Democratic, authoritarian, totalitarian or what system of the governance do South Sudan wants to have?

By Lul Gatkuoth Gatluak

May 24, 2013 (SSNA) – The Republic of South Sudan came on being after bumpy layers. Each generation of South Sudanese struggled and demanded freewill of ruling—–South Sudan under supremacy of the Constitution, a constitution that derives its authority from the will of the people and has a binding force on persons, institutions, and all agencies of the government throughout the country. According to the transitional constitution of the RSS, “South Sudan has to be governed on the basis of a decentralized democratic system.” During six-year interim period that started on July 9, 2005, and ended on July 8, 2011, the constitutional framework for the Interim government of Southern Sudan established five levels of the government. These five levels are the national, State, County, Payam and Buma. The national federal government is said to be headed by the president; the State, by the governor; the county, by the commissioner; the Payam, by the administrator; and finally, the Buma, by the village administrator. Since then, the greater absolute power is vested on the president of the Government of Southern Sudan, now RSS. The powers conferred upon him under article 101 in the Interim Constitution of Southern Sudan allow him to issue presidential decrees to appoint ministers, governors, commissioners and sometimes order whoever he appointed to appoint those who seek government positions and claim directly to him to work in national, State, and/or county levels.

The practice of appointment is also picked up by governors to appoint individuals who are loyal to them. Commissioners as well appoint close aids or relatives to available jobs or send them to trainings that will later result into their employment. Democratic voting system where ordinary citizens of South Sudan can vote in public leaders in fairly voting manner is absent, and if it happens, election has to be rigged. In 2010 election, for example, every candidate who was running with other party tickets other than SPLM ticket complained of voting intimidations or fraud. There is no fairness of counting ballots. That made many of us wonder about what kind of the government we want to have.  Where are we heading as a country? Is our country rising to be a democratic State or falling into the trap of African authoritarianism and totalitarianism without fair systems of governance?

If we are falling into the trap of African puzzling system of governance, one may say, African’s problems are so huge and insoluble. Many people may agree with me and admit that—-the continent is in need of a progressive structure. Why? Because many African governments are confronted with an eroding broken system, full of inability to govern themselves equitably. Leaders are playing alien ideologies—submerged in violence, stuck in corruption, prone to exploitation, susceptible to manipulation, buried in poverty and finally appear to accept an undemocratic system which is so sickening!

In the world, founder fathers are expected to set up systems that determine a destiny and a future which is free, transparent, and provide much needed equality for all. When people apply such a system, they would forever depend on it for guidance. Therefore, the founding fathers have to be very careful when creating such a system. Adopting a system other than your own requires clear policies and management. In order for us to have a durable democratic government, there are needs for us to put forth. For instance, there is a need to involve other political parties’ members to the ongoing constitutional review. In 2011 when interim constitution was reviewed prior to independence, other political parties’ representatives walked out, citing irregular actions of the members of the ruling party. This time around as constitutional review is underway, the ruling party could avoid monopolizing the system and acting aggressively toward members from other parties. The constitution—being the supreme law of the land that will judge all people— requires universal input, and all reviewers should lay down the foundation for a united, peaceful, and prosperous society based on justice, equality, respect for human rights and dignity. Acting inclusively would beautify this constitution and shall affirm and recognize the diversity of the South Sudanese people. The world of today has recognized diversity as strength, not a weakness; and people choose federal system as the best system of governance over any form of the government.

Throughout the history of human civilizations, the will of the people has been regarded as the principal sources of legitimacy in striving for a good system of governance. It is the only manner in which the will of people is expressed and gets reflected in the form of the government. This form of governance can change from time to time and the change usually deviates from solid path which has been clearly defined. Most of the time, the change can come according to the social and cultural variations of the society.

Since the beginning of the civilization, many governments had been built on rigid hierarchies, but today, the efficiency of the pyramid model of governance is being eroded by the democratization will of the people. The influence of the traditional position of power or authority has shifted towards knowledge, expertise, and individualistic interest. The result of modern changes has encouraged a sharing of power and it influences a different kind of friendly governance, such as stakeholders, government private sectors and the civil societies. As a new country, it would be wise for us to avoid any type of autocracy and adopt only the rule of law, where individuals’ rights should be highly respected. Democracy in modern societies is the only well-structured system that helps people co-exist and thrive in their daily operations. The most distinctive aspect of democratic system is that government officials are elected by the people on the basis of universal adult franchise.

In recent decades, the world has witnessed new valiant heroes. People like Lech Walesa in Poland, Corazon Aquino in the Philippines, Raul Alfonsin in Argentina, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Benazir Bhutton in Pakistan and Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma/Myanmar, just to name only a few of men and women who have shown the world a fortitude of spirit and a passion for freedom. These people and many others have endured great discomfort and overcome enormous obstacles to institute democratic movements in their countries. Today in every region of the world, there is a clamor for change and an insistence on liberal reforms. Many nations arouse to proclaim their rights before obdurate dictators. This means, there is social and political forces that can break most repressive and punitive governments. Very often, the first forces that demand change are ambitious youth groups who advocate for reform but are ignored by leaders whose intention is to persist in efforts to preserve their positions.

As a result, a reaction that can cripple the government usually surfaces. Ironically, the smartest way to quell these groups is to grant some free elections or few civil liberties or human rights. Leaders who offer these changes find themselves faced with a growing confident from their constituencies. People all over the world  no longer live in ignorance or isolation from developed countries; media brought them in contact with world’s powerful nations who can help them succeed in their strive for a true meaningful democracy. How can some citizens accept injustices when they see others free from misrules? Whenever vivid events occur, such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya uprisings, the entire world can see instantly the spirit of freedom through the media. People of the world can also see and know that Western Europe, the United States, Japan, Canada, and other strong democratic nations are wealthier and manufacture many consumer goods and maintain strong economies.

These plentiful goods and the high standard of living in such democracies are reminders to poorer or less free societies like South Sudan, that free democratic governments encourage free markets. Therefore, we have a strong desire to create a durable democratic society which could emulate the path of the above mentioned nations. Ultimately, the desire to be free and have a good structured democratic system require courageous efforts of women and men who take it upon themselves to ensure democracy will take hold in their nation. Undeniably, it is a known fact that, leaving the old structure and creating a new one with vitality is not an easy task for a nation whose majority of its leaders is inexperienced. A young nation like us that is full with domestic political crisis could not promote autocrat who may be potentially worse than the abandoned North Sudan dictators. Supporting those who will bring us democracy is wiser than solidifying the power of those who will degenerate us into anarchy or authoritarian state.

Those of us who have seen the free world of democracy in the west, freedom and justice for all is the only guidance principle. We have seen the true meaning of the citizenship, where individual’s life, values, and the needs are highly respected and taken care of by the people’s government. Peoples’ voice is highly taken; and the power is from the bottom to the top. If elected officials are not up to their task and are not honestly or appropriately executing their duties, a re-call election or an impeachment panel can be performed either through citizen participatory election or court of laws, unlike South Sudan, where power is the other way around.

The power seems to be from top to bottom and citizens’ voice is not taken seriously. In South Sudan, when political shift is on the rise, it is easy to see authoritarian practices as a guidance force. Peoples’ voice is ignored by the rulers. Democracy is not meaningfully prevalent. All power holders such as members of the parliament in both Federal and State levels, governors, commissioners or anybody who should enter public services arena through public adult franchise or election are handpicked and that bothers, worries, and gives pains to one’s soul by feeling that your ancestral land and truly your home country South Sudan is in a state of unpredictable future. Democracy within our country continues to be demanding and corruption within the government is endless. In that regard, the current situation in the country is dominated by uncertainty.  In another word, this road we are on will lead us step-by-step to the extreme: We will inherit either an autocratic government that functions or dysfunctional anarchy. The petty squabbles, bilge in the name of party or principle, will dissolve our supposed-to-be self-democratic government. However, we must hope for the best that in the near future, change will come, where people will freely elect their political leaders without any form of intimidations, disenfranchise, rigging or any kind of voting fraud that spoil election fairness.

Those of us who have read our history know for fact that for centuries, we have been paralyzed by intruders; as we are now governing ourselves, our focus should dwell on building the best democratic system that would transform our lives. A good transformation starts by creating an environment for economic growth. No price or trophy is bigger than having a peaceful prosperous environment. It is peace and harmony that we can embark on toward good economic and social transformation.

This author once discussed the future of South Sudan with one commander who visited Minnesota. One wanted to know if we are indeed rising to be a democratic society. The kind of the analysis he gave made a lot of sense to me as we chatted. He is certain that democracy will not prevail or fully be very smooth as one may have expected and gave me an example with HIV/AIDS, saying, “if AIDS occupies the human body, it would not leave any single part of the body unaffected”. Meaning, many African countries are not democratic societies; therefore, it would be impossible for South Sudan to slip away from that trap. If that is the case, and if democratic realization is impossible to take shape in South Sudan, one may argue, “almighty power struggle means” will not be absent to cripple the very newly born nation.

It is always common sense that coups are ignited due to political dissatisfactions, autocratic authoritarianism, unlawful treatment, inequality, injustices, corruption, lack of democracy, tribalism, nepotism, economic imbalances, absent of liberty, and violations and abuses of human rights and freedoms in any form; these acts force humans to choose violence over peace.

History told us autocratic authoritarianism can cause rigging of legitimate elections or oppression of people’s rights and privileges. Ironically, the profound rebellion and general insecurity that had marred and stranded south Sudan were first ignited initially by late George Athor as a result of intentional fraud or rigging of the democratic general elections in 2010 by the SPLM party in favors of their loyal candidates, although it is unclear whether George Athor has won the general elections or not.  It was equally the initial point of revolutionary rebellion, which was later on joined by second waves of sporadic rebellions caused by tribalism, nepotism and corruption within the SPLA and SPLM.

Another puzzle was the issue of independent candidates who were threatened with military arrests as well as stripping them off their official jobs. Majority of these individuals ended up without jobs simply because they ran as independents. The only independent candidate who won was Joseph Mario Bakosoro. How does he win? Well, not only did his people vote for him overwhelmingly, but riggers who marched to his camp in order to destroy ballots while counting was underway coincided with international observers’ visit to the site. Thus, riggers told themselves “they will be accused internationally and that would spoil the legitimacy of the whole 2010 election.” That is why he won!  Others who earned majority votes such as Angelina Teny were badly dumped.

The third phase of rebellion was ignited and fueled by the intertribal cattle rustlings in Lake, Unity, and children abductions in Jonglei state. Lack of the RSS urgency to provide protection and defense against the internal insecurity can stir the SPLA to fracture or fragment on tribal basis as each soldier in the SPLA would feel he or she would want to persuade the national army to come and protect their tribe against illegal horrors inflicted on them. Some SPLA soldiers can even involve in cattle rustling and other tribal disputes as that was the case years back between the said Lake and Unity Sates.

This local insecurity among tribes in RSS can spark the split of the SPLA because the current administration seems to be so negligent and ignorant not to amicably and pragmatically resolve any tribal crisis or internal conflict that arises among communities as quickly as possible. Without a doubt, some military Generals in the SPLA, who see their people are neglected and forsaken in the course of tribal conflicts, would like to align with their tribesmen claiming their protection. Therefore, the selective and discriminatory treatment of favoring and sidelining the grievances of some offended tribes could escalate to the military defections of the high ranking SPLA Generals and their sympathizers.  Hence, some SPLA military Generals who form alliance with their kin tribesmen would illegally and intentionally supply weapons and ammunition to their respective tribes in murky deals of collaboration given their domination in the SPLA or lack of representation within RSS structure.  Take David Yau Yau case as an immediate example.

During the revolutionary struggle, SPLA generals usually got frustrated when their tribe was engaged in hostility with the SPLA army. We should learn from that history. All these ambiguous deals can lead to mistrust in the SPLA, and it is one of the factors that can ignite tribal rebellion in the SPLA or lead to tribal alliance to brew a military coup as a result of negligence and ignorance stemming from the administration to resolve these issues responsibly.

Land grabbing is another big issue that can lead to tribal war especially when the state and federal government do not bother to intervene and settle the land disputes through legal litigation. So when a tribe preempts a tribal fight, the SPLA would be used disproportionately in response. Such a scenario can be seen in Eastern Equatoria, central equatoria, Upper Nile and so forth. All these illustrations pose threat to overall general insecurity due to leadership enforcement strategy vacuums in RSS. One knows for certain that south Sudanese are ready to embrace peace, unity, stability, nationalism, and peaceful co-existence in forming reconciliations in RSS. However, this patriotic allegiance of national building is not likely to take practical effects under the current administration of RSS if all necessary measures are not taken as demanded by situations that exist.  

The bigger worry right now is leaning toward the next awaiting election in 2015. Many silent politicians, who follow South Sudan politics closely, could predict eminent hostility that will be caused by election rigging. The only best way forward in RSS is to change administration and peacefully allow new administration to take over. That way, our people may know for sure that after such an administration dissatisfies public interest, citizens would be able to wait for the next election in 2020 to replace 2015 leaders with the leaders of their choice. If the current leadership will not allow change to take root, one would like to assert that all sorts of unnecessary situations including war itself will not be avoided, given our culture of extremism.  Some people will aim to topple the regime in any means possible to them; they may think fighting democratically to dispose the administration through ballot voting will never materialize.

Personally, one has not seen the reason of our departure since there has never been a change. The same authoritarian mindset in old Sudan still haunts us. We should learn from the history of old Sudan which tells us that on November 17, 1958, two years after Sudan independence and the day parliament was to convene again after an adjournment,  a military coup occurred. Prime Minister Khalil, a retired army general, planned the preemptive coup in conjunction with leading Umma members and the army’s two senior generals, Ibrahim Abbud and Ahmad Abdal Wahab, who became leaders of the military regime afterward. Again on May 25, 1969, several young officers who called themselves “The Free Officers” made a conspiracy to seize power; among them, was Colonel Jaafar Muhammad Nimeri as a ringleader of the group. These army officers plan coup and cite the country’s economic failure as their justifiable position.  Similar dissatisfactions would definitely repeat themselves in South Sudan if we don’t allow this essential much desired change to take place.

This author knows very well that the current administration has scored some measure of achievements that will go down in history. If our president would peacefully give up the presidency in 2015, he would go down in the history as the leader who was selected on August 2, 2005 unanimously by the SPLM/A leadership and sworn in on August 11, 2005 to fill the shoes of John Garang to accomplish what Garang has started. He would be remembered as the one who kept South Sudan united during interim period and became the first president of South Sudan on July 9, 2011.

Stepping aside is not a weakness; it could tell us that he is leading by example showing people the way forward. That system of giving up power peacefully should down the road be followed by future generations of South Sudan. If change of the leadership does not take place, all above negative consequences one have analyzed will not be absent. One can predict and prophesize simply because the moody, outrageous, stunning public anger and dissatisfactions toward the administration is lingering and growing daily. This personal call may flow above inner ears given the fact that current political atmosphere is aiming at premeditated strategy to mobilize loyal SPLA military Generals to find out political confidants to prepare for the total establishment of the true official, inaugurated, and  beautifully crowned dictatorship. Some of the signaling indications to verify dictatorial manner would include the recent call of censorship if government officials speak out against administration mismanagement. Others would include withdrawing of powers from VP out of the fear that VP will gain popularity in the eye of voters. The withdrawal of power from the government officials and delegate them to servants of the most high will not solve chronic problem of lawlessness in the country. Rabbis alone will not encourage the much troubled youths who carry military-type weapons, who also make the majority of the South Sudanese people, to avoid violence and become obedient of the church, similar to the few who carry Bibles.

In March, when SPLM party’s inner power struggle emerged, one had acquaintance to read too many comments. Party supporters are sharply divided. There are those whose tone is advocating for change aiming at relinquishing the leadership so that the next leader will dismantle the current structure of appointing ministers, governors and commissioners with the structure which will only appoint cabinet members and allow governors as well as commissioners to be elected by the people.

Such structure would allow political post-holders to pay loyalty to their constituencies to elect them again to offices rather than today’s sycophantic structures where loyalty is paid to president yarning for tomorrow’s rewards. These sycophants think on top of their heads they are on the right track but forgot living in undemocratic society is not different than living in the jail cell!

They will do anything possible to bless current structure, fearing that change will bring bad than good. This author would like to appeal to these flatterers to remorse from seeing only short comings and distance their glimpse to envision whether this system we are establishing will be admiral to tomorrow’s generations. SPLM as people’s party which many people including this author deemed themselves to belong, need to embrace democratization. Otherwise, other twenty-two parties should unite and carry the torch on. In some degree, inner circle massagers spread that 2015 presidential election will not take place and if it does, they will find ways to secure its rigging. So per se, those who think they are looking for a democratic election outcome may just be hallucinating in spirit of empty optimism without clear indication of who will sub guard the fairness of the election.

In order to prevent dangerous skirmishes, the international community has to stay proactive in ensuring that power of democracy is ruling, no matter what circumstances are on the rise. They would start by pushing our leading elites especially those who engage in constitutional review to designate power to its rightful owners who are the citizens of South Sudan! One would like to encourage the constitutional review team to propose workshops around South Sudan begging for more inputs from ordinary citizens who will be victims of tomorrow. The leading few may want to know what is in the mind of South Sudanese ordinary masses, and their say is highly needed.  Missing the chance of allowing the reign of democracy is not different than pointing a pistol at our heads. We need a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, a government that allows its people to freely discus public issues without fear of impunity and intimidations.

Lastly, the fundamental purpose of this article is to express personal concerns toward political maneuverings in South Sudan. One is in the mood to emphasize how genuine and important is democracy. There is no system beyond it yet. In democratic system, people talk: they can agree or disagree but do so in civility without letting anything dictate their discourse. This is a very beautiful way of life. We can steal it! Letting it slip away in 2015 will harm us. I mean, if there is no change of the leadership in the said year, we will not reach 2020 without political coup; one can envision that. In politics, one has to be proactive and foresee what future would ensure or bring.  Embracing autocratic authoritarianism, totalitarianism, or any form of dictatorial systems without allowing power of democracy, the old mess of electoral rigging as it was the case in 2010 election will not be absent and coup will be eminent. We need to create a democratic government that serves the people and constitution that irrevocably grant valuable and durable freedoms to all South Sudanese. That is when we as a nation will enjoy the goodness and the richness of our land.

The author lives in the United States; he can be reached at [email protected]

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