Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 25 May 2012

South Sudan is not SPLM

By Lam Akol Ajawin

May 24, 2012 — A friend of mine gave me a copy of the SWP Research Paper titled “South Sudan: International State-Building and its Limits”. Knowing the high academic and objective standing of SWP (German Institute for International and Security Affairs), I read the paper with avid interest. A lot of effort has been put in researching most of the issues covered in the paper. However, I was very much disappointed by the way the author dealt with democracy and pluralism in South Sudan and dismissing not only the current opposition parties but multi-party democracy as a whole! This is the more astonishing coming from a learned institution such as SWP which is in a country that has suffered the terrible and expensive excesses of Nazism, and now prides itself of a working democracy based on a functioning federal system. The moral here is that Nazism which rose to power through democratic means imposed a dictatorship for reasons that were acceptable to most Germans at the time who were reeling under the harsh conditions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.

The apologists for the SPLM in South Sudan have always been using different tactics, direct and indirect, to convince themselves that the totalitarianism of the SPLM has to be accepted for it is for the good of South Sudanese! They have managed to convince themselves that the SPLM, SPLA and South Sudan are one and the same. Hence, supporting the SPLM and what it stands for is indeed supporting South Sudan. In the same breath, on the other hand, they complain about SPLM’s lack of respect for human rights and involvement in rampant corruption. Do they need to be reminded of the wise words of Lord Acton that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”?

The author of this paper has gone a step further than the rest in trying to argue that there is no alternative to the SPLM in South Sudan. He averred:

“There is no sign of emerging opposition parties based on political programmes”, p. 18.

He reinforced this point when he stated: “As outlined above, opposition parties stand not for alternative policies, but for narrow-based interest group; even the largest opposition force, the SPLM-DC, can be said to represent at best parts of an ethnically-defined constituency (the Shilluk)”. Unquote. P. 22.

What evidence does the author have that “opposition parties stand not for alternative policies”? What makes him conclude that SPLM-DC represents parts of the Shilluk?

Since the author has chosen the SPLM-DC as the example in his arguments, I will also use it to refute those arguments.

To begin with, the SPLM-DC presented policies for the development of South Sudan in stark contrast to those of the SPLM, if it has any. These are public documents. For instance, the SPLM-DC has a published Basic Rules that define it objectives, structures and operation. It was the only political party that fought the 2010 elections on the basis of a manifesto published as a booklet in both English and Arabic languages. The Manifesto set out the Party’s policies in different areas such as the economy, services, security, foreign affairs, civil service, civil society, etc. Also the Chairman of the Party presented a public lecture at Nyakuron Cultural Centre in Juba on 5 November 2011 titled “The Issues of National Dialogue” in which he outlined the Party’s policies after the independence of South Sudan, including those that need consensus of the political parties for the new state to start on the correct footing. If these are not “alternative policies”, what are they?

The author whose paper is replete with quotations on meeting the Deputy Governor of Upper Nile State and even the Commissioner of Makal County, both of whom were in Malakal, would have found out these facts had he just bothered to visit the SPLM-DC office in Malakal. But, of course, looking for hard facts in relation to the opposition didn’t seem to be part of his project.

We turn to the author’s assertion that the SPLM-DC “can be said to represent at best parts of an ethnically- defined constituency (the Shilluk)”! What is the basis of this conclusion?

A political party is made up of members, institutions and structures. In the case of the SPLM-DC, it has national institutions made up of the National Delegates’ Congress, the National Council and the National Executive Committee. The compositions of these institutions reflect the diversity of South Sudan. Yes, the Chairman is Shilluk, but the two Deputies of the Chairman, Mark Atem Awol and Thomson Thoan Teny, hail respectively from the Dinka and Nuer tribes. The Secretary General, the next in the hierarchy, Sisto Olur Erista is an Acholi from Central Equatoria. Other members come from different areas of South Sudan including the Secretary for Economic Affairs and Finance, Dr Aurelio Manyang, who is a Dinka from Warrap State. The SPLM-DC has offices in all the ten States in South Sudan manned by the citizens of those States. Since, Chollo (the Shilluk) are only in Upper Nile State, there is no way they could be the ones running those offices. So, what is the basis of the conclusion? Is it that, in the 2010 elections, the SPLM-DC captured all the geographical seats of the Chollo Counties? Even with this clear victory the author denies the SPLM-DC the right to represent all these people! But this is beside my point.

Elections results cannot be taken out of the circumstances under which they were held. The author is fully aware of the fact that the SPLM did not allow political parties to operate in South Sudan since it assumed power in 2005. There are many examples one can quote in this respect but space would not allow. When the SPLM-DC was born on 6 June 2009, the reaction of the SPLM was violent. Not only did it prevent it from operation, as that was normal, but it intimidated SPLM-DC members; arrested them, tortured others and closed down offices and confiscated its properties in some States. Only those who braved such mistreatment continued in the SPLM-DC. On 9 November 2009, the President of the Government of South Sudan issued order No GOSS/DPA/PO/J/1.A.1 to the Governors of South Sudan. The order banned the operation of SPLM-DC, but it also, inadvertently, admitted that up to that time GOSS did not allow political activities for the other political parties. Here is the order in the words of the Minister of Cabinet Affairs of GOSS who communicated it to the ten Governors :

“I am writing to you on directives of H.E. General Salva Kiir Mayardit, the FVP of the Republic, President of GOSS and SPLM Chairman to request your cooperation with all other Southern Political Parties and not to hinder their work except the so called SPLM-DC.” Unquote. (Emphasis is theirs).

This order came a few weeks before the start of the electoral process. The SPLM-DC contested this order before the national Constitutional Court on 25th of November 2009. The Constitutional Court ruled in January 2010 that the order had no constitutional and legal basis and hence null and void. This was how it was possible for the SPLM-DC to take part in the 2010 elections. It did so not because of the SPLM but in spite of it. Hence, many obstacles were put in SPLM-DC’s way during the elections including preventing it from campaigning in the four States of Greater Bahr el Ghazal (Warrap, Lakes, Western Bahr el Ghazal and Northern Bahr el Ghazal). We complained to the National Elections Commission which was headed by Abel Alier to no avail. Add to this the author’s own admission that “The voting was marred by many instances of intimidation and vote-rigging…”p.18. Should it come as a surprise that the final elections result did not reflect the true strength of the political parties in South Sudan, especially SPLM-DC? There is always an exception to every rule; the constituencies in Chollo counties and some other areas in Jonglei, Central and Western Equatoria were among the few where the intimidation and vote-rigging did not work. These were the areas where SPLM-DC and the independents won, and SPLM ministers lost their seats. Yet, can we say SPLM-DC was Shilluk because it could not win in other areas because of intimidation and vote-rigging? That the author skipped this central matter of lack of democratic space in South Sudan and what took place during the elections before dismissing the opposition parties tells volumes about the subjectivity of the paper.

The author has harped a lot on the tribal nature of politics in South Sudan that something needs to be said here in this regard. As much as it is desirable to detribalize politics, the tribe or ethnicity is still prominent in South Sudanese, indeed, all African politics. The problem is not the tribe but tribalism. No member of Parliament in South Sudan, today or in the past, has won a seat outside his tribal constituency. The constituencies themselves are demarcated on the basis of districts (roughly, today’s Counties) which in turn were drawn on the basis of a number of requirements, chief among them is the tribal uniformity as far as possible, population size and ability to raise local financing to its activities. This situation also applies to the bigger towns, such as Juba, Malakal and Wau. Juba town will always return a Bari and Malakal town will always return a Chollo. When the parties put up their candidates they always nominate members of that particular tribe in the relevant constituencies. The practice applies for the SPLM as well as for the opposition. This is why the author totally misses the mark when he opined that:

“Under the current conditions even efforts to promote democratisation by encouraging the development of multi-party politics appear unsuited to alter this logic”. P.32. (the logic meant is political accommodation).

To suggest that South Sudan is to be discouraged from promoting multi-party politics because political accommodation will only result in tribal accommodation is as simplistic as it is an exercise in double-standards. Who will be South Sudan’s benevolent Dictator?

As a matter of fact, the contrary is true. National integration has a better chance to take roots inside political parties, rather than outside them. In fact, the evidence, as the case of North Sudan has shown, is that tribalism re-emerged under totalitarian regimes than under democracies. Each political party will be keen, if for nothing else other than to keep its cohesion, to see that all sectors are represented in any accommodation. Lest, I am misunderstood, by accommodation here I mean political agreements such as coalition-building between two or more political parties. How could the author have missed this point. Looked at from a different angle, doesn’t such a suggestion smack patronage? Why do you recommend to others what you cannot accept for yourself?

I hope the author would correct his facts and distance himself from those who just parrot the propaganda of SPLM and its Western apologists that South Sudan is SPLM and SPLM is South Sudan.

Lam Akol is the Chairman of South Sudan’s largest opposition party the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement for Democratic Change (SPLM-DC). He was the Sudanese Foreign Affairs minister from 2005-2007.