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).


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