The Khartoum round of peace talks provided many South Sudanese with a rare opportunity of knowing whether their political leaders meant what they propagate and preach. The events of the last four weeks were quite discriminating in the sense that they revealed those politicians who care about the welfare of the ordinary citizens and those who don’t. Khartoum may seem far away from the small towns and villages of South Sudan, but modern technology has made communications and the flow of news within reach of a significant number of the populace.
Do not underestimate how closely these peace talks were followed by our folks in the refugee camps in the neighbouring countries, in our towns and cities, and in the bushes of South Sudan. The future of the homeland hangs in the balance thus every citizen is very much concerned and very keen to know what’s going on be it in Addis Ababa or Khartoum. For the overwhelming majority of our people, SSOA’s stance and refusal to initial the Agreement on the Outstanding Issues of Governance represented a breeze of hope amid desperation.
Many never saw it coming. The majority of the observers thought at best there would be a split within SSOA and most likely two or three Movements would hold out and not succumb to the enormous pressure exerted on the delegates. They were proven wrong, and SSOA defied the odds by remaining compact and steadfast to its original positions.
It might not be possible to gauge the magnitude of the widespread support that some SSOA members harvested by standing firm behind popular demands like federalism, the abolition of the illegal 32 States, and accountability. But from the outset, a bombshell landed and exploded in the midst of the peace talks audience when the news of coercion, intimidation, and the obtainment of signatures under duress was leaked out. That alone added a new dimension to how the public perceived the political leaders who went through that ordeal. It depicted to many of them the idiom ” When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Some leaders have done themselves a great favour by standing their grounds. Others might not have known that they have curtailed their political future by giving in to pressure and personal gains.
It’s quite evident that SSOA’s popularity has surged as it’s increasingly being seen as the entity presenting real solutions to the root causes of the conflict. As for the SPLM IO, its initialling of the Agreement on the Outstanding Issues costed it dearly. Its popularity has plummeted significantly. It’s apparent that the SPLM IO is in turmoil due to Dr Riek Machar abandoning the fundamental objectives that persuaded many in the past to join the Movement. Riek Machar has dropped the three major issues namely, federalism, the abolition of the 32 States, and accountability. For many SPLM IO supporters, what he did amounts to a deal breaker.
It’s incredible that people like Dr Luka Biong seem to have turned 180 degrees against what they believed more than a couple of years ago. He was dismissed from his Juba University lecturing post following a direct order from President Kiir to the University administration. The reason was that he organised a public lecture to discuss the constitutionality and legality of the Presidential order number 36 to create the then new 28 States. The majority of the participants including himself were against the Presidential order. He had to leave the country hurriedly to avoid detention or even much worse.
Now, Dr Luka Biong has criticised SSOA for refusing to initial the Agreement on the Outstanding Issues of Governance that stipulates the maintenance of the 32 new States. So, how can he be against the new 28 States back in 2015 but now supports the expanded number of States in 2018?! It makes no sense at all!
His argument that SSOA shouldn’t have refused to initial the Agreement because it did sign the Khartoum Declaration of Agreement (KDA) relinquishing the sovereignty of the country to Sudan; is unconvincing. It’s not a secret that apart from the Former Political Detainees (FPDs), SSOA was never aware nor negotiated the KDA. Dr Luka Biong precisely knows how SSOA ended up signing the document. Signing an agreement in such circumstances means nothing. Appending a signature to some official document is not enough to constitute a deal, but a commitment to abide by it is all the most important. Contemporary history is full of such examples. Perhaps the most famous was the Munich Agreement of 30/09/1938 where Hitler gave the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain a white paper with his signature on it promising non-aggression before the invasion of Poland the next year. And why even go far, the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) was signed by President Kiir on 26/08/2015 and violated by him in July 2016.
Decrying the loss of sovereignty by signing the KDA is misdirected. Dr Luka biong should have known better as a former Minister of Presidential Affairs. South Sudan sovereignty continued to be compromised since the time he was in office. Was he unaware of the alien forces on South Sudan’s soil?! Did he not know that we do not possess a radar system and that Khartoum and Kampala are controlling our airspace?! Has he ever heard of a sovereign country that does not have full control over its territory and airspace? And being a senior member of the SPLM party, does he not think that his leadership bears the responsibility of firstly, failing to equip the country with a good radar system? And secondly, signing the Khartoum Oil Agreement (KoilA) and the KDA? Finally, is it logical to pile up criticism on SSOA for its signature on the KDA while saying nothing about the ruling party?
Dr Luka Biong could have alerted his President to the numerous encroachments on the sovereignty of the State by foreign powers since the inception of the Government of South Sudan. He was the Presidential Affairs Minister, and that was the closest one could be to the President and the decision making process. He chose to do nothing for reasons best known to him because I don’t think he was unaware of such glaring facts. It wasn’t an issue of affordability as a fraction of the loot from the oil proceeds would have provided the country with some of the modern radar systems in the world. He was a member of the cabinet when the South Sudanese people first knew about the list of 75 top-ranking officials who purportedly embezzled 4 billion USDs from the coffers.
Some of Luka Biong’s assertions were contradictory when put to scrutiny. On the one hand, he wants SSOA and the FPDs to form a unified opposition to challenge Juba from within while on the other he admits that Salva Kiir and Riek Machar may not provide a conducive environment for sustainable peace. Without the fundamental changes in the system of governance that made SSOA reject the Khartoum proposal, does he not think that it would be the same political environment that led him to flee Juba in 2015?
It’s inaccurate to say that SSOA has accepted President Kiir and Dr Riek Machar to lead the transition. SSOA has declared it time and again that it’s not seeking power-sharing (responsibility sharing) which would certainly not address the root causes of the conflict. SSOA wants the establishment of a government of institutions based on federalism and the devolution of powers to the States. Once the appropriate system of governance is in place, the participation of Salva Kiir and Riek Machar in the transition would depend on how they meet the requirements of such a system.
His claim that SSOA has got no moral standing to convince the South Sudanese people why they refused to initial the proposal is indeed the opposite. Some of the SSOA member organisations would have perished, had they betrayed their masses by initialling the agreement in the form presented to them. Gone are the days when people follow leaders blindly.
Of late we have seen the eminent scholar trying to position himself in the middle of the political debate between the government and the opposition. Well, actions speak much louder than words. In one of his articles, he suggested that President Kiir should be persuaded to step down amicably. What he alluded to would have been reasonable in a democratic environment whereby a leader was cleared of any wrong-doing but still bears the responsibility of mistakes committed by his subordinates. It isn’t the case in South Sudan. There’s a consensus nationally, regionally, and internationally that South Sudan hasn’t been well-governed since the SPLM party took power in 2005. The country tops the list of the Fragile States in the world (aka failed states) with Fragile State Index (FSI) of 113.4 points. Somalia comes second with FSI of 113.2 points and Yemen in the third position with FSI of 112.7 points.
On the corruption front, our country is number 2 behind Somalia with a score of 12 points and above Syria. Somalia and Syria both scored 9 and 14 points respectively. Luka Biong remains loyal to his previous boss otherwise he would have been vocal within his party asking President Kiir to step down. His political allegiance and views haven’t changed a bit although he is now tactically masquerading as a neutral figure.
I am under no illusion that the road would be easy for SSOA to realise a government of institutions, the upholding of the rule of law, and lasting peace in the Republic of South Sudan. Things would most likely get worse before they could get better. But SSOA has shown to the word the kind of leadership the masses are longing for. It deserves recognition and support from the regional powers and the international community.
Dr Lako Jada Kwajok
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