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 firstname.lastname@example.org.