BY: John Juac, WINDSOR, Ontario, Canada, SEPT/14/2013, SSN;
It is unlikely that President Kiir Mayardit has ever read remarkably perceptive messages from his people in social media. If he had, he might have well pondered the messages and great debates which often describe the state sector as non-exist after independence. When the South Sudanese nation finally recovers its freedom of speech, one may hear so much contentions that the amazed world will think the times of the Tower of Babel are back.
Indeed, South Sudan of this day is beginning to sound like the mythical tower; on almost every major issue, and wide-ranging and even potentially explosive debates are in progress. Some are taking place in the official mass media. Some are surfacing in the newly emerging and still very limited underground organs of dissent, and others are occurring literally in the expatriate community, through lively public encounters.
The scope and substance of the Internet debates unleashed in the quest for a political reform involving major and interlocking issues. Collectively, they are dynamically fracturing the already fragile expatriate community and national unity back home. Each of the major subjects under debate tend to overlap with others, thereby widening the range and intensifying the vigor of the disputation among the politically conscious but splinter groups of the South Sudanese society.
The central focus of public debate is the state sector; it has been taken over by gangsters and all the important institutions that are crucial for running the new nation have been debauched: the army, police, civil service, state media, parliament and judiciary.
Each institution has been packed with the leaders’ tribesmen and sycophants; professionalism and accountability in these institutions have been destroyed and the result is the institutional breakdown evidenced in many African countries.
Thus, for the rising opposition leaders within what is known as the exiled reform movement, the solution is simple: a complete overhaul of the defective state vehicle is needed; the state vehicle must be reclaimed; the reckless driver tossed out; and each system checked and rewired.
In practical terms, the ruling SPLM’s political model must be dismantled; built in its place must be democratic system that admits open participation by those who have heretofore been excluded. The system whereby one group monopolizes both political and economic power is untenable and ultimately explosive.
Similarly, the corrupt government must be let go and political and economic power return to the people. According to a man who identified himself as a chairperson of the exiled reform movement, whose membership is yet to grow, the other major reform needed is institutional. The various institutions of government must be reformed and professionalism established in each.
Soldiers of the SPLA must do what they have been trained to do and not impose themselves on the political arena and the judiciary must learn how to dispense justice fairly and without fear and favor.
The main areas in which the reform must take place are institutional, political, intellectual and economic. Since political and economic systems are inseparable in the new nation, the chairperson and his followers maintained that they must go hand in hand.
However, some journalists who attended a public discussion could not endorse their program of reform, claiming that economic and political reforms do not address where the institutional and intellectual systems should be placed in the sequence, but believed that perhaps by deductive analysis, they could all make some headway together.
A South Sudanese economist working for a big international business firm came to a similar conclusion and reminded his comrades that political freedom is essential to a nation’s economic success. A free press, he said, is vital for a free market because it enables people to make informed decisions.
If this is missing, then the economic autonomy will surely fail because “you cannot have a free press and have a centralized, authoritarian government.”
In fact, economic reform cannot be implemented in a country like South Sudan where a civil war or strife is raging; the present strife is really a conflict over yet-unresolved political issues pertaining to the right of participation in the decision-making process, an effort by those individuals excluded from the process to remove the ruling elite from power.
To emphasize his claim, the economist recalled a 2010 dispute over some aspect of the electoral process that triggered a rebellion in Jongeli state and in other regions of the country. “Clearly, the economy cannot be meaningfully reformed until the political question has been settled,” he averred.
The institution of democracy may not necessarily rescue the economy of the country but it makes all difference whether the country- and, therefore, the economy- exists or not. We can never comprehend our national crisis so long as we continue to assume that it is an economic one. What we are confronting is primarily a political crisis, albeit with devastating economic consequences.
The new authoritarian state has assumed the roles of economic regulator, planner and entrepreneur, and in this case, economic reform under authoritarian regime is not sustainable. South Sudan is characterized by weak authoritarian regime that maintains its authority through personalistic patron-relationship, and this relationship is prone to sudden and erratic changes that produce political instability.
This instability impedes correction of structural imbalances.
Another problem South Sudan contents with today is the struggle for power within the SPLM nationalist party, which often spills over to the already ethnically divided country.
Meaningful economic reform cannot occur under the watchful eyes of the ruling SPLM coconut heads unless the power equation is resolved. The political uncertainty and instability discourage business investment, so a new leader would make thing easier for foreign investors.
In the same vein, significant institutional reform may be achieved more readily under a new leader. But resolving the leadership and political issues requires intellectual freedom.
Can citizens freely debate the reform issues in South Sudan where in every city, town and village, supporters of the SPLM nationalist party and police spies can report the smallest expression of dissent; in South Sudan where President Kiir Mayaardit can use his powers under a preservation of public security, to detain people who disagree with him on the important matters of public interest without charge; in South Sudan where President Mayarrdit can order a court judge to sentence to death any person perceived to pose a threat to his authoritarian regime.
The recent death sentences imposed on the innocent people by a court judge in Wau, the capital of Western Bahr el Ghazal state are clear examples. The new law passed after independence does not permit a real freedom of expression, but it does offer senior cabinet ministries immunity from prosecution of administrative corruption and members of the ruling SPLM as well.
In addition, the mass media is firmly in control of the SPLM’s authoritarian regime. The crucial issue in political reform, said one of the journalists, is the regime’s monopoly over the principal mass media. A free flow of information is vital not only for democratic society but also for sound economic management.
The establishment of a free marketplace of ideas is necessary if a reform is to be internally generated. But this is hardly possible in a repressive environment in which freedom of expression is not tolerated and journalists are routinely harassed by a regime that refuses to obey its own laws.
Undoubtedly, a free and private press is an effective antidote for corruption and economic mismanagement. Therefore, intellectual reform must precede political, which, in turn, must precede economic reform. The latter can be implemented under new leadership.
Further, a support for the basis of this argument, the journalist added, is derived from five steps in problem resolution. The first is the exposure of the problem, which is the business of journalists, editors, writers and intellectuals. A problem cannot be solved if it is swept under a rug. Freedom of expression and to publish is required for problems to be exposed.
More important, it is the South Sudanese people who ultimately must devise their own solutions to their problems. But they need the freedom of expression to debate and determine what solutions which would be optimal.
In general the participants agreed that openness, the free flow of information and meaningful political choices are the keys to accountability and resulting control of corruption. They also concluded that the print media afford forums for publishing and exchanging ideas and solutions to problems.
The authoritarian regime of President Kiir Mayardit, however, has disregarded the critical importance of intellectual freedom, which embraces the freedom of expression, press freedom and free flow of information.
A pertinent characteristic of South Sudan’s political system is the rigid control exercised over the content and flow of information: what can be said, printed or disseminated by the people, editors and publishers. The system does not know that the free flow of information is vital for an economy if foreign investors are to make sound decisions.
A media specialist also pointed out that censorship, injudicious detention and intimidation of journalists work against the public’s right to information and the right to hold and express opinions and ideas. Both rights are guaranteed under Article 19 of the U.N. Charter and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights to which South Sudan is the signatory. This open discussion was conducted at the community Center here in August this year.
The Resistance to Political Reform
To become rich in South Sudan, one does not have to produce anything. All one has to do is to enter politics, become a government official, and use the office to amass personal fortune. The main problem is that the young nation’s leaders do not have a progressive view of the meaning of holding public office.
In Canada and other countries, public office is seen as way to provide selfless service to one’s nation. It is held in very high regard, with the knowledge that those in public office are accountable to those they serve.
To South Sudanese officials, it is merely an opportunity to enrich self and kindred. A bunch of cabinet ministries continue to do disservice to the entire nation by playing favorites with certain ethnic groups and ignoring others.
When Kwane Nkrumah exhorted Africans to Seek ye first the political kingdom, independence from colonial rule, he probably had no idea how this dictum would be perverted in South Sudan. The burning obsession of the educated southerners is to seek the political kingdom, government office to enrich themselves.
Unfortunately, only one person can be the president and minister at a time so a fierce competition erupts for those posts. And once they are secured, by means fair or foul, they must never be given up because expulsion from the state sector can mean an economic death sentence. Thus, the occupants of these government positions must do all that they can to remain in these posts forever.
Even among South Sudan’s expatriate community, politics still remains very attractive; thousands of South Sudanese exiles in North America and Europe are patiently waiting for the chance to become the next president and minister in their new nation.
But political and economic situations in their fledgling nation continue to remain distressing. The euphoria that gripped many as the wind of change swept the region following formal independence has been replaced with a sense of disillusionment.
Disillusion and frustration about lack of progress in arresting the country’s crisis have also led some exiled groups instigating for political reform. However, the quack revolutionaries simply are not interested in reforming their abominable system. They may defend their positions and perks to even death.
Mobilizing the masses and pressing for political reform is one thing. Actually wining election is a far more difficult in a country where the ruling party controls the media and dominates virtually every phase of the election process, from registering voters to deciding the location of the poll places. South Sudan’s autocrats are far more endurable than their counterparts in the neighboring countries.
There may be a fierce resistance to reform from several sources. After independence, the leaders of the SPLM nationalist party have built a cult of personality around themselves with an air of invincibility and infallibility. The new nation’s fortunes and destiny are very much tied up with their personalities.
Mr. Kiir Mayardit and his followers get this absurd notion that the country belongs to them and them alone. They have their hands so steeped in blood and their pockets so full of booty that they are afraid all their past glory misdeeds may be exposed. Since accepting reform of any kind, is an admission of failure or fallibility, they may put up all sorts of arcane reasons to block reform. So they may cling to power at all cost, regardless of the consequences in 2015.
Another source of resistance may come from sycophants and supporters, drawn from the ruler’s own tribe. Ethnicity may add an even more, dangerous element to quest for the political reform issue in South Sudan.
It may cast the issue into tribal rivalry: one tribe, fearing that it may lose its dominant position in government, may oppose the transition to the multi-party system of government, while the other excluded tribe may resort to violence to dislodge the ruling tribe from power. Other supporters may simply be bought: soldiers with big fat paychecks and perks; students with free tuition and hefty allowances; intellectuals, the existing opposition leaders and lawyers with big government posts and Mercedes Benz es.
The final potent source of resistance may come from the elite: high government officials, intellectuals, journalists with state media and civil servants. These people benefit immensely from government subsidies and control. They have access to free government housing and medical care and are entitled to government loans for the purchase of cars and refrigerators.
Occupying presidency is a lucrative business and President Mayardit and his supporters have amassed legendary personal fortunes. Their business empires may collapse if economic reform strips them of state control. Economic reform may also undermine their ability to maintain their political support base and thus prove suicidal.
On the other hand, ordinary city residents are too traumatized by the growing insecurity to mount any effective challenge to the country’s brutal dictators. Peasants in the rural regions, the majority of the population, are notoriously difficult to organize when it comes to a political game.
So how would the exiled reformers gain popular support from peasants and push these conservative forces toward changing South Sudan to the multi-party system of government? Or would they be able to make a holy alliance with a ragtag army of rebels to mount effective challenge to quack revolutionary leaders?
Let us wait and see.
John Juac Deng