SPLM Split Potents Hope for South Sudan’s Pledgling Democracy

By Deng Vanang

July 15, 2013 (SSNA) — Eight years in power is a long time for any party mindful of its citizens and visionary enough to help the country make great strides in good governance and economic development. It is within eight years United States elected President makes dramatic changes in government and leaves a mark behind for home with honors a satisfied man. Although this shouldn’t be the case with South Sudan, a country that emerged recently from twenty one year’s civil war, South Sudan could have done better than what we see. No doubt it is a giant that has punched below its weight. With robust civil service system established in 1972-1983 by autonomous regional government, youthful manpower, immensely untapped material resources, generous friends readily available to lend a hand and a dozens of international experiences to learn from, South Sudan is undoubtedly has a good beginning. Unlike many of her peer African states each of which started off with less than five graduates and without good will from the departing colonialists the time they gained their independence, South Sudan should instead count her blessings than grumble perpetually.

The watch word being a new born country that is tiredly turned into yet another national anthem casually sung by government officials even at awkward places and times is not in the right place. On top of these advantages, South Sudan achieved her independence at a time of rapidly growing latest science, technology and information system, which one South African official told us while we were in South Africa in 2008 could help build a new country to the level of his country within fifteen years. The official opined that all the infrastructures we saw were gradually built to where they are five hundred years ago. But given the modern technology, South Sudan with its valuable resources can reach where South Africa is within the next fifteen years. That is from 2005 to 2020. What is needed by South Sudanese people and their government is a combination of love for one another, unity and hard work, he continued. Unfortunately what everybody knows South Sudanese lack all these social ingredients and without which the road to better life for all is undeniably long and tortuous.

Lacks of these vital elements that develop a nation have been compounded by what I call wanting balance of power within the ruling elite. SPLM as mass party, the status it inherited from liberation era has subconsciously worked against itself as it does to the development of South Sudan entirely. The overzealous position has impeded the growth of democracy as much as it deprived the country of economic growth through corruption apart from gnawing insecurity encouraged by staggering tribal and nepotistic tendencies. Before explaining this in detail, what Nelson Mandela quoted when being sworn in 1994 as a President of multi-racial South Africa serves its purpose today as Great Mandela reels in pain in his sick bed. He was quoted as saying lack of strong opposition to best advice the ruling ANC is an Achilles heels of new found rainbow nation of South Africa. His colleagues might have taken it as a betrayal of the party that crawled out of backwater of grueling hundred years’ liberation struggle while observers could view the concern as crocodile tears sarcastically shed by the man who vanquished his opponents. Little did they know Madiba was magnanimous with victory in the quest for Posterity, a rare commodity in most self-seeking African leaders of the day. From then on, ANC powerful position Mandela foresaw as a disadvantage rather than a privilege is now taking its tolls on the country. ANC is becoming more arrogant to listen to the voice of reason and in this state of indifference South Africa is sliding deeper and deeper into an abyss of corruption and dictatorship in every passing day. Many of its supporters including Mandela’s Thembu clan king are now fleeing the ANC house they painstakingly built with sweat, tears and blood to the former enemy, the Whites led Democratic Alliance party that is magnificently ruling Western Cape Province out of eight other provinces plagued by usual blacks’ curse, the poor governance.  

Reason being ANC black elite are extremely growing richer at the grim expense of the black majority that are increasingly growing poorer and disenchanted with the party they thought was messiah that descended to liberate them. Even the ongoing hullabaloo within ANC inner circles about keeping a life good old Mandela for eternity is not that love about the world iconic figure. The party rather fears the death of Mandela will snap the last string that connects the populous black electorate with the leadership which shall mark the beginning of an end of the ANC kleptocratic elite. Equally South Sudan is no different from South Africa’s shilling experience. Here SPLM is an ANC under which all the opportunists have taken cover to enrich themselves. The two powerful tribes, the Dinka and Nuer have brought under strangling hold all means of political tyranny that embody change such as population, economy, defense and security forces and what have you whether in dictatorship or democracy. This collusion rather than coalition has militated against concerted efforts towards effecting what is necessary for the long suffering South Sudanese including the Nuer and Dinka ordinary citizens. But fortunately enough the collusion is currently in tatters for the referendum euphoria that once united the tribal gangs has precipitated since the advent of country’s independence with rivalry of the past making a tumultuous return, now eating deep into an all time fragile unity of the country.

Other small tribes cannot be blamed for joining the monster they could not beat. They are in under the dictate of natural survival instincts far from sheer necessity. This over bearing political dominance of the two has not only brutally killed ideological diversity upon which any progressive country is built but also destroyed the balance of power that makes reforms and regime change possible. In this monolithic bipolar – tribal system being small as a tribe is becoming a curse since such system is built irrespective of charisma needed to select leaders. Hence, obviously no window of opportunity for a person from small tribe to emerge on the top and lead the country in the midst of struggling elephantine tribes in this vast jungle called South Sudan. The party cannot be expected of ushering in reforms since retrogression is a revered king wielding both stick and carrot against any cadres already cowed into toeing the party line by fear and poverty. South Sudan being a poor country with people frightened by devastating civil war they emerged out of its ashes the other day is a proven sanctuary of merciless dictators and insatiable kleptocrats who silence the hungry with dangled carrot while they frog march opposition with a rod placed on the back. In this scenario opposition permanently remains the ground only trodden by a few dare devil hardcore elements that value dignity in rags and death than swinging potbellies in shame and regrettable indignity.

In the face of such predicaments democracy is a road so narrow that is dared pass through at one’s peril in this small and struggling part of the world since it is a death bed for those who choose to fight and go hungry. Those who cry wolf that SPLM has lost direction are even hypocritical. They are simply crying by themselves, of themselves and for themselves to take over a charades they could not inherit while outside it. For from day one of its inception in September 1983 SPLM is a political organization born blind and it has never ever trodden in the right direction with regards to meeting popular demand of South Sudanese to be independent and how best the war could have been fought against the North. Instead it went in zigzags traversing several miles for the liberation of the whole Sudan with an aim of changing the way the country was governed. Uganda President Yoweri Museveni in the second independence anniversary best captured that dilemma when he said the past war was long and unnecessary trying to solve an obvious problem. Neither has the movement been accountable and transparent to people from Itang refugee camp in Ethiopia all through to the battle fields where it commandeered food and cattle rations respectively. Ruled in Marxist style reign of terror in the areas it controlled. Jailed and killed the dissident voices who dare questioned the direction in which the big man was heading the restive masses. It only adopted self-determination under both local and international pressure as temporary measure to calm ever restive masses with an exit strategy. This strategy was to kill self-determination with an election during the interim period the big man hoped would deliver him the national Presidency of the whole Sudan. Once that was accomplished, he would turn around and eliminate those who would try to agitate for South Sudan referendum. With the big man gone mysteriously, the successor succumbed to the popular will. He knew his weakness and cleverly turned it into strength. The General knew he was no match to Field Marshal to be able to win the Presidential election.

Due to corruption, mismanagement and tribalism he perpetuated down south he knew he had a poor score card to use as a spring board to win over the northern part of the country that was still holding out. By technically responding to Southern demand for independence, the SPLM in its abrupt u-turn has done what it always does. That is betraying people of Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile it misled into joining liberation of whole Sudan that never was. This is the huge debt the country is now paying in an alleged relation with SPLM-north the Sudan government decries as interference in its internal affairs to which it is responding in kind by backing Southern rebels and closing oil pipelines traversing through its territory.

How Democracy works

Democracy doesn’t thrive in an environment where one party is too extremely powerful except where there are two or more political forces shaking one another’s might. One may be in power while the rest are outside threatening to take over the contested power trappings. Rather than willingness, it is the fear in the party in power to be removed if it under performs that makes it deliver much needed services to the needy poor. That is why the populous and powerful Nuer and Dinka being in one party in a tribally charged country like South Sudan can never augur well for necessary reforms to come about. If the two tribes are not going to split the SPLM, South Sudan will not shed off a failed state tag tied to its long tail of decadence. The rivalry between the two tribes is viewed by some as set back which is not true. It is rather the strength of South Sudan body politics to quickly liberalize and democratize so long as the two peacefully oppose and shake up each other powers, a move that will resultantly effect change in the process for all. Now it is exactly what the chiefs from these two tribes are engaging in. In this urban political battle the President is currently winning the psychological warfare against his Vice President. The logic is simple. Machar as usual is not respecter of the interests of his long time allies. He embraces johnnycomelateliers at the expense of those he endures long and hard times with as it is exemplified in recent change of allegiance between Taban Deng and Joseph Nguen Monytuil. Unlike his Vice, President has what it takes to dangle before those who are desperately in need of positions and better lifestyle in the cities. This is notwithstanding will not translate into electoral victory at the end for Machar has the masses behind him disillusioned by Kiir’s eight years poor governance. The masses shall be more endeared to his dialectics as opposed to Kiir’s historical narratives.

Kiir is a man of history courtesy of SPLM/A liberation struggle. If he retains the chairmanship in the upcoming SPLM convention, he will do everything in his powers to appeal to the former SPLM Torit faction strong holds against the past SPLM Nasir faction controlled areas which eventually diminished and lost out to the former. And what will be Machar political vehicle Kiir will derogatorily regard it as yet another failed Nasir faction camouflaged in different form. In rebuttal, Machar will not use history for in practical terms in this mine field he is a failure. Not a failure in theory because it was his talents, patriotism and compromise SPLM mainstream used as fodders to succeed while it simultaneously rubbished him as a traitor and concomitant failure. Machar’s achievements are very much hidden in the history and too abstract to the ordinary citizenry to understand. Than wastes time explaining the abstract, he will certainly find comfort in the philosophy of dialectical materialism. That is, reasoning out to the electorate how and why Kiir government has irredeemably under performed. In so doing he should not allow himself to be vague about it as it is the case now in the media. He needs to breakdown Political and economic corruption, insecurity, lack of rule of law and troubled foreign policy into details since it is where the devil lies best to the understanding of the common man and woman on the dust filled streets and far flung villages. Goes further down as to how grave such mal-practices diminished their bread and endangered personal security, education and health of their children.

The two rivals should not even waste plenty of time trying to penetrate into each other tribal enclaves of Nuer and Dinka since the final victor will be one who bags the larger support of other 62 ethnic groups. Each of whom will not penetrate the other ethnic base electoral wise but the ethnic bases are only suitable in their psychological warfare to frustrate each other. Machar’s feel good attitude that he has what it takes in Dinka land to win the upcoming elections is not in place and the same fact applies to Kiir in the Nuer heartland. Both only have politicians and intellectuals from the two ethnic rival communities who will not win substantial votes for them in rural areas where votes actually are. Kiir is much aware of this than Machar. That is why he is telling Bor community either subtly that he is still their son despite the circumstances by making Anglican Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul the chairperson of National Reconciliation and Healing as he frustrates Machar. And he will certainly bring closer Bor community to the warmth of his Presidency as elections near. It is the same method he uses not to arrange any Dinka politician before anti-corruption Commission as much as he visits any Dinka area where natural or man-made disaster strikes. He is telling Dinka community as history entails their unity, which they use to beat others into line, is far more important and pre-requisite to the maintenance of South Sudan leadership from which the community pride and economic advantage over the rest emanate. The same replica will be in Nuer land as both camps shall closely monitor each other while campaigning in tribal strong holds and any blunder shall be used with maximum effect. The Nuers hitherto accuse their Dinka cousins of not being grateful to them for not reciprocating their goodwill leadership gestures. It is through the support of late Peter Gatkuoth Gual Uncle Abel Alier used to win Southern regional elections in 1970s and 80s.

The same repeated itself when Samuel Gai Tut sided with Akwot Atem against his nephew Dr. John Garang over the SPLM/A leadership. While William Nyuon Bany was loyally supportive to Garang against Nuer led Anya-nya Two. They can as well cite how Bullen Alier and Santino Deng Teng frustrated the Liberal Party leadership of Both Diu in 1953 as well as that of Philip Pidak Lieth as Deputy President to Aggrey Jaden in SANU by William Deng Nhial in 1964. This belligerent stand shall remain in force and won’t be swayed by any other Nuer Kiir will make Vice President in case he sacks Machar. Instead will rather provoke more anger since the Nuer will view it as Kiir’s stubborn determination to deny them the top job by keeping them subjugated in the Vice Presidency of which they are fatigued and don’t longer need. Kiir’s preference of another Nuer to become Vice President over James Wani Igga or anybody from Equatoria against SPLM current hierarchy and its entrenched traditions will backfire even more. For it will subsequently alienate his supporters in Equatoria and wholesomely hand over the vote’s rich region in silver platter to Machar.

The President’s alleged plan to usher in reforms in the government as the way of making Machar irrelevant shall not only be held back by power struggle between him and his vice President but also his selective anti-graft war, diminishing resources to deliver much needed services heavy handed response to criticism by human right groups as a result of government paranoia and of course lack of enough time to do the miracles within less than two years before 2015 general elections. All the above enumerated factors shall work in favor of Machar. Already Machar’s quest for Presidency doesn’t enable the president to convene either political bureau meeting or party convention where serious decisions, if any, could be taken and which he is unsure of going his way. Some of these decisions could be the passage of party basic rules already decried by his opponents as dictatorial with an aim of rigging him in for another term in the office in which he failed to do anything tangible for the last eight years and nothing is expected from another five-year term he is begging to be given. Now his option is to embark on undeclared state of emergency, a defacto one which made him during the independence celebration to ferry in ten thousand strong troops loyal to him in capital city Juba and other nine states capitals where he will appoint his diehard allies as Governors so that any negative reaction to any plan he makes shall be contained through brute force. In this inauguration of totalitarian dictatorship army is not spared either.

The President is said to be toying with an idea of appointing an army chief of General staff with an iron fist to galvanize fractured unity in the army already divided by tribal and regional loyalties against his opponents. This lame duck strategy won’t help his government and neither the country but shall only maintain him in a too shaky position of non-performance he thinks will hand him yet another five year term he couldn’t otherwise manage to get through free for all democratic elections. To camouflage the wanton despotism he will certainly be tempted to form an inclusive government that will only do his bidding than responding to public interest. The strategy shall serve the intended purpose of saving face by keeping Machar and other opponents in state of limbo.

However, Machar and allies can still see some silver lining in Kiir’s wild plans. In the heat of SPLM internal power struggle the north shall take an advantage by stonewalling Abyie referendum, taking more lucrative disputed border territories and again turning off oil tapes, further strangling planned reforms in Kiir government it accuses of aiding the SPLM – north. While on the other hand Machar himself can heighten sabotage of President’s decisions and actions as he equally agitates for radical change from within that will force Kiir into sacking him so that his supporters’ spontaneous reaction to the bad news shall usher in violence beyond the president’s control and possibly bring him down leaving in its wake profound anarchy in the country.

Viable solution

The only viable option to save the country from degenerating into the anarchy is for the president to reach out to his opponents from within and the opposition so as to form an all inclusive government of national unity on 50/50 power sharing basis between ruling SPLM and entire opposition with the free hand to create a clear road map in the run up to 2015 elections. The purposed government will prepare a soft landing ground for the next elections and the upcoming elected government so that it is not going to spend first of its five year term putting in place proper laws and institutions to be able to deliver basic services while people continue to languish in dire needs. In fulfillment of this nobility, the unity government shall set five goals for itself to achieve in public interest and country stability. The new government in pursuit of this noble goal can as well become the legal arbiter between SPLM warring factions since it will force them to hold their convention as the neutral Political Party Council shall dictate and those will be losers will opt for a peaceful divorce to form a party of their own in order to compete in the slated elections. 

In this strategy all political forces including SPLM opponents shall rest assured to implement proper execution of the following agenda as demonstrated below. The government of national unity with incumbent President, Vice President and a new Prime Minister selected from opposition with two deputies can work in consultative basis. While the parties work hand in hand in the national unity government can establish an inclusive Constitutional review commission to come up with laws that will address current land grab, failed anti-corruption war and reform judiciary. Establish Political parties Council to register political parties as may be required by law. Order the establishment of an inclusive National Election Commission as well as allow the timely conduct of population census. Restructuring the army and civil defense forces shall also come in handy before the highly anticipated first post independence polls.

In response to popular demand, the constitution will obviously accommodate federalism, a password for my pet subject, regionalism, I love with passion as a solution to this country myriad of problems since decentralization has been misused by some to ride rough shots over the rest, causing irreconcilable divisions and likely disintegration of the country. So far both President Kiir and Vice President Machar have contradicted themselves on federalism. The President recently engaged in organizing regional conferences as opposed to his decentralization or unitary system doctrine while Machar criticized them as balkanization of the country along regional lines which diametrically contradicts his quest for federalism, a regionalism in disgust. To me it is only federalism to make states semi-autonomous that has the potential of detribalizing and liberalizing South Sudan. It is the same purposed system of governance that can level political playing field for all – big and small tribes. Should South Sudanese think of three Greater regions comprising constituent autonomous states than about their tribes within their sub-regions, there will be a semblance of unity in South Sudan. For under threat of being outwitted politically and denied economic opportunities by rival region, people of each region must strive to work together in order to be in power.

Within each region big tribe will need smaller tribes and trade off some of its power for support lest they are taken away by another big tribe in the rival region, eventually depriving it of power. Consequently each region will form a regional political bloc that unites its ranks and piles and as a result of falling short of winning, it will form a coalition with another in a run – off election. In this power game all tribes in the regions shall have the same value and respect to accord one another since one will not make do without the other, big or small.

Deng Vanang is a Journalist and member of National Executive Committee of the leading opposition party, SPLM-DC. All the views expressed above are his and not attributed to SPLM-DC as the party.

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