independence era, and after the government’s rhetoric of holding the SPLM party away from the army [SPLA], one wonders as to when the top policy makers themselves will stop misleading the masses into believing that being a citizen of South Sudan automatically means being a member/supporter of the SPLM.

Frankly speaking true nationals cannot be put off by some kind of cheap blackmailing tactics and name-callings, while the true agents of corruption enjoy a free hand in mismanaging the nation’s affairs.

Somebody needs to tell them that what they are being dragged into by their former comrades turn politicians is in fact by all counts unconstitutional and against the laws of the country.

As for the SPLA soldiers they are made to see nothing wrong in politically identifying themselves with the SPLM party.

However not all of South Sudan is blind to read between the lines what the two organization’s intent to sell as a PR while in fact the status quo completely remains unaltered in as far as some ethnic group politics are concerned.

This fact is what drives the hard core of politics in the new state. It may be good for the SPLM party in the short term; however the future repercussions of continuing to politicize the army are likely to cost the country its stability.

We only need to reflect backwards a bit to can see how the double edged practice of mixing ethnicity and politics can produce horrible realities on the ground.

It was barely a year when the SPLA military police driven by emotions and tribal bravado found itself deeply entangled into what was purely students’ campus politics in the University of Juba, the country’s oldest Institution of higher learning.

How did that happen or rather how was it allowed to happen if the SPLA is no longer enslaved in tribal politics remains to beg for an answer.

At this particular moment as the country is ruled by the SPLA’s highest ranking and most senior officer, H.E. President Salva Kiir Mayardit this by itself makes the talk about the separation between SPLM and SPLA at its best a mere PR.

Was it not the necessity of combining between the political leadership and the military leadership – a long known obsession of dictatorial leaders that made the president to make an about-turn and got back into full military service during the run up to the 2010 general elections following a brief period of retirement?!! Therefore anyone who claims otherwise will only be trying to hide the obvious,aren’t they?

Let us be fair to ourselves and face the realities as they are, for without a real overhauling of the SPLA and transforming it into a true professional army, any talk about separating it from the SPLM is in fact waste of time.

In its current shape, composition, and hierarchy of command this army [dominated by only two tribes] is only fit to protect the interest of the SPLM/SPLA top leadership largely at the expense of the entire south Sudanese citizenry.

To narrow the national army’s role to that of serving a single political party, and that of a handful of the so-called liberators is in fact to live contrary to the ideals for which many South Sudanese lives were sacrificed.

It’s within every citizen’s national duty to contribute to what kind of national army they want for their country. If this article rubs some people in the wrong direction, then it’s time that they stand well in the row, for what you read here is in fact what the street is saying.

National issues are national issues, and we should all be able to appreciate that. And regardless of whichever side of the political fence one stands, the bottom line is that there are sets of requirements to be met in order to have a fully functional and professional army.

We have had a lot of lip service from the decision makers in almost everything, and the much needed reforms in the army are no exception.

It should be a basic quality that when people in office preach policies, they must as well make sure that their rhetoric is followed by action. This is crucial when it comes to deciding the fate of a fragile nation like South Sudan.

Our national army is all too important to us as citizens and as such it must genuinely be seen to behave as a non-partisan militia or some kind of tribal vigilante groups. In other words the SPLA that we saw during the 2010 general elections must all together disappear and cease to exist.

For the sake of a grass roots driven democracy, political pluralism, and inclusion, the old styled SPLA whose ranks and files are preached to recognize the SPLM as the only political organization in the country must be no more.

Those oaths and vows formerly administered to these soldiers instructing them to harass, intimidate and undermine the constitutional rights of the other political parties to exist and operate freely in the country must cease as well.

We must look forwards to have a professional, a non-partisan and totally depoliticized army in place of that SPLA that clearly abandoned its neutrality and was obviously muddled in politics when it stood on the side of the SPLM party candidates during the 2010 fraudulent general elections, while harassing and intimidating rival candidates and their supporters.

The citizens of South Sudan are entitled to join any political party of their choice and all that they expect from their national army is a mutual respect.

This army must also change its mindset to be in tune with what the civilian politicians formulates as the highest law of the country [constitution]. It must evolve into an army with without any political affiliations.

It is indeed a high time that our national army becomes psychologically prepared to protect the sovereignty of the country even if the leadership of the country changes.

Political leadership in any democratic country is subject to change at any time through the peaceful transfer of power. And in an event of a new individual rising to the leadership of this country be it under the SPLM party or any other party, it shouldn’t have anything to do with the military.

Unfortunately there will remain much uncertainty and fear in as long as we maintain the current structure of the national army. Its ethnically skewed composition is a direct threat to its neutrality from politics thus jeopardizing the country’s stability.

Should a new leadership emerge, a thing much needed if this young nation is to ever come out of the current political and socioeconomic stagnation, there is much fear that the heavily politicized and ethnically biased army is likely to make an already risk situation even riskier.

Can the much talked about April 2013 national reconciliation and healing be able to fix all that has been spoiled by the decades of political militarism in the absence of true democratic values!!

Author: Dr. Justin Ambago Ramba. Secretary General – United South Sudan Party [USSP]. He can reach at: [email protected] or [email protected].

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