December 18, 2013 (SSNA) — The eve of presidential guards’ clashes in Juba on December 14, 2013 trailed the long awaited convening of the Political Bureau by the ruling party, The SPLM; whose political party structures had adhered to linearity in the order and commissioning of business since 1994 when the first National Conventions was convened in Chukudum, Eastern Equatoria. Business protocol of the party had been to convoke The National Convention, a gathering of several hundreds of delegates nationwide; The National Liberation Council, which is composed of no more than 275 members; The Political Bureau, whose membership stands at 27; and The General Secretariat, from where the start of the party national activities work their ways upwards through corridors of intervening powers.
The year 2013, however, introduced confusing changes. In the least, president Kiir on November 15, 2013 made a controversial dissolution of the party organs, a very surprising move that indicated was aimed at SPLM heavy weights who were recently part of the government, including Dr. Riek Machar; himself a self-declared aspirant for the party mantle for 2015 presidential elections. Consequently, the convening of National Liberation Council (NLC), contrary to the anticipated Politbureau, took priority but did nothing to alleviate already simmering political temperatures over party leadership. SPLM party wrangling had had immense impact on the nation’s viability three years into freedom.
As the president lambasted his opponents in NLC with claims of non-deviation from the movement since its inception, his deliberate reference to the 1991 Bor Massacre (already apologised for by Riek Machar and reluctantly forgiven by Bor communities), perforated old wounds and succinctly proclaimed a national doom in front of the ‘prophet of doom,’ as he later referred to Dr. Riek Machar. From that point, armed elements commenced mistiming of events in what has led to death of scores of people, both civilians and military personnel. Civilians have so far become the underdogs caught in the crossfire, targeted for no reason or locked in their homes without food or water in Juba. Reports have hinted that the Jonglee capital of Bor had come under heavy gunfire with several deaths reported.
Either it was a coup d’état or security forces mishandling reassignments in their quarters, The SPLM has tarnished its reputation by putting innocent lives at risk. Whatever the truth in the recent government rhetoric, the rhyme and whine over state power from the leaders carry the blame for the current state of affairs in Juba.
South Sudan has a history of rebellions which had been made excessively ethnical during the decades of war of independence. It is a reality that can be seen in all aspects of life in the country. It’s therefore the responsibility of the SPLM leadership to have acquainted itself with this reality by urging leaders to refrain from using ethnic cards in their power manipulations. It is now apparent that the much internationalized marginalization of the people had been put to an end with the achievement of sovereignty. The unknown components of democratization have proved so alien to South Sudanese governing gorillas. Tranquil years starting from 2005 to 2013 sowed hope that the country was in the best stage of democratic progression. This is not to dismiss David Yau, George Athor, and other rebels who were dissatisfied with democratization processes, service delivery profanation, and grand systemic corruption. Yet, the country was, by and large, seemed hopeful.
But cynics had a point. South Sudan had, nevertheless, continued to offer messianic credence to many who predicted her current affairs. A lot had been said about the people of South Sudan before the nation entered a defining moment in 2011; when for the first time, South Sudanese became their own masters. Concerns ranged from inability of the people to govern themselves democratically, to possible intolerance of human rights. None of those predictions failed to prove wrong. There have been concerns of possible ‘Somalization’ or ‘Balkanisation’ of the country. Such concerns were perceived by ordinary citizens as voices not so divergent from the clenched fists of a coloniser’s misconstructions of innate abilities of the people. But the people’s party has never been at par with the people.
Many South Sudanese are not in the know why The SPLM has become such a demigod that politicians fear to exit or lose it. Clamouring for the SPLM tells ordinary South Sudanese that our gorilla-turned-politicians have nothing better to offer when conferred with state power, other than stressing liberation history through the party to predominantly uneducated masses in the rural areas. There is no reason why the politicians who are supposed to be judicious and charismatic shy away from forming own parties to offer formidable challenge to the ruling elites which, in fact, is one way to peaceful resolutions of political squabbles. There is equally no reason why the governing SPLM flayed party processes which are part of a democratic transformation. If the politicians have faith in the people of South Sudan; a strong confidence and clarity on the policies they wish to implement for the people, then they should not have permitted the bloodshed for the past three days (Dec., 15th, 16th, and 17th), and days to come.
To South Sudanese army, civilians would have disciplined their politicians through the ballot box. You have mistimed their zero hour.
Martin Garang Aher is a South Sudanese living in Australia. He can be reached at [email protected]