Lam Akol’s Return: Back to ethnic or multi-party politics?

By: Jacob Dut Chol, JUBA, NOV/10/2013, SSN;

When President Kiir issued an executive amnesty order in October 2013 pardoning a number of former renegades Gabriel Tanginye, Mabor Dhuol, Peter Rahaman Sule and Gatduel, to be mention but a few, for alleged roles in sponsorships of militias against his government, Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin was also offered an amnesty and pardon too.

However, the Amnesty offered to Dr. Akol drew mixed reactions from the public as to what acts of crimes Dr. Akol perhaps had done to warrant acceptance of the Amnesty. But others argued that he was accused of supporting the militias of Johnson Oliny in his Upper Nile backyard and the David Yau Yau operations in troubled State of Jonglei that necessitated the Amnesty.

Dr. Lam Akol returned to Juba on 2nd of November 2013 with huge jubilations from his party members, supporters and some officials of the Government of the Republic of South Sudan. His message from Juba International Airport to his SPLM-DC press conference on 3rd November 2013 has been participation on consensus building in governance and realization of reconciliation and unity amongst the South Sudanese.

But it is important to question whether his return from exile will deepen ethnic party politics or be a driver of multiparty politics in South Sudan?

As many might be aware, political parties when founded on strong ideals that are further institutionalized as doctrines of promotion of public goods, they become drivers of democratic transition and consolidation but when constructed on ethnic cards then they become drivers of destruction and underdevelopment.

In South Sudan, political parties have been constructed more on ethnic cleavage, rather on ideological orientation that members should subscribe to in the political discourse. SPLM for instance was founded and commenced as unifying party cutting across all the ethnic cleavages in South Sudan, which in my view helped in the attainment of independence.

Unfortunately, however, many may view SPLM as a party dominated by Dinka and Nuer justifying two-ethnic dominance. Whether such preposition has overarching empirical evidence in structure and membership is another debate, which is beyond the scope of this piece of analysis.

But of course ethnic party politics or ethnicization of politics is dangerous to the spreading of waves of democratization and most importantly ethnic peace, which is badly needed in the crafting and building of South Sudan state.

To paraphrase Political Engineer, Kanchan Chandra’s famous argument of ethnic party outbidding, ‘when parties are formed along ethnic lines with huge support from ethnic backyard, then a minor ethnic group will feel excluded and when elections are nearby, this ethnic group will leave “outbid” and form its own party dominated by its ethnic members. The internal primary goal of such ethnic political party would be development and provision of social services to the party backyard. When that happened, another minor ethnic group would outbid again thus resulting into ethnic polarization, ethnicization of politics and centripetal politics.’

The argument of Chandra is applicable in the case of Dr. Lam Akol’s Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement for Democratic Change (SPLM-DC) during June 2009, when it was founded nine months to elections.

The objectives of SPLM-DC are as good as SPLM party but during April 2010 elections Dr. Lam relied much on his ethnic group in Upper Nile region particularly the counties of Shilluk ethnic group where he garnered over 90% votes and negligible votes from other regions.

This also applied to the case of Salva Kiir who scooped many votes from Dinka states with the highest votes from his Warrap stronghold.

The outcome of the elections was contested with Dr. Lam Akol terming them as highly rigged and flawed and insisted on taking SPLM to Supreme Court. What followed later was the rebellion of Johnson Oliny in the Upper Nile State, which many analysts viewed as having causation with Dr. Lam Akol’s defeat in the elections.

What I trying to argue here is how ethnic party politics emerged nine months to the elections with consequences of rebellions and polarization of politics.

The return of Dr. Lam Akol to Juba should be analyzed on his past ethnic party politics and also on the desire of promotion of multiparty politics embedded on pluralism and institutionalism.

Most institutional prescriptions depoliticize the issues that ethnic groups are most likely to fight over and constrain the power of ethnic majorities to make unilateral decisions on issues that concern ethnic minorities.

Dr. Lam Akol should begin embracing the fight for competitive politics across the ten states of South Sudan to prove the point of being the main opposition party in the country.

He should take advantage of the growing middle class in the country that has been blended with professionalism and independence and he should sell his policies genuinely on what his party should do to the citizens and with constructive criticisms to the ruling party.

The idea of institutionalism can be deepened on the advocacy of the establishment of Political Parties Council (PPC) as stipulated by the Political Parties Act 2012. This should be a beginning point so that the Political Parties Council (PPC) provides a platform for dialogue among the members of political parties and also an avenue of regulations of the activities of political parties.

Once established by the President with the consultation of other parties, the eight-member PPC shall scrutinize political parties to separate the real political parties from personal briefcase parties used as vehicles of securing political positions, and which lack policies and structures.

The scrutiny as provided for in Political Parties Act 2012 demands all political parties to undergo fresh registration including SPLM and be awarded a certificate after as well fulfilling other requirements as stipulated in the law.

So the realization of the PPC will provide a level playing ground for all political parties, which shall enhance competitive and multiparty politics in South Sudan.

Other responsibilities of opposition party in the National Legislative Assembly should be seen awakening. For instance vibrancy should be seen in critical advocacy for adherence to constitutionalism, rule of law, respect for human rights, security of citizens, good governance, efficiency economy and delivery of services to citizens.

If Dr. Lam Akol comes with the attitude of April 2010 elections then he is returning with ethnic party politics.

However, if he comes with advocacy for the establishment of Political Parties Council, good governance, market driven economy and critical but constructive criticisms to the ruling party so as to accommodate institutionalism, pluralism and populism in politics then his return will be the beginning of multiparty politics in South Sudan.

Mr. Chol is a Comparative Political Scientist, a founder and Executive Director for the Centre for Democracy and International Analysis (CDIA). A research and an academic think-tank based in Juba. He can be reached at


  1. Nhial Gatkuoth Chung says:

    There is reason behind his return, Lam will still criticize SPLM, because what makes him to form a new party hinted facts about the ruling not showing on democratic principles. If SPLM innovates a new leadership style like improving human rights records, freedom of expression and democratic transformation, things will go in right direction.

  2. Dear Jacob Dut Chol:

    Now, I come to ethnic politics you may be talking about on Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin. There is nothing wrong for that! Charity begins at home. The election of 2010, it was done POORLY including in the north. There were people from his tribe in Shilluk, who did not vote for him. There were people who vote for Kirr from his people Shilluk. There are people in Dinka, from president Kirr tribe from home of Warrap State, they had voted for Dr.Lam Akol Ajawin candidacy!

    What I need in future is that to allow political candidates in the country, to campaign in ten states in the South without any restriction like what happened in 2010 between Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin,and President Salva Kirr. Dr.Lam supporters were forbidden from propagating for him. His supporters were arrested and tortured in the cells by organ security favouring with President Kirr candidate.That was taken place in the past! Let us give democracy a chance in the government-to keep people in the South glue together to avoid fragment and wedge for POLITICAL SELF AMBITION!!

  3. Makoi Majak Luke says:

    Dr Lam AKol is a political opposition of SPLM and they see him as a big threat. However, Dr Lam should reconsider his position as an opposition and do more than what the SPLM can by uniting South Sudanese. In the other way he’s been given another opportunity (amnesty) by his arch rival (Salva) that’s a huge bonus for him to popularize his party and their agenda BUT not spill the beans.
    Let PAST be PAST

    • Daniel Madoc says:

      @Makoi Majak
      Now that makes sense, bro, keep up. South Sudan will have great leaders. I can now assume.
      Our country is politically stable and we need young blood in our government, the ones just like you!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Ping says:

    This the kind of article that deserve publishing because the writer is not biased. He carefully brings to consideration both the strength and weakness of each and if all of us comment or write like him, our maturity will contribute positively to peace building.

  5. Joana Adams says:

    Jacob Chol,
    Dr Lam did not set out to start a tribal or ethnic party. We may have to check the constitution of the SPLM-DC, to verify your interpretation. However, if his main supporters are from his Chollo tribe then it is because our society is basically tribal in nature. On the other hand, every ethnicity in South Sudan is a nation by itself.
    So if because of the marginalization and active exclusion policy of the SPLM of leaders from other communities and when these leaders decide to form their own parties, there should be no hard feelings. Besides it is their democratic rights to have means of political expressions in their own country.
    And when they decide to form their own parties however numerically few they are, the parties they form are by definition national parties.
    It was not so long ago that the Jallaba used to claim Southern parties were not national parties forgetting that some northern parties had no southern membership. How history repeats itself indeed!
    Every South Sudanese deserves the right to contest for the leadership of the country. Let the people decide not some political spin doctors. There should be no panic because Dr. Lam has returned to this country.

  6. kikisik says:

    Talking about opposition leader, I doubt whether we have one. An examplary opposition leader should be like those of Aung San Suu Kyi, Kizza Besigge, Morgan Tsvangirai, Navalny of Russia, not the likes of ours who went hiding when things become tough.
    I was one of your fans when you break out from SPLM and form your Party, but when you abandon the people of South Sudan- I withdraw my support and I hope the entire people of South Sudan. And if election were held today, I won’t vote for you. You let the people of South Sudan down and I think your political career is over.
    “leaders comes leaders goes, but South Sudan will remain forever”

  7. Dr JAC Ramba says:

    Dear Jacob Dut Chol
    Thank you for bringing up this very interesting topic. You obviously have your own reasons to disagree with Dr. Lam Akol even before he could register his SPLM-DC after hopefully fulfilling the requirements of the Political Parties Act 2012. However I hope you read the comment posted by our brother Chief Abiko Akuronyang. It contains much substance for us to learn from. In 2010 it was not Dr. Lam Akol who acted in a tribal way. The truth of the matter is that a good chunk of South Sudan’s tribes barred his team (SPLM-DC) from campaigning in their backyards, Bomas, Payams, Counties and States. You can revisit all the incidences that surrounded the 2010 general elections and see for yourself the magnitude of hostilities shown by people in Warrap, Lakes and Northern Bahr Ghazal states against the non SPLM candidates and their agents. It is there that the mother of South Sudan’s tribalism was manifested.
    If you can direct your anti-tribalism campaign to the people of Warrap, lakes and northern bahr Ghazel to respect other south Sudanese’s rights to freely hold political rallies in their backyards, I believe someone like Dr. Lam Akol will be delighted to go and sell himself in these places especially that he has command of the local languages spoken by these groups as well as being well versed on their cultures and traditions. After all the guy wants to be a president for the whole country!
    The other point of correction is that down inside you know that not all Shilluk are supporters of SPLM-DC. The fact that this party has a big backing in the Chollo land is simply because it finds not hostility from the local population whenever it is out on campaign tour. Those Shilluk who were convicted by SPLM DC’s argument joined, those who didn’t buy it went to other political parties as simple as that.
    My advice to you is if you want Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin to become a national South Sudanese figure if he is already not, then you join him and help him achieve that. At least you will have succeeded in your campaign against tribal politics.
    Many of us in the other political parties are ready to go out there and challenge the SPLM in its traditional strong holds if only the local communities can stop looking at us as outsiders and aliens. Do say we are small parties. We are big in ideas, however we are being held back by the fact that for purely tribal reasons other people do not want to join nor are willing to allow us practice our constitutional rights to operate, recruit and play national politics on every inch of the South Sudan soil.
    Dr. JAC Ramba. Secretary General of United South Sudan Party (USSP).

  8. Kikisik says:

    Mr. Adam,
    I Thank you for proving me wrong! Could you then tell me of one effective opposition party in South Sudan?

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