Tuesday, March 30, 2010

South Sudan Referendum: between readiness, securing civil divorce, and striving for marriage makeover afterwards

By John A. Akec

A recent internet poll conducted this week by Sudan Tribune (which I believe is credible), asked readers to choose between independence, confederation, and unity. Those who chose independence were 59%, 32% selected confederation, and only 9% chose unity. I assume the majority of Sudanese readers who visit Sudan Tribune website come from South Sudan, because this site is a prime source of news and analysis on Sudan with English language as a medium of communication. Still, the likelihood that there could be a good mix of readership from all over Sudan cannot be dismissed. And interestingly enough, even if my vote was counted in the 59% who chose independence, I regard 32% in favour of confederation to have very significant implications for deciphering the Sudanese mind on issues of unity or independence for South Sudan.

And this is why. Other polls in the past that offered only two choices between unity and independence ended with more than 91% voting in favour of independence while only 9% favoured unity. What does all this tell us? It says an awful lot. It means a sizable number of South Sudanese do not regard independence to be the ideal solution to Sudan political ailments. Yet offered a choice between independence and being locked into an open-ended unity (for better or for worst), Southerners will rather secure the divorce certificate, and try a marriage makeover afterwards.

Independence has both its pros and cons. There is a price tag attached to any choice. Needless to point to those 2.5 million lives already paid just to get to where the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) has brought us. The most obvious advantage of independence is being able to set one's own rules for living and to do things as one sees fit. Your own tent in which you have all freedom is a thousand times better than a decorated room in king's palace with so many constraints imposed on your freedom. Yet, going it alone too soon has its own perils. Missing the synergies of a shared house (pooling of resources with attendant economies of scale) is independence price worth noting. And the more "ready" we are, the less stressful the transition is going to be.

There are two components to readiness. One being the post-referendum arrangements between the North and South; and the other is the capacity of the independent South to stand on its own feet without being a burden to international community.

In terms of post-referendum arrangements, a report by !Enough Project released in March (entitled: Preparing for Two Sudans, March 2010) expressed concern about peace partners (the National Congress Party (NCP) and Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM)) giving too much attention to elections on the expense of implementing outstanding issues in the CPA, negotiating and agreeing on citizenship rights, post-referendum wealth-sharing, sharing of Sudan liabilities (national debt), and agreeing on policies that will regulate the movement of people between two parts of Sudan after January 2011. In January, 2010, the Government of South Sudan announced the formation of Referendum Task Force. Details of its membership have not been revealed. In February, 2010, the chair and deputy chair of Referendum Commission were appointed. With election now dominating everything, no visible progress will be seen in this respect until well into June 2010; by which time Sudan would be left with six months to referendum. !Enough reports urged international community (US, EU, AU, China, Egypt, Emirate, and other players) to step up pressure on peace partners to speed up the implementation of outstanding CPA provisions (North-South demarcation, residence status and citizenry in Abyei, and formation of Referendum Commission), and to come up with a consistent framework for negotiating post-referendum arrangements.

Church Leaders' Forum convened recently in Juba from 23rd to 26th March. The Forum was attended by 60 representatives of 14 churches inside and outside Sudan (including church leaders from Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Rwanda, and South Africa).

Inspired by a Bible verse from book of Micah (6:8): "Act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God," the leaders resolved to "re-engage with burning issues of the day… and to roll out a new People to People Process of Dialogue…to engage with national and international bodies, and to increase [Church's] role in civic education, and monitoring of elections, popular consultation, and referendum…".

It is worth noting that the Church's voice has been relatively dimmed in recent years following the signing of CPA in 2005. Therefore, this re-engagement with pertinent issues facing Sudan at this juncture by the Church with its local, regional, and international dimension is a tremendous boost to the efforts being exerted by stakeholders to achieve a peaceful, just, and democratic transition for Sudan.

Regarding readiness of the South to govern itself, much concern has been expressed about the inability of the independent South to manage its own security in the face of spiralling ethnic violence. In 2009 alone, 2,500 people were killed and 35,000 others displaced by inter-tribal violence. Analysts see the situation worsening after independence that may undermine the viability of the newly born nation. Therefore, voices have been heard calling for delay of referendum until such time when the South has better capacity to run itself. Apart from outright rejection by the majority of people of South Sudan, one is bound to ask: how long is long enough until referendum?

A USAID report published in December 2009 does not advocate for delay of referendum as a relief to capacity problem, but recommended a robust intervention by the international community that is estimated at US$ 373 per year for ten years in form of financial and technical assistance, and social services at appropriate level of the government. The report estimates that South Sudan would need between 3,000 to 5,000 expatriates to beef up its capacity, based on USAID's past experience in countries in post-conflict reconstruction situations like Botswana, Mozambique, and Timor-Leste. That South Sudan will continue to need long term support of varying level and intensity for at least 20 years or more.

In conclusion, it is inevitable that South Sudan will vote for independence in January 2011 as predicted by many polls. Hopefully, doors will not be closed for future economic and political reunification of Sudan through mutual agreement. In short to medium term, the two new Sudan entities will continue to be interdependent to the extent that makes it absolutely necessary to cooperate fruitfully for their citizen's interests. That South Sudan can fail if not given a helping hand by international community is real. With so much needs identified and facts provided in hand, it is understandable that South is suffering from serious shortage of capacity and can do with robust intervention by the international community.

On South Sudan part, their government will need to be seen as doing the best with what it already got. By doing so, the South will be sending out a positive signal to the international community that will hopefully be willing to come to our rescue in the mid river.

Good leadership, prudent management of South Sudan scarce resources, and a helping hand by the international community will make the hugely challenging task to be within the grasp of the stakeholders.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sudan's Elections: Teaching Elephants to Fly

By John A. Akec

Most recently, I shared a table with a Sudanese diplomat in a social function in Juba. The EU-based diplomat was on special leave to enable him to join Salva Kiir's election campaign team. Learning that, all the eyes on the table turned on him. Quizzed as to what he thought about the impending elections, the diplomat was brutally honest: "It is the first time in history that a guerrilla movement is asked to practice democracy in so short a time", he said. I was quick to respond: "what about ANC in South Africa? Was it not a guerrilla movement like SPLM and yet did not have problem contesting elections and practicing democracy?" I asked.

The diplomat calmly explained that considering the baseline or the legacy SPLM is building on, especially where South Sudan was five years ago, to be asked to practice true democracy now is quite a tall order. Many heads on the table nodded in a reserved approval. I liked his honesty. And in a way, this election is really about teaching old elephants to fly. I will explain my sweeping statement.

For starter, the ruling parties themselves, Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM), and National Congress (NCP) are not inherently democratic by their very history. There is one big difference, though: SPLM has claimed all along that its main aim is to transform Sudan into a secular democratic state. Yet as a movement, it never practiced democracy. While fighting for democracy, the SPLM leaders, as read through their actions and occasional utterances, never believed democracy is an effective tool of decision-making when waging a liberation war. Alternative views or visions were never tolerated, let alone any form of criticism no how matter mild or constructive it may be. And this was one of the reasons for the many splits the movement suffered and still is stalked by it to this day. Yet, it does not stop SPLM supporters and Sudanese people from holding SPLM to ransom for its long advocated slogans.

NCP, too, has been fighting for an Islamic theocracy with no mention of democracy. And for two decades, NCP has thrived on repressive dictatorship. To have their way, they built torturing houses that have become popularised in Sudan's political vocabulary as "Ghost Houses". This is the baseline for the two ruling parties. None has a track record of democracy.

Outside the corridors of power, are some of Sudan political parties with a long history of contesting elections and practicing democracy at certain times since independence. As all know, Sudan has seen power changing hands many times between democratically elected governments and despotic military juntas, the NCP regime being the most repressive and yet most versatile dictatorship to rule in modern history of Sudan. Manned by a bunch of educated elites, they bend and twist without breaking in order to survive. Overall, Sudan has been under dictatorship more than it has been ruled by a democracy.

Democracy, therefore, if I may say, was a kind of heaven we longed for, yet never experienced in real life. Although war and oppression has pushed millions of Sudanese to seek refuge in democracies of Europe, North America, and Australia. This author spent nearly two decades in Britain and had only returned to Sudan two years ago, having experienced real democracy for 17 years in the UK. And speaking from this experience, democracy as such is not an unattainable utopia as we would like sometimes to think. It is not defect free either, but it is by far the most natural and humane alternative to despotism that Sudan and most of Middle East are accustomed to. The coming elections may attest to that.

Back to the point of this article, here we are asking giant elephants that never flied nor danced in their entire lives to do just that. We have two powerful ruling parties (SPLM and NCP) controlling both military and financial resources, and state machinery of the country; and we are asking them to contest democratic elections while creating a levelled playing field for all and protecting the rights of all.

European Union is sending 130 election monitors (56 of them already in the country), Carter Centre has already deployed 60 monitors, while the League of Arab States is planning to deploy 60 of its own monitors. Surrounded by ubiquitous means of transmitting information from mobile phone to internet, the pressure for all to ensure a "fair and free elections" has never been high.

Both the SPLM and NCP have assured the Sudanese that they are working hard towards fair and free elections. Like rats playing a game with cats, it could go ugly anytime when a rat gets on cat's sensitive nerve. That is exactly what happened when a group of youth formed NGO organisation in Khartoum calling themselves "Girivina", meaning "fed up", began to distribute leaflets calling for voting out of NCP regime and organising public rallies. Many of their members were arrested and tortured on charge of causing public disorder. No one believes the government's accusation. It is all about election heat getting to them, and stretching their patience beyond breaking point. And so the smiley Omer Al Bashir could in no time turned into an angry boar, causing all the rabbits in the election valley to disappear into holes, shaking with terror.

This is also true of SPLM in South Sudan. Having shown good faith by according the only other candidates for presidency of South Sudan, Dr. Lam Akol, the protection of the state security forces, and having issued guidelines on code of good practice, there are incidents that showed the party's intolerance to ideal of democracy such as competition and freedom of expression.

Lam Akol, the leader of SPLM Democratic Changed accused some of SPLA forces in Malakal of tearing down his party's posters and called for more discipline in the SPLA once elected. This generated an angry reaction from the army spokesperson General Kuol Diem, who called for the presidential candidate to "shut up" and avoid talking about SPLA. That in turn sparked public controversy about the constitutionality of asking a presidential candidate to shut up.

Also, in Unity State last week, there were clashes in the stadium between supporters of incumbent governor, Taban Deng Gai, and his independent contender, Angelina Riek Teny. Presidential candidate and incumbent President of South Sudan was in town to launch his electoral campaign. Seeing the clashes, Kiir flew back to Juba without addressing the rally, the attendants of which were united in Kiir's candidacy and that of Yasir Arman but disagreed on who should be elected as the next governor of Unity State.

In Western Equatoria state, there had been raids on the lodge of Joseph Bakosoro, the independent candidate for post of the governor. Cars were taken away by police and body guards arrested and later released. It was not clear who was behind this harassment but not too hard to form opinion as to who might be responsible for it. But within minutes of the incident, one of his supporters sent an urgent message to an internet discussion group, and quickly generated heated debate about the fairness and freedom of candidates for right to campaign without fear.

All in all, this election is putting Sudan's "test tube" democracy on trial. We can see that the parties are trying their best to rise to the challenge. It is a matter of weeks to see whether or not Sudan elephants have been taught to dance and fly.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Rats, Cats, Boats, and the President: Reflections on Salva Kiir’s Electoral Campaign Launch Speech

By John A. Akec
(Photos by Larco Lomayat)

I was in Juba when Government of South Sudan Presidential Candidate, Salva Kiir Mayardit, launched his election campaign trail in the town on February 24, 2010.

Many major roads were blocked by the police, which made it painful for motorists to find their way round the town. The sun was blazing hot like an open fire and was enough to scare off Jubans except the dedicated party’s activists who defied the searing heat and assemble en masse in the open space surrounding Dr. John Garang’s Mausoleum. I later learned that many SPLM activists drove from as far as Yei to participate in the launch.

The GOSS presidential hopeful and other party leaders fended under brightly decorated tents in the corner of the mausoleum. Police band music and the drums of traditional dancers mixed harmoniously in the background creating truly celebratory atmosphere. It was also apparent that the party’s as well as government’s resources were on high gear to support Kiir’s election campaign launch.

Fortunately for me, I observed the gathering from the distance before going off to do my other business. However, that night, I sat by the TV and watched the coverage of the event by South Sudan Television (SSTV). It included the full recording of Kiir's speech from the beginning to the end.

And as one might expect, Kiir’s speech contained phrases that acknowledged the historical role played by his party in bringing about a peaceful end to the 21-year conflict: “The SPLM, since its inception has consistently championed the cause of the marginalized people of the Sudan. The people’s movement has progressively liberated most rural parts of the South Sudan and other marginalized regions in the Sudan. SPLM remains systematic, consistent and vigilant to the full implementations of the CPA including the right to self determination, justice and equality for all”, he said.

There is much truth in the above statement as supported by an overwhelming consensus amongst South Sudanese that SPLM with its armed wing, the SPLA, spearheaded the struggle of people of the South and other marginalized areas of Sudan for freedom and equitable share of political power. That SPLM has done great good by successfully mobilizing the Sudan’s underdog for the first time in history to claim their rights on equal footing with the rest of the privileged areas of the country. As a result of SPLM struggle, there is a general opening up of political space to all Sudanese political forces (despite discrepancies between the political message of ruling parties and practice on the ground). The upcoming April the 10th multiparty election, first of its kind since 1986, is one such clear indicator of edging forward to a more democratic Sudan.

Yet, time is ripe to also acknowledge that SPLM alone could not have done it without the support and contribution by the Sudanese of all walks of life (be they from the South or the North, friends or foes, opposition or allies, directly or indirectly). This contribution made what appeared impossible to be possible.

For instance, the confrontations between the displaced Sudanese with rite police in the IDPs camps in the outskirts of Khartoum exposed the regimes ills to the world and generated immense international condemnation of the regime. Students’ peaceful resistance to NCP regime represents another important facet to this multi-front scramble for freedom and rebellion against totalitarianism of the Sudanese state.

It also goes without mention, the struggle of Sudanese Diaspora in North America, Europe, and Africa (the seventh front, according to John Garang), made huge difference. The cooperation between the Sudanese Diaspora, rights groups (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, CSI International), think tanks such as International Crisis Group, NGOs Against Oil in Sudan, Sudan Advocacy groups in US, have all played very important role in realizing a just peace in Sudan, among others. SPLM could not have succeeded without all these invaluable contributions.

What’s more, the solidarity of Northern Sudanese parties (the DUP, Uma, Sudan Communist Party and others), was also vital to survival of SPLM morally and materially, thanks to SPLM New Sudan ideology, that brought them on board.

Even SPLM’s arch enemies, the Anya Nya 2 and the splinter groups such as South Sudan Independence Movement (SSIM), had helped the movement find its compass in the maize of political quagmire of mid 80s and early 1990. That was the time when greed, ambition, and abuse of guerrilla power had had the better of SPLM leaders. Despite the setbacks caused by such splintering groups, they were a blessing in disguise. There was progress in human rights records in the movement. Self-determination was brought into the political vocabulary of SPLM for the first time after Nasir Rebellion in 1991.

All the above demands acknowledgment by the SPLM leadership. Such awareness will do much to moderate the current "winner-takes-all" doctrine that is being used by the ruling party in recruiting people in the government of South Sudan (GOSS).

This "make-and-eat your own cake" ideology is currently the "Berlin Wall" that still separates between those who took up arms to fight the injustice, and those who struggled through other peaceful means for freedom. And without breaking down this "Berlin Wall", mobilization of South Sudan human and intellectual capital will remain a myth. The long term consequences for the South will be grave.

And about the SPLM original vision, the presidential candidate reminded his listeners of being the key to future political and economic success of South Sudan: “Since the formation of the SPLM in 1983 I faithfully remained guided by its vision and mission. A Nation without an absolute vision shall face serious challenges especially in development. It is essential for any nation striving for peace, stability and prosperity which is inspired by a people’s-driven vision lead by a committed leader.”

While the SPLM vision of New Sudan had captured the imagination of great majority of Sudanese, realizing it on the ground has presented many challenges to the party. For instance, the call for a secular democratic Sudan has been undermined by party's inability to set up institutions that protects basic freedoms and rights for all. And hence, SPLA which should now be an independent army of the South is still in practical terms, an armed wing of SPLM.

Moreover, there is no clear economic vision to empower the countryside population and stop migration to urban areas. In fact, over the last five years, more and more people have immigrated to large towns such as Juba for search of jobs and opportunities. At the same time, foreign businesses have taken over almost all the business in South Sudan due to lack of government policy that supports Southern entrepreneurs or encourages foreign businesses to train and employ local workforce. In other words, the total commitment of Salva Kiir to the vision of his party is questionable in the absence of clear policies to achieve that vision.

Yes, we all agree that Kiir has been committed to pushing for the implementation of all clauses of CPA,. Yet his government has not delivered the expected socio-economic dividend that should be part and parcel of this equation.

Finally, I could not end this commentary without referring to an anecdote presented by President Salva Kiir in his launch speech. It ran something like this:

"The cat and the rat were crossing a river in a boat. The cat was the captain and was busy rowing the boat. The rat began to eat the basement of the boat. Water started leaking in. The cat noticed, and warned the rat to stop. The rat didn't head the warning and all begun to sink as predicted. Both the rat and the cat swam safely to the shore. Reaching the shore, the cat wanted to eat the rat to vent its anger. Fortunately, the rat escaped into a small hall. However, the two boat companions have been sworn enemies ever since."

So what do we make of this anecdote? Easy. The president is the cat. Kiir’ critics in the party and opposition are the rat(s). All those criticizing the performance of SPLM dominated government of South Sudan of which he is the commander in chief, are risking his reelection and jeopardize the support of rights to self-determination for the South for fear of giving birth to a failed-sate. And if he succeeds to be reelected despite all the criticism, his government will try to eradicate and marginalize the opposition or his party's critics. It is all good and well.

Whether such a hypothetical anecdote is going to help him or not in his bid to be the next President of South Sudan, remains to be seen. One thing is certain: it will do nothing to alley fears that under his leadership, South Sudan will be heading towards undemocratic, totalitarian system. One friend puts it like this: there is a great potential that when Kiir gets the capacity, he is going to resort to absolute rule to stay in power indefinitely.

Let me also add. It is quite certain that Salva Kiir Mayardit is going to be reelected as our next president despite our intense criticism of his running of GOSS. South Sudanese are doing this by using a kind of “filtering” principle: bad is better than worse, and worse is better than the worst.

When that happens, as already been predicted, President elect Salva Kiir Mayardit will be playing the Cat hunting down the Rats (that is, repressing the people and curtailing their basic freedoms).

Hence, I would advise that we, the Rats, better get prepared for this eventuality, tooth and nail, in order to hang the bell on the Cat's neck. And when we hear the Cat visiting our counties, we (the Rats) can flee to safety, in good time!

Finally, our thanks to President Kiir Mayardit for introducing new words into our political vocabulary: The cats (rulers), the rats (citizens), and the boat (the nation).