The Sorry Tale of the Former Bush Fighters in Independent South Sudan


A new social structure doesn’t automatically follow the attainment of political freedom; that, like the battle for independence, has to be fought for and won by an army of stalwarts as determined in purpose as those who waged the struggle for freedom. The second stage of a nation building when reviewed soberly, appears if anything, harder than the first. (Nkrumah, 1968:12).

Is it what has happened in South Sudan after independence? It may seem so, as certain moods have grown within independence government, such as arrogance, the airs of self-styled heroes, inertia and unwillingness to make progress, love of pleasure and distaste for hard living and yet with their victory, some are grateful to them and foreign capitalists have come forward to flatter them.

It has been proven that the enemy can’t conquer them by force of arms; however, the flattery of foreign capitalists may conquer the weak-willed in their ranks.

There may be some, who weren’t conquered by enemies with guns and were worthy of the name of heroes for standing up to the enemies. But who can’t withstand sugar-coated bullets, they may be defeated by sugar-coated bullets. They may want to guard against such a situation.

The victory of the rebels turned rulers in South Sudan, viewed in retrospect, may seem like only a brief prologue to a long drama. A drama begins with a prologue, but the prologue is not the climax. Their victory is great, but the road is longer and the work greater and more arduous.

This may be made clear now in the government as well as in the SPLM nationalist party. The comrades may be taught to remain modest, prudent and free from arrogance and rashness in their style of work. The comrades may be taught to preserve the style of plain living and hard struggle.

Their philosopher-king may appear from somewhere to save them. If the philosopher-king comes, he may get rid of a bad style and keep the good. He may tell comrades to learn what they didn’t know. They are not only good at destroying the old world, they are also good at building a new one.

Not only can they live without begging alms from white capitalists, they will live a better life than their former civil war foe far north. The new leaders are recent emigrants from the villages and small towns; they not only look forward to the future, they also look backward to a romanticized rural past.

The struggle for economic development has captured the interests of the vast majority of these new leaders, Indeed, the very slogan that they themselves have coined….”the revolution of rising expectations”…..conveys in itself their good intentions for their followers struggling to escape from absolute poverty.

But the problem is that few leaders understand what the process of development entails, or what the revolution of rising expectations really means? To most of them, development is merely a matter of money with which they assume economic development is bought. Unfortunately, money is the last, if not the least, step in the development sequence.

For the long climb out of backwardness is not merely a matter of getting richer; it is first and foremost a matter of changing an entire society in ways that must go to the root of its ordinary life and that are bound to shake or topple its basic structure of power and prestige.

The new nation is only run by the former bush fighters, and the mass of its population remains alienated from the official apparatus of the state. This doesn’t mean that the former bush fighters are undivided. There are endless disagreements among them, and sudden energetic action by those with authority is not without justification.

They are divided along personality and tribal and regional lines, rather than along policy or ideological lines. At the same time, if governing poses few political problems, its administrative problems are immense.

The new nation is confronted with almost insuperable difficulties, lacking for instance, the essential bureaucratic machinery to implement policies even when they have been decided upon by foreign specialists.

If people are to commit to modernization they must be convinced and recruited. In taking this difficult task, the government has been trapped in its own demagogic schemes. An effective administration needs people, managers, unswerving devotion and discipline; building from scratch needs capital and careful calculated investment.

Above all, reason must reign supreme- which is the rarest of all situations in every country in the world.

Beyond administrative problems, the new nation’s greatest contemporary challenge is international relations. Conflict with Sudan remains a concern, with the two countries seeming to be frequently at risk for further war, although the situation is monitored by UN peace keeping forces. Such conflict, should it recur, would inevitably divert scarce economic resources to the military.

On the positive note, the two countries are likely to agree in principle to work out a peaceful relationship between them; otherwise the border war makes no economic sense.

On the domestic front, the future growth prospects are weak by infrastructure and other structural difficulties.

Democratically, the regime of comrade Kirr Mayardit has not found adequate ways to accommodate genuine dissent other than incorporating opposition elements into the dominant party.

Few months after a declaration of the new Republic and without consultation of the general population, the so-called National Legislative Assembly drafted a new constitution and the head of the former bush fighters signed it into law.

However, the new law has re-established Khartoum-styled one-party nature of regime, undercutting hopes that the transitional process may be facilitating a limited degree of the multi-party democracy and political autonomy.

According to foreign observers of South Sudan’s 2010 elections, the incompetent and corrupt former rebels had rigged those elections and violated democratic process. So what is now known as the young nation’s Legislative Assembly, made up of the narrow-minded arch-conservatives of very mediocre abilities, does not faithfully express the will of the people.

In theory, South Sudan’s ethno-federal arrangement enables regions of the country to act with some autonomy from central government, but the ruling party’s stranglehold on appointive positions at national, regional and local levels means that top-down control remains intact.

Thus economic stagnation, ineffective administration, challenge of international relations and political domination present South Sudan with a range of major social problems.

Just two years after seceding from Sudan, it has been plunged more deeply into acute impoverishment and general political confusion. It is very small in territory or population, and can never hope to prosper unless it works out peaceful relationships with its neighbors, especially the former civil war foe.

It is tied so closely to the financial or commercial leading strings of democratic capitalist West and communist China so as to enjoy little but the appearance of sovereignty; and having failed to settle internal rivalries, is more deep in the toils of tribal rebellions.

Furthermore, the citizens of the newly independent nation have lost confidence in the ability of their new rulers to feed them and house them, leave alone protect them from armed gangs and foreign aggression.

The new rulers, having also lost confidence in their own political capacity, are now taking refuge in rampant corruption which threatens to undermine their one party regime.

Corruption and other malpractices are consuming all what is internally generated. Surely, when a nation’s economics is stagnated and people are having a hard time making a living, the temptation is extremely high among civil servants to steal or demand payment for performing a task for which they are already being paid.

The connection between poverty and corruption cannot be overstated, particularly in this era of global communications in which people all over the world are aware of how much they lack compared to the people in the more affluent countries.

The freedom celebrated on Independence Day has found its realization in reign of terror. Several renegade generals allying with tribal militias are terrorizing the entire rural communities, which are just recovering from the effects of long and devastating civil war with Islam fundamentalists in Khartoum.

Heavily reliant on international aid for service provision, large swathes of the young nation are out of reach of the authority and institutions of the state.

In major cities and towns, the state security forces backed by rogue politicians within the governing party, often hunt down social activists and journalists like common beasts. They dump activists and media workers into nearby bushes after being severely beaten for trying to expose the corrupt officials.

Most of the corrupt officials are the ruling party’s card holders who are entirely content to relapse into positions of personal privileges and to repress, by reckless arrogation of all power to themselves, every effective criticism or popular movement aimed at regeneration.

On final note, foreign journalists who have been marooned for months in South Sudan often react with incredulity to its fundamental problems: rival ideas and divergent loyalties, disunity and inter-community conflict.

Undoubtedly, these are destabilizing forces and yet the rebels turned rulers view them as resolvable.

Additionally, since they took power after the war in 2005, the former rebels have not been able to construct a national plan for economic development to swiftly coordinate their efforts to lift the territory out of its backwardness into the light of modern civilization.

According to insiders, they have no leadership capability of conceiving and directing programs for independent development. Consequently, they have come under savage attack from their concerned citizens living overseas.

The exiles are calling upon their political leaders to rid the country of tribal rivalry and ethnic dissension and to ward off foreign aggression. But there is no guarantee that the leaders, whether in opposition or in the government of the day, can unite among themselves and lead the fight against socio-economic backwardness and the common foe.

The chauvinism, jealousies, love of political power and all weakness and foibles of politicians, political parties and governments known to very part of the African continent operate equally strongly in South Sudan.

Instead of a trend toward competitiveness and democracy, there is an erosion of democracy and a tendency to one-party regime.

Instead of stability, there are repeatedly allegations of military coups and rebellions within the army.

Instead of a unifying nationalism and nation-building, there are widespread ethnic conflicts in the countryside, new rulers running down the economy through theft, silencing social activists and journalists with continued death threats.

Instead of institutional rationalization and differentiation, there is a decay of administrative organizations inherited from the Khartoum system and disruption of the political organization after a long struggle for self-determination.

To avoid further divisions in their ranks and another greater tribal war, South Sudanese citizens, whether at home or abroad, should strongly demand a new leadership capable of creating a framework of unity, a new national army which is well trained, well equipped and superbly led.

The new leadership should also create a strong central government that can ensure the physical survival of THE homeland itself, which includes protecting the lives of its citizens; maintaining the territorial integrity of its borders; promoting the economic well-being of its people; and preserving national self-determination regarding the nature of the country’s governmental system and conduct of its internal affairs.

Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), a British philosopher, wrote that “it is greatest good to greatest number which is the measure of right and wrong.” While Bentham’s dictum ignores the possibility of absolute measures of right and wrong, it does have a practical appeal.

Undoubtedly, most people do tend to measure the worth of things to THE amount of good or bad which they produce. Since the French Revolution (1789), political and economic systems have generally been judged by a similar yardstick.

If the systems are such that they offer freedom, security and plenty to majority of citizens, they are deemed good and receive wider support. If they do not provide these things, they are considered bad and a majority of citizens may call for a structural transformation of their economic and political systems.

The statements of faith are, of course, THE very essence of historical writing in what has been called the Whig tradition of British historiography, and Bentham fits squarely inside this tradition. It is one that has its good causes and its bad causes, with good causes being determined as much by eventual success as by moral consideration.

Those people who combine both the moral standpoint and the Whig tradition, for most of their morally desirable causes eventually become successful ones, and they will be able to rejoice in the eventual emergence of a responsible and democratic government.

Their heroes are people who advocate and pursue these and similar causes, their villains those who oppose them or fail to make contribution to their evolution.

My fellow South Sudanese, let me tell you this: the problems of society are always solved by good men and women and perpetuated by bad ones, and it is possible to identify in all spheres of human activity, whether in politics, labor disputes, or the building of drains, those who have worked for progress and those who have resisted it.

In our new nation, mismanagement of public affairs and political corruption have reached unimaginable proportions and there is a fast deepening leadership and direction crisis. The nation has been put in a situation where it is at a point of no return.

It can get more from national oil revenues and more from external assistance, yet the UN aid agencies often issue heart-breaking reports of people dying of starvation and preventable diseases in the country.

This indicates that the new leaders have lost vision and no longer talk about the type of society they are striving for. They only talk about the survival of their one-party system and its administrative politics.

The number of armed groups fighting to overthrow the regime and ethnic conflict are increasing throughout the country, and the new leaders claim that they are trying just to manage the crises. Such crises can only be resolved through the creation of new governing structures to establish the rule of law, political democracy, national unity and peaceful environment for economic development.

John Juac Deng,

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