Opinion: A "Political Tsunami" hits the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA)
For almost a year, the "storm" was slowly gathering on the horizon even before the existence of SSOA. The elements of such an eventuality (divisions) were all over the place as early as the time of the Nyahururu meetings. The subtle telltale signs were there to be picked up by those who correctly analysed the events in the political space. They didn't escape the notice of sharp observers. SSOA is an anomalous body with members bound loosely together against the regime in Juba. Right from the start, there was widespread scepticism among some intellectual circles about the future of the alliance. It stems from the fact that SSOA is a mixed bag of political entities whereby you find opposing objectives.
On the one hand, there are those who want a regime change as the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) party; has utterly failed. On the other, you have those affiliated with the SPLM who are for SPLM reunification but in a new outfit. So, how do you marry these two distinct positions and remain united in an alliance? Of course, there are the opportunists in their midst, who are merely looking for jobs and personal gains. The fragility of the coalition was displayed on numerous occasions by plenty of political manoeuvring, back and forth relations, and the unique status of one organisation where it's part of the government while maintaining its membership in SSOA at the same time. These are the anomalies that I referred to earlier.
On September 13, 2018, a group of members of SSOA issued a joint statement distancing themselves from the signed revitalised peace agreement saying that it's unsustainable. The group included the National Salvation Front (NAS), the People's Democratic Movement (PDM), the Former Political Detainees (FPDs) Chairman, Ambassador Emmanuel Aban signing for the National Democratic Movement (NDM), and the United Democratic Republic Alliance (UDRA). The group pointed out the fact that the agreement fell short of addressing the root causes of the conflict and maintains the status quo. Among the grievances enumerated by the group were the omission of federalism, maintenance of the 32 states, and departure from the principle of having a lean government. They further expressed their dismay for the signing of the revitalised peace agreement by a group within SSOA. They did refer to the collective negotiation position that was developed during the preliminary stages of the High-Level Revitalisation Forum (HLRF) summarised in 10 points. The following are some of the positions agreed upon:
1. The state of emergency shall be lifted upon signing of the agreement.
2. The country shall adopt a FEDERAL system of governance during the transitional period through the effective division of powers and resources among the federal, state, and local government.
3. Annulment of the thirty-two (32) States and revert to the ten (10) States as stipulated in the TCRSS 2011 and ARCSS 2015. In addition to the two (2) administrative areas of Pibor and Abyei.
4. President Kiir shall NOT lead the Transitional Government because of his successive violations of ARCSS and its eventual abrogation.
5. Dissolution and reconstitution of all institutions of government.
It's evident that the signed revitalised peace agreement is nowhere close to addressing any of the above fundamental issues. The reservations of the group that signed the deal should duly emanate from the positions above. They said they signed the agreement because their reservations were met. The agreement text, however, lacks evidence to support their claim. No amendments or modifications were made to the final deal in Addis Ababa. It appears, the IGAD Heads of State and Government never paid any attention to the reservations.
Some are trying to find excuses by saying that in a negotiation you don't get everything you want. That's very true, but by the same token, your opponent doesn't get everything he or she desires. By the looks of things, the government got everything it stood for while those who signed the deal came back empty-handed. Well, not entirely accurate as the agreement awarded them positions at the expense of the South Sudanese people. For the first time in history, we got a government with 5 Vice Presidents. China with its 1.411 billion souls does not have a Vice President; only a President and a Premier. I got the feeling that we are being ridiculed across the globe.
The press release of the dissenting group within SSOA seems to have infuriated the Khartoum group that signed the agreement. It responded with a statement of its own giving the impression that the time of niceties and cordial treats is over. But it was outrageous to accuse their previous colleagues, and now probably adversaries, of forgery by using SSOA's logo on their press statement. They well know that SSOA belongs to all of them and there is no way that any group could claim that it belongs to it solely. If at all there's forgery, then it would be the signing of the revitalised peace agreement because SSOA's charter obligates the interim Chairman to obtain a consensus before signing any deal. The statement is also misleading as it implies that all the members were on the same page in private although the other group was saying something different publicly. The public has seen correspondences from NAS and PDM leaderships instructing the Interim Chairman not to initial or sign the agreement on behalf of SSOA, but every member could do so individually. But the Interim Chairman, Mr Gabriel Changson, chose to ignore the legitimate rights of his colleagues and signed the deal. His act was unwarranted and amounts to what they are accusing their colleagues to have done.
But what I find as the audacity of the highest order is to accuse their colleagues of running away from Khartoum when things got tough. Among those who left Khartoum, was a certain General who fought numerous battles during the liberation war. He led the SPLA to capture Kassala in the North and Yei in the South. Now, how dare people who never experienced battlefield environment, where life could be lost in the blink of an eye, doubt the bravery of one of our heroes?! Moreover, almost all the group that signed the agreement reside in Khartoum. Why do they want others to hang around and be humbled?! Such rhetoric is more damaging to the credibility of the politicians who indulge in it. It's no longer a secret that the mediation team in Khartoum used coercion, intimidation, and obtained signatures from the opposition under duress. Those who left Khartoum must have thought of avoiding being humiliated. The Khartoum group concluded its statement by saying that it forgives the other group and extends an olive branch for them to come back to SSOA's fold. Well, the other group doesn't think it ever left SSOA and says the Khartoum group has been compromised.
To that Ambassador Emmanuel Aban, the NDM Spokesman responded on Radio Tamazuj that the NDM under Dr Lam Akol abandoned its principles and objectives. That he and other NDM leaders would continue the struggle till fulfilment of the goals that led to the establishment of the Movement. And before the "storm" could downgrade or settle down, we were confronted with yet another one albeit very devastating. The South Sudan National Movement for Change (SSNMC) leadership decided to sack its Chairman, former Governor of Western Equatoria State, Joseph Bakasoro for signing the revitalised peace agreement. They have elevated his deputy Dr Vakindi Unvu as Interim Chairman while Kwaje Lasu and General Abraham Wani remained in their positions as Secretary-General and Chief of Staff respectively. Even the Federal Democratic Party (FDP) of Gabriel Changson was not spared of divisions. Some of the members tended their resignations over party stance and conduct of business.
It's only a few weeks ago that Dr Lam Akol and former Governor Joseph Bakasoro went to the media separately declaring that they were in the process of reconciling NAS with the splinter group that broke away from it. Well, whether those endeavours were genuine or not, they would have been more useful if directed to the right place. Few would miss the analogy of someone rushing to put out a fire in someone else's house while leaving his home ablaze.
As it stands, the future of SSOA remains in limbo. Gabriel Changson mandate as Interim Chairman expired last month. The Secretary-General, Kwaje Lasu is with the other group. The situation is one of stagnation because SSOA's charter requires unanimity in any decision-making process. They never foresaw that such a situation would ever arise. It wouldn't have occurred had the Khartoum group not foregone the 10-points collective position. For example, the Interim Chairman's term in office cannot be extended nor can a new Interim Chairman be elected. The same applies to the Secretary-General. SSOA is effectively non-functional as any decision by any of the two groups will not be recognised by the other.
The way forward would have been for both groups to come together and reconcile. It's not going to happen because the issues that caused the division are irreconcilable. The Khartoum group has opted for more of the same while those who refused the agreement chose to struggle for realising a real change to the current situation in the country. The Khartoum group could abruptly disappear if the deal gets implemented and they join the government in Juba. In that case, the group that did not sign the agreement would have the name SSOA all by itself. But should the deal not get implemented, gets abrogated or war breaks out, then the Khartoum group would find itself in a very embarrassing situation.
Nobody apart from our enemies likes or promotes divisions within SSOA. Unity on a robust platform for the greater good of the people should be what binds the opposition. Three observations emerged in the aftermath of SSOA's debacle:
Firstly, SSOA lacks cohesion regarding political objectives. I am not 100% sure that all members want the SPLM party to be removed from power. There are those who want to go back to their previous positions. Therefore, a break up that results in a more cohesive group is not a bad thing.
Secondly, for the first time, and in the open, we saw national matters eclipsing family ties and tribal belonging. I would not mention names for privacy, but it's a positive development. It tells us that there is still hope to rescue South Sudan from its current predicament.
Thirdly, the politicians from the younger generation seem to be more confident, assertive and command more popularity than those from the older generation. They bring into the political discourse contemporary ideas, knowledge, vigour, and even experience. Perhaps, it's time for the old guards to retire and give space to the younger generation.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in ‘opinion’ articles published by Radio Tamazuj are solely those of the writer. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the author, not Radio Tamazuj.