A long road ahead for South Sudan



Alsir Sidahmed

Published — Thursday 1 August 2013

Last update 1 August 2013 4:57 am

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Credit goes to former US President Jimmy Carter, whose center has a team that supervised the referendum leading to the establishment of the youngest nation of earth: South Sudan.
At the time Carter predicted that the South Sudanese would have a very short honeymoon before they hit the harsh reality. On the eve of the second anniversary of South Sudan independence earlier this month, The Guardian of London reported from the field that there is nothing much to celebrate.
Days later South Sudan President Salva Kiir sacked his Vice President Riek Machar, a declared competitor in the 2015 upcoming presidential elections and the entire government. He accompanied that by sending the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) strongman Pagan Amum to be investigated for his mismanagement of the party’s affairs.
On the face of it, it looks like an ordinary Cabinet reshuffle, but in reality it is not given the issues and personalities involved. It is actually the biggest reshuffle for more than seven years and since the SPLM signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with Khartoum back in 2005 and in effect it exercised a complete autonomy in what was south Sudan before it ceded into a separate entity in July 2011.
The importance of what is going on in Juba has attracted the attention of many foreign players including the United States, the European Union and the African Union. All called on competing forces in South Sudan to exercise calm, try to work out and quickly an inclusive government.
In a way it is a typical showdown between fellows in arms after the successful conclusion of some kind of struggle that was culminated with the establishment of a new independent state.
Unlike many of his colleagues in the movement, Kiir prefers to spend most of his time with the soldiers. And second, he is the only one who challenged Garang while he is still member within the SPLM and not opting to break away. On the eve of signing the CPA and back in late 2004 the showdown between the two was about to turn into a military one with Kiir accusing Garang of using the movement as his own personal suitcase carrying it wherever he goes without others knowing what is going on.
The dispute was sorted out and the SPLM survived the day with a show of unity. Eight months later Garang died in a plane crash and Kiir was the automatic choice to replace him, given his position as the No. 2 man in the SPLM and the only surviving founding member of the movement.
However, after all these years and despite the fact he occupies the three top posts each Southern Sudanese can dream of, he was merely regarded as one among other players.
In 2008, the SPLM held its general convention. Divisions appeared as both Machar and Amum expressed their intention to run again Kiir for the chairmanship of the movement. It was three years only before the southerners go for the referendum that will determine their future and following mediation from western friends of the SPLM it was decided to keep things as they were: Kiir to continue as head of the party and president of South Sudan government, Machar to continue as his deputy and Amum as party secretary general.
Now that independence has been achieved and all have awakened up to the harsh reality of governance complicated by the high expectations of people following their independence. So far Kiir has managed to outpace his opponents making use of his strong association with the army that remains the decisive factor in the whole game.
Interestingly enough, Kiir looks with less intellectual abilities compared to Machar, who holds a Ph.D in engineering and less ideologue than Amun, who spent his formation years in Cuba and is one of proponents of the call for New Sudan. But history lessons show that those with good grip on state machinery and the army have good chances of winning the game.

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