What went wrong in the 10 years of an independent South Sudan?
By Wani Michael, Executive Director Okay-Africa Foundation
I still remember the July 9th, 2011, I spent in Juba, the excitements and celebrations all over the city and the country at large. You could see South Sudanese regardless of their political affiliation or tribes dancing to different traditional music at the main celebration ground. It was a unity of purpose and Dr. John Garang Mausoleum was opened and accessible to all South Sudanese including our visitors. Yet, today the Mausoleum is closed with one of the biggest gates to the general public. The venue that hosted thousands in 2011 is now accessible to only the political leaders. This is a clear manifestation of the fact that things have drastically changed from a citizen-led and owned independence to a place accessible to only a few elites.
‘’You can not carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness’’ Thomas Sankara
I do not have the audacity to suggest, that I have all the answers and solutions to the problems we currently face as a country. But, I would like to share some brief reflections on some of the issues that led to the current situation we face and provide some alternatives.
Liberators sense of OWNERSHIP and ENTITLEMENT;
The liberators’ sense of ownership and entitlement destroyed this country because they think it is their entitlement to loot with impunity, kill, arrest and do whatsoever they want with this beautiful country. They took away the power from the people and centralized power within the few elites who now decide for the millions of South Sudanese. They tend to forget that what they fought against the Khartoum regime are the same issues they are seriously implementing. The political elite is now very vigorously and even worse than our previous oppressors. Since 2011, we have the same political leaders rotating and recycled within the same government from one institution to the other and from one transition to another.
Lack of post-independence agenda or program;
When the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2005, South Sudanese prodigiously expectation was to reach the referendum to vote for the separation of the South from the North. Although, the CPA provided clear frameworks for political, economic, and social reforms of our societies. The implementers of the CPA started in a wrong trajectory by embracing looting with impunity and in fact, it was normalized with the impression that we were working for the referendum in order to succeed by then at any cost without any interference.
In 2010, the people of Southern Sudan experienced their first democratic right to vote for leaders of their choice, and that marks the end of the people exercising their power to elect their own leaders. We never had any national conversations on how we want to move the Country forward and dealing with key priorities that directly address South Sudanese needs. The SPLM ruling party never provided any roadmap or framework on the post-independence era and how the government envisioned dealing with key people’s driven priorities but they ended up enriching themselves with our own resources.
Although, on July 9, 2011, President Kiir delivered his powerful maiden speech on the occasion of the independence proclamation that would’ve provided a solid foundation for his post-independence agenda or program. Those promises he made on July 9, 2011, ended right after his speech and they turned away from their independence promises to the people of South Sudan. President Kiir’s speech would’ve provided the government with a clear sense of programs, agenda, people’s aspirations, and huge expectations that lie ahead of them.
Disrespect to the Constitution and the Rule of law (State of lawlessness);
For the past ten years, we’ve experienced total disrespect to the Constitution and the rule of law. Unfortunately, leaders took the oath of office promising to uphold the values and the spirit of the Constitution. We continue to rule on Presidential decrees and leaders pay their loyalty to the appointing authority, not the Constitution. Leaders became the first violators of the Constitution with impunity and expect the citizens to respect and obey it. There’s no Country that can be stable without respecting the Constitution and the rule of law. Over the past ten years, the President and his cohorts became the Constitution and doing whatsoever they want to do with it. We’ve witnessed a state of lawlessness for the past ten years.
Nonexistence of Security Sector reforms programs;
Any country emerging from a long protracted armed conflict with so many militias always embarks on a vigorous security sector reforms agenda by making sure that the national army reflects the identity and the aspiration of its citizens. There was an urgent need to transform our soldiers’ mindset from a guerilla mentality to a professional and well-trained pro-people national army but instead, the leaders decided to use the looted resources to mobilize and train their own tribesmen to become tribally aligned and charged militias groups. In an ideal situation, the government was supposed to embark on critical security sector reforms but instead they decided to regroup themselves in form of militia groups than forming a unified national army.
Mismanagement of our national resources and normalize looting;
Over the past ten years, the government continued to mismanage our national resources and behave like the oil money and non-oil revenues belong to them. They developed resistance to anybody asking questions on how our own resources should be managed, the so-called liberators became looters just like our previous oppressors. They’ve fat bank accounts in the region and beyond, they’ve accumulated wealth over the ten years and made the people of South Sudan poorer and miserable than ever before.
It is important to note that for over ten years now, the government failed to present any accountability report before the Parliament and the people of South Sudan as required by law. political leaders continue to spend our money without any accountability and one would conclude that the government owes us a full ten years’ accountability. This kind of action can be termed as the government has borrowed money from us (the people) and has never accounted for such money since 2011.
Failure to deal with the Youth question;
For the past ten years, South Sudan never had any policy framework on the young people and never invested in the young population. They instead decided to mobilize young people to kill themselves to either keep themselves in power or claim power by force. Our leaders failed to deal with issues of youth unemployment and their participation in the decision-making process or any political process. Little did they know that there’s already a growing tendency within young people to demand and protect their rights. Like in Uganda, we recently experienced the emerging of the people power movement predominately managed by young people.
Recently, we saw the overwhelming outcry by young people on issues of employment opportunities and even attacking humanitarian organizations. This is happening because the government has decided to hand over the employment sector to the NGOs and International Community.
SPLM-ISM and turning off from the liberation vision and mission;
Although our Constitution appreciates a multiparty system in ideal and practice we operate under a one-party system. We don’t have strong opposition political parties that can challenge the ruling party and within SPLM, they equally lack internal democracy parameters. I had the opportunity since 2011 to work with an international organization that focuses on empowering political parties in South Sudan and at some point, I was assigned to work with SPLM.
Unfortunately, the SPLM-ISM feeling that every South Sudanese is a member or subscribes to the party. In 2013 before the conflict, the International Republican Institute conducted a national opinion poll to gauge which direction SPLM was heading. Results from the polls indicated that the majority of South Sudanese believed SPLM as a party had lost its direction and vision. Although, some leaders within the party took the results as good feedback others considered the results as a threat against the party. Those resisting did not take the results as an opportunity to improve the image of the Party and embark on serious national development agenda.
IN CONCLUSION; There’s no other way out from this current mess in the Country unless People energetically reclaim back their power through a call for actions from the misleaders, corrupt, and looters. There’s absolutely nothing left to save this country from the current mess. The only way left is for all the twelve million people of South Sudan to patriotically reclaiming their power back and redirect and control the power they have regained. Our Constitution preamble state is very clear that
“WE THE PEOPLE’’ and also Article 2 of the Constitution vest sovereignty on the hands of the people (Real People Power). That means we have the power to keep it as the one we gave to the current leaders has been abused and misused. The State is exercising such powers on our behalf but we must underscore that such powers belong to the people. Our Constitution has mandated the people to defend it against violators and the young people have the sole responsibility of defending the Constitution and the Country but we allowed ourselves to be used as tools for oppression and even killing ourselves in the name of protecting our glorified godfathers. It is now time for the young people to act now than wait as the MIS-leaders continue to destroy their country and future. Time is now.
Wani Michael is a youth representative on the National Constitution Amendment Committee (NCAC) and the Executive Director of Okay-Africa Foundation. He can be reached via email: email@example.com