Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 8 November 2003

Lam Akol: Southerners now closer to separation; Khartoum will not accept democracy


BBC Monitoring Middle East

By Al-Sharq al-Awsat daily newspaper (UK)

Text of interview with Sudanese southerner Dr Lam Akol in Nairobi by Mustafa Sirri; date not given, entitled : "Lam Akol: Southerners now closer to separation; Khartoum will not accept democracy" published by London-based newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat on 6 November, sub-headings inserted editorially

Dr Lam Akol is one of the most controversial southern leaders in the Sudan. He has become famous for his many vacillations between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM], which is led by John Garang, and the government in Khartoum.

In an interview carried out with "Al-Sharq al-Awsat," the first since his recent return to the ranks of the SPLM after a 12-year split, Akol said: "The southerners are now closer to separation than unity because of Khartoum’s policies." He added: "A small clique in the government is controlling the country and it will not accept any democratic shift." He advised the SPLM not to accept any partnership with it, pointing out that any bilateral partnership "would be tantamount to political suicide for the movement."

Akol explained that the government has attempted to exploit him more than once since his signing of the Fashoda peace agreement in 1997 in order to battle Garang’s movement and polarize its leaders.

Akol was arrested for the first time a short while into the administration of former President Abd-al-Rahman Siwwar-al-Dhahab in what was known as the conspiracy to bring about a racial coup in Sudan. After he was released he went to Ethiopia, where he joined the SPLM. But he quickly led a split from the movement with his friend, Riyak Machar, in 1991. Then he had a disagreement with Machar, so he created his own group that he called the SPLM-Unified Faction. He became a minister of transportation after the Fashoda agreement. Last September he tried to join his forces in Upper Nile State in the south but the Sudanese security services prevented him from doing so. So he went to Nairobi and met with the SPLM’s commanders in order to announce his return to the ranks of the SPLM a few days ago after a 12-year split. The interview follows:

Reasons for previous split with SPLM

[Sirri] When did the contacts about your return to the SPLM begin after a break-off that had continued for 12 years?

[Akol] First, it is not the return of just one person but the merging of two movements, the [SPLM] United faction that I lead and the SPLM, so that the two become one movement. The contacts were at various levels, especially since I have maintained relationships with the leaderships even after the split.

This is ever since August of 1991, which is the date that we split off from the SPLM. The dialogue about unifying the movement began a month after the "Al-Nasir Declaration" in which we explained our departure from the SPLM. These attempts continued until they reached a dead end. It became the situation that more than one movement split off from the SPLM.

When the Fashoda peace agreement was signed with the Khartoum regime in 1997, contacts between us were cut off and we began to work for the sake of peace while the SPLM continued its armed struggle. As for the latest contacts about the merger, they began last September.

[Sirri] A lot of water has gone under the bridge since August 1991 and September 2003, whether it be inside the SPLM or in Sudan itself. How have you found the SPLM’s program and methods today?

[Akol] In Naivasha, Kenya I spoke with the SPLM’s leaderships about various subjects of concern to us. There was a clear understanding on the nature of the issues that led to the split [in 1991] and time has been responsible for resolving many of them. We all insisted on the need to forget the past and concentrate on the future.

Democracy in SPLM

[Sirri] One of the issues that led to the split from the SPLM is democracy inside the movement. Is there now democracy inside the movement that has led to your return?

[Akol] I believe that the SPLM has taken steps towards democracy. As you know, it convened a congress in 1994 and now preparations are being made for another congress. This is an of evidence of the steps taken by SPLM in this direction, but we do believe that more steps must be taken in this regard. A clear reference was made to that in the joint statement on the merger.

Reasons for living away from family

[Sirri] There are those who say that you have left your family in Nairobi ever since you left the SPLM so that the return would be easy and that your wife has continued to be committed to working with the SPLM. What is the truth about that?

[Akol] First, there are practical circumstances have led to having my family remain in Nairobi. The first of these is that my wife works for the British Broadcasting Corporation in Nairobi. My children are studying in schools in Nairobi and they are at a very young age and their education cannot be interrupted, especially since I am not satisfied with the education in Sudan right now.

Secondly, it is not true that my wife is committed to working with the SPLM. On the contrary, she is committed to the [SPLM]- United and she represented it at more than one meeting for women’s organizations.

Future after the merger

[Sirri] Will you return to your leadership position in the SPLM?

[Akol] We have not discussed the issue of leadership and, you know, I am not going for the leadership at all.

[Sirri] You previously had the job of head of the SPLM’s delegation at the negotiations during the eighties and nineties. Will you go back to this job with the SPLM’s delegation at these negotiations, especially since you have experience of having an agreement with the Sudanese Government?

[Akol] The decision on whether I should be part of the delegation at the negotiations is not a decision for me, it is for the leaderships of the SPLM. Right now the SPLM’s delegation is being led by very capable young men and good negotiators that have worked with me since 1988. I am not able to claim that I am the only one who can lead the negotiations and I will relay my experience with the government to the SPLM so that it can take advantage of it.


[Sirri] Many repeat that the idea of the right of self- determination was one of those Dr Lam Akol’s ideas in 1991 and that this was one of the reasons for the split while the SPLM has remained committed to Sudan’s unity on new guidelines.

[Akol] It is not true that the idea of the right of self- determination emanated from me. You know, the subject of self- determination was brought up at the round table conference in 1965 that brought the Sudanese political parties together, especially the SANO [expansion untraced] party and the Southern Front. They submitted a joint proposal calling for self-determination. So it was not Lam Akol’s idea and this is an honour that I cannot claim. We just revived the idea.

The second point is that it is well-known that any political situation is dynamic, not static. It moves with the circumstances and new developments. Now the political forces have accepted the issue of the right of self-determination and it has even been included on the main agenda of political activity in Sudan. The discussions between the SPLM and the Khartoum regime no longer deal with this issue, which has been decided. In addition, there is the existence of two armies. Now the discussion is about the division of power and resources and the three marginalized areas.

[Sirri] But you rejected unity on the basis of new guidelines that was called for by the SPLM and you separated from it because of them.

[Akol] That is not true. I did not reject that. We said that unity was not the only option, but one of two options, self- determination being the other. At that time the Islamic vision and the idea of establishing an Islamic state was growing in Sudan. You might recollect that there were political allied forces in parliament at that time, between 1986-1989, which were calling for Islam as a form of government. These were the Ummah Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, and the Islamic National Front which is now ruling under the National Congress name. These forces represented more than 80 per cent of the membership of parliament at that time, so it was not possible to isolate the south from these circumstances. We said that it had become necessary that there be an option for unity along with the one for separation.

My personal position is that, if the state was to become an Islamic state, then there must be separation. I will continue to express this opinion. But if the political forces in the north were able to join with those in the south to create a secular one, a democratic Sudan that has all freedoms, equality, and fairness, then my option for sure would be for the unity of Sudan.

Post-war transitional period

[Sirri] But do you believe that the six-year transitional period which has been agreed upon by the government and the SPLM will be enough to create a united Sudan by means of voluntary unity?

[Akol] I do not know. I am not able to determine the trends. We have been promised development before, yet the Khartoum and Fashoda peace agreements, signed with the Khartoum regime in 1997 have not achieved development in the same six-year period, from 1997 to 2003.

[Sirri] But your agreement with the government was without the umbrella of international and regional guarantees. What was it that made it necessary for you to accept this agreement only to pull out of it?

[Akol] The non-existence of regional and international guarantees does not mean that the agreement cannot be implemented. It means that, if the two parties are serious in carrying the agreement out, then they can do so even if there are no regional or international guarantees. We have had such agreements in the history of Sudan. For example, the Addis Ababa agreement of 1972 that was signed by the Anya-Nya Movement and the government of Ja’far Numayri had no regional or international guarantees despite its mediation by international groups. The agreement was implemented for the first eight years.

[Sirri] Are you sorry for what you did by signing an agreement with the Khartoum government?

[Akol] I am not sorry because if there had not been an agreement with the regime, then we would not have known this clique so well. Secondly, the terms of the Fashoda agreement that we signed with Khartoum helped a lot in the Machakos talks between the government and the SPLM. The regime in Khartoum tried to dodge the issue of the existence of two armies, but they were forced to deal with it. So the Khartoum and Fashoda agreements that we signed with the Al- Bashir government in 1997 have not been for nought because of the terms existing in them. The SPLM’s negotiators have even exerted pressure on the government’s delegation to review those terms. Therefore, I am not sorry for what I did.

Future of Sudan: Unity or separation

[Sirri] Do you believe that the southerners are now closer to unity or separation?

[Akol] I believe that they are closer to separation because of the stands of the Khartoum government. You can go to the immigrants’ camps in Khartoum. A local newspaper has done a survey of them for a while and their opinion is clear: They are for separation. Therefore, I believe that there is a great responsibility on the [opposition] political parties to work hard in order to demonstrate that the ruling clique in Khartoum is now isolated and that there is a great possibility of creating a unified Sudan.

Experience in working with Khartoum government

[Sirri] What are the impressions that you were left with after your six-year experience with the regime in Sudan?

[Akol] First of all, this government does not have a popular base constituency and its apparatus in the ruling party is not democratic. There is a small group, whether it is inside the party or the government, that is hanging on to the decision-making process. You will find such a group in the leadership of the ruling party and inside the government, even though they talk about specialization and being occupied with party work. This, in fact, does not exist.

My standard is not the military and security might that this government certainly enjoys because these things will be eliminated once democracy comes. In a democratic regime, you cannot rely on the army or security. On the contrary, the popular base is the measure of power and this will continue because the power that extends from the army and security is not permanent.

Northern-based governments "renege" on agreement with south

[Sirri] Your turning away from the agreement with the government is evidence that the southerners always renege on agreements that have been signed with the various governments.

[Akol] I do not think that the southerners are turning away from any agreement. On the contrary, the governments have always been the ones that renege on the agreements. For example, there is the parliament’s decision in 1955 on federalism as a form of government. The government at that time turned away from it and did not implement it. With respect to the Addis Ababa agreement of 1972, the Al-Numayri government is the one that turned away from it. With the Khartoum and Fashoda peace agreements of 1997, it was the [current] government that turned away from them. It is clear to anyone who has an eye and can see that the current regime has not abided by the articles of the agreement from the very beginning. We were reproached by the southerners for our insistence on continuing the Fashoda peace agreement even though the other party was not abiding by it, either by political standards or military ones.

Khartoum government driven by "very small group"

[Sirri] What is your assessment of this "regime," especially since the SPLM is inclined to sign a peace agreement while you have six years of experience with it?

[Akol] The fact is that this government is a constricting, universalistic entity. It thinks from a security perspective and not from a political one. When you talk about a real government, this is an imprecise expression because this regime is driven by a very small group. It is the one that makes all these decisions in isolation from the party and the other agencies of the government and it will not allow any democratic change.

The advice that I would offer the SPLM is not to accept bilateral partnership after signing the peace agreement with this ruling clique because that would be tantamount to political suicide, especially since the SPLM has masses of popular support inside Sudan, especially in the south.

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