Battle of Wits to Heal SPLM’s Sick and Dying Soul

But is the independence party too sick to heal? Queries Deng Vanang

By Deng Vanang

May 20, 2013 (SSNA) — South Sudan is the country that of late gained her painstaking independence among counterparts in the community of nations with citizens stand accused by part of top leadership of being in a hurry to disentangle themselves from centuries of strangling decadence in their rat race to modernity. While on the contrary, citizens opine, it is not being too much in a hurry but leadership which is either too slow or by design refused to catch up with their well deserved payback time after along long suffering. These myriads of sky-rocketing expectations, to say the least, proved to be a breakneck litmus test for President Salva Kiir Mayardit who unexpectedly took over from Dr. John Garang, the man who in twenty one – year liberation struggle presented himself and truly so, as an enigmatic draw card to their mountain of bush war challenges. It is these rival views on governance that have reached a critical crossroad where President Kiir and his Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar Teny – Dhurgon chose to differ and take a diametrically more opposing diversions on issues affecting their country’s men and women. With Kiir believing that his government has done a lot more within reasonably short period of time that has seen capital Juba and other peripheral towns, which before Comprehensive Peace Agreement, were mere villages in grass thatched shacks. But thanks to Comprehensive Peace Agreement, CPA in particular and his leadership in general according to him, are now expanded in both leaves and bonds besides teeming in business boom unprecedented in South Sudan’s troubled history.

However, this is not the case with Machar who already concurred with what South Sudan official opposition leader, Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin and public majority have all along been saying in rebellion against Kiir’s government they think has done too little given the immense resources in hundreds of billions of United States Dollars from oil revenues, taxes and generous donor funds South Sudan has acquired since CPA inception eight years ago. They and Machar in part blame Kiir’s government for failing to direct an otherwise virgin economy now in its rudderless state of motion as it ensures public funds disappear into bottomless pockets of a few but powerful individuals over whom government lacks political will to drag to courts and get charged with wanton corruption drivened by many sorts of negative ‘’isms’’: sheer individualism, opportunism, cronyism, clan and ethnic favoritism.

Kiir began on a clean slate of good will and indeed united political and armed rival factions once partly caused by his predecessor, Dr. Garang’s heavy handed hold on power coupled with lack of clear vision over what South Sudan wanted from the dominantly Arabs north. However, shortly along the way many hurdles seem to be too high President Kiir looks like unable to surmount. These hurdles are as varied as they are many in the forms that follow. Marauding negative ethnicity and financial Corruption resulted in lack of development in basic services. The basic services being his government declared free primary education and health care without teaching staff and schools, health personnel and medicines respectively, neglected agriculture causing neighboring countries to spoon – feed South Sudanese, non-existing roads networks that have made  people and government different worlds apart; with Eritreans and Ethiopians reduced to water tapes substitutes supplying Juba residents with already polluted river Nile water through water tanks mounted trucks while other foreign traders serving as electric grids that light most parts of the city through the sales of portable Chinese made generators to the locals.

His government is more over accused of casting a blind eye to strengthen weak oversight institutions in order to rein in corruption as there are no checks and balances since those institutions like Anti-corruption Commission, Audit-General chambers, and parliamentary Public Accounts Committee which are traditionally run by opposition or independent bureaucrats are brought under suffocating ambit of the ruling SPLM, that cannot certainly mark or guard itself against both fiscal and administrative excesses it is virtually committing.

Too, the media is not purely free as there are no laws guiding or protecting journalists and rights activists always on deadly receiving end of highly militarized – undisciplined security forces. With adverse ethnicity and nepotism played out prominently in an employment, academic and investment opportunities.

Lack of political will to implement government’s socio-economic and political programs, transitional constitution key provisions or controversial debates about Presidential term limit and which system of governance be it presidential or parliamentary, federalism or unitary system presently inform of what Kiir calls decentralization/devolution also dance to the tune of a long list of unmet popular demands.

While insecurity taking tolls of the country and Land grabbing, especially in Juba have brought to the fore calls for National Reconciliation to deal with matters of historical injustices such as divisive policies that caused poor governance and restless David Yau Yau – Johnson Olony’s twin armed rebellions triggered by 2010 landmark but rigged general elections on the one hand and on the other, ethnic divisions at the grassroots which manifest themselves in a changing face of traditional cattle rustling into a politicized one, sparking communal violence incidents. All the above predicaments facing Kiir have ironically turned into opportunities or heavenly manna Machar and other competitors desperately want to grab with both hands and topple him from SPLM’s leadership and country’s presidency.

SPLM’S Political Bureau

In recent meeting of Political bureau, top decision-making of the ruling SPLM, Machar threw barbs and tirades at Kiir as an irredeemable failure in everything except successfully facilitating the attainment of the independence. And as if that was not enough to kill his spirit, asked him not just to step down honorably for him but also support his party Chairmanship and Presidential candidatures. Then, Machar presented his vision for the future of both party and the country that includes to tackle, if he became President, negative ethnicity, endemic corruption, heal the country of divisions through National Reconciliation he started and among other host of issues. Chairman Kiir responded with his scornful opinion on any candidate including Machar that dares challenge him over the leadership. As alleged, he termed all candidates who offered themselves for his party post to fall vacant in the soon to be held SPLM 3rd National Convention as rabble-rousers who will divide the country further due to their backgrounds of political violence past if one of whom becomes President. A veiled criticism of Machar who spearheaded SPLM/A split back in 1991 that turned ethnic between Nuer and Dinka, causing trials of deaths and untold destruction. Some weeks later Kiir sent allies in multi-prong diplomacy all in vain to convince Machar to forego 2015 for 2020 when he shall voluntarily relinquish power for him. His {Machar} allies saw it as a political gimmick that will be used to slap presidential age limit on relatively young but bulky Machar who will look more older than his actual age at that time. Kiir’s group fears Machar, the man credited with democratizing SPLM and delivering independence, will change SPLM and country’s history to that of his historic ‘’Nasir Creeping Revolution’’ if he takes over. But some of Machar’s supporters prefer him to quit than take over, reform and sustain a party whose political agenda has all a long been the promotion of a tribal legacy, that is both oppressive and exploitative.

After exhausting his triumph cards, Kiir upped his response a notch higher to Machar’s burning quest for power with Presidential decrees which withdrew powers he delegated to him but stopped short of crossing the redline of sacking the latter many agree is an indispensable Vice President behind whom fanatically second largest and battle hardened Nuer tribe stand. In the same decrees he also removed Machar from presiding over National Reconciliation Conference he accused him of using as an image marketing and money spinning firm to advance presidential ambitions but allegedly donors suspended multi-million dollars they promised earlier citing credibility of the process following the latter’s ouster as lead facilitator. Such strings of doubled edged decrees followed last year’s demobilization of Machar’s allied senior military generals as Kiir clamped down hard on his bastion in the national army, SPLA. From that fateful night when Machar’s wings were clipped until then, the country remains on a tinderbox ready to explode which the two political supremos are not prepared for at least for now. Whereas the duo work around the clock to calm storm from sweeping into an overt violence, their allies dived into a frenzy of underground political mobilization antics including suddenly cropped up regional consultative conferences many believe are Kiir sponsored in readiness for a convention whose fate is not only unknown but the cricket {party convention} held in his closed palm and up to him to determine whether dead or alive with far reaching nock – on – effects against 2015 general elections.

As he weighs that option of last resort, Kiir has more additional sophisticated weapons in his armory such as ruthlessly rigging Machar out of leadership contest through both carrot and stick if convention is convened, indefinitely delaying it until his much feared rival Machar quits in frustration or taking the boldest decision of his life time by sacking Machar whose harden supporters have already placed fingers firmly on the trigger to reverse that and takeover the government by hooks or crooks.

Machar equally has a host of available options measuring up to Kiir’s ill plans if he has to maintain the Vice Presidency but loses the trophy: that is chairmanship of the ruling party that can likely propel him to the desired goal of country’s Presidency. He can stay put and deny Kiir his desires of seeing him leave voluntarily so as highly expectant Right Honorable Speaker James Wani Igga and SPLM’s party Secretary-General Pagan Amum Okech benefit from his departure. By staying put, Machar too wants to obstruct Kiir from repositioning himself and reorganizing the party for the next election in which he will be likely serious opponent to Kiir in an alternative party’s ticket. If that happens, the contest will lead to a replay of 1991 split in which separatist Nasir faction led by Machar shall face unionist late Garang’s led Torit faction whose prominent former members are now Kiir, Wani and Amum.  

So far SPLM’s chair has attracted theses three SPLM’s top-notch officials including Mama Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior, widow of the late SPLM founder Dr. John Garang De Mabior and Machar himself. But as the battle gears up in shape and form day and night, it seems it will be a two – horse race between the incumbent Kiir and aspiring Machar. Since the other three who already declared intentions look like they are bargaining for an upward movement short of top most prize, being the party chairmanship that is hoped will eventually deliver the Presidency of the Republic to the winner. Members of the public have already graded these candidates based on their past and present performances as well as the veracity of their political support across political spectrums.

Public grading of each candidate

As for the Right Honorable James Wani Igga, who is also second deputy chairman in the SPLM is viewed by many as the battle shy general who is always supportive of the status quo. With the opportunistic side that only associates him with the winning team never minds of its creed, ideology and programs. His recent public declaration that he will only vie for top seat if Kiir doesn’t already vindicates the above mentioned popular assertion as the man of status quo. His position in Bari ethnic community, Central Equatoria State and Equatoria in general is already threatened by his fellow Bari politician who is none other than Machar leaning and more popular Alfred Lado Gore. The national Minister Gore is widely rumored to be Machar’s regional point man and possible running mate. But Wani who is fondly referred to by his Bari ethnic group as ‘’matat’’ or wise one and ‘’hukuma’ bitaana’’ in Arabic language meaning our government when referring to SPLM/A back in the bush is known to many as South Sudan greatest political survivor and comedian of all times so far Gore will not find easier to floor.

Amum is the party Secretary – General and one of the pioneered South Sudan filthy rich men in US Dollars cumulatively dubbed ‘’The Naivasha Millionaires’’. The name is fashioned after Kenya tourist resort town of Naivasha where CPA was negotiated and on whose sidelines the said millionaires minted some of their current millions. With consummate mobilizing oratory skills and faith in past SPLM/A’s vision of united, secular and democratic new Sudan make Amum arguably the true carbon copy of Dr. John Garang. But several keen observers see his political approach to issues as too intransigently confrontational and one who can ruthlessly crash peaceful voice of descend threatening his position if he becomes country’s President.  He has so far cast himself as the middle – of – the – road contestant in the political fray. Though he had a brief stint in the government as Minister of Peace and Reconciliation, that position to him distances him from the government publicly accused of all evils bedeviling the country since the inception of CPA. However, some SPLM’s members, especially those closer to Kiir, cannot allow him to run away from the crime scene as they blame him for a host of political transgressions. They blamed him for flagrant failure to administer the party general – Secretariat which supposes to formulate policies that should have run the government and entire country, a claim which his allies rubbished as untrue since the President and his Rek clans have rendered secretariat in particular and party in general irrelevant in the country’s governance. His airborne status and the alleged misappropriation of 30 millions United States Dollars given to SPLM through his personal bank account by former GoSS Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Arthur Akuen Chol are more bouquets of thorns laid on his path to Presidency he has to clear. He of course denied that and the South Sudan supreme court acquitted him of the charge in the controversially mind-boggling ruling. Another bottleneck to break in his quest for Chairmanship and Presidency is lack of grassroots support in his ethnic Colo kingdom backyard where SPLM-DC’s Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin calls the final firing shots. His move is widely seen as an attempt to eclipse Lam’s fanatic support in that region if he takes SPLM’s Chair and eventual prize of the presidency or any other towering position in the government far above that of Lam. In fact Amum is not contesting against Kiir or anybody else but Lam in SPLM, keen observers believe.

Mama Nyandeng as creative business woman and fire breathing female politician with an informal education background is also the current Presidential Advisor on Gender and Human Rights. Popularly known as mother of the nation she has been faulted for her dismal performance back in 2006 as the GoSS Minister of Transport, Roads and Bridges where hundreds of millions of Dollars in budgetary allocation were allegedly lost to World Food Programs, WFP which she contracted to build Roads and Bridges infrastructure on behalf of the government. She is also accused of exploiting Garang’s dazzling legacy to the detriment of the needy and the poor for whom she purportedly provides numerous charitable services such as schools they direly need but cannot afford to pay for. In some sections of the press she is alleged to be foregoing her candidature for that of Machar’s with the hope of becoming Deputy Chairperson and Vice President both as Dinka Bor community and women affirmative action representative, a move indicative of Machar’s lone ranger apologies to Dinka Bor community in late 2011 over 1991 atrocities paying off.

As for Machar, lest his financial privileges and personal security are compromised, he will likely remain in SPLM as Vice President until few months to the elections. While buying time, he will ensure he leaves behind him for an alternative party an SPLM mentally disorganized, confused and too crippled physically to stand for any meaningful presidential contest. Secondly, he could order his close lieutenants to join an alternative party of his choice like Front-Forum family parties he helped form during his Khartoum Peace Agreement such as UDSF of Joseph Malual Lual, UDSF – Main stream of Gabriel Changson Chang, UDF of the detained Justice Peter Abdul Rahman Sule and SSDF of Dr. Martin Elia Lumuro. He can as well unite all of them into one formidable election juggernaut behind his presidential bid. Although Kiir will most likely encounter this move by bringing on board his home – based allied political parties such as George Kongor Arop’s African National Congress, ANC and late William Deng Nhial’s South Sudan African National Union, SSANU.

Machar can also bank on his scholarly grasp of issues that affect people, friendly relations with the most common in the society, his forgiving nature, his love for all and sundry, his peace-making skills, his Mr. clean image financial wise as his name is not appearing on the black lists of people that have robbed the country of billions of dollars including the infamous 75 officials and above all his democratic credentials for free media and judiciary as well as stable country since many believe he will deal with insecurity brought about by ethnic hatred. 

Despite all those glamorous attributes, his critics are yet to be convinced that he is up to the job. They think  he is not the right Presidential candidate that embodies the change SPLM, government and South Sudan have been waiting for given his knack in surrounding himself with semi-literate and individual elements unpopular with the masses, keeping enemies closest to his bosoms and friends at an arm length, populist, laicizes fair, know it all and assumptive leadership approach to issues that once failed his popular leadership contest with Garang following SPLM/A split in 1991 as well as his 1997-2000 Khartoum Peace Agreement that produced South Sudan Coo-ordination Council he led as the Chairman while simultaneously becoming Assistant President to Omar Al- bashir in Sudan Federal government in Khartoum. And whether or not he should not be held hostage by the same forces of corruption in SPLM some of whom have currently hijacked once popular leadership of a man he wants to remove. To them, his populist policy of appeasement shall not certainly put on the shoving board those who may stick their hands in the cookie jar but considers as strong and indispensable allies to help him win elections. If anything, his leadership shall only transform and nationalize corruption from the present ethnic one as he will involve and fairly treat people of all ethnic backgrounds but stop short of checkmating them against excesses of cancerous disease, critics drive the point home in their trenches.

His allies like Taban Deng Gai, Governor of oil rich Unity state, also home to Vice President Machar, do not buy such pessimistic feelings about their future Presidential flag bearer. Instead harbor dire options in bolstering Machar in winning upcoming 2015 general elections several analysts agree shall be the hardest fought not only by sheer political mobilization skills and blackmails, but also threats of violence, money and guns shall be part of the wider determining factors. These hardening positions had however, shown how deep and widening the schism between Kiir and Machar has cut and thrown Greater Equatoria leaders in their recent Political Consultative Conference into an hasty retreat. With Equatorians accepting their vulnerability as grasses to be trodden, given the fact that it is their own region that hosts the capital city Juba and main supplies route to Uganda, under mightiest feet of wrestling bulls, have resigned themselves to the mediating role for a peaceful competition so as to ameliorate if not quell the expected clash of the gigantic impact that was unequivocally conveyed through some of Machar’s spin doctors’ statements. They intoned, if Kiir rigs the election, Nuer dominated Greater oil rich Upper Nile region comprising of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states to be curved out of the rest of the country as another new Republic in the making with far reaching ramifications. Gone with it will be oil that provides 98% in national revenue of the newest country’s fledgling economy. Of strategic importance to go with the black gold will be Ethiopia and all its lucrative politically strategic and economic frontiers. And South Sudan will have no economic and neither diplomatic value item to relate her to global community, putting at grave stake her new found sovereignty. Juba government will be deprived of legitimacy to rule as it will fail to feed and protect the best interests of citizens it still rules. Unceremonious departure of Greater Upper Nile region shall instead further consolidate Greater Equatoria region’s resolve to be left alone by what it may consider Greater Bhar-Elgazal oppressive and equally exploitative political clique. And there and then, the Balkans will be let loose in the streets each demanding their own piece of the fallen, dead and dismembered elephant called South Sudan. Then comes to stark realization will be ‘’failed state’’ long foreseen by both local and foreign critics. These fever pitch political moves and overtones on both sides far remove sickly and dying SPLM from getting healed as it is heading for an inevitable split if not ultimate demise.

Deng Vanang is a Journalist, Author of the upcoming book: ‘’South Sudan Contested Legacies’’ and Executive member of South Sudan’s leading official opposition party, the SPLM-DC. He can be reached at:[email protected]

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