By Elhadi IdrissYahya
May 13, 2014 - The ongoing conflict in S. Sudan has raised questions of who should be responsible for this meaningless fighting and bloodshed of the innocent and vulnerable civilians. To start with, the fighting was triggered by the aborted SPLM political bureau meeting which was meant to deliberate among other issues, the SPLM flag bearer for the upcoming general elections. The incumbent president and his former deputy Dr. Machar, as well as other SPLM leading figures had shown interest for the position of the party leader come 2015 general elections. It should be noted that the political wrangles within SPLM has made people of S. Sudan to pay a very high price where thousands have been left dead, hundreds forced to flee their homes, many are living in overcrowded UN bases, on top of that, the nation is on the brink of looming famine and genocide. Speaking from Nairobi to BBC focus on Africa last week, the SPLM former secretary general Pagan Amum categorically stated that his party’s leadership is indeed responsible for what is going on in S. Sudan because, and I am here quoting him, “ the party leadership lost the direction”. Meaning that SPLM was taking S. Sudan into wrong route for nearly 9 years. Now let’s put aside the opinions of insiders and let me show you my views on how both SPLM and SPLA have failed the people of S. Sudan and what should be done to avert this conflict and save the world’s youngest nation?
The failure of the SPLM party to move itself from liberation movement to transformative political party that believes in democracy, transparent, rule of law and more importantly non interference in the national army affair has led S. Sudan into this current crisis. Unlike African National Congress ANC of S. Africa for example, where its political leaders have differed on several occasions with issues related to the succession politics, SPLM’s differences extended to the national army. ANC political figures have no influence whatsoever on the national army of S. Africa- that institution is totally independent from political manipulations, that is why the common man does not pay the same price that the common person in S. Sudan pays in case of political wrangle within the ruling party.
The ANC leaders believe in the democratic principles- the majority’s view rules and those who hold contrary views must accept it and move on or they can walk out and form their own parties. Again SPLM leaders failed to pass this test “accept the rule of majority or walk out”, instead of that all of them want to fulfill their ambitions within the party that has legacy of “liberation”. Although liberation credit is a political asset for anyone to ascend into power, this credit alone does not transform the lives of S. Sudanese to better. The people of S. Sudan want security, they want their children to go to schools, they need affordable and accessible medication, and above all they want to be able to put food on the table. These are some aspirations of a common man in S. Sudan not who has the credit for liberation struggle or not. S. Sudanese expectations’ were not met because SPLM leaders had failed to move from liberation “obsession” to nation building. Furthermore, using S. Africa as an example, the founding father of the ANC Mandela chose to stay only for one term in the leadership of the party because he knew and for sure that there were many able people within the party who like himself wanted the position thus he stepped down to pave way for them and for continuity of his party hence leaving a legacy behind even after his demise. I urge SPLM leaders to borrow a leaf from Mandela’s wisdom.
The SPLA should also know that any national army’s is to defend and protect the integrity of a sovereign state from foreign threat and that the performance of the said task requires independency. On the same note, the composition and structure of national army should reflect the character of national identity. One may give an excuse for a liberation army if it fails to meet one of the afore mentioned requirements but not for a national army. Historically, during the struggle, the SPLA used the traditional institutions including tribes to recruit its fighters and gain the popular support which were extremely important for the continuation of the struggle. It was also obvious that SPLA had got political representatives or point men from the different tribes who played critical roles in both political mobilization and military recruitment hence this is how political leaders within the party established their connections with army and unfortunately, such links remained intact even after SPLA turned into national army.
Looking at the December 2013 incidences in which SPLA suffered massive defections alongside ethnic lines have proven our claims. A disciplined national army has a chain of command starting from the Commander-In-Chief downward. The Kenyan Defense Forces KDF, for example, neither took a side in Kenyan post elections violence nor did it suffer defections. This happened because their loyalty belonged to their generals not to tribesmen however, this is not the case in S. Sudan. Following the December 2013 fallout between the president and his former deputy who happens to belong to Dinka and Nuer tribes respectively, even the proper SPLA generals such as the former chief of staff, James Hoth Mai who comes from Nuer found themselves between the rock and hot place; whether to remain loyal to the national army and they would not be trusted by their colleagues from other side at the same time they would be branded as a traitor from their tribesmen. Ethnicity does not know middle grounds- either black or white. Negative ethnicity is the last straw that broke the youngest nation’s back! It’s extremely important for S. Sudanese to accept this fact moving forward in searching for durable solution.
Conclusively, as the two principals, president Kiir and Dr. Machar met face to face for the first time since their fallout, which gave hope to S. Sudanese and their friends across the globe that the senseless conflict will come to an end soon, I wish to make the following suggestions as the way forward;
1-President Kiir as a leader who devoted his entire life for the liberation cause, must remember that the nation he fought for it is now bigger than him. As Mandela of ANC refused to go for the second term while he had a full right to do so, in which he saved his party. President Kiir must follow Mandela’s footstep for the sake of his nation.
2- Dr. Riek if you still believe that your dream to become a president is still valid, forget about SPLM and go ahead and form your own political party through which you can present yourself and your ideas to S. Sudanese during the transitional period in which you should not be part of it. If S. Sudanese give you chance to rule them well and good otherwise serve this nation.
3- For both principals, avoid entering into power sharing deal. Why do I say this? African experience in power sharing agreements- political rivals. Examples of Zimbabwe and Kenya showed nothing but frustration. But more fundamentally, power sharing maintains status quo- after the transitional period ends the things will be business as usual. This means S. Sudan will be in the vicious cycle of conflicts.
3- To eradicate negative ethnicity, accountability must be upheld. The main task for the transitional government is to uphold those who committed crimes responsibility. Going by the S. African experience, the S. Sudan Truth and Reconciliation Commission (STRC) must be set to spearhead accountability and healing process. In the same line the S. Sudanese national army must be restructured and reformed to ensure the professionalism, and those who found in professional misconduct must be sent home.
4- Finally, for S. Sudanese, I say this, despite what has been taking place in the country, from hatreds, killings, revenge killings and you name it, yet there is a sound basis for hope. This is because history taught us that many nations including USA went through such challenges immediately after their independence. Nation building is a long process but what matters is to lay a right foundation. The responsibility of putting the solid ground for S. Sudan falls squarely in the shoulders of these two leaders, president Kiir and Dr. Machar. I therefore appeal to all S. Sudanese notable, other political parties, civil society organizations, women, youth, faith based organizations to play a positive role in pushing these two leaders toward the achievement of lasting peace. May God Protect our youngest world’s Nation.
The writer is a lecturer at Kampala International University (KIU)- Uganda. For comments on the article he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org