Opinion by Mabior Garang de Mabior
As we mark this historic day our country was born, there is little for us to celebrate. The Republic of South Sudan came into being through the exercise of the principle of Self-Determination. It is unfortunate that today this principle has been betrayed by the traditional power elite in Juba as the country has been at war with itself for seven of the nine years we have been independent.
Thus, it is important for us to use this glorious day to reflect on the promise of the liberation struggle and the state of our Republic. The vision of “new Sudan” was the guiding inspiration for the revolutionary struggle led by the historic SPLM/SPLA from 1983-2005. This was a forward looking Pan-African vision based on the “new society” principles of the African liberation struggle. The late Chairman – Dr. John Garang de Mabior – taught his cadres the importance of understanding history as it relates to identity.
The people of South Sudan have survived the miseries of the Greco-Roman slave trade – commonly known to us as the Arab slave trade – and colonization. The horrors of this period in our history have had a devastating effect on our cultures and societies, which have coexisted since pre-colonial times. After several generations of foreign domination, our shared values have been eroded and our pre-colonial culture derailed. In order for the slave trade to be successful and for our land to be colonised, our whole social system had to be turned upside down. This has led to an identity crisis we are still trying to recover from to this day.
The peoples responsible for bringing the light of wisdom to the rest of the human family are today suffering from the darkest of ages. The independence of South Sudan was a great opportunity for our leaders to put our peoples’ development back on the tracks of history. It was a chance for a cultural renaissance. With all the natural resources our country is blessed with, we could have upgraded our system of finance and administration from the bush-war days.
We could have established a ‘revolutionary government’ and a ‘revolutionary army’ more effective in delivering the promise of the liberation struggle. Instead, our nascent Republic was strangled at birth by the progeny of the ‘traditional elite’ who have presided over our oppression and have today hijacked our hard-won freedom.
The main objective of the historic SPLM/SPLA was the convening of a ‘national constitutional convention’ to answer the ‘nationality question’. The traditional elites in the old Sudan defined the Sudan in 1956 in myopic terms, to the exclusion of other parameters of the Sudanese diversity. This is how the Movement defined the problem of the old Sudan.
The solution to this problem has been our principal objective since 1983. It has been our negotiating position since the historic Koka Dam Declararion in 1986, held in Koka Dam Ethiopia under former President Mengistu Haile Mariam. It called for a Sudan “free from racism, tribalism, sexism, sectarianism and all causes of discrimination and disparity”. It was in order to forestall the ‘national constitutional convention’ that the regime of former President Bashir took power in a military coup in June1989, shortly before this ‘national constitutional convention.
This was also the position of the Movement at the negotiations of Abuja I and Abuja II in 1992 and 1993, held in Nigeria under the auspices of President Ibrahim Babangida. We held on to this objective until the end where it was finally enshrined in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 as the right of Self-Determination. This exercise was held nine years ago today and our people voted overwhelmingly for Self-Determination. Our peoples decided to found a new country. The independence of South Sudan was finally realized in 2011 after generations of bitter struggle.
After years of revolutionary armed struggle in the old Sudan, the historic SPLM/SPLA now had an opportunity to found a new Sudanese Republic. It is unfortunate that the progeny of the traditional elite in our country, at the eleventh hour, betrayed the promise of the liberation struggle. The ‘national constitutional convention’ was shelved under the pretext it had become irrelevant under the new realities of an independent South Sudan. This is of course, mischief. The new contradictions which have emerged in our society after independence are similar to those in the old Sudan, only the face of the oppressor has changed. It is the same old Sudan, I need not sing to the choir on this.
The root causes of the civil wars in the old Sudan have been recreated in our nascent Republic. The first Republic of South Sudan, characterized by political tribalism and vigilantism, is a failed state. This is not propaganda. If one googled the statistics for Fragile States Index, we have consistently been in the top five for several years. When the party of the liberation took power in Juba, they failed to convene the ‘national constitutional convention’ for which many of our citizens died over the generations. The various ethnic nationalities in South Sudan did not sit down to draw up the ‘social contract’ that is a nation state.
We did not agree on the nationality question and other social conventions. Our peoples’ allegiance today is more to the tribal boundaries than to our national boundaries. These tribal boundaries were the national boundaries in pre-colonial times and in the absence of a bona fide social contract, our country will only exist on paper.
It is at such a convention that we agree to establish rule of law, so that we can end the rampant vigilantism in our country. It is where we can agree on the type of economy to adopt as a country. The ‘status quo’ – which has prevailed since the days of the slave trade – is untenable. The ‘power elite’ in our country are beneficiaries of this system and they will fight to the bitter end to preserve it. The country has now been at war for seven years as we mark this Independence Day.
The immense suffering of our peoples continues with no end in sight. Over half of our citizens are displaced in United Nations (UN) refugee camps, internally displaced in UN Protection of Civilian (PoC) camps and in the ‘deep rural areas’ of our country. Those who live in the towns get their services and amenities from development partners. To say our government is incompetent would be an understatement. It begs the question, was it independence or are we ‘in dependence’?
The triumph of our revolution has been hijacked. Inter-communal wars rage across the country and appear to be government sponsored. Agents of the national security have been captured by the various civil defense forces which have mushroomed in all corners of the country. There is no economy to speak of. The health system in shambles. There is a dire humanitarian catastrophe, exacerbated by a global pandemic and a perpetual state of looming hunger. The first Republic of South Sudan started on the wrong foot, stumbled and fell. The only hope for our people is in a Second Republic of South Sudan for the welfare and prosperity of our peoples.
The current Agreement before us – the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) – is the way forward and the ‘least costly’ mechanism to reach this second Republic. The provisions in Chapter VI. Parameters for Permanent Constitution has provisions which allow for the convening of a ‘national constitutional Convention’. It is only after our various peoples sit in such a meeting and agree to voluntarily surrender their ethnic national identities to the new nation state that trust can be restored.
It is the minutes of such a meeting which lawyers can put into legal language and draft a new constitution. It is this new constitution which will birth the second Republic of South Sudan, a South Sudan in which we can deliver the promise of the liberation struggle. We owe it to the martyrs of our peoples’ historic revolution to use this day to reflect on what the next decade will bring as we enter the tenth year of our existence as a country. Let us use this day to read the Agreement, which is the most ‘sophisticated weapon’ we can use today to wage a non-violent struggle against the ‘traditional elite’ in our country.
A luta continua!