Question of Leadership After the End of South Sudan Crisis

By James Okuk, PhD

Quote: “If a sect or republic is to survive for any length of time, it must return frequently to its beginning.” – Machiavelli.

May 23, 2014 (SSNA) — It is the question of leadership within the SPLM that brought South Sudan to the current shame of devastating rebellion. It is also the question of the same leadership that is now being negotiated in Addis Ababa in order to end the unbearable crisis of the rebellion. I am saying these because South Sudan has not been lacking the substance for its building but achievements-oriented leadership. What is meant here is the good leadership that is achieved, not by formality of structures, but the integrity of the participants and their willingness to work together with larger vision inspiration.

Fair enough, a political roadmap for peace negotiations has been drawn and agreed upon on 9th May 2014 by the highest authorities of the government and the rebellion in the country. The first significance of that roadmap is recommitment to the implementation of the previously violated agreement on cessation of hostilities. The second significance was a new commitment to the inclusive negotiations of the substance of the peace talks where all the stakeholders are supposed come up at the end of the process with a satisfactory and comprehensive peace document to be signed finally by the highest bosses in the city and jungle of South Sudan.

With the peace roadmap at hands, it is now the time to get down into serious business of ending the war practically by addressing the root causes of the crisis. The hot stage is to commence. Different proposals have been floated already, both from national and international perspectives. Most of the proposals carry commendable consensus on the substance of the expected peace agreement document, though they differ on issues of leadership in the coming post-crises era.

There seems to be a consensus from the spectra of stakeholders that the next era should avoid fatal political errors. Nonetheless, this will not occur unless utmost attention is paid to what Political Philosopher Antonio Rosmini said in his book, the Summary Cause for the Stability or Downfall of Human Societies, that “Anyone who errs in politics, must first err in logic.

What is then the expected sound logic and truth that needs to be known in the question of leadership after the end of current South Sudan crises?


The first comprehensive proposal was released on 1st February 2014 by ‘South Sudanese Professionals in Diaspora’ (i.e., Prof. Laura Beny, Prof. Charles Bakheit, Dr. Eluzai Hakim, Dr. Mairi J. Blackings and Dr. Martin Mikaya) under the title “Unleashing the Potential for Good Governance in the Republic of South Sudan: A Proposal Addressing the challenges to Nation Building, National Healing and National Reconciliation Following the Mid-December Crisis”.

Jotted down on 24 pages, the professionals took off the substance of the proposal from the premise that “the model of government adopted on 9th July 2011 when the South Sudan became the world’s newest nation is faulty, does not work well and has not served the people of south Sudan well.”

Therefore, the newly proposed sound model, according to them, should be “A federal system of government based on the three traditional geographical regions of Bahr El Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile” and have to be lean and efficient with the aim of releasing “money for vital developmental projects.

In the epilogue of the paper, they concluded that President Salva Kiir Mayardit should be the one leading the nation up to the time of the next elections so as to avoid setting “a dangerous precedent.” Meanwhile, he should form an inclusive government that will conduct the national census, complete the writing of the constitution and run “the forthcoming election on time.”


For me, the proposal of the aforementioned professionals is commendable as far as the substance of the peace agreement and its government is concerned. However, they failed to be decisive on who should lead the inclusive government in case the elections could not be conducted on time in the first quarter of 2015:

Will it be “a dangerous precedent” too to postpone the elections?

Will it be Gen. Salva Kiir continuing as the President of the Republic even after the elapse of his ‘legitimate term’ on 9th July 2015?

Where will Dr. Riek Machar, Dr. Lam Akol and the rest of leaders of political parties be in the inclusive government of post-crisis South Sudan?

Where will the ten current existing States be when the government structure gets reduced to the three traditional geographical regions, and will the three regions be called Bahe El Ghazal, Equaotira and Upper Nile States or will have new name?

I think it is high time for the ‘South Sudanese Professionals in Diaspora’ to improve on their good proposal and be clear on the crucial issue of leadership of their proposed “inclusive government”. This is so important because, as Napoleon Bonaparte said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” Also they need to be clear on the new or the renewed nomenclature of the federal states so that it is known that South Sudan is going to have three, and only three federalized states.


The second comprehensive proposal has been advanced on 10th May 2014 by the Ebony Centre under the title:“Mandating the proposed interim government with the laying of the foundation for resilient institutions and effective governance in the post-conflict South Sudan: A Policy Paper Presented a the 2014 First Development Policy Forum.

Accordingtothe 20-page proposal, the current government structure should be maintained (state, county and payam) as it was stipulated in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (2005), Interim Constitution of Government of Southern Sudan (2005) and Transitional Constitution of South Sudan (2011). The type of the proposed national government should be a mixture of Presidential with Parliamentary systems whose size should be lean and effective with mandate for achieving specific objectives: 1) Conducting day-to-day business of the government; 2) Implementing peace agreement; 3) conducting reviews and reforms that ensure the laying of firm foundation for South Sudan.

The proposed leadership of this government shall be the following: 1) Five-Member ceremonial and rotational collegial Presidency symbolizing national unity/consensus/trust and social cohesion; 2) Executive Prime Ministry with two deputies, 3) Eighteen Ministers; and 4) Twelve Commissions/Authorities members. The total number of the executive constitutional post holders of the interim national government shall be thirty eight only.

The composition of the proposed national government shall encompass regional and gender balance with a mandatory representation of an Army General and a Woman in the Collegial Presidency; the head of which is rotated every six months based on the three traditional regional representations.

The tenure of the proposed interim government shall be thirty six months (i.e. three years), starting from 9th July 2015 when the term of the current elected government ends constitutionally.

The criteria for selection of candidates for the proposed interim government shall be as follows: 1) Persons with certain qualities of personality and character, supported by relevant technical knowledge and experience; 2) Persons with career trajectory largely outside the realm of party politics; 3) Persons with no further ambitions in the political realm, particularly elections in the 10-year time following the end of interim period.

The current sitting national and state parliamentary committees shall be tasked with proposing specific eligibility criteria for short-listing of the candidates. But separate parliamentary committees will undertake the vetting of the candidate so as to ensure their diversity, integrity, experience and qualifications.

To this effect, the Intellectuals of Ebony Centre went a head to propose that President Salva Kiir shall appoint One Hundred national lawmakers from the Eighty Nine Counties of South Sudan each, One from Juba Capital City and Ten from some crucial specialties. The total number of national MPs shall be one hundred only.

If this is not working, they proposed a second option of extending the tenure of the current national legislature to the interim period (i.e., another three years).

Otherwise, they finally proposed that the Collegial Presidency takes the legislative functions since what is mostly needed in the interim period, after all, is execution of specific government programmes and not legislations.

The proposal acknowledges that legitimacy of the interim government should come from the people, but since it is difficult to do this directly any of the following options could be adopted to do it indirectly: 1) Broad national consensus garnered from all inclusive national dialogue conference; 2) Extraordinary Act of the current National Legislature with clear terms of reference; 3) Extraordinary Presidential Act decreed by the current President.

The proposal of the Intellectuals of Ebony centre is hinged on the premise that South Sudan needs a new start based on acceptance of the responsibility by all its elites that they are the masters of their own country and its destiny, and that the system of governance they have adopted in 2005 is not effective and resilient institutionally.


I think the proposal of the Intellectuals of the Ebony Centre is a good start as far as the substance and leadership of the post-crisis interim/transitional government is needed for rigorous discussion. The substance they presented is not complicated. However, their proposal on leadership of the interim government is controversial, especially the idea of five-member rotational Collegial Presidency:

How can somebody becomes a Head of State within the presidency institution and then later step down to become a Deputy Head of State or a normal member? Will this not create protocol irritation of humiliation?

Are the representatives of the Army and Women within the Collegial Presidency allowed to become Head or Deputy Head of State or they shall be condemned only to ordinary membership of the Presidency?

Given the criteria of selection is it not going to be an interim government without participation of Political Parties? How will interim politics make sense without involvement of political parties in the government?

Is the Judiciary of South Sudan so perfect that it does not need reviews and reforms in the interim government?

Are the States and Counties governments going to be re-structured like the national interim government and how?

What is the significance of reference to the three traditional regions (Bahr El Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile) when there are already states representing the decentralized mode of the government of the Republic of South Sudan?

I think it is high time for Intellectuals of Ebony Centre to come out clearly with their answers to these questions in order to improve their commendable proposal.


An appeal in regards to leadership aspect of the post-crisis government was released by Peter Biar Ajak on 12th May 2014 under the title “The Alternative Proposal: Consideration on the ongoing peace negotiations between South Sudan’s Government and the Rebels SPLM/A IO”.

The 13-page proposal presented a persuasive appeal to President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Dr. Riek Machar to consider a bold decision of not taking part in the upcoming negotiated transitional government of national unity for these reasons: 1) to create the most optimal environment for national reconciliation and institutuitional development; 2) to manifest the most noble leadership in the region and the world; 3) to restore confidence to a young nation overtaken by self-doubt; 4) to put aside selfish ambitions or grievances and consider larger interest of the people of South Sudan; and 5) to ensure glory of their names, the sake of South Sudan’s national interests and the promotion of regional security interests.

According to Mr. Biar,  President Kiir and rebel leader Dr. Machar should be doing the following as they retire willingly for the interim period:1)draw up the agenda for the interim government; its work plan, budget, security forces and public service in order to restructure the state; 2) supervise the government work plan during the interim period while sitting in a group of six guarantors (including the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin, Gen. Lazaro Sumbeiywo, and Gen. Mohamed Ahmed M. El Dabi); 3) sign a mega deal for laying a solid constitutional foundation for the country, clears its payroll, its army, police and all its institutions; 4) actively engage in national reconciliation process, and later seek public office in the elections if they want to return to power; 5)monitor the implementation of the agenda within the context of regional and international mechanism; 6) enjoy the old age of freedom fighter comforted by the memories of honorable acts while their legacies remained secured.

The foundational premise on which Mr. Biar took the courage to present his thought in the “Alternative Proposal” is that “It is not possible for a significantly reformed state to emerge in South Sudan if Kiir and Riek return to the helm; past mistakes are likely to be recommitted.

That is, the leadership style (either combine or separate) of Kiir and Riek cannot be successful during the interim period. The evidence proves that both of them were given nine years to lead South Sudan but they continued to make bad mistakes that landed South Sudan into crisis: 2) they missed the opportunity from the abundant oil money that could have facilitated the implementation of the SPLM/A promise and obligation on the delivery of ‘New Sudan Vision’; 2) they betrayed the high expectation of the marginalized people whose cause they were advocating, especially when they allowed the centralization of spree of corruption in Juba that caused macro-economic imprudence; 3) they resigned governance to the realm of personal and factional struggle for power that depends on ethnic and tribal clientele networks; 4) they allowed war-lordism and entrepreneurship in violence to serve as the means to secure a seat at the political table without minding about simmering ethnic hostilities that risk exploding into genocide; 5) they created a South Sudan full of undesirable social indicators like widespread unemployment, acute malnutrition, dire poverty, and high infant mortality rates; 6) they created a political system characterized by highly volatile and individualistic forms and personnel structure; 7) they resisted separating political powers that would have imposed limitation on authority so as to underscore the importance of institutions instead of individuals in sustaining the existence of the state and fulfillment of its functions; and 8) they repeatedly defied calls to act responsibly on sensitive political issues.

Also according to Mr. Biar, the leadership of Kiir and Machar is a failure because both of these principals don’t understand political philosophies that underscore that the purpose of being a leader of a country is to ensure: 1) security from all threats to human life and dignity; past, present and future aimed at improving the living standards of the citizenry within the solidarity on the common good; 2) knowledgeable, political and ethical community are guided by constitution and the rule of law in the course of performing civic duty; 3) Government authority that promote prevalence of justice and order that allow all to live a more fulfilling life through a social contract or consent of the members; 4) right of the citizens to change a government that fails to perform the substantial functions it was contracted for; and 5) building competent and credible institutions for development and democratization.

In short, both Principals seem unable to cogitate well on the concepts of state as widely accepted in political intellectualism and academia: 1) Sovereign jurisdiction over a territory and population; 2)legitimacy through sense of nationhood at home; and 3) legal and diplomatic recognition as equals abroad.

That is, not all South Sudanese at the moment believe that either Kiir or Riek is their right leader. Not all of them are convinced that they could be a one nation under the leadership of either Kiir or Riek. Not only these, but South Sudan diplomacy has become so degraded abroad due to the disastrous crisis created by Riek and Kiir, paving ways to justified dictatorial intervention of super powers.

Given all the above weaknesses, missed opportunities and lack of understanding by Kiir and Riek, Mr. Biar proposed that an alternative leader after the persuasive (not forceful) exit of the two principals should come from the SPLM/A only. For him, the SPLM/A is “to critically look among the mid-level cadres of potential for a leader with intellect, sound judgment, vision and charismatic ability who would implement the peace agreement with rigor and determination.” The alternative leader has to implement the peace agreement that will be signed by Kiir and Riek before they retire, and restore the image of the country that they tainted.


I think the proposal of Mr. Biar is commendable because it is avoiding the common culture “pushing out leaders” from leadership positions in a militaristic manner. Instead, the proposal is trying to cultivate the culture of “persuasion for voluntary relinquishing of power” in a diplomatic manner. Nonetheless, I doubt whether his persuasion seeds will fall into the right hears, especially with the fear from The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), which might spoil the retirement enjoyment and legacy of the two Principals.

But Mr. Biar did not care about what kind of government system, what size, what composition, what tenure or what legislative processes are to be adopted during the interim period. He seems to believe that, at the end of the day, everything will trickle down to leadership. Bad leadership can water down good proposals of what and who need to be led. Good leadership can initiate right things that need to be done and persuade people to join hands in doing this. I think Mr. Biar is right here.

However, Mr. Biar recommendation for SPLM/A mid-level cadres as the only panacea for South Sudan leadership during the interim period could be seen as naivety and lack of recognition of other stakeholders of South Sudan. What faction of the SPLM/A he is talking about (‘SPLM/A–Government’, ‘SPLM/A–Opposition’, ‘SPLM/A–Former Detention’, SPLM–Democratic Change)?

If Mr. Biar means the current SPLM/A system that claims to be a political party while at the same time owing an army, then this will continue to be a crisis. Whoever tries to emerge from within that systemic deformity could also prove a failure in leadership even if he/she is bright or surrounded by the brightest.

It would be better to encourage formation of political alliances or mergings, and then device a new system (far from anything called SPLM/A) within which a new leader could emerge for leadership of the new government. It is time to get rid of Sudanese names in South Sudan political parties. We need a new era for South Sudan based on political maturity; not a renewed error of SPLM/A hangovers of dictatorial ‘uni-partism’ and lack of recognition of other stakeholders in the country.


The political maturity can come if a considerable attention is paid to what Denis Cleary philosophized that “The supreme, mortal error is to lose sight of the substantial reality which sustains society, and devote total attention to what is accidental…A materially privileged people, full of whining malcontents, is not a society on the march to greater well-being, but a group in need of salvation.

The maturity that is direly needed for ending the current crisis is to get back to the drawing board and the beginning, remembering what Gen. Salva Kiir’s said during the occasion of the Announcement of Final Referendum Results, 9th February 2011, that “Our purpose is to give to our children what the war took away from us: peace, rule of law, food security, health care, good education, running water, clean water, electric power, and opportunity for pursuit of happiness and prosperity. Let us all work to give our children hope for a better future.”

The peace agreement that is being cooked in Addis Ababa through mediation of IGAD and facilitation of the U.S, EU, Trioka and other friends/partners, and that is waiting to be endorsed finally by all the stakeholders, should dispel the hopelessness created by the SPLM/A leadership in the middle of the journey of the new state and nation building. It should bring back the happiness that was demonstrated by all South Sudanese during the voting for the referendum for self-determination and at the declaration of independence. Notwithstanding, the desired South Sudanese salvational happiness lies outside the former deformed system of the SPLM/A that has tried to run the new country wrongly on a bush liberation mentality.

The expected comprehensive peace agreement should put it clearly that an interim period is too short for a successful federal system in South Sudan. Political science shows that centralism is the best practical option for governments of interim periods. As federalism is the most popular demand of the people of South Sudan, it should then be stipulated in the forthcoming Addis Peace Agreement that the centralized interim government have to prepare the ground for implementation of Federal system of government immediately at the end of the interim period, in order to start the beginning of the normal period of the elected governments. That federal system should be a union of the current ten states rather than the traditionalized geographical regions of Bahr El Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile.

Also the expected peace agreement should not allow the civil society groups, the faith-based organizations and other non-political entities to participate in the government. Instead, they should be encouraged to remain as pressure groups to both the government and political parties. The members of such non-political entities who have interest in active politics should join political parties. It is the members of political parties only that should be allowed to be in the government. The programmed activities of political parties should be funded by the government. This is in the interest of promoting multiparty pluralistic democracy in the Republic of South Sudan. Participation in peace negotiations should not be equated to participation in the government top positions. However, members of the civil society, faith-based and other non-political entities could be hired on contract basis to do some specific duties for the government or for political parties.

The expected peace agreement should put it clearly that no independent candidates shall run for elections in to government seats in South Sudan. This is to discourage individualism in politics because politics is supposed to be a socialized public affair. Any one who is unhappy with his/her political party is free to cross to any other political party but not to become himself independently.

A political party that is popular in a particular state should be allowed to operate as a state political party and not a national one. It should not get into the federal union directly but indirectly through alliance with national political parties that enjoy popularity across a sufficient number of states.

Lastly, the past should become history. The future should usher new hope. The present should appreciate the good history and maintain the right steps in the journey towards a prosperous and bright future for the Republic of South Sudan. The new era should not be erroneous. It should be led by leaders who are dealers in hope and not selfish perpetrators of unnecessary sorrow.

Dr. James Okuk lives in Juba. He is reachable at [email protected].

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