General elections in Southern Sudan: Implications for governance in the region

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Tuesday, 19 January 2010 18:55
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parek(Juba) - Juba, the Capital of Southern Sudan where I currently am, is gripped with election fever since the conclusion of the general election registration period and the beginning of party nominations for the various legislative and gubernatorial seats. The greatest drama has been predictably centered on the internal selection of SPLM Party flag bearers for many of the Chief Executive positions in the ten states of Southern Sudan, culminating in the controversial omission of some prominent SPLM incumbents seeking new mandates in their old seats, and the selection of other newcomers. The process was clearly imperfect, but whatever mechanism was adopted would have also produced its own sets of aggrieved candidates and camps. The members of the SPLM who did not emerge as designated party candidates from the deliberations and decisions of the Political Bureau will ultimately have to place the good of their party above their immediate sense of injustice and grievance if they so feel. The other political parties in Southern Sudan are also involved in frantic nomination plans and hope to improve on their meager share of power, at least in the Legislative Assembly of Southern Sudan and those of the ten states. While the very odds of the convening of these 2010 election remain the subject of great speculation, it represents another important milestone in the wobbly and troubled journey drawn by the landmark Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).

 

This is all great fodder for political junkies intrigued by tales of backroom deals and aggrieved candidates and kingmakers, but what struck me as alarming is the sense of a huge void in the midst of all these hustle and bustle. Particularly in the case of governor races, the sense of a horse race or beauty pageant predominates at the expense of any discernable extensive reforms or policy proposals being advanced by the challengers, or even the incumbents. The frame of reference is the candidate as a person, followed in some instances by what part of the state he or she is from, and what that represents in some vague deal about rotation of power. The incumbent is almost universally not accorded any credit for any improvements, and the dire condition of the State is trumpeted highly by the challengers and their energetic supporters. The failures and continued challenges are not assessed in the context of deeper structural problems facing Southern Sudan, but rather all enveloped within this constricted vision of the Governor as either a super villain or hero. The post-conflict environment with its attendant problems of insecurity, corruption and budget shortfalls faced by the states are not being accorded the deep review they warrant. To be fair to the challengers, the incumbents also have generally failed to propose concrete reasons and forward plans for their claim to a new mandate by the Party, and have projected a sense of being entitled to their old seats even amidst the problems facing their states.

 

It is not clear to me that many of the candidates have reckoned deeply with the challenges that will face them if they ascend to the seats they are pursuing, and it seems almost that some people believe that a change of faces is all that is needed to drag their state to peace and prosperity with them at the helm. The sensible thing for many of these politicians to do was to seriously study why things are awry in their states, and then fairly assess where the causes are aligned with the individuals who held the seats before them and where they are beyond the control of any mere mortal absent some deep fundamental changes. Subsequent to such a review, a candidate can clearly see the implications of factors such as the budget allocation, judicial and security sector reform, size of the civil service, condition of state infrastructure such as traversable roads, border security for the front line states, foreign insurgencies like the LRA and many such issues. These variables are more influential and predictive of future performance than many of the personal attributes that we are so obsessed with, and suggest that the individual who is most able to understand them and propose ideas to manage and mitigate their impact is the one the SPLM should be vetting and ultimately selecting to lead his or her state as it contributes to the good of the whole region.    

 

It will be tempting for others to counter that the period of campaigning will be when these candidates will propose their extensive set of policy prescriptions to address the serious problems facing their states. That is extremely unlikely, and even if true, suggests that the SPLM as a party has gone to posture and allowed its candidates to be selected without a coherent internal debate governed by a broad political agenda for the whole of Southern Sudan. The task of delivering on the promise of security and development needs to be devolved fully to the states and their governments, with the center in Juba supervising and offering guidance and direction. That requires that all the 10 states coherently pursue that agenda in some semblance of coordination and conformity, even as the unique circumstances of every state allow for some appropriate flexibility and priority setting.

 

Now that the SPLM has selected its candidates for the governorships of all the 25 states of Sudan, it should not let them loose on their constituencies to battle for the seats against the candidates of the other parties in their own improvised ways. We can confidently predict that all the new office holders will utterly fail to resolve these problems facing their states if they gallop excitedly to their new seats, euphorically pushed along by blind ambition and adoring sycophants, while not sufficiently aware of the root causes of these problems and not armed with appropriate detailed solutions and the resources they need from the Government of Southern Sudan. The SPLM should therefore take the lead in formulating a CAMPAIGN PLATFORM for all candidates from the Presidency of the Republic downward, and ensure that there are detailed policy initiatives borne out of deep study of the challenges facing all the states, all to be pursued through legislative and executive action by every elected member of the Party in their respective posts. The implications for continued disenchantment with any governors of the SPLM by the public go beyond the peril to the their individual political careers, but adversely affect the party as an aspirant to continued leadership, and most disastrously, derails the noble work of delivering the dividends of peace to our long-suffering people.