Salva Kiir’s star power rises as south Sudan approaches the referendum vote

Category: Diaspora
Published on Friday, 31 December 2010 22:22
Written by Mading Ngor, The New Sudan Vision (NSV),
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South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit gestures during a press conference. 

(Calgary AB NSV) - When President Salva Kiir Mayardit took the mantle of leadership in 2005 after his late predecessor’s sudden death, he had had to endure a considerable media scrutiny.

Thrust into the blinding glare of the international media as the First Vice President of Sudan and President of the semi-autonomous Southern Sudan, the publicity-shy Kiir was relentlessly quizzed to proof his political acumen, almost instantly.

Who was Salva Kiir? How did he intend to fill Garang's big shoes? And would he see-through the implementation of the fragile Comprehensive Peace Agreement and set up a functional government in the south? Those were the questions that marked Kiir's early years in power.

Fast forward to today and a different reality is emerging. In late 2005, Kiir established the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) with very little infrastructure in place (or as they would say “out of nothing”).

A GoSS minister who declined to be named summed up the President's achievements this way for NSV:

He set up a government with very few resources, he stood up against the NCP's threats to the CPA, he kept the south secure; he embarked on a tangible development and has managed to meet some of the high expectations.

Yongo Bure, Associate Professor of Social Science at Kettering University and a regular contributor to NSV concur Kiir deserves a lot of kudos for his performance as GoSS President in the last five years.

"The development achieved by GOSS in the last five years by far exceeds anything positive Khartoum has done in the Southern Sudan in the last fifty-five years of independent Sudan," he wrote on NSV in July.

Assessing Kiir's administration Wednesday, Bure said while the perfect time to judge Salva Kiir is after the referendum, he credited the President's “cool headed” and “modest'” personality for steering the semi-autonomous region closer to the referendum shore, now less than 10 days away.

According to the southern Sudanese developmental economist, Kiir has evolved as a politician from the inaugural days when commentators dubbed him a 'political novice' into a fully fledged politician that has been able to anticipate and checkmate NCP's potentially deadly moves.

Bure said Kiir “completely disarmed Khartoum” with his October pardons for the rebels. “Khartoum wanted to destroy the south with southerners,” he said.

On the economic front, Bure lauds GoSS's 'Go to School Initiative' and their focus on building roads as precursors for development. However, he said “A lot is left to be desired on the economic side” of things. He said Kiir needed to exert much effort into building an economic team that strategizes about long term vision for the economy, as opposed to current myopic thinking.

'Kept his eye on the ball'

In one of the first interviews of his presidency, a journalist asked Kiir in October 2005 what would be the priorities for his government, which was off to a late start. Here is how he responded to the question:

Priorities are so many. You have seen Juba, which is supposed to be the capital of southern Sudan. There is nothing in Juba. We have no electricity, no running water, no roads, no hospitals, no schools. We have nothing at all. We are starting from zero. The challenges are so many that if you want to classify them, all could be number one.”

In struggling to choose between priorities, as 'all could be number one,' Kiir muddled through governance with no clear focus, say analysts.

Brian Adeba, a S. Sudanese journalist residing in Kitchener, Canada, said such a shotgun approach almost led to a “totally inept” GoSS that was very inefficient in its management of resources. “The other things that should have been taken care of weren't taken care of,” he said, such as putting in place checks and balances to curtail corruption.

Although GoSS hasn't delivered in a number of different fronts, said Adeba, President Kiir “kept his eye on the ball” by securing the referendum and not giving in to Khartoum's incessant assaults on the CPA, and that's ultimately to his credit. He also praised Kiir's consensus building skills for “bringing fractitious groups” on board the government.

Kiir's biggest test

While many southerners thought of Kiir as more of a soldier than a politician, he has successfully been able to assert his authority as the country's commander-in-chief. Although southerners blame the GoSS for rampant inter-tribal clashes, corruption, and lack of basic services in many areas, they still trust President Kiir to deliver them to what's often seen as the 'promised land.'

In addition, Kiir remains a very popular President as the south heads into the final throes of the CPA –a period which will present enormous challenges for the country but also for the President.

Since we are not out of the woods yet, the biggest question as we approach the referendum is whether Salva Kiir will remain strong and steady to lead the south into independence?

The GoSS minister thinks the President's “keen” and “patient” approach to governance can assure the south that he will champion their destiny.

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