July 31, 2013 (SSNA) — Now that what hitherto seemed impossible, risky, unimaginable and atypical of the modus operandi of the President has taken place and the camel has gone through the eye of the needle, what next for South Sudan? Now that not only the government exit door was pushed wide open to accommodate a camel or two on the way out but the door that also seemed open for a stormy wind to blow in, have been firmly closed and will perhaps dictate the outcome of the formation of the new cabinet, what must our leaders do? Could this be a turning point and an end to the “open tent” or “appeasement policies” that have been identified as the menacing seal of the President leading to the fateful July 23rd, 2013 day? Could this be a game changer in the race to the next presidency of South Sudan come 2015 general elections? Most importantly though, where does this leave us going forward, in terms of the making or unmaking of South Sudan?
Breathtakingly, as we continue to keenly observe the political unfolding in the land with intrigue and anxiety, there are several catchphrases around which a consensus seems to have been built thus far. Almost all South Sudan’s stakeholders are unanimously agreeable in the wake of these latest political developments that the promise lies in political prudence and staying calm; expeditious and transparent formation of a new ethnically representative and accountable cabinet; and the upholding of democratic principles and human rights and the delivery of social and economic services.
On the ground, the current political situation and the race to the formation of the new cabinet is, however, complexified by what looks like the blurring of lines between that which is opposition and that which is loyalist. Who exactly is what, is anyone’s imagination. In what can be credibly described as a “nyakama” (a scramble) for a piece of the pie in the upcoming lean and hopefully clean new cabinet, the opposition seems to have awfully turned into presidential loyalist. Some Juba based analysts have sarcastically characterized the scramble for office in the upcoming new cabinet as a daily formula 1 race to the presidential palace, where some had to change their car wheels and refuel in the process!
Indeed the current unprincipled sham that we are witnessing where the President’s friends and foes alike are indistinguishable at the moment and are both seen to be padding the President on the back for his latest political move of cabinet dissolution must be taken with caution by the presidential advisors. This is a decisive make or break moment not only in the President’s political career but in the direction that will determine the future of South Sudan. No more belly politicians in the new cabinet please. The President must begin to listen to those who make him cry rather than the clowns that make him laugh. He must choose carefully and wisely, however long the consultations take and preferably give chance to new, young, vibrant and competent faces in the final setup of the new cabinet.
If the rumors from the corridors of presidential palace are true that the President’s new political agenda is to go back to the drawing board and revisit the vision and direction of the liberation struggle to empower the meek, the orphans and the widows and deliver basic services of clean drinkable water, health care, quality education, bread on the table and infrastructure development more generally, then what better place to reflect these intent and purpose than in a new people-friendly and policy-driven cabinet?
Be that as it may, the change agents including the international partners have been dumbfounded and caught off guard by the rapidly evolving political terrain in South Sudan. We are all left scratching our heads thinking the President is got big testicles to pull this off! But this is now an opportune moment for the President to show the whole world what he is made off in terms of moral consciousness, and promoting the widely implored democracy, human rights, liberties and freedoms, and impartial rule of law enforcement.
The world eagerly anticipates seeing the President defy the rhetoric of totalitarianism that is seen to have closely accompanied his every step in recent times, imagined or real. One way of restoring confidence on the President’s good faith is to revoke the Chairman’s order that banned the Secretary General of the SPLM, Mr. Pagan Amum from traveling and curtailed his freedom of expression. There should not be anything to hide any longer even on the corruption front. It is time to come clean. Such a symbolic political gesture should bode well with the transparency personnel and those who are currently confused and paranoid about some looming appeal to authoritarianism in the land. The party documents must urgently be passed, and the convention to elect a new Chairperson or re-elect the existing one be convened at the earliest convenience, in time for a timely conduct of the 2015 general elections.
On his part Mr. Amum must agree to exercise his freedom of movement and speech responsibly in a manner that will not be interpreted as violating previously signed confidentiality contracts if any, nor be seen as stirring tribal hatred or inciting political violence in the country. In doing so the President will appear to be equally subject to the Supreme Law of the Land and respects individual rights and liberties, including that of freedom of expression as enshrined in the South Sudan Transitional Constitution, a constitution that many see him to be violating at will nowadays.
Separately, it is encouraging that the former Vice President has led the way in providing the promising and reassuring signs that this political storm in South Sudan may well come to pass without wrecking and sinking the ship. Credit to him, Dr. Machar was the first to quell any lingering fears on potential eruption of violent carnage in the land by urging not only his political support base to remain calm and that the situation will be resolved politically, but he also warned the army on more than one occasion in the past few days, to stay away from current political developments in South Sudan. Not only that Dr. Riek went on to publically heap some morale and confidence boosting praises on the national army by commending the army discipline as crucial to the current prevention of violence and the relative peace and stability that many were not expecting. If this remains the case, this is turning out to be a healthy non-violent political battle indeed, and may serve as a measure of how far democracy and non-violence culture is being rediscovered in South Sudan.
Of course this does not mean that the current storm has been entirely withered just yet. Much hinges on the exercise of self-restraint by all stakeholders from the President to the foot-soldier. But that Dr. Machar has at least publically acknowledged the constitutionality of his removal by the President though not necessarily the removal of the elected governors of Unity and Lake States, may serve as a platform for managing South Sudanese political differences with civility and peaceful dialogue. Mr. Amum seems equally on board by reiterating that he will examine the constitutionality of his suspension in the party’s constitution before engaging discussing with the President.
What most seem to be oblivious to in the former Vice President’s avid stance on peaceful resolution of conflicts is that he continued to be unjustly haunted by his violent political past. But with the way he has conducted himself in recent times, the man must be given a break. For those who seem to forget, Dr. Machar also has some remarkable records as a man of peace, and has brokered several regional and local peace and reconciliation agreements whether between LRA and the government of Uganda or between the President and the late Dr. John Garang in 2004.
Nonetheless, building on the current of peaceful dialogue as the only amicable manner by which the present political differences and challenges must be addressed in the land, three recommendations cannot be overstated enough moving forward in peace and civility in the land: reconciliation, reconciliation and again reconciliation.
With every challenge comes opportunity. What is needed in South Sudan at the moment is exploring the window of opportunity in the current political fracas. The national healing, peace and reconciliation seems to provide that window to permanently address past and present political, social as well as economic issues and arrest any potential fall into political violence. But first the political rhetoric must be toned down. We must refrain from stretching it.
Most importantly, current political crisis cannot be seen in isolation from past political beef mainly resulting from the eruption of South-South inter-communal violence in 1991, which was precipitated by similar political power struggle over contesting claims of vision and direction of the liberation struggle that had developed in the SPLA high command and structure, between Dr. Riek Machar, and the late Dr. John Garang de Mabior, the SPLA Commander in Chief. It is conventional wisdom that the 1991 deadly rift in the liberation movement that left thousands of self-inflicted tragic death in South Sudanese ranks is yet to be amicably resolved.
The church which tried only managed to forge a semblance of reconciliation belligerent parties to the conflict on the grassroots level through the people-to-people peace and reconciliation process, but fell short on reconciling the top-level political leadership in the land. The result was a fragile patchwork assembly of unity but differing ideologies in the political leadership of South Sudan. It was understandable because the aim was to ensure the navigation of the struggle to the shores of an independent South Sudan. But the plastered upon wounds of that crisis remains and will continue to re-open unless healing through a genuine reconciliation process is taken seriously.
As the veteran professor Peter Adwok Nyaba is recently cited to have forcefully admonished, “I don’t think the problem is between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar struggling for power. It is much deeper than that. It is a problem that is as old as the SPLM. It characterized the split with Anya-nya II in 1983/84. The SPLM/SPLA did not learn a lesson from that split in order to create space for reconciliation and reunification in 1988. This led to the Nasir Declaration when Riek and Lam Akol declared that ‘Garang must go now.’ Again there were no lessons drawn and they came back in 2002 and 2003, they’re just welcomed into the fold. Political contradiction don’t dissolve, they must be resolved….”
As South Sudan commemorates the selfless sacrifices of its martyrs, only honest reconciliation and peaceful dialogue to resolve current disagreements and political challenges in the land can ensure that South Sudan’s fallen heroes and heroines can rest in eternal peace.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org