South Sudan and its unfinished business

Saturday February 1 2014

(R-L) South Sudanese politician Taban Deng Gai, IGAD envoy Seyoum Mesfin, Ethiopian Foreign minister Tedros Adhanom and SPLM member Nhial Deng Nhiale sign a ceasefire agreement in Addis Ababa

(R-L) South Sudanese politician Taban Deng Gai, IGAD envoy Seyoum Mesfin, Ethiopian Foreign minister Tedros Adhanom and SPLM member Nhial Deng Nhiale sign a ceasefire agreement in Addis Ababa on January 23. afp photo 


Monitor correspondent

The outbreak of violence in South Sudan in mid-December was a culmination of simmering issues that were largely ignored by the international community which was more concerned with the making of a new nation than dealing with its teething problems.

They include an interim constitution that grants President Salva Kiir immense powers, a dominant Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party that is yet to embrace democracy and respect party structures and is mostly managed through military principles.

Others are: A highly militarised society that is yet to embrace democratic institutions of governance; arms in the wrong hands and a tendency to resort to violence to achieve political ends; and the indiscipline of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) which is a former guerrilla outfit that is yet to transform itself into a conventional army.

Then there is also the unwritten power-sharing arrangement that has since only favoured big ethnic groups.
One of the major challenges after South Sudan’s independence in July 2011 was the need to reward and accommodate all shades of the south Sudanese society which has resulted into a situation where people are appointed into positions even without experience and the educational capacity to handle the jobs.

In the absence of major investments, the government remains the biggest employer where everybody is scrambling for a piece of the pie that is the country’s civil service. Thus, post-independence South Sudan produced three types of people who are supposed to work together in the civil service but are competing with each other, owing to their backgrounds. This situation sometimes becomes an impediment to foreign investors and visitors seeking services.

Sense of entitlement
First, there are those who previously remained in Khartoum-controlled areas in major urban centres such as Juba, Malakal and Wau. Even though they might be Christians, these people have internalised Arab culture in terms of their clothing, language, culinary habits and their worldview. They believe they deserve a bigger share in the government because they were the ones who were brave enough to remain while others ran away. Some of them studied in Arabic and cannot communicate in English, the official language.

In the second group are those who came from the bush and who were fighting in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). Some of them were trained earlier, became soldiers and were rendered redundant after 21 years of war.
They have developed a military culture, with neither diplomacy nor skills in modern management styles. When given positions, they act with militancy and impunity, and often abuse their offices.
Yet they feel that they deserve more because of the risks they took.

Then there are those who came from the diaspora.
This category attained some good education during their time in exile, but also acquired different cultures whether from Kenya, Uganda, USA, UK, Canada, Australia and elsewhere.Besides their varying outside influences that are often in conflict with each other; they come with different attitudes and technology that cannot be replicated in that environment.

Often, they find themselves frustrated and out of place.
However, the majority of them head departments due to their education. But sometimes their instructions are never followed because those responsible for implementation below them are either out of touch with what they are saying or are outright opposed.

Indeed, both those who were in the Khartoum-controlled areas and in the bush have no time for those who were in the diaspora. The two groups believe that those from the diaspora ran away from trouble and left them to endure the brunt of the war.

President’s power

The interim constitution that governed the South as a semi-autonomous entity makes the president of South Sudan one of the most powerful in Africa. The president cannot be impeached by parliament and has the power to prorogue the parliament of any of the 10 states, sack the governor and call for elections within three months.

David De Dau, an executive director for the Agency for Independent Media, argues that this provision is a major source of conflict because both the president and the governors draw their mandate from the electorate, who should be the only entity to overturn election outcomes.

Yet, the Machar group perceive Kiir as not only failing to rally the entire country together, but of working outside the SPLM party structures; the National Liberation Council, the secretariat and the Political Bureau courtesy of the powerful presidency.

While there has been some grumbling over Dinka hegemony, things came to a head in 2013 when Kiir sacked over 30 generals who were war veterans, following it up with the sacking of the governors of Lakes and Unity states, and finally in July when he sacked the entire cabinet including his deputy Dr Machar.