July 25, 2013 (SSNA) — Not too long ago I wrote several articles in response to almost every round of presidential decrees in the past few months. In contextualizing the latest round of Republican Decrees, it is worth stressing that in the past I mostly supported and praised those decrees as constructive and longed for them to ceaselessly continue. In an article entitled “The Here and Not Yet of National Reconciliation Debate in South Sudan,” published on South Sudan Nation website on April 18th, 2013, I commended the decree that withdrew the delegated duties from the Vice-president, particularly on his assignment to lead the national reconciliation initiative. As I argued on that occasion, the Vice-president should not have been tasked with leading the process in the first place, because his credibility to spearhead the process was always politically and morally questionable.
It was politically questionable because he was seen as utilizing the initiative to promote a political agenda and bag some points in his campaign for the top office in the land, whereas a genuine reconciliation exercise must be immune from politics and political power struggles. In our current buzzword, we might say the initiative in its older version was therefore, fraught with “political motivation.” Moreover, the Vice-president’s credibility as I noted was also morally dubious, because he was seen as a key player in the conflict dating back to the 1991 inter-communal violence in the Greater Upper Nile Region. I concluded that piece by urging for the church to be mandated to lead the national reconciliation initiative instead, if the process were to command any meaning and integrity. The church I emphasized boasts more neutrality and moral authority and credibility in the eyes of most South Sudanese.
The response to that article swiftly arrived in the following Republican Decrees days later, where the church was indeed assigned to lead the new commission on the national healing, peace and reconciliation process. In reaction, I wrote another piece entitled “The Battle for Winning the Hearts and Minds of South Sudanese,” again published on South Sudan Nation on April 29th, 2013, where I applauded the President for the decrees. I then made the case that the President seems to have turned a corner and was beginning to be responsive and downwardly oriented and accountable to the people. I concluded that in order for the President to potentially secure a third term in the office, he must begin to win the hearts and minds of South Sudanese through drastic policy changes that curb corruption, deliver services, and improve livelihoods. The President I stressed must at least be seen to be making concrete political gestures and efforts toward that end.
However, I declined to comment on the next sequence of decrees, particularly those that suspended and subjected the two Honorable Ministers, Ahmed Deng Alor and Kosti Manibe for investigation in misappropriation of public funds allegations. Though I was itching to comment because of the relevance of the decrees in the context of previous discussions, I nonetheless refrained from commentary on this occasion simply to create space for the rule of law and the investigations to take their course. In addition, I was beginning to be disillusioned and frustrated based on the debate that surfaced in the wake of these decrees. The political rhetoric that followed seems to suggest that “political motivations” were beginning to dictate some of these decrees, and undermine our state-building and nation-building aspirations, particularly as the rudimentary rule of law in the land is seen to be inequitably applied across ethnic and clan lines.
I vented my frustration in an article entitled “Cry the Beloved South Sudan in its Second Independence Anniversary,” where I concluded that in order to celebrate the true independence of South Sudan, the land must first be liberated from the “liberators.” This article was followed by another article published on South Sudan News Agency and South Sudan Nation websites on July 20th, 2013, and entitled “Is Samantha Power’s Appointment as US Ambassador to the UN a Glimmer of Hope for South Sudan?” In this article I basically appealed for our friends to help liberate us, because the country has not lived up to the expectations two years down the road of independence. South Sudan, I argued is living through the “Troubles,” and unless some major political reforms were undertaken our future looks bleak.
Following this article there was the rather dramatic though widely expected turn of events, on July 23rd, 2013, where President Kiir Mayardit sent out ripple effects at home and abroad by issuing the next series of presidential decrees—a record four consecutive decrees and one Chairperson’s order. As many expected, the first Republican Decree No. 49/2013 showed Dr. Riek Machar Teny the government exit door and relieved him from his position as the Vice-president of the Republic of South Sudan all together.
The second Republican Decree No. 50/2013 is perhaps the biggest surprise. It dissolved the cabinet by booting the entire National Ministers, though in actuality many again were eagerly anticipating some cabinet reshuffle, especially within the context of the eagerly awaited significant reforms that many have demanded. As such it was actually about time the cabinet reshuffle was realized. It was dramatic, nevertheless and hopefully to a good end result.
The cabinet reshuffle decree was followed by a third Republican Decree No. 51/2013 that equally kicked out all National Deputy Ministers of the Government of the Republic of South Sudan, and appointed undersecretaries as caretakers to run their respective ministries until further notice when a new National Government will be formed. Again there is little surprise in that front in light of the cabinet reshuffling as part of a major reform project in the Government of South Sudan.
In like manner, the fourth Republican Decree No. 14/2013 declared the reduction and restructuring of the Ministries, which are to be reduced to a handsome 19 Ministries only, from a previous whooping and ineffectual 29 Ministries. This restructuring and trimming of the Ministries has also been the popular demand of many if not most South Sudanese, especially when seen from the perspective of the austerity measures, and our continued economic strangulation by Khartoum and the whole oil dependence syndrome in the land.
And finally, the President issued a separate Chairperson Order No. 1/2013 on his capacity as the Chairperson of the SPLM in which the SPLM Secretary General, Pagan Amum who doubles as the Chief-peace negotiator on the remaining post-secession issues with Khartoum, was suspended and subjected to investigation for allegations that may be summed up as exhibiting insubordination to his senior, creation of disrepute in the party, and inciting tribal violence in the country. The Speaker of the Parliament, Mr. James Wani Igga, has been mandated with spearheading the investigation of Mr. Amum. He is to be aided by several senior members of the SPLM party, including the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament, Mr. Daniel Awet and Governor Kuol Manyang Juuk of Jonglei State among others.
As to be expected the Presidential decrees have met with mixed reactions by analysts and average South Sudanese citizens alike. On the one hand, some have been quick to voice a concern or two over the timing and the potential negative repercussions of the decrees on the already precarious peace climate in the land. The argument that this group is making is that given the fragile peace atmosphere in different regions across the country, the last thing South Sudan needs is another spate of political brinkmanship with whatever is left of the relative peace in the country.
Thus, those on the peace, security and stability side are concerned about the response of the axed cabinet and party members, particularly the response of the Vice-president and the SPLM Secretary General on the constitutionality of the decrees or the general response to the President’s move in their political bases. Some also fear that whatever gains made on the post-secession negotiating table as well as the outstanding issues currently being negotiated, may be undermined by relieving the chief-negotiator from the South’s side, Pagan Amum.
Meanwhile other observers are concerned about the continued oil row and the implications of Amum’s removal in resuming its flow, in addition to the resolution of the remaining outstanding issues currently on the negotiation table. But these concerns must be allayed by the fact that there are numerous South Sudanese conflict resolution and conflict management experts who can fill the void left by Mr. Amum on the protracted negotiation table with Khartoum.
Speaking of which, Khartoum, took no time to assure everybody that it remains committed to honor previous signed agreements, including the cooperation agreement! One wonders if what Khartoum meant was that it remained committed to dishonor and not honor the previous signed deals, since its recent decision to stop oil production and export through its pipe lines yet again, cannot be read outside Khartoum’s poor track record of dishonoring agreements.
However, that aside, and on the other hand, the latest republican decrees has received many plaudits both from within and from without the country. Except for the constitutionality and political motivation debate, the decrees on the government overhaul can be characterized as timely given the increasing popular demands, not least from the international community urging the President to embark on significant reforms to liberate the country from stagnation and free falling toward unknown future. As such any concerns on potential violent eruption across ethnic lines or what not are, therefore misplaced. South Sudanese have seen enough violent suffering in our lives and are mature enough to avoid treading this self-destructive path. If anything these changes must be seen as the beginning of genuine democratic processes where the government is perhaps beginning to be accountable to the people. But what is now needed from the President is to form a new lean and clean technocratic government to move us forward in the nation-building, state-building and peace-building process at the center of which must be service delivery and infrastructure development in South Sudan.
As for the removed Vice-president Dr. Machar, he will have his chance to lead this country, and he may well be more effective in designing that aspiration in time for the 2015 national elections, by holding the government accountable as an opposition outside the government. This simply how democracy functions. Nonetheless, I applaud the Vice-president’s courage and composure in handling this latest cycle of Republican Decrees with utmost civility and democratic spirit, by urging his base to remain calm. Indeed as the Vice-president wrote on his facebook account in reaction to the decrees, “Dear friends & fans, this is to confirm the news of my relief as the VP of the republic. Though I heard it in the news like all of you, but I wasn’t surprised. Please remain calm and be assured that our aspiration to lead this country to prosperity and stability won’t be intimidated by anything. We’ve chosen to handle everything politically and this is how we’re going to continue.”
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