Sunday January 5 2014

The South Sudan crisis shows the value of moral consistency in politics

By Alan Tacca

The three-week conflict, in which rebellious soldiers backing former vice president Riek Machar are pitted against those loyal to president Salva Kiir, of course has its causes, and South Sudan watchers have been explaining; the corruption and incompetence of the Kiir regime; the dictatorial tendency; the tribalism; the old Dinka-Nuer divide; the notion that Machar despises Kiir.

However, my gaze is on the East African leaders, who have taken it upon themselves to sort out the crisis. How do their own methods of work compare with those of the belligerents in South Sudan?

First, Uganda. Her indomitable ruler, Gen Museveni, is at the forefront. A week or so in the rebellion, President Museveni had already sent hundreds of UPDF soldiers into South Sudan; naturally, without seeking the support of Parliament, let alone making a clear timely public statement to explain the action and define the scope of the mission.

While lesser government officials say the mission is to facilitate the evacuation of the thousands of Ugandans working in South Sudan, there is speculation that the deployment could also be used to help president Kiir fend off the rebellion. Hence Machar’s warning that Uganda keeps out of the affairs of South Sudan.

What does Dr Machar get for a reply? That several countries around East Africa have agreed to gang up and beat up Dr Machar, if he does not hold fire and agree to talk. He is even given an ultimatum – four days – so that he knows these people are dead serious.

Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta is party to this threat. For this article, we will ignore the other leaders in the gang, but their declared collective position is to support the Juba regime on the ground that Mr Kiir is the elected leader, and they intend to defend the principle that denounces the acquisition of power by military means. If Dr Machar wants power, he should wait for the 2015 election.

Believe me, but for all the little mischief that occasionally creeps into my writing, I sincerely wish I did not smell any hypocrisy here.
President Museveni seized power after waging war for five years against a government (Dr Obote’s) that had just been elected.
He argues that the said election was stolen, and he could not go to the courts because they were hostage to the ruling elite. In addition, the Obote government had watched as brutality and lawlessness gripped the country, although, of course, Museveni’s rebellion was part of the problem.

All those arguments may be true. But then it means there is a principle by which election riggers, brutal and severely ineffective governments may be removed by force. Even Uganda’s 1995 Constitution makes an indirect reference to that principle.

If the principle applied by Museveni between 1981 and 1986 is valid, then it can only be superseded by the anti-military doctrine after the sins he identified have disappeared from our continent.
The point then is not just that Kiir was elected, but whether his rule gets a pass mark.

If Dr Machar thinks it doesn’t, he could remind Gen Museveni not to kick away the ladder after every time he has used it.

When he is told to wait for the 2015 election, he will ask President Museveni to remember the beauty of the elections his own government has staged in Uganda since he seized power more than 27 years ago.

Now to Kenyatta. Thanks to the indictment issued by the International Criminal Court, the whole world knows that the Kenyan ruler is a key suspect in the horrendous violence that followed the 2007 General Election. The ICC, which could have absolved or condemned him, has had its work complicated – perhaps even sabotaged – by his being in power now. So, however eloquently he speaks against political violence, his voice sounds as hollow as a dog’s song.

The lesson is that getting power comes with heavy responsibility. The South Sudan crisis shows that the two most interested rulers (from the neighbouring territories) may be the ones with the weakest moral authority to lead the dialogue.

Mr Tacca is a novelist, socio-political commentator