By Dr Lako Jada Kwajok ,
ST. ANTHONY’S COLLEGE, OXFORD UNIVERSITY,
VENUE: NISSAN LECTURE THEATRE,
Theme: The New State of South Sudan,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
March 2, 2019(Nyamilepedia) — The current situation in South Sudan may look like a deja vu to some observers. It reminds us of particular stations in our long journey through the history of Sudan and South Sudan after secession in 2011. History seems to be repeating itself when we analyse the events that took place before and in the early years after the independence of Sudan on 01/01/1956 against those that led to the crisis in present independent South Sudan.
Understanding this point would take us back to a particular event in October 1954 when the Liberal Party, led by Abdul Rahman Sule, Stanislaus Beyasama, and Buth Dieu held a public rally in Malakal town. At the rally, the Liberal Party which was the only one at that time representing the Southern Sudanese voice announced its support for the independence of Sudan, opposition to unity with Egypt, and federalism. The Southerners never demanded secession in the days leading to the establishment of independent Sudan.
Here I would like to borrow the question at the top of the themes of this conference – what went wrong? It all boils down to short-sighted decisions and mistakes that were committed by the political elites in the North. Five of them stood out, and I believe had pushed the Southerners towards pursuing the politics of regionalism and secession.
Firstly, the most significant political event in Sudan before independence was the Cairo Conference in June 1953 to discuss the future of Sudan and self- determination. The elites in the North decided to leave the Southerners out of that Conference. The move was met with anger and dismay from the Liberal Party and Southerners in general. They argued that the South is roughly one-third of the country, then how come its representatives were ignored and not consulted in decisions relating to the future of the country?
Secondly, the Sudanisation of the government positions in the South was completed in February 1954 where eight hundred posts (800) were given to Northerners while Southerners got only six (6) positions. Regardless, whether the Southerners had enough cadres to fill up those positions or not, many likened the whole process as nothing but replacing a colonialist with another one. This notion was reinforced by the fact that not all the British officials left their posts in North Sudan immediately but stayed beyond the independence of Sudan.
Thirdly, The attitude of the elites in the North towards the Southerners wasn’t conducive to the removal of social prejudices that emanated from Sudan’s past which was tainted with the slave trade. The notion that they are “Awlad al-Balad” translated as Sons of the land, and others, particularly the Southerners, are not, was a massive obstacle in the way of nation-building. It made a significant part of the population feel that they were being treated as second or third class citizens in their own country.
Of course, it didn’t help the people to forget the injustices of the past but rather reignited the conflict.
Fourthly, The attitude mentioned above was further complicated by the implementation of a policy of Arabisation and Islamisation of Southern Sudan. The government took upon itself the propagation of one culture and religion as opposed to the safeguarding of cultural and religious freedom. But the ethnic factor appeared to be more important than the religious one.
Such divisive racial prejudices surfaced way before the independence of Sudan. A nationalist pioneer like Ali Abdul Latif, the leader of the White Flag League, who led the struggle for self- determination for Sudan in the twenties of the past century; was met with disapproval from some quarters within the northern elites for the single reason of not hailing from the “Awlad al Balad” group.
Fifthly, Unequal economic development where most of the development projects were situated in the areas close to the Capital and the central region. Despite its massive untapped natural resources; the South never received any meaningful development projects since the departure of the British colonialists. Most of the infrastructures in Southern Sudan were built during British rule.
The rulers in the North thought promoting economic growth in South Sudan before ensuring unity based on Arabism and Islamism would empower the South to secede. They ignored the fact that equitable wealth sharing would have silenced the voices calling for secession if at all there were such voices at the time.
The question that I believe has crossed the minds of many people is: Could secession have been avoided, had the rulers done things differently?
Suppose the rulers at that time implemented a national policy based on inclusivity, democracy, equitable wealth sharing, and justice, would Sudan still divide into two countries? Of course, we cannot be 100% sure of what the future would have looked like for Sudan. But one thing is entirely plausible that such a policy would have deprived the secessionists whether in the North or the South of the justifications for their Movements.
It’s very likely that history would have taken a different course in favour of unity, had the northern elites implemented a fair-handed policy. Instead, they fell into the trap of cultural and religious hegemony thinking that integration can only be achieved by turning Sudan through an iron-fist policy into a melting pot for a pre-determined product which is an Arab and Islamic country.
It was an impossible undertaking because, at the time of the independence of Sudan, 67% of the population were deemed non-Arabs. The best approach would have been to establish a citizenship-based State that embraces all the ethnicities and religions. Unfortunately, the northern elites unwisely implemented a unilateral policy towards making Sudan a nation-based country where Arabism and Islamism become the sole identity of the populace.
Those who have different cultures and religious beliefs have to forego their heritage. That policy brought nothing but protracted wars and misery upon the people of Sudan. It backfired and utterly failed to achieve the intended objectives. The result was a division into two embattled countries. There are similarities in some aspects between Sudan in the early years following independence and South Sudan after secession.
Like in Sudan on 01/01/1956, when the northern elites took over the country – the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party, took power in South Sudan since the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. Here a party gets full control of a country with vast natural resources, a reasonable number of technocrats (far better than Sudan and many African countries at independence), no loans, and supportive and enthusiastic people.
It was the perfect setting any President, political leader or party would dream of being at the centre of it. It was also a historic opportunity to achieve all the objectives and cement a lasting legacy that is celebrated by the people. It looked like nothing could go wrong. The future of the world’s youngest nation seemed very promising, and many people believed that it would be transformed into a prosperous country in the heart of Africa. Alas! people never envisaged that the realities would be that far from their expectations.
Again, the above question repeats itself here, what went wrong? The SPLM leaders committed the same mistakes that led to the secession of South Sudan from Sudan. Ethnic hegemony replaced the policies of Arabism and Islamism in Sudan that as we know was spearheaded by the northern elites. It’s even far worse than what we saw in Sudan before the split. The ethnic chauvinism degenerated into regionalism, tribalism, clan and family-driven politics.
Policies were developed and enacted to serve the interests of one or two ethnic groups including land grabbing and the annexation of the ancestral lands of some tribes. Also, the politics of tribal hegemony have dominated the security, economic, educational, and media sectors. Small tribes have been underrepresented in all aspects of life and significantly marginalised worst than when Sudan was one country.
In addition to the above, the government failed to maintain law and order, provision of essential services, and the establishment of development projects to move the country forward. But the biggest misrule was plunging the country into civil war that was entirely avoidable. After spending most of its modern history in civil wars, one would have expected the South Sudanese leaders to be more mindful of that fact when faced with matters related to war and peace in the country.
Seeking middle grounds and compromises would have been the right approach to spare the State the burden of civil war. Unfortunately, the SPLM elites acted irresponsibly by prioritising personal and party interests against that of the country.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The way forward is for the rulers to remember and learn the lessons of history. Being in power merely by military might is unsustainable.
The opposition won’t vanish or go away without a fair political settlement. They represent the majority of the South Sudanese people. In the absence of an acceptable peace agreement, the conflict would continue to be there while the opposition grows much stronger. The world had witnessed how the former Soviet Union with its massive nuclear arsenal failed to save itself from disintegration.
Even what happened in Sudan before secession should have shown our rulers the futility of such policies. I am afraid the same mentality of believing in military power alone, which is commonplace among dictators, is the one running the government in South Sudan. They seem not to realise that what they are doing right now is not nation-building but instead aborting the very process.
Allowing the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) out of the 64 tribes of South Sudan to interfere in national politics and clandestinely run a parallel parliament that influences the President, is not nation-building. Similarly, the recruitment of tribal militias and the establishment of the new 32 States with some carved out of the ancestral lands of some communities and given to others, is not nation-building but rather the dismantling of its foundations.
The National Salvation Front (NAS) participated in the High-Level Revitalisation Forum (HLRF) in December 2017 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with an open mind to reach a just peace. We negotiated in good faith and gave concessions to reach a compromise. Neither IGAD’s mediation team tactics nor the general environment were ideal throughout the peace process. Nonetheless, NAS persevered with the negotiations as putting an end to the suffering of our people is second to none in its objectives.
Unfortunately, NAS was left with no choice but to reject the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R- ARCSS) because it didn’t address the root causes of the conflict. It’s more or less a power-sharing between the elites in the government and the opposition with little impact on solving the problems of the country. Federalism, accountability (both criminal and financial), revocation of the 32 States, and total overhaul of the security sector were left out.
Despite the flaws within ARCSS 2015, it provided an acceptable agreement for the majority of the South Sudanese people. Sadly, the R-ARCSS 2018 is less fair than ARCSS 2015 as it legitimised the 32 states that were not in existence in 2015, dropped federalism and threw accountability out of the window.
Peace would eventually prevail in South Sudan. How soon that would happen is yet to be seen.
It would rely on a great deal of political will and statesmanship both from the government and the opposition as well. Leaders have to rise above their personal and party interests and put the country before any considerations. They also, need to realise that time is of the essence as the more the current situation continues, the more South Sudan gets closer to chaos. The social fabric is in tatters and needs mending sooner than later. The scenario of Balkanisation is not far fetched.
A comprehensive solution could only be realised through a negotiated peace deal that establishes the foundations of good governance, inclusive security sector, and elements of economic growth. Accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity should be vigorously pursued through reputable courts whether a Hybrid Court or the International Criminal Court (ICC).
All the grievances within the communities whether due to land feuds, cattle rustling or otherwise should be resolved by the upholding of the rule of law and the promotion of the spirit of brotherhood and equality among the South Sudanese people.
Dr Lako Jada Kwajok
Chairman of NAS International Relations Committee.