Politics of Self Determination still lingers in South Sudan

By: Justin Ambago Ramba

March 5, 2013 (SSNA) — "United we stand, divided we fall". This very old   phrase has been used in mottos, from nations and states to songs. The concept is that if people are not united, they can be easily   destroyed.  No one understands this phrase any better than the people of South Sudan who had to struggle for their independence – fighting wars after wars for almost half a century.

But in fact it is also this very people who understand the opposite side of this phrase which they too adopted to garner international recognition for their self determination of the state of South Sudan as they fought for secession from the united Sudan.  In a total agreement with the reverse used by Def Leppard in the song "When Love & Hate Collide", "..divided we stand, baby, united we fall", south Sudanese overwhelmingly voted to break the unity with Khartoum in January 2011. What goes around, comes around – but we shall come to that later in this article.

The second Equatoria Conference

Following the second Equatoria Conference held in Juba between 14 – 15 February 2013,  the nascent state of South Sudan is now  treading  a route well known to all its citizens both at home and in the Diaspora. Indisputably this  second conference has so far succeeded to bring the new country’s elites face to face  with the horrors of ethnically driven political agendas which  are already eating up the very foundation of what is left of its “ all but talks” national unity project.

Even in so doing this article in its humble attempt to shed light on the current turn in the politics of the country, the author is aware of the fact that it might not even add much to what is already  the “day to day politics” of a land and a people seriously  arrested in time and development. As a direct consequence of a gross misrule and poor governance that started the post independence South Sudan on the wrong footing, the current SPLM leadership will squarely bear  the responsibility.

It also goes without saying that it is unsurprising  to witness  just within a year and a half  of  the immediate post independence period, that misrule and the chronic failures  to address the root causes of the general discontent that fueled the first self determination and subsequently the secession from Khartoum’s rule has resurfaced here again.

Many of this nascent country’s post independence challenges were and are all well forecasted by people with indepth knowledge  in the region’s history and politics. This is not in any way an undermining of the much deserved  9th July 2011 independence, but rather it is an eye opener for   those who were quick to assume that all was done once the country seceded from the Arab Islamic North.

Tribal and regional favoritism which were inherent in tribal communities are still ripe in South Sudan and to no one’s surprise it continues to stare us  in the face  the moment we set foot in the Juba International Airport. While  this kind of attitude isn’t in any way unique to this new country  as  the  African continent is already infamous for it, the issue in our case is that this monster and everything that is  negatively associated with it may very soon  prove detrimental to our  prosperity and  stability.  Even too sooner than anticipated.

The phrase “Finger pointing” has become the defense weapon used by the perpetrators and beneficiaries of the current tribal politics and ethnic favoritism in their futile attempts to silence any protests against their otherwise savage treatment of others.  This obviously is not the right phrase to describe those who complain of communal injustices, nonetheless many out there continue to use the phrase with the sole aim of undermining the intentional sufferings that they and their tribal communities have so often inflicted on the others.

Believe me or not, all those individuals and communities alike who are on the receiving end of injustice in South Sudan, can never be silenced this way and all that this does is to strengthen their voices of dissent. Hence the promoters of injustices and their apologists will say what they want to say, but the voice of the truth will always be heard. We as south Sudanese need to bring openness into the center of the debate between the different opposing groups.  The way forward is to part with the old tradition of trying to silence opponents through the use of “bully-politics”, and this practice must cease,  for it  only makes  an already bad situation worse.

No two can differ on the fact that the ruling SPLM party has since long started the new country on the wrong footing by adopting the politics of patronage, and the dishing of  job opportunities to the chosen ones only – cronies – kinsman – and old buddies.

And as  if to add salt to injury, many people all across the different ethnic groups have vividly chosen to align with the current  corruption riddled leadership in an attempt to consolidate their grips on power and promote a kleptocratic welfare policy aimed at serving this club of parasites. This too will  however come to an end very soon given the wave of political awareness that is currently sweeping across the new nation.

It is  an SPLM sponsored and managed  Conference for Equatoria

But what is this Equatoria Conference, before we lose  the track of events? One view  is that it is  a conference of people native to the former province of Equatoria ( Equatorian) i.e. by Equatorians for Equatorians. This is only  true as far as the 1st conference was concerned. However the second Equatoria Conference which is responsible for  the current wave of debates is,  at its best an SPLM sponsored and managed  Conference for Equatoria.

Hon. James Wani Igga, the National Assembly Speaker and SPLM’s second deputy chairman together with the governors of the three States of Equatoria and many other SPLM cadres were ubiquitously present at the conference.  Many of these politicians also doubles as prominent members of the SPLM’s National Liberation Council as well as members of the party’s Political Bureau. And for the conference to conform to the government of the day’s  policy, it was made as a point to represent the Head of State by none but the presidential adviser Hon. Telar Deng ( Mr Deng’s  second  in a row) – and the vice president Dr. Riek Machar.

However  as to why the Equatoria Conference ever came into existence in the first place and why it is being  confirmed by the ruling SPLM party as a viable political forum for discussing the nation’s problems is a thing  for  this  political party which has maneuvered itself into the center of the event  to explain.

Nonetheless given the confused state of affairs in the country, coupled with poor governance and widespread corruption it becomes  only natural for the  SPLM  in  Equatoria ( or any other  group for that matter) to take advantage of it,  since they consider themselves as the sole  representatives of  both the  so-called politically marginalized and the SPLM rule at the same time or at least that is how they are made to feel. 

Visiting the resolutions of the 1st and 2nd Eqatoria conferences it is surprising  to see the magnitude of the very hot national issues that they reflected . Although of course the resolutions of the conference  are colored here and there with what looks like topics of regional political dimensions, still issues of national interests were also given a wider space e.g. governance, freedom of the press, human rights, land ownership and many others. To this end we can  see why other people applauded  the conference while others whose personal and ethnic interests appeared threatened quickly went ballistic  on the offense.

We are yet again witnessing a new emergence of the old and  too well known phenomenon of political and socioeconomic  domination by elites from a single ethnic group at the expense of all the others.  This on the other hand  has drawn a wide reaction from  all over the country and loud voices of protest are on the rise in every corner. The marginalized communities are bent to applaud the several  demands  for the redress of ALL  injustices as they are listed in the Equatoria Conference’s resolutions, without having much to  bother about the backgrounds and the immediate political interests of the conferees.

While before even talking about those voices out there who are ruthlessly condemning  the Equatoria conference mostly so for its regional nature, in spite of the many  national issues thereof discussed,  one would like to underscore this very important step that has to be overcome by the Equatoria Conferees if any of their many demands and proposals are to ever see the light.  

The success of this thing labeled Equatoria will only come about following the accomplishment  of the much needed bottom to top enlightenment and mobilization of the grass roots and the masses.  This must in all cases precede any other steps that will only follow later if  this latest  wave of mass liberation is to yield its truest fruit. For it is either this or to surrender to the modern day  slavery forever, a simple fact that a villager in Equatoria seems to understand far better than the so-called” five star elites. “

For clarity purposes it  doesn’t need any over-stressing  before we can appreciate how Equatoria looks at itself as a social-political unit. It has since been acknowledged as such  since the turn of the last century. Hence its only natural for the people now known as the Equatorians of South Sudan to freely identify themselves as such.  It’s within their human and constitutional rights that Equatorians identify themselves as Equatorians – and no opinion on earth will change that.

Just as Abyei is the rightful homeland of the nine Dinka Ngok chieftains and not the Messeiriya Baggara, so is Equatoria Region a homeland of the people who collectively refer to themselves as Equatorians. This represents ethnic politics at its furthest extreme and mind you that  no  one has the monopoly on going ethnic.

Expectations of the grass-roots in Equatoria

Coming to the modi operendi  of the Equatoria conference follow-up committees –  it is high time that they live up to the expectations that they have generated all across Equatoria Province. This they can only achieve by  stepping forward  to fill in and provide the much needed steering leadership  role. Not too long the so-called SPLM party will become completely  irrelevant  to  address any of  those issues raised  in the last  conference. For a true and prompt realization of equal citizenship for all in South Sudan, an Equatoria  political union is in fact an urgent necessity.

While it is a good routine to raise the conferences resolutions and suggestions to the Head of State for consideration, people shouldn’t underestimate the fact that the SPLM chairman remains true to what he stands for, and that is the promotion of his kinsmen while personally masterminding   all those policies aimed at the systematic marginalisation of Equatorians.

My personal advise to all the political powers in Equatoria is that they should better speed up the process of  organizing  themselves into  functional political units. This is not to undermine the broader unity of the country as a sovereign state. But the truth is that the current tribally driven political agendas in the country can only be counter-balanced by an effective and purposeful political and economic unity of All Equatoria.

Furthermore  if these conferences and their follow-up committees are not going to metamorphose into  political tools and entities  to defend the rights of all Equatoria , then there won’t be any use for their existence in the first place.

Hence its time that  those politicians from Equatoria  who continue to pay allegiance to this terribly compromised political organization of the SPLM and its fatigued leadership are in for more disappointments. They must understand that they have become irrelevant – first to the current developments on the ground and not too long they also will become irrelevant choices in their own constituencies.

Whistle-blowing on self determination

Somewhere in the media a prominent opinion writer Dr. I.S. Sindani  is well ahead in turning people’s attention to the  possibility of Equatoria going  for Self Determination should the SPLM led government continues with its institutionalized tribalism and marginalisation policies. Whether we agree with Dr. Sindani’s whistle-blowing or not  the idea of possible self determination for Equatoria is indeed a scary development. 

In other words the cat has already been let out of the bag.  At this juncture  we better all sober up and focus our views on the issue as matured and experienced citizens. And  especially given our well known political past in the former united Sudan, we should be able to predict what is awaiting us as a country and act accordingly.

The freedoms that the SPLM/A fought for from Khartoum is no where to be seen in the independent republic of South Sudan  under president Salva Kiir Mayardit and his SPLM government. For this reason  it is just natural for people to move and desist and reject injustice and discrimination, whether they are from Upper Nile, Bahr Ghazal or Equatoria.  Meanwhile trying to teach a government of under-performers is itself being complacent with the rotten system, it is worth remembering that “only you can satisfactorily  scratch your skin”.

The  right to self determination which is  universal is not limited only to the Equatoria Region of South Sudan and the reasons to seek this right is totally left to whoever is calling for it. In other words although we do all have the same right to have opinions, yet we cannot decide for others what will merit a sound reason for  opting   for self determination.  

As such those who disagree with Dr. Sindani will be doing so because they want to protect either their personal, national or group’s interests – but they cannot by any means out reason him over the reasons he so  viewed as enough to warrant a call for  Self Determination.  For when love & hate collide, we must be fair enough to see the rationale  behind the choice of “ divided we stand and  united we fall” as it  becomes the only logically option to go by. Remember it is about when love and hate collide!

Federal system of governance

Of much interest is the call by the conferees for a federal system of government in the republic of South Sudan. This crucial  development in the politics of this  turmoil region exactly mirrors the  period that  immediately  followed the Sudanisation of jobs on the eve of the declared independence of the former united Sudan

An Equatorian elder, Agriculturist, politician and well known columnist , Jacob Kwaje  Lupia has for since long been writing and advocating for the adoption of a true Federal System of Governance in  South Sudan to replace the current heavily centralized and maximally corrupt and grossly tibalised unitary system which only a few are milking mercilessly while others gaze. Sounding like a diehard federalist JK Lupia is a  voice  from the heart of  Equatoria that will never relinquish  its core beliefs.

On a personal note it is my conviction that South Sudan will only return to be a good place  when the administrative structures of the new  country  are taken back  to the old system  of the “three provinces”.  We know why the enemy north divided our people into the current artificial units of ten states and it was  exclusively  meant to serve their interest only and not ours.

A South Sudan of Three federal states must not only be seen as an initial step towards the implementation of the much anticipated Federal System of Governance, but it is indeed an integral part of the grand pacification project all across the violent regions of this beautiful country . Our future lies in a Federal Republic of South Sudan with Three Federal States. This will bring back the trust we have lost in one another,  for under the old structures  south Sudanese  will go back to healthily compete as three provinces or states instead of the current unhealthy competitions which are solely driven by our loyalties to our  countless  tribes and clans.

It is for all practical purposes that a federal republic of South Sudan under three former provinces  is the only one sure route to achieve a sustainable national unity for all the citizens. Jacob K Lupai is a well known South Sudanese elder who has written a great deal about the politics of South Sudan and  the issues of Food Security in the post independence era  and he should be seen as one of this country’s dedicated sons, who has also given his time to educate us intensively about Federal System of Governance.   We thank him for a work well done!

In the wider perspective,  writing opinions are good for sharing views and educating the public  as well as selling one’s ideas, we must also be seen to practically live by what we believe in.  This goes further to stress that  Dr I.S. Sindani is entitled to his opinions and as such will only be practicing his fundamental rights whenever  he propagates  his ideas of Self Derermination for Equatoria.  I for one I won’t be surprised if some people out there find what Dr. Sindani  has opined is unacceptable to them, yet he deserves respect.

This is the bottom line for under tribal politics  like everywhere else in Africa, the distance between rivaling ethnicities will only continue to drift apart as long as we remain arrested in this institution so-called tribalism. Unfortunately South Sudan for all anthropological, geographical, historical, economic and political reasons lies in the heart of this mess.  The rest is common sense!!!

Dr. Justin Ambago Ramba is the Secretary General of United South Sudan Party (USSP).

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