-Mabior Garang on Political Developments in Southern Sudan.
By Ajong Mbapndah L
In the midst of a political crisis between President Salva Kiir and some senior members of his government and the ruling Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement, there is every indication that all is not well in Southern Sudan. Africa’s newest nation seems to have learned little from the experiences that other African countries had at independence and the result is that Southern Sudan has so far failed to live up to the aspirations of its people. This is a view shared by Mabior Garang the son of the historic liberation hero the lated Dr John Garang. Southern Sudanese “did not count on the emergence of an indigenous oppressor that would continue the program of marginalization and exploitation,” says Mabior in his take on the current crisis and how the country has been managed since independence in 2011.In an interview which revisits the liberation struggles of the Southern Sudanese, Mabior lashes out at corruption, and the SPLM government for deviating from its founding mission and principles. Politics has serious challenges but in the face of human suffering empathy dictates that something should be done says Mabior in justification of what he is doing at his level to help.
Mr. Garang, thanks so much for accepting to grant us this interview, South Sudan has been in the news and it appears for the wrong reasons, a power struggle between President Salvir Kiir and his Team, what is going on and how serious is this struggle to peace and unity in your country?
It is always an honor to have dialogue with Pan African Visions; I appreciate the opportunity to reach Comrades that want to know what’s happening in our corner of Africa.
Indeed South Sudan has been in the news and for the wrong reasons; it would appear that there is a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his team. However, the problem goes deeper than this; in my humble analysis it is a crisis of ideology (as I have mentioned in my previous interview with Pan African Visions), it is a loss of direction that is not only a South Sudanese tragedy but an African one.
In brief the movement is in crisis because it has not addressed several questions that have divided it since its inception. One of these had to do with organizational structure; while the other had to do with the unity of our people. There was the dominant camp in the movement that contended that a political movement (representative of the people) could not be formed in Ethiopia in 1983, because the basis for forming democratic institutions did not exist. They suggested that the military element should take primacy over the political, and through the course of the struggle the armed element would create the necessary conditions for the coming into being of the political element. They argued that the relationship was a dialectical one.
These cadres believed that the military element would provide discipline as the movement was trying to bring together people from various walks of life to work together. There was amongst those that found themselves as refugees in Ethiopia (in 1983) engineers, doctors, peasants (farmers and cattle keepers) even former criminals; how do you unite such a mass of people with different interest and make them work towards the same objective? The solution was a politico military organization that would stress military discipline. They argued that if the political element took precedence too early then they would be transferring the parliament to the bush, and it would be a never ending argument. They would end up like the Lumumbaist in Zaire, with the leadership in hotels in Tanzania and China, while the combatants suffer in the bush (this problem is explained better by Che in his “Diary of the Revolutionary War in the Congo”).
The other divisive issue was the question of the unity of our people vs. the secession of Southern Sudan.; the two ideas where taken by some to be mutually exclusive. The question of unity was expounded through the vision of the new Sudan; according to this philosophy the problem in the country (Sudan) was not an issue of the South seceding but one of the imposition of one culture to define the Sudan (a nation rich in diversity). This; they explained, was the fundamental problem in the country. This imposition of one culture to the exclusion of the others is what has caused marginalization and this in turn causes rebellion, the secession of the South would not address the problem concretely (it would be a temporary solution and this is today apparent).
In order to understand the vision of the new Sudan, it is essential to understand the history the inception of the liberation movements in Africa. The quest for a new society!
The founding fathers and mothers of the African liberation struggle realized that the old African society had been destroyed by the Arab and European slave trade and the colonization that followed. In addition, the nascent society that was being evolved was not one that could possibly serve the interests of the masses of the African people. The junior staff of the colonist where being trained to serve the interest of the respective European powers and not the interest of the masses of African people; therefore, the logical solution was a new society that would take the good from the old (pre-colonial Africa) and the contemporary (colonial Africa) and leave the bad to form a new society. A modern and new African society, one that best serves the interests of the masses of the African people; and makes them take their rightful place in the world.
The idea of the new society lost out over the new colonial society and over the years it has become entrenched in the process of classical neo colonialism. It is deplorable that today the economic indicators in most African countries are far worse than the period immediately following African independence (in the 1960), as if to suggest that the African masses where better off under the yoke of foreign oppressors. The failure across Africa to implement the vision of a new society has left the masses of African people trapped in humiliating poverty.
It is only once in a while that a leader comes along like the late John Garang (a selfless leader dedicated to the historical struggle of the people), and we are reminded of the need for a new society. And when they do, the leaders of the liberation movement have throughout time (consistently) been slandered, de-campaigned and outright murdered by those that are more concerned with independence and not necessarily social change. So the struggle rages on with the idea of liberation as the primary objective on one side and the achievement of flag independence as the objective on the other, the confrontation has at times been violent.
In the pre independence period the two camps had a common enemy so they worked together; however, when independence is achieved their interests rapidly deviated. The interest of those in the independence movement became maintaining political power at all costs (to save their privileged positions), while those in the liberation movement continue to have the same objective of social change, the restoration of the greatness of our people and the modernization of our societies (George Orwell described it best in his 1945 book – Animal Farm).
The truth is there need not be a contradiction between the vision of a new Society and African independence, not unless we are condemning our people to abject poverty forever. To get back to the question, what seems like a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and the cadres of the movement is how this struggle (Independence vs. Liberation) is being played out in our corner of Africa. Those that are only concerned with flag independence feel threatened by this vision (of liberating the masses). In an attempt to maintain their privileged positions in Juba, they have set out to misinform the citizens of our Republic that unity and the vision of new Sudan are mutually exclusive, a threat to the territorial integrity of the Republic of South Sudan and that we should abandon the idea because as they like to put it: “…we are now South Sudan…new Sudan is a dead ideology…”
They fear the vision of the new Sudan because it would result in the restructuring of power in Juba, the people would take control and not an oligarchy of oafs and stooges that are loyal to the head of state and who are all loyal to their own greed. This is why there has been no constitutional conference, the constitutional process has been compromised giving the head of state absolute power and “absolute power corrupts absolutely” as the saying goes. The vision of the new Sudan is also not in the interests of the Khartoum regime and so ironically the interests of Juba and Khartoum at the moment coincide.
This is where we are today as a movement!
How has President Kiir managed the country in his first term and why is he nervous about a challenge from his camp?
I say with all due respect to President Salva Kiir that he has completely mismanaged the country in his first term and during the interim period of the CPA. The SPLA – SPLM had clearly defined objectives that where abandoned in 2005 at the moment of victory and labeled as Garang ideas and those that would elucidate these ideas as “Garang boys”. When these are not Garang ideas but correct ideas behind which we have lost very many comrades over the course of the struggle. It is a betrayal to the spirit of these comrades for the objectives to be abandoned in such a whimsical manner. The SPLM had a document “The SPLM Strategic Framework for War to Peace Transition” that spelled out the program of the SPLM in the post war period. The document was abandoned.
It is now common knowledge that over the past eight years $ 4 billion has been embezzled in donor money while over $ 10 billion has been embezzled in oil revenues. There is an ever growing humanitarian crisis in Jong’lei State that if left unchecked could engulf the whole country. There are communities that are still living with (literally) Stone Age technologies in a country with billions ($) in oil revenues, a population of 8 million within an area that is 619,745 km². There are no basic services for the majority of our population, no decent healthcare, no food security, no clean water, no roads, no trade, no security of movement or property it is nothing short of a betrayal of the aspirations of our people.
The people of South Sudan opted for secession because they thought that the reason they were in abject poverty was Arab domination and the independence of the South would automatically solve all their problems. They did not count on the emergence of an indigenous oppressor that would continue the program of marginalization and exploitation. The imposition of one culture to define the nation is still being practiced in South Sudan, with some trying to define a diverse South Sudan through the lens of Nilotic speakers (excluding the other diversities in the Country).
The President has been given absolute power by a transitional constitution that was tailor made to suit his every whim. The President has absolute power as he can dismiss elected Governors and appoint new ones according Article 101 (r) and 101 (s); and if the parliament checks his powers he can adjourn or prorogue the National Legislature according to Article 101 (g). Anyone that criticizes the President also faces dismissal as we have recently seen with the recent sacking of two cabinet ministers, the Secretary General of the SPLM and the Vice President of the Republic. There are also journalist that have been tortured and murdered by unknown assailants after having criticized the president and/or government.
I don’t understand why the President is nervous? I believe that is a question best addressed to him. Perhaps he is nervous because as I have mentioned in previous interviews, and I repeat: “a posthumous coup has taken place…and has been made to appear like succession” the coup was carried out on the marginalized people of the old Sudan by the Northern and Southern elite. These elites came to the realization that the Sudanese Revolution was about to triumph and power would be restructured in Khartoum to the advantage of the marginalized communities. The elites would lose their privileged positions they have maintained since independence. It was not to the advantage of the Southern nor the Northern elite, and so they conspired to betray the Sudanese people.
The Southern elite took the aspirations of the people of South Sudan to have their own country where they would not be second class citizens and betrayed those aspirations. Those that have usurped power from the people in Juba are nervous because they know what they have done, and their intimidation tactics are not working; their propaganda tactics are also not working. They sense that the people are about to take back their movement and so they are desperate. The President has stopped working with the SPLM cadres and is now considering working with the opposition as is reflected by the recent appointment of several leaders of the opposition to the new cabinet (while true members are being dismissed).
What are the options that opponents of President Kiir dismissed from the government or suspended from the party have at their disposal?
The majority of those that were dismissed are still Members of Parliament, and others are respectable people in their communities, and so can still have an impact on the political process in the country. Those that feel victimized can follow the legal processes; they can challenge the decision of the President through the courts (as has been done by the SG of the SPLM through the Supreme Court). They could also opt to engage in national development through other means, as government is not the only institution through which one can contribute to national development.
Given the youthfulness of Southern Sudan, considering that the country is emerging from decades of fighting with Sudan prior to gaining independence, were expectations too high from President Kiir, are people not expecting results a little too soon considering where Southern Sudan came from?
I don’t believe that we are expecting too much too soon, because the struggle was not carried out in a vacuum, the struggle has a history. The SPLA had vast areas under its administration during the bush war (larger than the current area under our administration), these were known as liberated territories, and displaced camps. The services to the people in these areas were much better than the conditions today, the leadership was with the people in the rural areas, and so could quickly address their needs. This is not so today, the leadership has become amputated from the people and so thy make uninformed decisions knowing that they don’t have to live with the consequences.
The experience of the bush war could have been transferred to the new political reality, and we could have learned lessons from other African countries that suffered similar challenges during their independence. The independence of South Sudan is coming at a time of great leaps in technological advancement and so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are very many countries that gave us a helping hand during the struggle that could advise our young government. Instead the President is isolating potential allies in the region (to the extent of telling the SG of the UN: “…I am not under your command”).
There was tremendous outpouring of support from the world to the new nation, but all these opportunities have been squandered, and I believe it was done deliberately. I don’t believe it is due to where South Sudan came from that we are in the mess that we are in, our problems are self-inflicted. It is true that there is the legacy of the Arab and European Slave Trade, Colonialism and neo Colonialism; however, our liberation is our own responsibility. The SPLA guerillas forced the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Government to the negotiating table where SPLM defeated the NIF/NCP Government at the negotiating table. This great victory could not have been achieved except through exceptional organization of the masses of the Sudanese people. That we have failed to organize during peace time is an indication to me of a system overthrow, and a reversal of the victory of our people.
With regards to the security challenges, in addition to the issues that Southern Sudan has with Sudan, it is also disturbing to hear about violence between Southern Sudanese groups, what is the problem?
The problem (as I have mentioned above) is simple, the imposition of one culture to define the new state. The resulting marginalization is what fuels rebellions of those that feel disenfranchised. The current elites in South Sudan have shelved the CPA and the vision of new Sudan, within which are resolutions to problems of ‘wealth sharing’ and ‘power sharing’, ‘security arrangements’ and so on. The problems that plagued us in the old Sudan are still with us in the Republic of South Sudan, a new oppressor is emerging out of the ashes of the old (like an evil phoenix).
Overall how well would you say the SPLM has lived up to its founding principles and how well is it coping in keeping the legacy of its founding father the late Dr. John Garang?
The SPLM has abandoned its founding principles the corner stone of which was the vision of the new Sudan; we have failed to articulate the vision within the context of the new geopolitical reality. It is true that during the course of the armed struggle the new Sudan vision was articulated within the context of a united, democratic and secular Sudan. However, the failure of the two parties to agree on the nature of the state (secular vs. theocratic state) has led to a two state solution through the Southern Sudanese exercise of their right to self-determination. The vision of the new Sudan and the independence of the South are not mutually exclusive; the vision of the new Sudan can still be pursued within the territorial boundaries of what is now the Republic of South Sudan. The new Sudan is not a place on the map; it is a vision and political philosophy comparable to the millennium goals, the Magna Carta, or the Declaration on the rights of Man.
In addition the SPLM was fighting against forced Arabisation and forced Islamisation, the struggle was successful because of the overwhelming support of African nations. The movement in its (pre-independence) foreign policy convinced African governments of the danger posed by the threat of Islamic Jihad. The SPLM – North today and other revolutionary forces in North Sudan are still fighting this noble struggle, and it seems Africa has abandoned them. The SPLM in the South should be championing the cause of the SPLM – North not only as a matter of principle, but even as a matter of national security. The SPLM in South Sudan should be supporting the SPLM – North and justifying it to the AU and UN. The independence of South Sudan will be insignificant if the people of Abyei, Southern Khordofan, Southern Blue Nile, Darfur and all other Africans are still threatened by forced Arabisation and Islamisation (in fact no one is safe in Africa as we have seen recently in Mali).
The late Dr. John Garang was a product of the African liberation struggle; he lived in Tanzania and the USA during the 1960’s when he was a university student. Tanzania was supporting the African liberation movements at the time, while the USA was at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. This is the background from which he drew his inspiration, he was an Agricultural Economist and the leader of a Liberation Movement like Amilcar Cabral was. The SPLM history is not that dissimilar to the history of the PAIGC in Guinea Bissau or that of FRELIMO in Mozambique, and so I would not call it the legacy of the late Dr. John Garang. It is the legacy of the historical struggle of the African people, and it has manifested itself at different times and places in Africa. The struggle continues!
A word on the opposition, the press and the civil society, how effective are there as a tool in checking potential excesses from the President and the SPLM government?
There is no credible opposition that has evolved as of yet, perhaps the unease that we are currently experiencing are the birth pangs of the birth of the opposition. The traditional opposition parties inherited from the old Sudan are subservient to the SPLM; they exist by the good will of the SPLM and so can’t be effective. The press and the civil society face intimidation, arbitrary arrest and extra judicial killing by the security forces if they are critical of the President or his administration. The killing and intimidation of journalist has been widely reported in the media so I will not bore you with a list of names.
There is certainly much to criticize but there should also be reasons to remain optimistic and positive about Sudan, can you tell us some of those developments or things that should make Southern Sudanese remain optimistic about the future?
The People of South Sudan are the greatest hope of South Sudan, our people are a very resolute people that have lived through centuries of foreign domination and are still here (since pharaonic times). It was the people of South Sudan that mobilized all the resources available to them for their liberation and who achieved the current victory that is being hijacked by an unscrupulous bourgeoisified elite that have no interest in the liberation of our people. They would rather thrive on the ignorance of the masses.
The South Sudan Legislative Assembly, the representatives of the people of South Sudan are also a great hope for our people. They are the ones mandated by the constitution to check any excesses by the executive that may arise; and though they have been silent in the past, recent events show that they may be a force to reckon with. There are also the SPLM delegates of the National Convention, the highest body in the SPLM. There are a lot of challenges, but where there are challenges there are also opportunities.
On a personal note do you have plans to become more actively involved in politics, maybe run for office at the local level or for a parliamentary seat?
It is a catch 22, because who in their rightful mind would want to become actively involved in politics? I would rather get married raise children and take care of my family. There is a bad culture in South Sudan and Africa of entering politics to embezzle public funds. I am; however, not lacking anything and can find work and business anywhere. The problem is when one sees human suffering empathy dictates that I must do something. This is what I am doing within the constraints of the reality of my current situation.