Interest group politics run amok: Forming the government of the new Republic of South Sudan

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Sunday, 24 July 2011 09:12
Written by Parek Maduot, The New Sudan Vision (NSV),
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(Washington DC) - Like many of my compatriots inside and outside South Sudan, I was beside myself with joy over that glorious weekend when our flag was finally hoisted in Juba to herald our arrival on the world stage. The independence of South Sudan was akin to a difficult caesarian birth made possible only after many decades of struggle and countless loses in blood and treasure. Now that the euphoria of celebration has subsided, our leadership must start to honestly reckon with the challenges ahead, chief among which is the task of establishing a government that is responsive and up to the tough days ahead.  One week into independence and I can already sense something fundamentally wrong with the way many of us view our government and how it should be established.

It is imperative of course that our President forms a government that is broadly representative of all our diversities, and that he be perceived to have consulted widely to ensure that a great plurality of us feel that their views have been incorporated. The experience of the last six years shows that President Salva Kiir has generally labored hard to do that, and it is clear that he will do the same as he assembles the new government. It is however an unenviable task that I pity him for, because many of our politicians have distorted the meaning of equitable representation to serve their own narrow personal ambitions.

There is no argument at all that ethnic balance at all levels is essential in a country like South Sudan, but there is something terribly wrong when that zeal for tribal solidarity is only exhibited by our politicians when cabinet posts are being doled out. In that vein, politicians conflate their own ascendance into higher office with the fortunes of the members of their tribe or county or state, and use that as their primary argument in the tough clamor for power in Juba. However, once in power, it is their brilliance that they tout and their great record in the struggle that they credit for their exalted post. As you can predict, they are quick to brandish the tribal or sectional card once they hear any murmurs about their possible removal from office. That usually saves them, unless they have the unfortunate fate of having the leading petitioners for their firing come from their own community or clan.

It is also indisputable that women continue to lag behind in South Sudan, but that is actually true on a structural level and not a function of their scarcity in positions of political power. In fact, South Sudan has made significant strides in appointment women to executive positions, in electing women to legislative assemblies and in integrating many more into the civil service. The problem we face however is that we have millions of young girls denied education all across the huge expanse of South Sudan, and we have hundreds of thousands of our sisters succumbing to maternal mortality every year, not to mention a host of other dire indicators that disproportionately afflict our women. Having achieved this milestone through a protracted armed struggle, we also have many orphans and widows living in dire conditions and scrambling to find education and shelter.

These are serious issues that need well-considered public policy programs, and politicians that recognize that the fate of all these poor voiceless millions is the real battleground and not the overblown scramble for seats at state house. You could conceivably grant more than 75% of the cabinet posts in Juba to women and widows, and still not make a dent in the problems outlined above. The issue is therefore not cabinet posts, but the allocation of public resources and the prioritizing of effective government actions to address the needs of the people.

My hope is that the process of consultation for the new government focuses less on the personalities and their acceptability to a broad spectrum of interest groups, and more on the program of the new government. Our President has the mandate and the uncontested bully pulpit to outline a clear roadmap for our new Republic with policies designed to serve the broad objectives he articulated at the Independence Day speech, and he has the experience of the last six years to identify the right complement of people to help execute these policies. Consolidating the rule of law, strengthening our defenses, reconciling our people, resolving Abyei and the borders, enhancing our relations regionally and internationally, building our nascent economy, fighting corruption, and consolidating a democratic system of governance are the priorities ahead of him.  Finding the best core group of people that can make these happen should take precedent over appeasing the over-ambitious clusters of men and women jockeying at the door to his office.

Parek Maduot is a South Sudanese commentator based in Washington DC. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..