Saturday, May 06, 2006

If SPLM is the PLO of Southern Sudan, Where is Hamas?

Asked John A. Akec
London, UK
6 May 2006

South Sudanese have often drawn some inspiration from Israel: a tiny state of a few millions people that has managed to face the hostility of 300 million strong Arab League nations, and continues to survive against all the odds by sheer wit and determination, running as the only democracy in the region.

Yet of late, political analogies have been made between Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) and Palestinian Liberation Movement (PLO). I recall in London many years ago, a very cheerful SPLM supporter drawing parallels between Dr John Garang and Yaser Arafat (Abu Amaar). That meant John Garang, the former SPLM chairman, lived and breathed New/South Sudan wherever he went, and whatever he did. Right or wrong. Garang, like Arafat, was a man who had four beds: one at home, one in hotel, one in the bush under tree, and one in aeroplane as he trotted the globe ceaselessly in search for a solution to the problem of injustice in Sudan. Yaser Arafat had two beds: one in hotel, and the other in aeroplane, and later, one at home in the Gaza Strip. Yaser Arafat was the most inerrant figure of the PLO. Step on his toe and you were dead wrong. And so was it with John Garang, SPLM chairman. Criticise him, and you were labelled a traitor. If you did not like the SPLM mode of leadership, then it was your fault, not Garang's. At least, that was how infallible SPLM leadership was held, until just a few years ago when some 'constructive' criticism was accommodated.

PLO was the organisation of choice for the moderate Palestinians, the Arab World, and international community because it stood for the rights of Palestinians for a homeland and a peaceful coexistence with Israel. Formed by Arab League in June 1964, it was led by Yaser Arafat since February 1969 until his death in November 2004.

PLO is a broad coalition of more than 9 political organisations of which Fatah led by Arafat himself was the largest, followed by Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Democratic Front for Liberation of Palestine in the second and third position respectively. PLO did not advocate for the bombing of innocent civilians, which is a good thing. There were many old guards at the top of Fatah, which was a mixed blessing. Many PLO officials in Palestinian National Authority (PA) which was established in 1994 after Oslo Accord of September 1993, loved their expensive cars and hated accountability or transparency. Quite an unfortunate inclination. And for the last 12 years, PLO has been running PA with a foreign aid that amounted to about US$ 1 billion per year, mostly from the so called Quartet on the Middle East group ( with membership of UN, United States, Russia, and EU), without a significant change in the lives of the great majority of the Palestinians. PLO administration gained the image of incompetence, ineffectiveness, absence of proper accounting systems and and transparent governance structures, and spread of corruption. PLO leaders increasingly appeared arrogant and out of touch with the Palestinian street.

In comes Hamas from cold. This is the organisation better known for sending suicide bombers into Israeli territories. And yet Hamas went on to win a hefty majority of 60 percent of the seats in Palestinian legislative assembly (74 seats out of 132 total achieved by winning 42% of the counted votes) in free election conducted under international supervision in January 2006. Founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yasin in Gaza in 1987 as an offshoot of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhoods movement, Hamas concentrated its effort in charitable work, community development, anti-corruption campaign, and religious preaching in Palestinian territories in Gaza strips. Later, Hamas established its military wing known as Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigade (named in memory of a Palestinian Islamic revolutionary killed in 1935 by the British occupation army). Apart from inflicting carnage on Israeli civilian population with suicides bombings, Hamas delivered social services to civilian Palestinian population through its wide network of charities in such areas as education and health in Gaza Strip and West Bank. Its leaders, mostly youthful, had acquired an image of honesty, commitment to the cause, effectiveness, competence, and awareness of what the man and women on the Palestinian street expect or need. Traits which were in short supply in PLO ranks. Following its sweeping victory in January election, one of Hamas leaders, Ismael Haniya, became Prime minister in the Palestinian National Authority, and Hamas member and economic professor from West Bank, Omer Abdal-Razeq, became the economic minister. Overall, Hamas members now occupy the majority of the 24 cabinet positions in the Palestinian National Authority. And at least for a now, the dominant position of PLO amongst Palestinians has been eclipsed by Hamas.

Likewise, SPLM has always been and continues to be the organisation of choice not just for the great majority of South Sudanese, but also for many democratically minded Northern Sudanese as well. Not the least, the vision of the SPLM found resonance amongst the marginalised people of Sudan in Nuba Mountains, South Blue Nile, Darfur, and Eastern Sudan. SPLM survived many splits and divisions, and with the backing of the international community signed a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) with the government of Sudan in January 2005 in Naivasha, Kenya. According to CPA, SPLM enjoys a majority of 70 percent of the government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), legislative Southern Assembly, heads governments of 10 Southern States and more. GOSS has more than US$ 1.00 billion of income from Southern oil revenues and more than US$ 4.0 billion donor' s money for development and and humanitarian relief in the next two years.

By misfortune, SPLM lost its long-time leader, John Garang at a critical time. Salva Kiir, a long-time SPLM deputy leader took the helm of the affairs. And with unsteady start, he recently launched the SPLM vision by promising a more co-ordinated policy, better articulated vision. Yet concerns have been raised about nepotism, tribalism, incompetence, and corrupt practises in the government of South Sudan (GOSS). 16 months have gone after signing the agreement, and 8 months after establishment of GOSS, and still there is hardly any news bulletin for reporting day-to-day government's activities or achievements except through third party media outlets. This is despite the formation of a Ministry of Information, Broadcasting, and TV! One one can ask how much does it cost to set up a government website where those seeking information can turn to, and for access to day to day news? Some government ministers have not been able to even recruit a secretary to organise their diaries, let alone higly qualified civil servants. If we can't do these simple things, then we migh as well forget about high expecation about skyscrapers, high-speed road networks, clean air and water, or what have you. GOSS, a hotchpotch of parties, compromises, rewards, and balancing acts, is a sort of a titanic in waiting. When it finally sinks, so will the SPLM - the PLO of Southern Sudan.

While one may agree that PLO might have done great things for the Palestinians, it is possible that it might has ran out of steam. The same could apply to SPLM historical leadership and many veterans of Southern liberation movement. How far or fast can they run with the task of development? Have they run out of steam? Who will pay the price of incompetence if that turns out to be the case? Don't get me wrong, at 54, Salva Kiir is a relatively "young" leader. But there are so many tired individuals in the GOSS. These individuals (kept as a balancing act) are a bottleneck in the system. The whole system just gets bogged down as many ministers struggle to deliver on the simplest of things. And with GOSS not delivering the goods, SPLM takes most of the blame. No one is advocating for age discrimination, but people must show competence and energy to make things happen. Otherwise, being in the cabinet is a missed opportunity for altenative, and more competence individual to serve. Hence, another poignant question that still impresses itself heavily upon us is: where is the Hamas of Southern Sudan?

In a society where everyone wants to get rich quick through being in the government, organisations ready to fight for principles are hard to come by these days. Our mantra is: find a gang and be a member, and have yourself nominated for a position for the share of power and wealth. Hence, if you hear loud bangs and see dense smoke rising over Southern Sudan, it is all fighting over positions, positions, and positions. It is not a war over principles and constructive policies and no one is ready to wait or invest in the grassroots for future political gains that can lead to achieving a Party's political vision like Hamas did.

And so, while we continue to whine and complain about the ineffectiveness of SPLM leadership in GOSS, we will have to wait for a long time before an Hamas appears in the horizon.


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