9th May 2023 We have hesitated a great deal, Your Excellency, to compose this letter for the fact that you might dismiss it prima facie, but at a time of profound threats to the future of the nation, we are all obligated to look out for the interest of our country whether in opposition or in government. No citizen is ever opposed to his country. Citizens are free to disagree or oppose their leaders and government, but never the country. It is from this perspective that we send you this open letter.
Ever since our signature of the People’s Coalition for Civic Action (PCCA) on the 30th of July 2021, we remain convinced that the future of South Sudan remains bleak and the threat of return to war was real then, but even more real now. Let us arrogate to ourselves the opportunity to offer our sincere assessment of the challenges that lie ahead for our country with the hope that you, your government and indeed the rest of South Sudanese might find them useful. We will take no offense should you dismiss them, but we will take solace in that history will record this correspondence.
While we remain unapologetically critical of your leadership and continue to hold you fully responsible for what South Sudan has become—a failed pariah state, you are still the de facto President of South Sudan, and you have the power of decision making. It follows, therefore, that we can still offer you our opinions and ideas to save the country.
We see tragic developments ahead in South Sudan, especially as violence in Sudan, our erstwhile country, spirals out of control. There are instructive lessons we could learn from this and take proactive actions now to avert what appears inevitable. To give you a sense of the timed bomb you are sitting on, let us highlight the key threats:
First, there are dangerous regional and international trends that have just made South Sudan even more vulnerable. The conflict we are witnessing in the Sudan has its roots in conflict ridden countries in the Sahara, central African region, and the Arabian Gulf; not to mention recent violent episodes in the IGAD region. The spillover effect is real in South Sudan. The return to cold war-like situation between the United States and Europe against Russia and of course the developing situation between China and Taiwan will polarize the world, making proxy wars highly likely. South Sudan being a destination of significant Chinese investments in oil and massive western financial, political, and humanitarian investments over the span of nearly 4 decades, is prime for proxy contestation.
Recent high-level delegation of many SPLM leaders to China and subsequent signing of some cooperation agreements with the Communist Party were poorly timed by your officials and party members. Such overtures, at a time of rising tensions, put the country blindly on a collision course with the rivaling world powers. We are also aware of the delicate situation you are managing between Egypt and Ethiopia; and between the warring parties in Sudan, and South Sudan could easily fall victim of any political missteps. In volatile national, regional, and international political climate, caution and proactive actions can spare a nation. Broad based national political dialogue, reconciliation, and national unity will insulate South Sudan from these looming crises. Left as it is, prepare to put out multiple fires from within and from without.
Second, you are presiding over a starving nation, which has completely lost confidence in your leadership and that of your government and your party to turn things around. When you have a nation that is severely divided, a nation lacking confidence in the ability of its government to respond to social, political, and economic stresses, with an economy that is dilapidated beyond recognition, that is sufficiently a time bomb, without other factors being considered. You are essentially treading in and around multiple hidden detonating devices.
Third, you lead a government that has no legitimacy in the sense of public support and trust. It is a divided government, forged out of an agreement that is on the death bed with little public buy-in. The agreement, which is the lifeblood of your government, has been frustrated and stymied by your actions and inactions and no one, including you, Mr. President, believes in this agreement anymore. The country is therefore in limbo. Common sense tells us that sustained political uncertainty breeds unhappy situations. It will simply take one unpredicted disturbance and the ripple could trigger all these explosive devices around you. Do not bank on how you have defeated your adversaries, there is a lot more in the pipeline given the state of the nation as we know it today. We would therefore urge you to end this choreographed political uncertainty and give the country an opportunity to exit this fragility trap. Please enter genuine dialogue with the oppositions, integrate the army and forego these loads of excuses. Leaders do not make excuses for their shortcomings; they apologize, go to work, and make a difference.
Fourth, you have built an economy that is centered around you, Mr. President. It is essentially a rent-seeking economy built around people’s relationship with you. This process trickled to the states with governors controlling state revenues and starving the civil service, counties and payams of cash. The violent contest for power in our country is a function of what they have seen—that is, being close to power is the highway to riches.
Such an economy is exclusionary, narrow in base and its fundamentals are weak. You therefore have very few chosen winners in this racketeering economy and everyone else is a loser. In such a situation, people have nothing to lose if the whole house is caught on fire. Scenes of banks being looted in Khartoum are reminiscent of what awaits Juba. You have fought a long war against injustice, and you have fallen into the same trap. You are presiding over and dispensing injustice in every way imaginable. This situation is redeemable if you can stop scheming and stop drumming fears and act boldly as a leader.
Fifth, while you have done extremely well in your conspiracy to keep power, you made significant political blunders recently that have increased your political jeopardy. You have put your son, Thiik Kiir Mayardit, and your business partner, Benjamin Bol Mel, on political express lanes. The whole country is talking about your intention to hand power to either one or a combination of both. Don’t you think this will unravel your political alliance built on flimsy ethnic chauvinism and liberation legitimacy? What about those who have given their all to protect your power? What about your SPLM veterans? You have taken the support of these people for granted, but we must assure you, you need them. There is a lot of evidence indicating that you are pivoting your political power in and around those who lack liberation credentials, a smart move for a dictator that you have become. Our fear is that it will backfire and these men and women who have supported you had hoped that they also had a chance to succeed you.
Now that you have closed this window, rational political actors are likely to recalculate. Not that we want to belabor this point, but it is significant to remind you that it was your ill-calculated move to undermine and disempower key SPLM leaders that was the immediate trigger of the 2013 violence. With the political space completely shut and no room for civil political discourse, those who are blatantly undermined will resort to violence once more. This time, the dividing line will be unclear, and a spiraling spin will likely be the path it will follow. This situation is not inevitable, but your choices and decisions will determine both the speed and the manner of this spiral.
Sixth, the false sense of peace and normalcy, which your government currently projects, is a recipe for disaster. Much as you want to move forward and declare peace and normalcy, you know that this is untrue. The country is still at war for one, your partners in the R-ARCSS feel cheated and duped into signing this agreement, which has rendered them toothless and ineffective. Second, you have effective opposition groups negotiating with you in Rome who have the potential to drag the country to war out of frustration with your lack of serious commitment. Third, you have factions of the SPLM/A-IO that you signed playact agreements with and turn them against each other and against the SPLM/A-IO. It didn’t take long for them to discover your insincerity and deception and now they remain a formidable threat to peace. Predictably, more frustrated armed groups continue to emerge against your government. All these aggrieved formations add to the long list of atomic explosives you are sitting on.
The current situation in the Sudan and other regional and international dynamics could change the dynamics and you would have full-scale war at hand. Instead of pretending to have peace, Mr. President, why don’t you make real peace. Don’t ask us what real peace is, we know it when we see it and we have not seen one, yet. You have successfully turned the R-ARCSS into a mere paper agreement that has little meaning in people’s daily lives. Your deliberate and relentless violations of the same explain the waning confidence in this agreement and your government.
Recent theatrics of election campaigns and preparations are simply insulting to the intelligence of the people of South Sudan. The country is not ready for any credible democratic elections. There is no political or civic space and there is no peace. Holding elections in a divisive environment as it currently exists could simply be the next trigger to a large-scale violent power contestation. Instead of spending meagre public resources on these political optics and charades, the time has come to invest in the unity of the people of South Sudan, their welfare, and their peace.
Seventh, Mr. President, while it is all too easy to dismiss, the perception that the system you have created is Jieng (Dinka)-centric and the biggest threat to the future of South Sudan is a hard reality. The two civil wars we fought in the Sudan from 1955 to 2005 were a result of poorly constituted nation that favored a select people and marginalized the majority. The disastrous consequences of such a chauvinistic system are still haunting the Sudan today. You have successfully established such a system in South Sudan, either by design or by accident, and it is one that will be challenged vehemently by those who feel marginalized. This path is disastrous Mr. President and the sooner this is realized the better.
Lastly, the safety valve in all this, Mr. President, is that time always rectifies missteps of a nation. Please open a space for public discourse and please accept the proposed roundtable conference. When people are pushed too hard against the wall, they will do the very thing you fear. What will break South Sudan is not the fact that people complain, it is the fact their complains are dismissed and suppressed. This is lesson 101 from the Sudan. Closing the door on genuine political dialogue and civic engagement is, indeed, a declaration of war, and an agenda to break up the country or keep it in perpetual anarchy. South Sudan has nothing to gain in alienating citizens with critical voices, there is, instead, a whole lot to lose; the country itself.
Mr. President, we believe South Sudan has a potential to prosper and to exist in perpetuity, but this potential is only possible if you do the needful now. We believe that even during the bleakest moments in a nation’s history, leaders will emerge to switch a forgotten light on. This moment is dark and gloomy, and our country is in pressing need for a light, faint as that light maybe, the country needs it. Free from any malice of presumptuous intent, below we offer our perspectives and our hopes for the future of South Sudan.
The first step is the journey to reconstitute a South Sudanese nation and state. This journey begins with an honest recognition that there is something fundamentally wrong with the South Sudan we have. We must admit that we have created a system centered in Juba, as it was in Khartoum, and we have picked a dominant political community to support it at the expense of national unity and peace. This is a disaster and the sooner this is realized the more we can easily rectify it. If the feelings of marginalization and domination are allowed to be deeply entrenched, they will threaten the viability of this nation, no matter how long it takes. The way to rectify this is to go back to the negotiation table for South Sudanese to inclusively renegotiate the state architecture through a genuine constitution making process preceded by an inclusive roundtable conference. An elite-based peace agreement is not enough for a shattered nation, and we have seen this in the Sudan, the CPA was not sufficient to save Sudan’s unity. Recent Sudanese elite-based agreements, cooked in your own house, have failed the Sudan.
To achieve this new start, it will require a tremendous sacrifice on your side, Mr. President. You must begin the process of redeeming yourself by initiating a genuine national political dialogue from a clean slate. This must be anchored on the demands and aspirations that informed our struggles for independence – justice, freedom, equality, human dignity and political and economic emancipation for all our citizens across the land. We have not done this in South Sudan and so the time has come to change course. We must start dialogue afresh, not as power contenders, but as a people who want to create a place that ignites our hopes and that is able to carry the weight of all its tribes and ethnic communities without discrimination. To the extent that you can do this, as an exit strategy for yourself and others, you would have put our country on the path to peace and stability and your many mistakes could easily be forgiven. Doing this, Mr. President, affords you the opportunity to exit power on your own terms and save you the potential embarrassment of being deposed, or exiled.
The roots of the perceptions of Dinka domination, which we must realize is true, stem from the army and the security sector. You have used security effectively to defend your power and in doing so, crimes were committed, national unity was erased, villages devastated, and trust disappeared. A nation ceases to exist the moment a large chunk of its population is alienated and the events of 2013 through 2016 have alienated majority of the South Sudanese people. It may be inconvenient, yet true, our national army and the entire security is simply seen as Dinka apparatus of domination. These feelings and perceptions breed the seeds of division and final demise of a nation.
We must go above and beyond to address this situation now. You will never build a nation genuinely united when others feel that they are being oppressed. As South Sudanese embark on a national political dialogue, which must precede any constitutional process, we must equally build a new national army from scratch. By scratch, we are not suggesting that those who are currently serving should be merely dismissed. It means that we must sit down as a nation and draw up a shared vision for the army and systematically implement such an agreement and build an army that is above reproach and completely out of politics and ethnic and tribal affiliations.
As narrated, the current economic system in our country is unfair, corrupt, and serving the interest of just a few around you, Mr. President. We all know that the purpose of belonging to a social group is the idea that we can expand our security opportunities and benefits. What would be the purpose of belonging to a nation that threatens your wellbeing, denies you economic opportunities and handsomely rewards others for no apparent reason other than their relationships with the authorities?
A rational actor would do one of two things: rebel against such a system and terminate its membership, or rebel and destroy such an unfair system. This is where our nation is, Mr. President. We think the time has come to rethink our national economic policy and build a new economic model and system that is centered on jobs and wealth creation. It must be a futuristic economic model that focuses on creating the necessary infrastructure for peace and economic growth. We must relentlessly pursue an economy that leaves none of our young people loitering and available for destructive purposes.
Achieving this requires radical approach Mr. President. We could start this approach with the desire to rebuild credibility of our financial systems. For now, neither our own citizens, nor anyone in the world, has a reason to trust us with money. Considering this reputational damage, South Sudan would need to buy such credibility through the international system. Say we talk to Norway to help manage our oil resources. That means we basically give up custody of our cash to an international institution to establish both systems and structures in the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance and manage the money for, say, three years until we have passed a credibility threshold.
We are aware many people will argue that this would be a violation of our sovereignty. Sovereignty is not freedom to steal and loot, sovereignty is about effective governance and catering for the needs of our people. We have failed spectacularly to do this and so we will need to rebuild our financial system from scratch. Until we take such a radical approach, we are simply toying with the future of our children. A legitimate parliament would still pass the budgets and the executive would still execute the budget, but procurement systems and other procedures must be followed in conformity with the financial institutions that will help rebuild the country’s credibility.
The recognition that something terribly went wrong in the country is the start, but until those aggrieved are served with some justice, the problem is simply stored for the future. South Sudan needs not a cosmetic process to redress injustices and brutalities committed against innocent citizens. The country must genuinely seek to address cumulative injustices committed during the liberation war and recent power struggle wars. The truest form of justice starts with the admission of guilt and mistakes committed. The people of South Sudan need to hear directly from their abusers and tormentors that they have committed crimes and injustices and that they are sorry. If we cannot do this, we are not interested in a more peaceful, prosperous, and democratic nation. The justice, liberty and prosperity stated in our national seal and anthem, shall NOT reign forever more.
Mr. President, we are aware you are disappointed by the outcomes of the South Sudan National Dialogue. Notwithstanding your rejection and dismissal of the popular will of the people of South Sudan, your initial decision to initiate dialogue was commendable. The national dialogue process opened the civic space and enabled citizens to speak out and share their aspirations. We think our country needs such dialogue for a full decade. We should have a national dialogue conference every year for ten years. If we do this, we would have built a new nation rooted in consensus and strongly united. We therefore believe that moving this country forward would require your recognition of the South Sudan Dialogue Resolutions as carrying people’s aspirations. These resolutions will be revisited at the roundtable conference and in the constitution-making process stage.
As we conclude, Mr. President, it is our hope that you will take steps, worthy of your position, to save South Sudan from becoming a victim of the crisis in the Sudan, the regional power posturing, and the rising international tensions driven by crisis in Ukraine and potentially Southeast Asia. There is no salvation in seeking chicanery backdoor elite political deals, there is no solution in buying oppositions, there is no exit in holding on insincerely to peace agreements that have been disowned. The future of South Sudan lies in opening genuine dialogue, reviving the economy, dispensing justice, and in remaking and rebranding our security services. Nothing short of costly sacrifices and courageous actions on your side will be sufficient to reverse the inevitable collapse of South Sudan, the proportions of Somalia and Yugoslavia. Should you do the needful now, you will join an elite list group of African leaders, the likes of Julius Nyerere and Mandela, who managed peaceful transitions out of power. However, if you want to go President Bashir’s way, by insisting on following the current trajectory, prepare for an extremely hard fall, and fall together with your country. The choice is yours, but never say you didn’t know.
Abraham A. Awolich Joseph Akol Makeer Rajab Mohandis
Founding Member, PCCA Founding Member, PCCA Founding Member, PCCA