BY: MALITH KUR, LONDON, Canada, NOV/14/2014, SSN;
The current state of affairs in South Sudan hasn’t come as a surprise, but it’s a manifestation of the ugly face of the political class in our nation. It’s shown that the idea of leadership in South Sudanese society is the antithesis of political leadership in other nations. It’s out of this conception of leadership that South Sudan has faced this crisis before its third independence anniversary.
What follows identifies the causes of this unfortunate crisis. It also proposes possible steps forward to re-establish peace in South Sudan.
The reason the country is facing this situation is that South Sudanese politicians, and most of us for that matter, define leadership in terms of tribal and regional affiliations. We do not have a national agenda when it comes to politics in the country.
What we have is a glorification of some politicians, which is what most of us take seriously. A politician’s achievement doesn’t matter in South Sudanese politics; what matters is where in the country a politician comes from.
If we take John Garang as our example, we see that he is popular now because he is dead; otherwise, he isn’t a popular leader, given his regional or tribal backgrounds.
Although his political strategies had paved the way for our independence, his contribution would have been irrelevant if he were alive and led the country today.
Throughout the years of the struggle, his leadership was considered as a continuation of Dinka domination, but no one wanted to speak about the number of Dinkas who died fighting for South Sudan’s independence.
In historical reality, however, the so-called Dinka domination remains a political myth if one takes a brief tour of South Sudan’s recent history.
History of Political Leadership in South Sudan
It’s true that tribal political orientation is at the heart of the current crisis. However, this crisis has its roots in the history of political leadership in South Sudan. This history does not go beyond 1955 because South Sudan did not have formal governmental structures then.
Formal leadership began, for instance, when Equatorians led the Anyanya I Movement in Torit in 1955. Nonetheless, when the Addis Ababa Agreement brought peace, Jaafar Numeri appointed Abel Alier to lead the subsequent, tenuous self-rule administration in the then Southern Sudan beginning in 1972-78.
For political reasons, Numeri dismissed Abel Alier and appointed Joseph Lagu, former leader of Anyanya I, in his place in 1978. Alier came back few years later, but he was removed again by presidential degree.
When Alier and Lagu were gone, Joseph James Tambura assumed the leadership in the South.
Following these political changes, the Addis Ababa Agreement was dissolved, and the re-division of the South into three regions occurred under Tambura’s watch in 1982 before the second civil war began in 1983.
When the second civil war started, John Garang emerged as the leader of the SPLM until his demise in 2005. After the death of John Garang, Salva Kiir assumed the leadership of the SPLM. Kiir’s ascension to power followed the hierarchical design of the SPLM leadership.
Now, if you look at this historical sketch of governance in South Sudan since Anyanya I, the communities out of which top leaders emerged are Madi among the Bari speaking groups, Azande, and Dinka.
The historical truth here is that none of these communities made any efforts to help those politicians come to power. Why is this important to mention? It is important because this is where the root causes of the current crisis lie.
Causes of this war
First, no member of Nuer ethnic group has ever taken top position in South Sudan. Therefore, some members of the Nuer community want this to happen now.
The demand for Riek Machar to become South Sudanese president is the real cause of the war, which has nothing to do with the democratization of the SPLM as a political party. The myth of Dinka domination has strengthened this resolve.
Consequently, South Sudanese, who lost their lives in Juba in December 2013, cannot be the cause of this war because most of the dead were soldiers taking part in active combat with the security forces.
Second, one-party dictatorship has developed in South Sudan. SPLM in South Sudan has become like the ANC in South Africa. A politician in South Africa must first become the leader of ANC before dreaming of leading the country. The SPLM has assumed this character.
For this reason, every politician in South wants some association with the SPLM. We now have the SPLM-DC, the SPLM-in-Opposition, the SPLM leaders, and who knows some other funny names of the SPLM may come up later. The role of the SPLM as a source of power is another major cause of the current war in South Sudan.
Third, the other causes of the war are political impunity, corruption, and weak state institutions. These factors are playing a major part in the current crisis. The weak institutions of governance in South Sudan provide fertile grounds for political violence.
None of the politicians leading the current uprising or those who are protecting the regime expect responsibility for their actions. No one will hold them accountable for anything.
Fourth, proxy warfare did not end with the independence of South Sudan. Sudan’s territorial ambitions in relation to disputed areas remain a catalyst of instability in South Sudan.
People who rebel in South Sudan, for whatever reason, will have no shortage of arms coming to them from Sudan. Unstable South Sudan allows Sudan to keep Abyei and Panthou (Heglig, to the Sudan. Ed.).
As long as the political class in South Sudan places its interest in power over the future of the country and the welfare of its citizens, this war will not end.
Fifth, South Sudan has ten states with a population of approximately 12 million people, which means that each state could have an average of 1.2 million inhabitants. However, we are asking for more while we know that the country relies on oil revenues.
This demand has raised a number of questions. What economic energy will those small states have? Where the money is going to come from to fund those states? These are not new questions.
South Sudanese who opposed the decentralization policies of 1980s raised them. They asked these questions because what South Sudan needed then, and still needs now are not more divisions but development. South Sudan needs a way out of this mess.
The Way forward
South Sudan needs unconditional peace now, not tomorrow, and the search for peace must be a people-driven exercise. The people of South Sudan must be the first stakeholders in the decision-making process when it comes to the settlement of the current crisis.
The parties to the conflict who are negotiating in Addis Ababa are not interested in peace, but war to gain power or maintain it. In the end, those who will continue to suffer are South Sudanese, who have nothing to gain in this senseless destruction.
Furthermore, what we can do, as responsible citizens, to avoid unnecessary political troubles is to leave political ambitions in the hands of politicians. Individual political leadership is not a tribal responsibility. Politicians are responsible for their political programmes.
As we search for peace, we need to avoid for two reasons the impression that there is a war between Dinka and Nuer:
First, South Sudan does not belong to Dinka and Nuer. It is a community of different ethnic groups bound to live together in peace and prosperity.
Second, Dinka and Nuer as communities are not responsible for political differences in the government. But if some members of the Nuer community want to fight against the government of South Sudan, that would be their choice that has nothing to do with all Nuers because all South Sudanese are in that government.
Most of the time we blame the political class inside South Sudan, but the Diaspora South Sudanese community needs to avoid incitement of violence. People inside South Sudan do not want war, but the people who are recruiting children to fight on their behalf, children who are supposed to be in school, rely on Diaspora’s political support.
South Sudanese Diaspora communities have become reliable constituents for the opposition forces inside the country. They have become their gateway to promote their destructive cause, but what South Sudan needs is a peaceful change, which promotes co-existence instead of division and killing.
In our collective search for meaningful political change, we need to understand that change is a process. It takes time to build democratic institutions and establish fair political practices. Violent opposition is not a political change but destruction.
In this context, South Sudan needs to discourage the creation of ethnically motivated federal system. It has the potential to cause more problems than solving the ones we already have.
Federalism in South Sudan is not the prerogative of those who are engaged in a power struggle; it is the prerogative of South Sudanese and their elected representatives.
South Sudanese do not need to be told how to be ruled; they must tell the politicians how they should be ruled.
South Sudanese are the principal stakeholders in the debate about federalism. A federal system South Sudanese have sanctioned provides the central government and the state governments with certain responsibilities to manage the affairs of the country within the boundaries of national laws that promote South Sudanese nationalism that transcends ethnicity.
South Sudan as a society should take these steps as part of comprehensive political reforms, constitutional review, and national reconciliatory process, which must lay the foundation for social reconstruction of South Sudanese society.
By Malith Kur (firstname.lastname@example.org)