By Athiaan Majak Malou
January 25, 2014 - I’d the privilege of attending, early this month, a symposium on the above mentioned topic organised by Rift Valley Institute’s Nairobi Forum. The symposium took place on Friday, 10 January 2014 in Louis Leaky Auditorium at Nairobi National Museum.
During this period, leading South Sudanese Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) came together in Nairobi to initiate discussion on the current crisis, its historical origins and the prospect for peaceful resolution. The meeting was organised by Rift valley Institute and supported by the open Society Initiative for East Africa. The discussion was conducted through seven panellists from different CSOs who talked on different aspects of the current conflict bedevilling South Sudan.
Peace which was the theme of discussion does not only mean the absent of war, which is the current preoccupation of citizens, friends and neighbours of South Sudan. They are right, because people are dying and being displaced in thousands. So, the immediate need is cessation of hostilities among the belligerents that can bring an end to rampant and wanton killings. But, what do we need to achieve after the cessation of hostilities?
The Preamble of the recent Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) between the Government of the Republic of South Sudan (RSS) led President Salva Kiir and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) in opposition led by Dr Riek Machar, signed in Addis Ababa partly reads:
Mindful of the desire of the people of South Sudan to live in peace and dignity, and in an all-inclusive democratic society based on justice, equality, respect for human rights and the rule of law; and
Reaffirming the commitment of parties to building unified stable and peaceful nation in which power shall be peacefully transferred…
The above two paragraphs of the preamble of the agreement have said it all, but how can peace be achieved? I believe the same paragraphs might have been enshrined in the constitution and other important documents. But yet peace has been illusory, why?
It has to be like that because it is easy to put those words in paper but difficult to implement them, especially for those in power. Power is like alcohol-the more you are drunk, the more you like to drink. How many countries in Africa who have changed the term limit or removed it altogether to suit those in power.
A harmful notion has been pontificated by despotic leaders like Gadhafi of Libya that ‘Revolutionaries’ don’t give up power; they have to die in power. Anybody who drinks alcohol to oblivion may definitely die of alcoholism. Similarly, anybody who becomes addicted to power may also die of megalomania, like Gadhafi himself and many more.
There is a saying in many cultures that honey may be sweet, but one doesn’t have to lick it all. The same applies to power. No one can deal with all national issues at a time. As a leader you have to deal with the issues according to their priority. When your time to call it a day comes, leave the rest to your successors and so forth. Africa is full of wise leaders, like Julius Nyarere of Tanzania and Nelson Mandela of South Africa, who decided to voluntarily relinquish power even when they were still very popular. For peace to prevail in South Sudan and probably other parts of Africa, these are the people to emulate, not Mua’mer El Gadhafi, Mabuttu, Mugabe, Mubarak, you name them.
Power transition in South Sudan’s SPLM would have been peaceful, if there was a model to follow or emulate. One model is the African National Congress (ANC), which has been the ruling party in South Africa since abolition of Apartheid and release of Nelson Mandela from prison in early ‘90s. Since then, power has been passing from one leader to another hierarchically without much wrangling. Thabo Mbeki lost the chairmanship of the party to Jacob Zuma when he was still the sitting president and there was no quarrel, leave alone fighting. To contest the chairmanship of the ruling party with the sitting president is out of bounds in South Sudan.
Another model is provided by the Algerian ruling party-the Algerian National Liberation Front. Since they fought a fierce war of liberation with France and got independence in early ‘60s, the same party has been ruling up to now. The secret of their long stay in power is the fact that power is being passed down from one official to another based on established party hierarchy. This was the case when Dr John Garang suddenly died in a helicopter crash. The power passed to Salva Kiir without wrangling, to the amazement of the whole world.
The third model is from neighbouring Kenya. Kenya was ruled by Kenya African National Union (KANU) under one party system for 28 years. 1992’s call for multi-parties was initiated by the same politicians who previously served under KANU. People like Oginga Odinga and Mwai Kibaki who served as vice presidents under KANU formed their own parties and contested elections on the tickets of those parties. Until now Kenya is still being ruled by KANU officials but with different political parties. Uhuru Kenyatta, the current president, whose father also established KANU, vied on KANU ticket in 1997. Samuel Ruto, the current deputy president, was the chairman of KANU Youth ‘92 (KY92).
There is nothing wrong, for example, for Madam Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior, Mabior Garang de Mabior, Dr Riek Machar or Pa’gan Amum to form another party. It will not erase the contribution they or their relatives made in the liberation struggle through SPLM. SPLM was a war of liberation ‘specialist’. People of South Sudan now need stability and economic development ‘specialist’. It happened in the post Second World War Britain. Though Winston Churchill fought the war successfully to satisfaction of the British people, he was voted out in elections that followed. The British voters knew he was good at war, but not at reconstructing the country after the war.
What happened in Kenya could have been true with SPLM members who are falling-out with the leadership style of President Kiir. They should proudly form their own political parties and contest the next elections. What matters is not the name of the party, but the programme the party is putting forward to woo voters. In fact, some of the names of political parties out-leave their purpose with time. One Example is SPLM which is no longer relevant after the country has been separated into two. KANU in Kenya is also no longer relevant because Europeans against whom the party was formed or named are no longer there.
In the light of the above models, President Kiir should have made his exit strategy clear for his ambitious comrades in the party to see. Having served in the same position for the last ten years is a lot. He has also done his part of the history of South Sudan. He has implemented the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) successfully. He has carefully supervised the Referendum that led to independence. That is an enormous legacy to be proud of. This legacy is going to be partly eroded by the recent events. In a society which is very turbulent like ours, one has to execute his/her mission and exit quickly to avoid pitfalls. Too much of everything is bad!
For South Sudan to achieve peace and stability we’ve to start with a credible system of governance that will take care of the nice provisions in Cessation of Hostilities and other documents, including the constitution. A credible government is necessary for our prosperity and peaceful co-existence.
The author has formerly served in the government of Lakes state of South Sudan as the County Commissioner for Yirol East and state Minister for education. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org