Rumbek (2) and Re-launching of the SPLM Vision
By John A. Akec
22 April 2006
SPLM is a strange animal. All the eyes of the Sudanese people are always fixed on it to deliver. If it falters, all falter. It is like Noah’s great Ark. It must stay afloat, or else, we will be carried away by the torrents. Therefore, for SPLM, surviving internal and external crises becomes absolute necessity, not an option.
Rumbek has always been famous as the town that hosted the first, as well as one of the oldest secondary schools in Southern Sudan. The school in which generations of Southern Sudanese leaders were once educated.
In recent years, the name of the Southern Sudan town of Rumbek has come to gain significance in the life of SPLM as a political organization. It was in this city that the SPLM leadership managed to overcome potentially catastrophic rift in November 2004, just a month before the signing of Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between SPLM and the Government of Sudan. The conference that took place between 27th and 29th November 2004 enabled John Garang, the founding head of SPLM, to be reconciled with his deputy and the current head, Salva Kiir. This will be referred to in this article as Rumbek Conference 1, or Rumbek I.
Again amidst rumors of attempted coups and internal conflicts, all the eyes were focused once again on Rumbek as members of SPLM's new 34-member political Bureau met there between 2nd and 5th April 2006 to assess the progress in the implementation of CPA, restructure the party's internal organs and assign responsibilities, revaluate party's own performance, address internal issues, and relaunch a revised vision into the future. This will be called Rumbek 2.
Rumbek 2 was a timely event which came at the critical period when the concerns about the vision and policies of the SPLM under its new head, Lt. Gen. Salva Kiir were reaching a tipping point. It could have taken place earlier. But one must be grateful that it took place at all. And as Helmut von Moltke chief of staff of the German army in the World War I once observed: no plan survives contacts with enemy. It was therefore unthinkable that SPLM was going to proceed as it was - participating in the government of national unity (GONU), and running the government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), on an open-ended plan without a single pause to take stock and assess achievements and failures, and see how any mistakes could be rectified.
THE INTERNAL ISSUES
The minutes of the conference have not been published and what has been learned about the conference either was extracted through the final communiqué or through informal or other media sources.
First, there were the rumors of attempted coup by the SPLA chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Oyai Deng Ajak. It turned out to be of no basis. However, what actually did take place was that some of SPLA's heavy armory were relocated in positions around Juba by the orders the SPLA's chief of the staff. The UN peacekeeping forces were not informed of the plan, nor were GOSS security authorities made aware. That relocation of the troops and military heavy equipment triggered security alarm bells up and down the system. According to some sources, that troops relocation was caused by flooding of some areas of the city and therefore necessitating relocation of some heavy military equipment.
Second, there were issues of administrative nature to be sorted out. The president of the government of Southern Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit was said to be deeply concerned about many unreported travels by various Southern government ministers without clear mission or without notifying the cabinet affairs office about their programs. Kiir is also said to have raised concerns about the overlapping and even conflicting responsibilities of some GOSS ministers. One case in point is that of White Nile Petroleum Ltd, a joint venture between SPLM and private shareholders in Britain giving the company rights to explore and drill for oil in Southern Sudan in areas previously awarded to a French oil company, Total. The formation of that company sparked great controversy already. And as if that was not enough, deals and other important matters related to operation of this entity are still being carried out by former SPLM officials who now hold other positions of responsibility. The SPLM stakes in White Nile Petroleum Ltd are yet to be undertaken by the new GOSS Ministry of Energy.
In short, there are issues of change from the way the SPLM used to operate as a guerilla movement with adhoc procedures and murky boundaries of responsibilities that are like nothing close to that expected of an accountable ruling Party. It is essentially the problem of "change" that needs careful management in order to succeed, and succeed smoothly!
Third, there was the issue to do with the conduct of a number of SPLM ministers in the government of national unity (GONU). Chief among them were Dr Lam Akol of foreign affairs, Dr Nyot Kok of High Education, Science and Technology, Mr Aleu Ayeing of Internal Ministry, and Mr Telar Ring, of Cabinet Affairs.
To borrow professor Eric Reeves' description of Dr Lam Akol policy line on Darfur, they were "the willing tools" for serving the National Congress Party's political interests. Each minister was culpable of the accusation to varying degree. Dr Nyot Kok looked away from student’s unrest at the University of Juba in Khartoum that went on for months and let to loss of lives and property at the embattled Southern institution. And despite the calls from Southern academics to relocate the University back to the South, the minister concerned took no action. Mr. Telar Ring went out to the media to declare that the statements that were expressed in February 2006 by president Salva Kiir about slow pace of CPA implementation were "personal opinions". While Mr. Aleu Ayeny, the state minister in Sudan's Interior Ministry, publicly undermined the condemnation by Yasir Arman, the SPLM Parliamentary group head, of NCP policies in IDPs areas around Khartoum by suggesting that Araman's criticisms of the NCP were ill informed. This is not an exact quote of what the minister said, rather it is what can be deduced from the interpretation of it when he proposed to Rayaam that Mr Arman should first visit the ministry of Interior to find out facts for himself before making his criticism of NCP.
Overall, the conduct of the ministers described above showed SPLM in the worst light possible as a movement that has abandoned its roots, and its mission to represent the interests of South Sudanese and that of marginalized people of Sudan, such as Darfur, Abeyi, Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile, and Eastern Sudan. That its policies lacked coordination and coherence with the party's previously stated vision of striving to tackle Sudan's chronic political, social, and economic hegemony by a minority clique in Khartoum in the name of Islam, Arabism (Auroba), or otherwise.
Although many voices were heard calling for the resignation or dismissal of some of these ministers, others, including this author, saw it as too heavy-handed a penalty and not necessary. What were required were clear policy directives from the SPLM leadership to which the ministers should adhere to as much as possible, and to regularly report back to SPLM leadership. And that was exactly the sort of redress that emerged from Rumbek conference. No one was dismissed, but the concerned ministers where brutally rebuked and advised to serve the Party's interests and advance its vision.
In fact, change of tone and action by some of the ministers was apparent just a few days after the conference. This indicates to us that some policy recommendations were made to guide the ministers concerned in the government of national unity in line with SPLM political mission.
SPLM PARTY REORGANISATION
Some of the important outcomes of the conference were the appointment of Pagan Amum as SPLM national secretary general and spokesperson, Dr Luka Manoja as secretary of SPLM Southern sector, while Abdal Aziz Hilu was named as secretary of the Northern Sector, Yasir Arman as acting secretary for Northern Sector and head of SPLM Parliamentary Group in the national government. Dr Luka Biong was appointed as SPLM national treasurer. The appointments of those individuals to these strategic leadership positions within SPLM were well received by a wide sector of Sudanese community in both the South and the North based on track records of those SPLM members.
RELATIONSHIPS WITH NTIONAL CONGRESS
The relationships with National Congress Party were reviewed. Outstanding matters such as GOSS' share of oil revenues, controversies surrounding oil accounts, and delays in implementation of Abyei Boundary Commission recommendations were all discussed as well as the need to agree a policy on Darfur acceptable to both ruling parties.
SPLM VISION AND POLICIES
Most important of all was the endorsement of a new and clear stand on many pressing national and regional issues. Here SPLM has come out with a resolve to get involved in the resolution of Darfur and Eastern Sudan's conflicts. It also made policy recommendations in dealing with the problem of LRA in Southern Sudan.
All the above measures are beginning to bear fruits. The conference has been hailed as "success" especially by SPLM allies in the North who began to doubt the commitment of Kiir's leadership to SPLM's vision. The minister of High Education has now suspended the operation of Juba University and promised setting up a national review body to study problems of the University and make recommendations within one month. The SPLM has recently made contacts to encourage LRA to negotiate with Ugandan government and initial outcomes look positive. President Salva Kiir addressed the Assembly to flesh out his government policies, plans, and programmes. The statement was patchy in places and there were few targets. However, it was an excellent improvement on previous statements and the most comprehensive policy statement by the SPLM chief to date.
With unsteady and unsure start, and with many challenges of change still ahead, President Salva Kiir has re-launched SPLM vision once again. It is the vision that impacted Sudan in ways beyond measure. Its full fruits will be evident once peace has been restored in Darfur and Eastern Sudan, and once the National Islamic Congress party is made to adhere to the terms of CPA and any other terms to come out of peace settlement in Darfur and Eastern Sudan.
Like any political organization, SPLM is made of several factions and ideologies. These factions and ideologies can be confusing at time as they are destined to pull the party in different directions, all of which do not necessarily serve the best interests of marginalosed people Sudan, Southern Sudan included. Therefore it is the duty of President Salva Kiir to keep these factions in check and working in harmony with each other. If they don’t, or if the president becomes the captive of the wrong ideology or faction, all will be swept away by mighty NCP party that has never honoured any agreement.
Salva Kiir has been referred to as the "Joshua" of SPLM since he took over the affairs of SPLM after the demise of the founding chairman, Dr John Garang. What responsibility and what challenge that come with that name!