SOUTH SUDAN POWER SUCCESSION BATTLE – WHO PULLS THE STRINGS?
By; Dr. Peter Adwok Nyaba
Politics in southern Sudan has traditionally been right wing and elitist in nature until William Deng Nhial in 1965 introduced a streak of left-wing inclined populism in the form of mass political mobilization and organization of what then was Sudan African National Union (SANU). Dr. John Garang de Mabior and the SPLM/SPLA made a momentary shift to revolutionary politics (1983-1990). However, socio-cultural forces forced SPLM/SPLA recoil from the concept and vision of the ‘New Sudan’ to ‘South Sudan’ and finally to its traditional separatist tendency. The malice of fate truncated Garang’s life, and Cdr. Salva Kiir Mayardit inherited the helm. The succession from Garang to Kiir was orderly and swift. The emerging narrative, irrelevant though, is that Cdr. Kuol Manyang Juuk had nominated Cdr. Salva Kiir Mayardit to succeed Garang. This gesture does not miss the symbolism of Bor handing power to Gogrial. However, it marked three important political events:
First, it marked the shift of Jieng Power House (JPH) from Bor in Upper Nile to Gogrial in Bahr el Ghazal. Secondly, it marked the rise of Jieng ethnic nationalism and the formation of the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) representing the social, economic and political interests of the Jieng political and business elite, as well as power broker around Salva Kiir’s presidency. Thirdly, the demystification and disempowerment of the SPLM as a liberation and ruling party began in earnest, which was JCE raison d’êtré. The shift of JPH to Bahr el Ghazal helped consolidate the ‘majority syndrome’ psychology of the Rek Dinka and the presumption that power, or rather leadership of South Sudan, was in Bahr el Ghazal to stay.
They did what was both necessary and unnecessary to buttress Salva Kiir leadership against his detractors. This included the witch-hunt against the so-called ‘Garang orphans’ and the SPLM as a political institution (2005-2008), the scheme to reduce Nuer power in the person of Dr. Riek Machar and the Nuer militia that made about 65% of SPLA foot soldiers. They hatched the inter-Lou Nuer – conflict (2006) and Lou Nuer – Murle conflict (2007) and the conflict in Bentiu between Taban Deng Gai and Angelina Teny (2010). They used Taban Deng to trigger the border war with the Sudan (2012) and the massacre of ethnic Nuer in Juba precipitating the civil war (2013). The JCE schemes to reduce the Nuer influence and to consolidate Jieng power and leadership of South Sudan a lso included instigating Nuer-Chollo conflict using Upper Nile Governor Simon Kun Pouch (2014). It was in the context of protecting, and preventing power shifting to the Nuer or any other nationality in South Sudan that the JCE vehemently opposed the agreement on resolution of conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS). The forced Salva Kiir’s reservations; the Establishment Order 36/2015 dividing South Sudan into twenty-eight instead of ten states violating ARCISS and all kinds of prevarication on ARCISS implementation and finally the July 2016 explosion and the escalation of the civil war.
The IGAD region, African Union and the international community watch on as the JCE political engineering plunged South Sudan into the abyss. This could not be without serious and embarrassing humanitarian, economic and political consequences. The JCE must be having excellent strategist(s) who in a display of ingenuity produce strategy to turn round the embarrassing situation they created in the state machinery. Salva Kiir’s presidency had become untenable due to leadership failure, his poor health and growing international pressure to stop the war and end the suffering of South Sudanese.
Having realized that Dr. Riek Machar’s incarceration in South Africa would not stop the war or win over the Nuer Taban Deng’s treachery notwithstanding the JCE came up with the so-called national dialogue (ND) as a stratagem to engage people in sterile debates while they worked out Kiir’s succession. They involved the venerated senior citizen Mulana Abel Alier as co-Chair to elicit a decent face, recognition and international acceptability for the ND. Behind the ND façade runs the Kiir succession battle whose contours traverse Rek Dinka districts of Awiel, Gogrial and Tonj in Bahr el Ghazal. This contest over the last two years was oblivious of other Dinka sections leave alone other South Sudan nationalities.
Now that they have knocked down the Awiel scarecrow marking the shift of the game from kinship to party relations in the management of Kiir’s succession. In order to play this game successfully and to gain national and international acceptability, the JCE required political shrewd and brinksmanship. This shift, which renders irrelevant the SPLM, Salva Kiir’s party, may now explain the presence of former Southern Front giants, in the persons of Mulana Abel Alier and Ustaz Bona Malual Madut on the one hand and SANU stalwarts in the person of Aldo Ajou Deng.
Against this backdrop, I want to discourse the recent disparaging outbursts by two senior TGoNU ministers with the view of determining who in this Jieng succession contest is pulling the strings and in which direction. Watching on SSTV two ministers outdoing each other tearing down their government one begins to wonder who the master puppeteer would be in this emerging political situation and the power succession game in South Sudan. It goes without saying that the ND remains just a political smokescreen. Therefore, one cannot help thinking that something spectacular must be afoot; otherwise how else can one explain the sudden change of heart by Dr. Martin Elia Lomoro and Michael Makuei Lueth, who uncharacteristically, President Salva has not sacked until now. President Salva Kiir did not take time to sack Prof. Elias Nyamlell in 2013 when he said, ‘the government was rotten from head to tail.’ The symposium on good governance conducted by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs was indeed theatrical in outlook and scope. While it was public relations exercise though, its objective was to hoodwink the audience of diplomatic corps and development partners accredited to Juba and divert their attention away from the succession battle.
The theme ‘rejuvenating transparent and accountable system of governance’ could not have been more hilarious. It sends a message about what to expect following the exit of Salva Kiir and therefore refracts from a hidden reality emanating from the drama at the ND Steering Committee. It is indeed a drama in self-delusion, as it does not relate directly to stopping the civil war or easing the suffering of the people of South Sudan. The presence of Mulana Abel, Ustaz Bona, Dr. Francis and Aldo Ajou Deng among others suggests something existential than the ND per se. Dr. Deng served in diplomatic rather political life of the young republic but represent a constituency JCE will go to war with Khartoum to retrieve it. Ustaz Bona Malual has been active rubbing shoulders with power that be in Juba to the point of his ostracisation and incarceration. Mulana Abel had kept a low profile throughout the twelve years of South Sudan existence as a political entity.
My sixth sense informs me that the ministers’ outbursts about corruption, impunity, bad governance in South Sudan was a ploy to delegitimize President Salva Kiir. Dr. Martin Elia Lomoro is Bona Malual protégé in the South Sudan Democratic Forum (SSDF) while Michael Makuei relate to Mulana Abel in Bor and in the former Southern Front. They probably were on errand to do the mouthing job to prepare the people, at least psychologically, for Salva Kiir’s exit.
The spotlight then turns on to who in the JCE will succeed Salva Kiir. Given that the intensifying brinksmanship and hand twisting ignores the constitutional order of the SPLM as well as that of the republic in the same manner Salva Kiir had emasculated the state institutions, the prominent individual has demonstrated appetite for power and leadership of South Sudan is Ustaz Bona Malual Madut. His prominence in the ND Steering Committee suggests that, as leader hailing from Gogrial, although not a Rek, he pulls the succession strings more forcefully consequent to the preponderance of the South Front fraternity in the JCE. I stand to be proven wrong!!
Peter Adwok Nyaba
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