By Riang Y. Z. Nyak
March 14, 2017 (SSNA) — Recent developments in South Sudan are truly indicative of a situation that has become obvious to many in the course of the last three years of the war. Since the four-day battles in Juba in July 2016, a number of people have come up with organizations that are said to be liberation movements. However, each of these organizations, in its pronouncements, carries either ethnic or regional overtone. Their coming into existence is an indication that many people have come to the realization that a revolutionary situation is ripe in the country, and that it has to be taken advantage of. It is this situation that many people, individuals, and groups as well, are now trying to opportunistically respond to. Nevertheless, the SPLM/A—IO has demonstrated since 2015 an openness to entering into an alliance or alliances with any opposition forces that are seriously interested in removing dictatorship and sectarianism that have become the hallmarks of the regime in Juba.
In Greater Upper Nile region, Lam Akol hurriedly resigned and defected from the regime of Salva Kiir, which he had been with for the whole period of the war prior to the signing of the August 2015 agreement. Many believe his resignation and defection to be an attempt to go to the bush so as to inherit the SPLM/A-IO in case Dr. Riek Machar did not make it out alive of the jungles of Central and Western Equatoria states. It is strongly believed that Lam only resorted to forming his own organization, National Democratic Movement/Army (NDM/A), after learning that Dr. Riek was still alive and kicking. Even then, he started on the wrong foot by attempting to do two things. One, he attempted to recruit from the SPLM/A—IO ranks. Then, he also attempted to liberate from the SPLM/A—IO and occupy a territory that the latter had already liberated from the enemy. These resulted in a deadly confrontation that could have been avoided had due diligence been taken.
In Equatoria, multiple groups have sprung up. One of them is called South Sudan National Movement for Change (SSNMC). It is headed by the former Governor of Western Equatoria State, Joseph Bakosoro, and has basically called for nothing. Instead, it resolves to work with the international community to remove the regime in Juba. The group does not believe in the ordinary people of South Sudan as effective and powerful partners in a project of regime change. No wonder that the formation of such a group was announced in the United States of America, thousands of kilometers away from where the broad masses of the people of South Sudan are living and struggling on daily basis against a failed genocidal regime. This attitude resembles that of the group of ten former political detainees, otherwise known as the G10. The G10 is for taking power in Juba at any cost through the help of the international community. The G10 wants the international community to either forcefully remove the regime and replace it with one headed by the G10, or to negotiate a power-sharing arrangement with them, or to impose an international trusteeship in which the G10 could be prepared to inherit power at the end of such a trusteeship. In such a scheme, the people of South Sudan are not part of the calculation. It is all about power for the power mongers. This kind of politics is what Governor Bakosoro has entered into. It is adventurism. It is politics of the elites, which is not rooted in the people. As such, it is bound to fail.
The other group that has also been formed outside the country is People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) of Dr. Hakim Dario. It has called for, among other things, a confederate state. However, the group has failed to articulate its reasons leading to the call for the confederacy. It is surprising that the group is shying away from calling for an outright independence first before calling for a confederacy since the latter is understood to mean an arrangement between two or more independent entities wanting to unite for a common purpose—mostly, defense. One has to break up the country as it is today and establish two or more independent states first before one could call for their confederation. One cannot possibly start by calling for confederacy between entities which do not independently exist. It only seems that the leaders of the group were trying to justify the organization’s separate existence.
Throughout its whole existence, the regime in Juba has shown its commitment to maintaining a unitary system of governance under a dictatorship. On the other side, throughout the current conflict, the SPLM/A-IO has been calling for a federal system of governance under democracy. For want of being seen as different ideologically, the leaders of PDM have called for a confederated South Sudan. To them, what the people think or what the people have been calling for since 1947 is not an issue. What is important is their separate existence from others. This, too, is adventurism. It is politics without a principle. It is simply a manifestation of opportunism. It is meant to exploit the current revolutionary situation.
Why is the Current Situation Revolutionary?
A revolutionary situation is grounded in the socio-economic and political situations in a country. Socio-economic grounds of a revolution emerge when productive forces of a country begin to take a turn towards the bottom. When this bottom ward movement starts, the weight of a country on the world market gets reduced and incomes across the board also get reduced or are made useless by an uncontrollable inflation. In such a situation, unemployment becomes an enduring phenomenon that is only capable of increasing if no remedy is rapidly found.
In South Sudan, the already precarious socio-economic situation at the start of the war in 2013 has further deteriorated ever since. The country has not been producing for itself. Instead, it has totally depended, for consumption, on the productions of other countries. Most of the people in the rural parts of the country depend on their usual meager subsistence means. Whatever negligible amount is produced there is barely enough for the producers themselves. It goes without saying that no surplus gets to the market. Commercialized farming is nonexistent. Industries are absent. Basically, the government has not been facilitating production and, therefore, the people have not been producing enough for their families, let alone for the market in general. As a result, famine has become an existing reality in the country.
The only thing that the country produces in a commercial quantity is oil. Even then, its production has reduced since December 2013 and is only for external markets. It is sold in its crude form to others who do the refining outside of the country. All petroleum products of all kinds that are consumed in the country are imported. Basically, there is nothing to show that the country is an oil-producing one when it comes to locally consumed petroleum products.
Oil production has badly been affected since December 2013. The country is no longer producing at its initial capacity before the outbreak of the war. For an importing country such as South Sudan, this reduction of production has also meant a reduction of dollars for importers. Consequently, the price for a dollar per South Sudanese Pound has run away. The oil sector has probably been the third largest single employer in the country after the governments and the volunteer sector. This means that employment has also been affected by the reduction of oil production. Other private companies which attempted to produce for the local consumption have also closed down due to lack of hard currency that is used in buying inputs from foreign countries. One good example is South Sudan Beverages Company Limited (SSBCL) that was forced to close down during the first two years of the war due to its inability to access dollars for the importation of inputs.
In the volunteer sector, many NGOs have either closed their operations altogether or are restricted to specific areas. This has also reduced their hiring abilities. Former employees are laid off. New NGOs have failed to move in to start operation due to fear of endangering the lives of their foreign staff.
As a result of closing down of some areas of operations by the oil companies, coupled with closing down in the other sectors—including state and county governments, private and volunteer—and abstaining from hiring, laying off of employees has skyrocketed. The governments of some of the war affected states and counties have resorted to operating in Juba in their small co-ordination offices, which cannot accommodate even all the staff members of the Governor’s office, let alone ministries’, counties’ and other civil service staff. This only tells you that not many employees are working in the governments of some of the states and counties, or people are getting paid without delivering the services that they are expected to deliver. This trend of events has only continued without a possibility of stopping in sight. It has hugely added to the unemployment situation that had been commonplace before the war. This means that unemployment is not only permanent but also increasing.
Inflation in the country has reached a level that is simply unbelievable. Local production, including the subsistence one, has been reduced due to either lack of dollars to source inputs from foreign sources or insecurity in the country. The few goods on the market are imported by individuals or companies that are privileged. These individuals or companies have to recoup their huge losses associated with the importation of their goods. As a result, the price of everything is up through the roof while the buying capacity of the citizens is way down at the level of the floor. It is only the big men (the elites or Uncles or ‘nas kubar’) at the top of the government that are in a position to afford to buy these goods. In this milieu, poverty is practically staring the ordinary South Sudanese citizen right in the eye.
All of the above internal situations have reduced South Sudan’s weight on the world market. The only export commodity, oil, is no longer being produced in a significant quantity. This means that the country’s ability to export is significantly reduced. In the area of import, lack of dollar has wrecked havoc on the country. Its ability to import is significantly reduced. These significant reductions in the country’s abilities to export and import mean that the country is no longer useful on the world market. For instance, Everest Kayondo of the Kampala City Traders Association (Kacita), in an interview with Monitor News Paper, stated that South Sudan was Uganda’s key export market. The Chairman of the KACITA disclosed that when war broke out again in July 2016, Uganda found itself losing $1,000,000 dollars daily in a trade with the country.
That the country was a key export market for Uganda was confirmed by Amelia Kyambadde, the Ugandan Trade Minister, when she disclosed that in 2013 Uganda’s export to South Sudan was at $414,000,000 dollars. In 2014, this figure got reduced to $385,000,000, which got further reduced to $353,000,000 in 2015. So the decline was a steady one. When peace was signed, Uganda’s export to the country improved.
The figures above only tell us about our import trade with Uganda. It says nothing about our import trade with other countries in the region and beyond. But from this example, we can comfortably conclude that the country’s import trade with others has also been reduced given that Uganda has been our known bigger source of the things imported into South Sudan. This is in addition to the reduction of the oil export trade discussed above as the country has not much else to export. As such, South Sudan’s weight on the world market is markedly reduced.
The Ripeness of the Revolutionary Situation
In South Sudan, the citizens are mainly categorized into (1) urban and (2), rural peoples. In these two main categories, economic activities are not the same. While those in urban centers find their own diverse different ways of making a living, the folks in the rural areas are mainly dependent upon farming.
The urban population is divided into:
- a very small number of political and military elites (the Excellencies, Honorables and Generals) and a very small number of citizens (the nephews, cousins, sons, daughters, etc) who are using their associations with the political and military elites to run multimillion-dollar shady companies (in the first and upper stratum);
- the second stratum, which is represented by the working people in the government and military such as civil servants and junior military officers on one hand and working people or wage earners in the private and volunteer sectors, professionals such as lawyers, medical doctors, pharmacists, etc on the other;
- the third stratum, which is represented by those who make a living by running small retail shops, non-commissioned military officers, and rank-and-file soldiers in the army; and
- the fourth stratum, which is represented by another diverse group of citizens—those who make a living by selling tea and coffee on the streets and the completely unemployed, but employable, youths and adults. This group of unemployed includes those who come from the villages to join some of their urban relatives in a search for opportunities in towns and college students who have become used to the life in urban centers and find it undesirable to return to the villages between semesters. They are fed and sheltered by their relatives but are unable to find jobs.
In the rural parts of the country, one finds the neglected majority. These are divided into (1) those who combine crop farming and cattle keeping and (2) those who are solely cropping farmers. In each of these two sub-categories, one finds different economic and social statuses. Some are better off than others in each of the two sub-categories. For instance, in each sub-category, one finds that:
(a) chiefs and religious leaders make up a higher social group above others;
(b) the ordinary men, in general, are another social group second higher to the first; and
(c) then you have women as the lowest social group whose members tirelessly produce for their families, but do not own the products of their labor as they labor as extensions of their husbands—sometimes irresponsible, alcohol-abusing husbands.
However, it is not the intention of this paper to analyze the economic situation of each of the social strata in each of the main two categories of the South Sudanese society.
The prevailing socio-economic crisis in the country affects the above-mentioned groups differently. In the urban areas, the political and military elites are capable of absorbing the economic shocks. Their children are still going to some of the best schools in the region, and they never go to bed hungry; medical care for themselves and their families is never a problem as they are still going to some of the best hospitals in Kenya and other places; and they are still capable of renting or maintaining mansions for their families in the region and beyond, such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Australia, America, Dubai, and so on and so forth. They have looted enough for them to live on comfortably for decades to come.
After the elites come to the so-called big business people or relatives of the elites (the Bol Mels of ABMCs and the likes). These are the ones who refer to the elites as ‘Uncles’. They have been the alter egos of the elites for so long that they have also accumulated millions of dollars in the process of looting that they can also live comfortably for decades to come. Some of these so-called big business people have somehow acquired the right to keep armed bodyguards weirdly provided by the SPLA and the Police. This is the end of the comfortable life. It does not go below this level. This upper group wants to maintain the status quo ante, saying that there is nothing wrong with the existing order of the society. For any problem that may exist, they blame only others. For poverty, they blame laziness on the part of the people; for current economic problems, they blame the war; for the war, they blame the SPLM/A-IO and other opposition groups; and for dictatorship, corruption, nepotism, regionalism, tribalism and the overall disunity of the people that has, in recent years, become very conspicuous in the country, they blame anyone who disagrees with them. But, the truth is that they are the authors of all the calamities that the country faces today. And they do it intentionally so as to stay in power through the confusion for as long as they can, using the vulnerabilities of the society. It is in their best interest to keep a society whose members are poor, uneducated, unhealthy, politically unconscious and hostile to one another.
From the second stratum through to the fourth stratum in the urban centers, and to the neglected majority of the rural poor, the situation is simply unbearable, though to different extents. The responses of these different groups to the economic crises are, therefore, not in the same ways. This is where the split begins among the people of South Sudan, or between the few at the top of the governments and their business agents on one side and the working people in the second stratum and down to the neglected poor majority on the other.
The adversely affected groups do not see the situation the same way as the rich upper group does. Instead of blaming others for the adversities in the country, the affected population blames the ruling elite and has had enough of them. The people have lost confidence in the regime and the ruling SPLM Party under Salva. The people have also lost confidence in the parties that have become accomplices in the regime’s project of destroying the country. They do not want to give the elites and their regime any more chance to continue with dictatorial rule, looting of national resources, usurping private properties, killing people extra-judicially, impoverishing the whole population, and the dividing of citizens on the basis of tribes and regions.
When the socio-economic conditions in the country began to change how the people thought about the regime in Juba, the people were actually alone with the ruling elite in opposition, only receiving condemnation from the elites as inciters against the state. But, the reality was that they had lost confidence in the regime and the SPLM leadership, accusing the regime and the SPLM leadership of losing direction. However, the elites still had confidence in themselves and the system that was succulently serving them. Nevertheless, as recently as 2016, there have been signs indicating that the elite class has undergone some changes in its mentality. The system that the elite class had been portraying as having nothing wrong with, has been weakening by the day, and the means to save it are not within its reach. As a result, some of the members of this class have lost confidence in the leadership to save the system from collapsing. It was this lack of confidence in themselves that forced Salva Mathok to write, suggesting ways of reviving the deteriorating economy; it was this lack of confidence in their ability to save their system that forced Suzanne Jumbo to go public on the social media calling on Salva to do something or get out of the way; it was this lack of confidence in themselves to save the system that forced the Deputy Chief of General Staff for Mobilization and Orientation, Lt. General Bapiny Minytuil, to resign and defect from the regime; and it was this lack of confidence in their ability to save the system that forced the Deputy Chief of General Staff for Logistics, Lt. Gen. Thomas Cirilo Swaka, to resign and defect from the regime, resulting in the formation of his new organization, National Salvation Front (NAS). It is hoped that General Cirilo and others do not repeat the same mistakes that Lam made in his haste to create his organization as a fighting force. They must give themselves time to study the situation so as to be able to do the right thing.
From the above analysis, it can be concluded that both the socio-economic and political grounds for a revolutionary situation in South Sudan exist. But, these objective conditions alone are not enough to conclude that total ripeness of the situation exists. Other subjective factors such as the situation in the opposition groups and the roles that they play in guiding the people’s revolution need to be looked at before arriving at such a conclusion.
The SPLM/A—IO, as a revolutionary movement, has been courageously struggling against all odds since December 2013. Since then, the revolutionary forces have been growing at a higher rate and speed. The whole of Greater Upper Nile was quickly galvanized. This was followed by rebellions in some areas in both Greater Bahr al-Ghazal and Greater Equatoria. As of now, the whole of Greater Equatoria is galvanized. This growth of forces is attributable to the SPLM/A—IO’s influence on the people of South Sudan, both in urban and rural parts of the country. This phenomenon can only mean that the elites and their brutal regime are rejected by the people. The result is that the elites no longer have any political power and legitimacy to muzzle the demand for power to the people. Instead, those members of the elite class who think it personally unproductive to concede power to the people have simply resorted to some of the most brutal practices—such as gang-raping, extrajudicial killings, destruction of property, arbitrary arrests, and so on and so forth—against the civil populations, hoping that they would somehow militarily subdue the people. Contrarily, this level of brutality has only mobilized even the most patient of all the South Sudanese people to join the SPLM/A—IO.
This courageous struggle and the rapid growth of the SPLM/A—IO forces through the Movement’s influence on the people, coupled with socio-economic and political deteriorations in the country, have created what can be referred to as a total ripeness of the current revolutionary situation in the country.
Since December 2013 when the regime first launched its attacks on the innocent civilians in Juba and beyond, ordinary South Sudanese of all the socio-economic strata below the elite class have begun their own independent search for a way out of their misery. They have wholeheartedly chosen a revolutionary path under the SPLM/A-IO to overthrow the existing dehumanizing order of the South Sudanese society. Once they take over the political power in the country, they intend to replace the old order with a new one which shall be democratic, prosperous and harmonious.
It is, therefore, high time that the other opposition figures and groups who believe in democracy and unity/nationalism join forces with the people’s revolutionary Movement to intensify the struggle and, therefore, accelerate the demise of the brutal dictatorship under Salva Kiir and the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE). This unity of forces does not necessarily mean a total merger between groups and the SPLM/A—IO. It basically means common defensive and offensive undertakings. Each member of such a united front could still be independent of the other members in its political and ideological developments.
The author is a South Sudanese. He can be reached at [email protected].