Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 16 February 2013

The "curse" of Liberation


By Luka Biong Deng

February 15, 2013 - On March 18, the SPLM will hold an extraordinary convention to pass the basic documents required for it to be registered as a political party, such as the manifesto, constitution, code of conduct, internal and financial regulations. This meeting is expected to be proceeded by the meeting of the Political Bureau on February 14 and the National Liberation Council on March 11.

These meetings will also set the agenda of how the SPLM will democratically govern and provide leadership. Another convention, to be held in May, will be a litmus test of how the SPLM will put into practice its basic documents, elect its new leadership and prepare an election agenda that will cherish democratic governance.

In early October 2012, I attended a high-level workshop in Italy, hosted by the Brenthurst Foundation and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, under the theme “From Liberation Movement to Government: past legacies and the challenge of transition in Africa”. More than nine case studies of countries that are governed by liberation movements were discussed in this workshop. They included South Africa, Zimbabwe, Eritrea, Uganda, Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Ethiopia. I was asked to make a contribution on how to implement the lessons of transition from liberation to government in Africa’s newest state.

The liberation struggle, whether armed or non-violent, has proven to be one of the effective ways of bringing political change in the world. Africa in particular provides many inspiring cases of liberation movements that fought prolonged and often painful struggles, with great heroism and often at great cost, in order to achieve the liberation of their people from oppressive regimes.

In some rare cases, this resulted in the establishment of a new state, as in the case of South Sudan. But in most cases, it resulted in reforming the existing state. It is always anticipated that such change will provide the basis for a viable government. The trend in Africa seems to suggest otherwise as limited number of liberation movements have succeeded to transform themselves into a viable national government.

Prof. Christopher Clapham of Cambridge University started the workshop with a paper titled: ‘The Curse of Liberation’. He highlighted the virtues of liberation movements as well as their challenges in governing. He identified a common pattern that seems to be the same across various liberation movements. Prof Clapham smartly and analytically showed that the very virtues of liberation movements pose real challenges for providing a viable government.

One of the virtues of victorious liberation movement is that they inherit from the struggle a powerful sense of legitimacy. In fact these liberators have risked their lives for the cause, and have come to power with a living memory of the selfless sacrifices of their comrades who have died. With such sacrifices and legitimacy, they have the right to run the new government.

Besides this sense of legitimacy, the liberators bring into government ideals and values such as a common purpose, commitment and discipline that shaped their liberation struggle. Also the success of most liberation movements is that they are people-centred and grassroots-based so as to ensure the support from ordinary people on whose behalf they were fighting.

Despite these noble virtues, Prof Clapham argued that all liberation movements have experienced enormous difficulties in making the transition from the struggle to government. These problems according to Prof. Clapham are structural, rooted in the experience of struggle and common to every liberation movement. On top is the mindset of the liberators as they assume a sense not only of the rightness of their cause but of their entitlement to the power that follows.

Prof Clapham argued that it is very hard for liberators to recognise that anyone else could have any equivalent right to rule as their selfless sacrifices in the struggle confer a virtually permanent and exclusive claim on state power. When liberation movements are in control of state power, Prof. Clapham observed that there is a temptation to use that power to repress dissent, while reliance on popular support can frighteningly swift to reliance on organised state power.

Another problem faced by liberation movements is the fact that waging a liberation struggle is completely different from running a government. While fighting a war is an enterprise with a single and clear goal to achieve victory that calls for unity, commitment, discipline and top-down structure of command and control, running a government is an exercise with multiple and competing goals that require consensus-building in setting agendas and identification of priorities. Subsequently, the rigidity that is dictated by the liberation struggle may not be appropriate in running a government that requires a high level of flexibility.

Other challenges faced by liberation movements include the difference within its ranks between pragmatists, power seekers and ideologists, as well as rivalries between those “in”, who have gained important positions, and those “out” who were left out of the new government. Interestingly, Prof. Clapham observed one universal pattern where the top leadership is strengthened with a new group of individuals, personally associated with the leader but without the same credentials from the struggle and at the expense of other leading figures in the movement. Because of these problems faced by the liberation movements in government, some voices started calling for the second liberation from liberators after the first liberation from colonial and racist governments.

On the basis of this account, I used some indicators to assess the implications for the SPLM in governing South Sudan. The statistics of the population living below the poverty line and income disparity indicate that most liberation movements have not been successful in fighting poverty and inequality. Also using the corruption perception index, most liberation movements have not been able to combat corruption. Based on civil liberties and political rights index, most liberation movements have not been successful in creating a free political environment.

The long list of challenges in transforming a liberation movement into a government is not intended to convey a sense of hopelessness. On the contrary, it provides a solid basis for addressing them. This would require, as mentioned by Greg and Herbst in their book titled “Africa’s Third Liberation”, a new liberation from political economies characterized by graft, crony capitalism, rent-seeking, elitism and social inequality.
Although it is too early to judge the performance of the SPLM in the transition from liberation struggle to government, some early indicators strongly suggest that the SPLM is at the early stage of being affected by the “curse” of liberation. Various reports and internal evaluations indicate that the SPLM is depleting its political capital and losing its grass root support.

After the series of meetings, the SPLM is expected to become more united, firmer in championing democratic transformation and capable of winning the Third Liberation. They should do so with a clear agenda of making the people of South Sudan feel freer, safer, more secure and more able to feed themselves, educate their children, access clean water, health services and jobs.

Considering the history of the SPLM, the selfless sacrifices of its martyrs and the country’s enormous resources, the SPLM cannot let down the people of South Sudan. SPLM has no other option but to secure for them a better and more prosperous future.

The author is a Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School. He can be reached at lukabiong@kushworld.org

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  • 16 February 2013 10:47, by solomon makuei

    i do really agree with Dr. Luka, these are most prevailing incidents here in South Sudan where our president and his tigers(butchers) milking are our land while the real liberators are left out in decision making. patriots are silent when they aired out their views, isaiah abraham was murdered just because he was a concerned citizen and also a member of liberation struggle of this country.

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  • 16 February 2013 15:12, by Zionist

    Dr. Biong Deng
    Without a doubt South Sudan owes SPLA the freedom it is enjoying today, however, for SPLA to be a civilian government there must be a civilian among SPLA well known,trained, diciplined, educated and well prepared to lead this country, otherwise, SPLA leadrship must be prepared to handover the government to a civilian, who is not from SPLA in a peaceful and democratic manner..

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    • 16 February 2013 16:13, by Alier Mareet

      You have hit the nail Mr Deng, everyting you said is exactly happening under the rule of so called SPLM liberators. They have missed the whole point of liberation and started enriching themselves with country resources in the name liberation. Please keep educating them and it may pay off in the near future when citizens start driving to the sea as John Garang said." If we don’t provide basic needs

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      • 16 February 2013 16:27, by Alier Mareet

        the citizens will drve into the sea". First the task of liberation is incomplete given some instances of frequent bombardments along the border of South Sudan, endless negotiations of Abieye referendum, post independence issues, and many more pressing issues that are not getting attention from SPLM leadership.

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    • 17 February 2013 19:07, by Zionist

      ...yet, I am still puzzled by the three stoogies: Julia she, or Julia he; or julia both, Mapour who is named after a cow, and the other Hanbol/Footbol that I like to kick from behind, for setting the worst example of ignorance for Dinka people online. Can you guys just shut up, and let’s listen to our intelectuals speak. My 12 years daughter old can reason better than them, for real.

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      • 18 February 2013 07:20, by Deng Hanbol

        Zionist or Jews, I ought not to be telling you this but I have to. Abyei elites policy against those leaders who are non-Dinka tribe might lead to the eventual disintegration of our country. Therefore, we are all concerned for the unity of south Sudan.

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        • 18 February 2013 10:09, by Zionist

          Democracy is the solution, nothing will dismental South Sudan accept dictarorship. The country is runned by one party, and one man and that’s not fair. However, the people should be allowed to pick whoever they want to rule them, then everyone will be satisfied. Running the counrty without a vision, or future plans will definelty destroy the counrty, and not Abyei elites as you think.

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        • 18 February 2013 14:09, by Zionist

          Let me say this: Abyei elites ( as you like to call them) policy is that of SPLM/SPLA, because they operate under SPLM/SPLA umberella, therefore, you’re either with, or against SPLM/SPLA. You can’t hold them responsible for what their boss Salva Kiir told them to do. You don’t bypass the roots of the tree, and question its branches. If you want the best for this country, do your share..

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      • 18 February 2013 11:44, by julia

        zionist re u still puzzled by my comment.man u will get traumatis.here u re advertising 12yrs daughter,how do u called her,Achai,Awour,Abiong or nyanpieu.i will sent my 15yrs boy to engage her both re under age.
        There will be no case of defilement ok boy.pls reluct ur puzzling mind bro/gentle boy.
        Mr.Julia a true s.sudanese gentleman.but not a woman as some of u pug/prat claime!

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        • 18 February 2013 13:52, by Zionist

          All I am saying is, let’s have a healthy conversation, let’s listen closely to our intellectuals when they speak, let’s listen to each other, however, a puzzled mind is a thinking mind, but you seemed to loose yours here by telling me that I’ll be traumatized. Are you not traumatized by what’s going on in this country yet? You should be.

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          • 18 February 2013 17:01, by julia

            zionist, do u really know what u ever inked in this web.?
            What does these two word puzzle&healthy)mean to u?
            Get me here boy!healthy is social,economic,mentally,physically wel being with regardless of the absence of disease.Puzzle is a problem/condition that couses a lot of thought.plse ur uncle re not mentally healthy including u,though economically healthy.i have nothing to traumatizes me ....

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            • 18 February 2013 17:13, by julia

              since i voice my mind in 9/1/2011 at exactly 8:45 am in the morning. Am also mentally,physically,socially and economically healthy compare to u!for matter of corruption in s.sudan,it is every and every family,as u prove it by adversing this innocent 12yrs old girl is a corruption.boy ur uncle,s ve,nt say something good to buy our interest.

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            • 18 February 2013 20:06, by Zionist

              What you just said is not healthy at all, however, I am not an English man, but I am trying to communicate with you in English, since the official language in South Sudan is not Dinka. You probably never heard of figurative language! And by the way Dr. Luka Biong Deng is not my uncle, I don’t even know the guy, so what’s your point?

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      • 18 February 2013 21:31, by Deng Hanbol

        Zionist or Jews, according to the new Britannica- Webster Dictionary, the word stooge means: one who slavishly follows or serves another. And according to Webster’s New World Dictionary,stooge here means: any person who acts as a foil, underling,etc. To be a stooge (for someone). Hence, the world stooge is irrelevant to what I meant. I’m not slavish devotion or servant to any one.

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      • 23 February 2013 11:01, by Mangor de Keroor

        No wonder the country is progressing but many people do look at the independence as a curse because it is hijacked by NCP remnants, when there was no integration as we use to do in the bush there was no these extrajudicial killings, and for sure Dr. Luka is right this liberation is a curse simply because of some thieves and thugs believe when they killed then they think are doing good.

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  • 16 February 2013 22:58, by Mr Equal

    I don not think you will write a beauitfull, meaninggfull and truthfull letter like this a gain Dr Luka. You have said it all. Understanding a questing is half of answer.
    God South

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  • 17 February 2013 04:25, by Newman

    To honest everybody in South Sudan is foolish,foolish and foolish holistic.

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  • 17 February 2013 04:54, by Deng Hanbol

    Any way, only an iron triangle theory would save the party from the inevitable disaster in the up coming 2015 general elections.

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    • 17 February 2013 05:56, by julia

      who do fake Dr.Luka Biong think here is a foolish buy his simply like that!.mr.Biong all said re filthy.u re the very person who was adicted to liberators dominate of the government of s.sudan which u didn,t part in it.u looted alot,Nuer to rally behind there leader machar,Equatoria behind Luis Lobang Lojore,Barh el ghazal behind kiir,ur 0.0001 people of Abyei behind u.then we see who will be.....

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      • 17 February 2013 06:07, by julia

        the looser. I don,t know how do u greedy people of Abyei defined the liberation; if u know the meaning or definition,my dear u liberation is to free ur selves from salvery,oppression, killing,torturing,denial of stalkholder in the state building as u have advicing kiir against small tribe, madam Awut Deng is my witness.nuer should fight who to oppose their Rieky machar.

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        • 19 February 2013 01:53, by Zionist

          I am sick and tired of you calling us greedy! When only two places produce oil commercially in South Sudan: Abyei and Unity State, the rest who have not, pocketed $84B somewhere, leaving out Greator Equatoria, where the first bullent rang out in 1955, leaving out Greator Bor where Garang comes from, mighty Nuers, where Macar comes from, Shuluk where Lam comes from...

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          • 19 February 2013 02:09, by Zionist

            ...and for South Sudan to be a great nation, we should forgive and forget. We should put our peolpe a head of our personal interests. Stop pointing fingers, listen and learn, love the other South Sudanese person, be a nationalist not tribalist, hate South Sudan not, but together we despise North Sudan; we both have a reason to, goodluck Julia.

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            • 19 February 2013 17:51, by julia

              zionist where re neglecting Dar which was/is producing 40% sudan oil?unity state produced 35% oil production,where is Abyei oil here?that why i called u greedy becozs,u having conceive of Arab for grabbing what is not urs.didn,t panaruu &Hag denied u,then ur uncle Luka Biong &Deng Aloor went shamlessly to the radio to air out what hague have rule out.that Abyei have loose a great opportunity.

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  • 17 February 2013 06:48, by Mapuor

    Dr Luka Biong
    Your article does not contain your personal views on the current SPLM situation,you only mentioned in passing some indicators that are yet to be seen.I tend to think that SPLM is fighting a terrible political war within itself and I fear it might turn into political vendettas in some states and tribal political war in Juba.Why hide this obvious danger.Veterans are left out

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    • 17 February 2013 06:55, by Mapuor

      of the party positions on grounds that they are not officially released from the ARMY.SPLM is now dominated by upstarts who do not know how the movement evolved, how it was shaped from its amorphous state to what they have now hijacked.Do not just pour nonsense on the liberators who are now languishing on the streets and whose reward from the public are always insults of not being educated.

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  • 19 February 2013 07:50, by Tribe

    Would this be a sign of Dr.Biong disowning n disapproving SPLM?Yes,I conclude to this because his rational critical voice of concern now which has priorly been missing toward SPLM n his omission of the title he wholeheardly cherish the most as a member of SPLM politburo is a self-evident.My applaud to u sir.SPLM is too defamed to be reformed from within.It’s best to leave it alone.

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  • 21 February 2013 09:51, by bolingo

    I do agree with your article Dr Luka biong but the fact is some people hide under the name of SPLM as a party which still needs to be transformed and some are not patient but greedy for power within the party.

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