Home | Comment & Analysis    Tuesday 24 December 2013

Can South Sudan follow the footsteps of South Africa?

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By: Amir Idris

December 23, 2013 - While people around the world are mourning and reflecting on the legacy of Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, and the champion of national reconciliation and forgiveness, South Sudan, the newest African state is descending into deadly political violence with devastating human cost. Indiscriminate killing of civilians, destruction of private properties, and disintegration of security, and armed forces spreading from the capital city, Juba, to other states. Disturbing credible reports indicate that the killing is largely ethnically driven. Recent figures estimated that hundreds of civilians have lost their lives and over 22,000 have been displaced, mostly from the Nuer ethnic group in Juba. These reports of killings and displacements paint a frightening picture of possible widespread communal violence which might lead to the collapse of the fragile state.

The ongoing political violence could have been prevented if the current political leadership, in particular President Salva Kiir headed the call for dialogue with his critics lead by Dr. Riek Machar, the former Vice President. The root causes of the crisis are political. The failure of reaching a consensus on contentious issues of democratization of the SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) Party, the inclusivity of the government, and the implementation of the constitution and democratic principles are at the core of the political crisis. The future of the state of South Sudan relies on its ability to address these core questions through national democratic dialogue that respects the diversity of political views and their constituencies.

History has taught us that political violence is not preordained. Rather, it can be avoided if the underlying causes are understood by the political leaders of the polity. Political violence always has its history and politics. The ongoing political violence in South Sudan has a distant and a recent past. The distant past is the history and legacy of colonialism; the recent past is the absence of democratic governance. British colonialism institutionalized ethnic identities through the policy of indirect rule. Political and judicial powers were given to traditional leaders to administer their territories which are considered ‘homes’ of specific ethnic groups. This policy transformed flexible cultural communities into conflicting political communities. Conflicts replaced coexistence. Politics became ethnicized. Political disagreement turned into ethnic hostility and conflict. Hence, political demands were made in ethnic terms without regard to the national interests of the country.

When South Sudan gained its political independence in July 2011, sadly, the new state has not been able thus far to devise a workable vision to address these pivotal historical challenges and in turn has been unable to realize the political and economic aspirations of its citizens. Instead, corruption, nepotism, mismanagement of public resources, and the absence of law and order as well as the growing tendency of undemocratic practices has become the dominant characteristics of the national and state governments. Against this backdrop, the recent leadership crisis within the SPLM and the subsequent ethnically driven violence should be understood. It’s the failure of the state and its leadership in governing democratically and inclusively.

The painful lesson that all we can learn from the ongoing deadly violence is that the existing government has utterly failed to provide creative and imaginative responses that could have saved the country from descending into violence. The current state of affairs in South Sudan cannot stand; the first phase of the post-independence state is crumbling and cannot be held without major transformations at the political and economic levels. However, for the next phase to succeed, concentrated efforts have to be made by whoever assumes the leadership of its government to seek creative political strategies to lessen the ethnicization of politics and institutionalize democracy as a system of governance. If they do so, South Sudan would embark on an inclusive journey similar to South Africa marked by the spirit of reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing.

Amir Idris is Professor and Chair of African and African American Studies at Fordham University, New York City, USA. He can be reached at idris@fordham.edu



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  • 24 December 2013 13:52, by Darkangel

    !!!! PAGAN NEXT PRESIDENT OF SOUTH SUDAN !!!!!

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    • 24 December 2013 14:32, by Paul Chadrack

      Our only problem is bhar el gazel greedness and foolishness.

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    • 24 December 2013 15:29, by Adodi Jotuwa

      Amir Idris,
      Take your scrap to the dustbin. You have no idea about what you’re writing about. You don’t know where SPLM/A has come from and where it’s going. The substance here is the contrast of South Sudan with South Africa in terms forgiveness but not the leaders of who should forgive who and who has a good track record like the late Mandela.

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      • 24 December 2013 15:29, by Adodi Jotuwa

        Why don’t you contrast Dr Defector Riek Machar who broke away in 1991 with Neslson Mandela who stayed the course until released from prison in 1994? Do you think Dr. Defector would have done the same? Why did he go to Khartoum and return to SPLM/A in 2002. Who else has broken away from ANC, joined apartheid government, then again return to ANC? Mention one person, please.

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        • 24 December 2013 15:30, by Adodi Jotuwa

          SPLM/A started forgiving power-hungry faction leaders right from the bush up to the peace time in 2005, continued through the interim period and up to pre-and-post independence. SPLM has been and is still struggling to resolve what is so-called outstanding issues that resulted into signing another agreement called Cooperation Agreement (CA) with Khartoum.

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          • 24 December 2013 15:30, by Adodi Jotuwa

            Did this kind of development happened in South Africa after 1994? Why do you dwell on forgiveness already done but somebody born power-hungry without leadership qualities and keeps preaching democracy based on tribal politics that Nelson Mandela had never demonstrated, whether in his 27 years in prison or after 1999?

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            • 24 December 2013 15:31, by Adodi Jotuwa

              The late Nelson Mandela can never be compared with Dr. Defector Riek Machar who was given the position of Vice President on a golden plate. Mandela has been consistent, honest, and perseverant. He never wavered in the liberation of all South Africans not only the majority, Zulu people. Don’t teach wrong African history to students in Fordham University, New York. Ok?

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            • 24 December 2013 15:32, by Adodi Jotuwa

              The late Nelson Mandela can never be compared with Dr. Defector Riek Machar who was given the position of Vice President on a golden plate. Mandela has been consistent, honest, and perseverant. He never wavered in the liberation of all South Africans not only the majority, Zulu people. Don’t teach wrong African history to students in Fordham University, New York. Ok?

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  • 24 December 2013 18:32, by Mohammed Ali 2

    I don’t see any similliarites between SA & SS.The two countries political situations are comletely different. I don’t see any reason to blame the current for the crises in SS.The simple reason for that is that all of the so called "opposition" were part of this government.Kiir , bad or good is a democratically elected president....con

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    • 24 December 2013 18:43, by Mohammed Ali 2

      Con: The SPLA leadership problem should not mixed with the state problem.SPLA problems should be solved within the SPLA structures.The "stat’s" army should have been away from the party & politic as it is supposed to "all the peoples’"army.If Machar or Pagan group think that Salva is abusing his powers in the party, they should simply resign and form a new party and fight for free & fair election.

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      • 24 December 2013 18:50, by Mohammed Ali 2

        Therfore, if the waring parties are truely for a democratic system and the rule of law the solution should be very simple without any loss of blood , life or destruction of properties.It is one year which Kiir can continue as an elected president.Other group can form their own party and challenge him demcratically in a fair, free internationally supervised elections.

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        • 26 December 2013 07:48, by australian

          All very well to say "if the warring parties are truly for a democratic system..." but what if one of those parties is NOT for a democratic system and has all the power? There are plenty of "shoulds" we can all think of.

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