Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 24 March 2018

SPLM wrangling and its impact on December 2013 crisis


By Hon Arop Madut Arop

In this article, I will attempt to answer one basic question as to whether it was political wrangling in the Ruling SPLM party was to blame for the December 15th 20013 crisis or something else. This is important, because some people, both South Sudanese stakeholders and most members of the international community who are making efforts to resolve the on-going crisis appear to have lost sight of the fundamental causes of the said crisis. This oversight was clearly demonstrated when many stakeholders called upon the IGAD led HLRF to resolve the root causes of the crisis first before effort were made to revitalise the 2015 controversial peace deal. Their request to resolve the root causes before the actual crisis could be addressed presupposes that other social and political ills: like bad governance, tribalism or corruptions were responsible for the crisis.

Fundamentally, the first contributing factor to the December crisis was that, before the interim Politburo (PB) and the interim party liberation council (LC), as the highest organs of the party, were called upon to meet, two lead members of the party, Vice President, Dr Riek Machar and Secretary General, Pagan Amum, declared their intention to contest in the party upcoming national convention, each claiming to be the next party flag bearer in the 2015 general elections. The announcement by the two senior members of the party thus set a central stage for what would regrettably, set the world youngest fledgeling nation, barely three years old, ablaze in the worst crisis in months ahead.

The second factor which would accelerate more bickering in the party was the activities of the Vice President of the Republic and Vice Chairman of the SPLM party, Dr Riek Machar. Immediately after independence, Dr Riek Machar had made his ambition crystal clear that he was preparing himself for the new country top post in the forthcoming SPLM Party National Convention yet to be convened in order to elect the new party leadership.

Dr Riek Machar first activity which surprised the South Sudan public was when he held a meeting with the members of Bor community in Juba, January 2013. In that meeting, Dr Riek Machar reportedly asked the Bor community to forgive him for the atrocities and agonies their members had suffered from his forces during the 1991 Nasir rebellion.

Although this unexpected behaviour by the vice chair of SPLM and the vice president of the republic did not raise immediate reaction from the public, nonetheless, it kept the people asking themselves as to what had made their vice-president Dr Riek Machar apologise to the Bor community, on an incident which took place over twenty years earlier and why at that particular point in time.

Dr Riek Machar third activity which drew much attention from the public that he meant business was when he started organising the members of South Sudan youths in Juba under the theme, national reconciliation and national healing. During this near political campaign, he held several meetings with the youths in Juba. The organisation of the youth added to the apology he gave to the Bor community earlier, made the public aware that a serious crisis was brewing in the SPLM party.

Having assured himself that his message for national reconciliation was applauded and welcomed by the youth that attended his meetings, which he chaired himself, Dr Riek Machar finally called for the convening of a national youth conference. He immediately invited the youth representatives from the country ten states, to report to Juba immediately in order to come and attend the national peace and reconciliation conference.

It was in that light that President Salva Kiir disclosed to the public that his vice president and vice chair of the party did not inform him as the party chairman and the country president about the youth conference. The president stressed further that, such important national issues should have been discussed by the two highest party organs, the Politburo and the liberation council. Immediately, President Salva Kiir stripped Dr Riek Machar of powers which were previously delegated to him during the interim period and soon after the independence. The President also abolished the youth peace and national reconciliation conference which had reached an advanced stage.

Apparently, aware that his plan had become an open secret, Dr Riek Machar went public about his intention to challenge the incumbent President and SPLM chairman Salva Kiir. He made it abundantly clearer that, he wanted to be the next party flag bearer in the much awaited SPLM national convention.

In a series of releases to the media outlets, Dr Riek Machar accused his erstwhile President, Salva Kiir for having failed the country during the previous eight years in power. He then went on an open campaign slogan of Kiir must goand spelt out his vision and programme of action, in case he became the President of the new republic of South Sudan.

Attempts made by senior members of the party; shuttling between him and the chairman of the party could not bear fruits as it only accelerated further, his campaign of Kiir must go which echoed his past campaign of Garang must go which led to the eventual splits in the Party in 1991.

The other event which may have sped up Dr Riek Machar campaign was the dismissal of two elected governors: Taban Deng Gai, of unity state, Dr Riek Machar political constituency, and Chol Tong Mayay of Lakes State. Dr Riek Machar, condemned as condemned as unconstitutional.

The third factor which fuelled the disenchantment and bickering in the SPLM politburo was the suspension of two cabinet ministers, Hon Deng Alor Kuol and Hon Kosti Manibe Ngai, of cabinet affairs and finance respectively. In a press statement, Pagan Amum directly criticised President Salva Kiir, for suspending two senior members of the party from the cabinet.

In response, President Salva Kiir suspended Pagan Amum from his position as the party secretary-general. The President also ordered that he should not be allowed to leave his house and the country or talk to the media. Some weeks later, Pagan Amum went to Court questioning the legality of the presidential order not to leave the country and to stay put in his house. Pagan Amum’s move to take the president to the court of law, complicated matters further.

The fourth factor which apparently, triggered much bickering in the SPLM and which later threw the country headlong into the crisis was when President Salva Kiir’s made his first major cabinet reshuffle on July 23rd, 2013, dismissing his entire cabinet including his estranged vice president.

The fifth factor which triggered the December crisis was about a clause in the party revised constitution, which stipulates that the election of officers into the party organs; the politburo and the liberation council, should be done, by a show of hands instead of secret voting. This clause could have been resolved amicably and the crisis averted. But as stated above most members had fallen out of favour with the Chairman of the SPLM, for dismissing them in the government they deserved, which was a bitter pill for them to swallow.

The sixth issue which impounded the December crisis was another clause in the interim constitution of 2005; which speaks of -no elected member of the party should hold office for more than two terms. Even this clause was explicit, a constitutional issue and could have been resolved by a constitutional court.

What the party aspirants might have not known, or if they knew, decided to ignore it altogether, was that, there had been only one general election in 2010. In Accordance to the CPA, the interim period was spent preparing the people of South Sudan for the referendum; which subsequently led to the successful declaration of the independence of their country as a sovereign state on July 9th, 2011. According to proponents, Salva Kiir first term of office would have commenced with effect from 2011 to 2015. Salva Kiir second term in office, if elected, would have commenced from 2015 to 2020.

The final factor, blamed for the breakup of the party which plunged the country into unprecedented crisis, has to do with whether President Salva Kiir term in office had expired; hence the need for scrambling for who would be the party flag bearer in 2015.

In conclusion, it will be important to draw the attention of the supporters of the IGAD led High-Level Revitalisation Forum and the international community to one vital fact and that is that, unless all the fractured factions of the SPLM as the historic ruling party that brought peace and independence is reunified, efforts to resolve the current crisis will be like chasing the wind.

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