Capt. Mabior Garang de Mabior: A call for fundamental change in South Sudan


"We have been independent for a year now, yet I am afraid the country has started on the wrong foot," argues Capt. Mabior Garang de Mabior, the eldest son of the Founding Father for South Sudan, in this essay where he shares his thoughts on the way forward for the country. "In order to put our country back on the right track, change is needed and the sooner this is done, the better for our young state."

(Juba, South Sudan) - The nascent Republic of South Sudan has st.arted on the wrong foot, and the sooner change manifests the better. If we wait for the current state of obscurantism to become entrenched, we would be: "...not fighting the Alligator on the banks, only to go and fight it in the middle of the river...", as the late Samora Machel once put it. The current state of affairs must be resisted and reversed by any means necessary in order for the Republic to survive.

As members and participants in the Liberation Movement, we know that the armed struggle was waged because we wanted to end injustice. The fact that there is injustice today in the Republic is nothing short of a betrayal of the aspirations of the citizens of South Sudan. This is not a call to arms. We are committed to peaceful dialogue and to 'non-violence' as the most superior method of political intercourse, and shall spare no efforts in exhausting these methods. Our movement, the SPLM (which is now the leading political party in South Sudan) has deviated from the primary objective we all sacrificed for; we need to talk about it. It was Dr Martin Luther King Jr. that once said: “…injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere…”

Just as a reminder, the SPLA went to war for the following reasons:

1) To protect the integrity of our cultures from Arabisation and Islamisation; 2) we fought to stop economic marginalisation of our people and region; 3) to stop racial denigration of our people and their ways of living; 4) most importantly, we wanted our people to have more and better access to quality development, and that includes quality education, health, modernisation, and good governance. The list is endless.

We have been independent for a year now, yet I am afraid the country has started on the wrong foot. In order to put our country back on the right track, change is needed and the sooner this is done, the better for our young state. Human resource development, modernisation of civil society, and the restoration of the greatness of our people should have taken priority. However, the new Republic has missed a unique opportunity to engender a qualitatively different nation state in Africa; one that is built on different parameters, as articulated tirelessly by our late hero, Dr John Garang De Mabior.

We are very lucky to have attained independence during the information-age where internet technology brings needed information to the doors where it is needed the most. Leading South Sudan in a better direction does not entail rocket science. It could be as simple as browsing Wikipedia to get the most basic information on how to lead our people. Yes, we can easily Google information to help develop the best of our own, picking up the best ideas and learning from the pitfalls without making the same costly errors.

At the heart of the SPLM's vision of statehood was a qualitative lift from the state building models taken from other post-colonial states in Africa. Despite that vision as inspiration, the new Republic in the hands of new elites has become the worst example of a dependent state. It is too fragile to stay on the pillars of true independence and uphold its sovereignty in decision-making. Our country is too beholden to outside powers for everything, including basic economic and social policy. It is the very thing the SPLM had sought to avoid; a great opportunity squandered.

The Republic has started on uneven ground because it has been founded on a sectarian basis. The concept of 'unity' has been misconceived and used to demonise constructive dissenting voices in the new nation. Constructive criticisms at all times is associated with lack of patriotism and sometimes likened to treason. The idea of secession has also been understood in a way that its context sometimes confuses many. This has resulted in the establishment of a quasi-African Nation State.

South Sudan is devoid of a true Pan African identity. It is characterized by tribal divisions, thus making equitable sharing of the nation’s resources a daunting task. The results of sectarian politics are the emergence of a new form of marginalisation and exploitation. The same policy of 'divide and rule' that was employed by the former enemy has now been carried over to the new Republic. This begs the question: “…if we cannot be different from those in Khartoum, why are we in Juba?” If we cannot become different from our former enemies whom we thought were wrong, why can’t we just return home and apologize?

In the same manner that successive governments in Khartoum have used Arabism to divide the Sudanese People; the new Republic is now using tribalism to divide the People of South Sudan. To quote the late Dr John Garang " the South, people have been politicized along tribal lines resulting in ridiculous slogans such as 'Dinka Unity', 'Great Equatoria', 'Bari Speakers', 'Luo Unity' and so forth..." He then continues: "...tomorrow when these divisions become outdated, the oppressor will contrive other ingenious schemes for keeping the Sudanese People and their just struggle divided and weak..."

The untimely death of the founding Commander in Chief of the SPLA 21 days after taking the oath of office as the first Vice President of the Republic of Sudan, and President of the Government of South Sudan, was undoubtedly a big blow to the people's movement, and to this day there are still more questions than answers surrounding his mysterious demise. That said, we should not be fooled by the counter-productive propaganda that suggests everything would be perfect had Dr. John Garang not perished. This is to undermine the efforts of the Sudanese People who contributed the lion’s share towards their liberation, in terms of material resources, including their own sons and daughters.

The idea that there shall never be likes of Dr. John Garang for the next one hundred years is propaganda designed to create insecurity, and divert attention away from the realities at hand. The tragic loss of John Garang was without question a big blow to the new Republic. With that in mind, it should not be an excuse for rampant corruption, absence of the rule of law, lack of basic services to the people, or lack of good governance across the ten states. The administrational anarchy is further exacerbated by an increasingly authoritarian regime which reacts to criticism rather than act towards reform. The current state of collapse of all sectors in South Sudan should not be blamed on the loss of our leader. We should take it as a deliberate program of the leading clique in Juba not to serve the interests of our people.

A Diaspora Community Coordinating Council (CCC) that was based in Nairobi and known to have had ties with Khartoum has hijacked the People's Movement. This group has been sabotaging the noble efforts of our people to liberate themselves since the days of the bush war. They were (infamously) known as the Wimpy Boys (today we know them as "security"). The CCC's emerged in South Sudan and other African countries as a by-product of colonization and the rural - urban drift. A domestic Diaspora was created by this migration of people from different villages, people who found themselves in unfamiliar urban centres where their social values were under constant threat from the realities of industrialized society.

The main purpose of the CCC was to ensure that the next generation would have a forum through which they could inherit their social values, their language and customs. The CCC would coordinate to ensure that formalities have been met according to traditional customs. The CCC's became increasingly politicized as the 'winds of change' swept through Africa, and as the independence movements became victorious. After independence was won, the different CCC's of the various communities would be locked in a struggle for power in the centre, pitting the communities at the peripheries against one another. These are communities who had no grudges against each other until the upsurge of divisive politics. In the case of the old Sudan, people had been divided into Northern and Southern Sudanese, Africans or Arabs, Muslims or Christians. The Republic of South Sudan has inherited divisions imposed on us by successive colonial and neo-colonial governments. The policy of Nimerism is still alive when the people of South Sudan allow themselves to be divided against one another as: Bar el ghazal, Equatoria, and Upper Nile.

The SPLA was founded as a politico-military organization; this means that the combatant was primarily a political activist. This mode of organisational structure was necessary due to the objective historical realities of the time. There was the field Commander at the front and the Political Commissar in the liberated areas. As the Movement grew and became strong she became a victim of her own success. The movement gained in quantity of members, while declining in the quality of membership. The Sudanese Renaissance with every victory would begin to attract the Southern Elite, whom up to this point in history had never been actively part of the armed struggle. These Comrades would come to the revolution with elitist attitudes inherited from their colonial education, demanding promotion based on this basis. Contrary to these expectations; the revolution had its own system of rewards and punishment. Reward was based on merit not social status, and punishment was based on martial law.

The majority of the southern elite joined the SPLA. They fought gallantly alongside their brothers and sisters irrespective of social status, and many earned (with blood, sweat and tears) their current positions. However, a slim minority with ties to CCC's in London and Washington DC had come (to join) on a mission to infiltrate and hijack the people's movement. They came with Western socialisation and values, and used their positions of prestige to promote tribal divisions as a way to leverage for positions of responsibility. In order to neutralise this threat these Comrades were deployed in external wings known as SPLM chapters and their task would be to lobby powerful players in the international community behind the cause of the marginalised Sudanese people. The majority of these external chapters did their work with revolutionary devotion, and their work bore fruit as the SPLA cause became more accepted over the years. There was one particular
external chapter (based in Nairobi) that had other plans, the wheels of which had already been set in motion by the time of the signing of the agreement.

The signing of the CPA ushered in a new era for the historical struggle of the people of the Sudan. It was a time of great promise for all Sudanese. For the first time in their history, the Sudanese people were able to organize an armed struggle that forced the minority elite clique in Khartoum (that had ruled since independence) to the negotiating table, where they were thoroughly defeated by the SPLM negotiating team. This was not the only historical first. It also, happened to be the first time in the history of the old Sudan that the interests of the Northern Elite have coincided with those of their Southern counterparts. The two groups came to the realisation that if they did not come together, the marginalised masses at the peripheries would take power in the centre. The aspirations of the Sudanese people were thus betrayed, in order to forestall the logical conclusion of the struggle; a Sudanese Renaissance.

The true SPLA/M still survives in the Republic of Sudan, and they continue to wage the just struggle. The Other Armed Groups (OAGs) and the SPLA are locked in a power struggle for control of the national army, while the SPLM is dominated by (former) members of external chapters and eleventh hour defectors from the NIF/NCP. The Southern Elite has taken advantage of the aspirations of the people of South Sudan, who have sacrificed everything, and have yearned for so long to have control of their own destiny. The elite have in the process shown themselves as the 'midwives' that delivered the new Republic, while all along betraying the people’s aspirations.

The notion of all power belonging to the people has been completely usurped! Instead of using the goodwill expressed by the people when they affirmed their sovereignty by voting in overwhelming numbers for independence, the new elite has instead focused their efforts on grotesque accumulation of wealth. The popular goodwill could have been mobilised again in a popular constitutional referendum, as many people of goodwill had urged the SPLM to do. That is another opportunity squandered.

The infiltration of the people's movement occurred on a technicality; a constitutional clause in international politics. This is the exclusion of the armed forces from the realm of politics; making the SPLA (a People’s Movement) a National Army, while the SPLM (the chapters) becomes one of many political parties. It is the mismanagement of this transition that has created the greatest confusion in the People's Movement. The movement came to power divided, with no instrument with which to assume power. The true cadres of the movement suddenly found themselves out of action politically, being confined to the GHQ's by the constitution.

The SPLM national secretariat has been taken over by the various members of the CCC's that were in the external chapters, the most powerful being the members of Nairobi (aka The Wimpy Group). These are individuals who are amputated from their villages and socialised in the western world. They make uninformed decisions in Juba, with the knowledge that they won't have to live with the consequences. The historical mechanisms for making decisions that were painstakingly evolved by the people's movement have been abandoned; all decisions are now made by a Politburo that does not reflect the true face of the people's movement.

The new elite consider the "independence" of South Sudan as a project, an end in itself. Indeed, some have even called for the SPLM to change its name since it had "achieved its objective"! They might as well have changed it! The fact is that the struggle for a New Sudan, a country that is fundamentally transformed both in form and content, rages on in other marginalized parts of the country. Those waging that struggle are the ones advancing the SPLA/M program and vision of change. It is tragic that our leadership of the Movement fail to recognize this.

What is the solution?


splm group_photo

Senior members of SPLM political bureau pose for a group picture. (Photo by SPLM TODAY)

The solution is for those who are the true custodians of the people's struggle for social justice to engage those who have assumed power in dialogue. To use non combative means of putting pressure on them to change the pernicious course they have taken and come back to engage in a serious and honest national dialogue involving all South Sudanese Social and Political groups. That includes involving all the beneficiaries of the revolution in shaping the future of our country. If they resist dialogue then walk out en masse and leave any reactionary element within the movement exposed.

This may seem as an extreme or unreasonable solution to many Comrades that may feel they can't abandon what they sacrificed so much for; romanticism may not permit them to see the grim reality before us. A posthumous coup has been made to appear like succession. If the objectives of the movement have been abandoned, if the representative bodies of the people's movement never meet, if the Politburo is being infiltrated by pseudo SPLM; then what movement is left? All that remains is the form devoid of content. The reactionaries (historically linked to Khartoum) are dismantling the people's movement from within, reversing the hard won victories of our just struggle. Infiltrators posing as the true representatives of the people’s movement are tarnishing the impeccable revolutionary record of the SPLA/M.

The community organizations referred to here as CCC's are the civil society organizations of the people of South Sudan; and could provide another approach to solving the problem. These civil society bodies have the capacity to save the Republic of South Sudan from descending into anarchy. These same organizations where the instruments through which the People's Movement mobilized resources for the war effort. In peace time they were mobilized for the elections and the referendum that brought the first Republic of South Sudan into existence. They can be mobilized once again in an effort to put pressure on the current regime to change its ways.

It is a tragedy that today these community organizations are disorganized, thus serving the interests of our enemies. Instead of focusing on developing our people these community bodies have focused their attention on dividing our people in a futile struggle for power. Those with narrow minds and sectarian views have been allowed to dominate these forums, yet the most sophisticated weapon that we have against our enemy is the unity of our people.

It is the duty of every patriotic South Sudanese to take the fight to their respective CCC's. Narrow-mindedness and open-mindedness have no nationality. It is the duty of every open-minded citizen to fight these narrow minds that have dominated these forums with their divisive dialogue. The current dialogue in these forums is dangerous and could lead our nascent republic to oblivion. The dialogue should be refocused to speak to the restoration of our people’s greatness. Hate speech should be defined and criminalized, and all efforts should be made to enforce this. That is the way we can get out of this perilous situation and build a new society.

To sum it up, the leaders of the new Republic have abandoned the vision and program of the people’s movement. Nowhere in Africa has a liberation movement, so quickly and so determinedly abandoned its program and its platform. It is a tragedy when considering the promise of change, the expectations of our people, and the reverence that the SPLM had had among Africans and the world in general. Here was a movement that took as its starting point the enslavement of Africans from the time Alexander penetrated the Nile Valley to the present day! Its loss of direction is not only a Sudanese tragedy but an African one as well.

The people in our cattle camps and villages are losing patience; they are increasingly alienated from their movement, with some communities even becoming openly hostile. The people are beginning to feel they have been betrayed by their movement and are losing hope in the promise of a new society. This is the objective of the infiltrator, to use their new found positions in the movement to embezzle funds with which to build their true political party. In the process they are causing irreparable damage to the movement in the eyes of the people. If they are allowed to leave en masse (and they will) with all the embezzled funds, leaving the people's movement socially and politically bankrupt; they will have the initiative and with their sectarian approach to society and politics, the Republic will be doomed. The progressive element within the people's movement must pre-empt this move and leave en masse. It must take the people along and call for a national dialogue to determine the future of the country.

I end this discourse by putting forth some propositions inspired by John Garang de Mabior's speech at Koka Dam, 20/05/1986 in the context of our current realities, in summary:

1.It is the people of South Sudan that can end the current failure of the state and bring stability to the Republic. The true South Sudanese patriot that wants peace and stability and a new society, must identify and organize themselves to put pressure on the current government, to start a true and honest dialogue to save our Republic.

2.The solutions to the fundamental problems of South Sudan are not beyond attainment, we only need to be frank and serious. Speaking freely is an embodiment of an individual’s liberty. If you refuse to call a spade a spade then you are not free, and that is our position.

3.The necessary conditions still exist for stopping South Sudan from descending into the abyss, which is not in the interest of any peace loving South Sudanese, the region, or the world.

In conclusion, the current constitution is illegal. The interim constitution of GoSS was intended for the interim period of the CPA as its name suggests; that constitution expired with that period. There should have been as the first order of business in the Republic, a constitutional conference involving all social and political forces in the country. This is the best way to draft a constitution that would be reflective of the social, political and cultural realities of the Republic of South Sudan. A committee of a few drafted the current constitution. It makes a mockery of one of the principal tenets of democracy; separation of powers.

The Judiciary of our Republic is in shambles, leaving the country with no justice system. There are people languishing in South Sudanese jails serving three years for adultery, while murderers run the streets. The Legislature is toothless as the fraudulent constitution gives the Executive more power than Parliament, making it nothing but a rubber stamp parliament. And if the Judicial and Legislative are dysfunctional, then in essence we don't have a government.

The matter is made worse by the fact that the people's security forces have turned on the very people they are supposed to protect, thus creating insecurity in the process. They arbitrarily arrest citizens who express their views freely, going as far as torture and extra judicial killings. There exists currently two scenarios in our country; either we have an honest and free dialogue on the future of our Republic, or we can descend into the abyss.