Why a technocratic transitional government in South Sudan?

Why a technocratic transitional government in South Sudan?

 Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin

By Dr. Lam Akol

The youngest country in the world was born amid great expectations and hopes for the future. These were not day dreams or castles built in the air. The hope was based on the fact that the country is endowed with human and natural resources very few African countries, if any, had at independence. Today it is a basket case not because of misplaced assessment of its resources but of bad leadership. The current regime in Juba has turned its back on the slogans of liberation and turned into an ethnocentric kleptocracy that cared less about its people but only about siphoning the resources of the country to support its extensive patronage networks so as to prolong its stay in power. Therefore, it is not by accident that the country is today embroiled into an unnecessary ethnic civil war that has seen horrendous war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by both sides of the conflict. The last and current spite of civil war was initiated by none other than the sitting President. It follows that any attempt to resolve the current crisis must never reward perpetrators of atrocious crimes nor tolerate impunity.

Classical liberal prescriptions of peace agreements, as has been the case in Sudan and South Sudan, end up with a transitional government that is entrusted to implement the provisions of the peace agreement reached by the negotiators. These provisions are usually meant to stop the war, create a conducive atmosphere for a sustainable peace through democratic transformation and reform of governance institutions and finally the conduct of a general election for the people to choose their leaders in a free, fair and credible manner. The question is: can the antagonists be trusted to carry out that mission?

The simple answer to this question is that they can’t. There are many reasons for that.  Suffice it here to stress that a transitional government stitched together from the warring parties has no chance of being coherent as each side jockeys for advantages with the eyes set on the ball; that is winning the elections that will follow at the end of the Transition in two or so years.  Such was the case in 2005-2011 and in 2015-2016 with disastrous consequences.  This vicious circle has to be broken if South Sudan has to have a chance of stability not to mention democratic transformation. The way out is by eliminating from the power equation the politicians with vested interests in the outcome of the elections expected to take place at the end of the Transition. The Transition should be run by South Sudanese patriots who are not engaged in partisan politics but have the requisite ability to execute the tasks of the transitional government and deliver a free, fair and credible election at the end of the Transition. The politicians should wait and use the short Transition to build their political parties or Movements in preparation for the general election.

It is these South Sudanese we call technocrats. They are part of the broader civil society and should not be confused with technicians nor are they necessarily civil servants in active service. There are many of them out there. Their selection must be based on strict criteria agreed upon a priori and on that basis they shall be vetted by the stakeholders who negotiated and signed the peace agreement to be. Another condition that should be imposed on them to further ensure their undivided attention to their task at hand is not to seek elective office immediately after the Transition.

The major obstacle in agreeing on transitional governments in peace talks has always been the insistence of the sitting government that it was elected by the people and thus enjoys the legitimacy to continue ruling. In South Sudan today, the civil war itself is a damning verdict against that claimed legitimacy, for the cardinal function of a government is to safeguard its people from fear and from want. The current regime in Juba could not do either. In fact, it has been the main cause of fear with millions voting with their feet to become refugees and internally displaced.  Some quarter of a million have chosen to seek protection from the atrocities of their government in the UNMISS Protection of Civilians sites in the national capital and other towns. The remaining population is at the grip of food shortage and real famine.  It is only the international good will that keeps them surviving. If the people whose sovereignty the government should be exercising on their behalf are undergoing such tribulations, what moral authority has the regime to cling on to power?

For those who see things from a legalistic lens only, it sufficient to state that the current regime in Juba is de facto and not de jure. There are many reasons to support this conclusion but for the lack of space only one shall be here mentioned. It is to be recalled that since independence the South Sudanese have never elected a president nor members of Parliament. The current government derives its legitimacy only from the August 2015 Agreement for the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (Agreement). This is why it is termed the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) as came in the Agreement. Since the agreement has collapsed, the legitimacy of that government goes with it and it is not renewable. A new dispensation has to be worked out in a new all-inclusive roundtable of stakeholders. It is in this context that this proposal is being made.

Sudan has seen two technocratic transitional governments in its modern history. Both came about after popular Uprisings overthrew the military juntas (in 1964 and 1985) and led the Transition to democratic elections. The Council of Ministers, which wielded executive authority, was in both cases composed of non-partisan personalities that paved the way for democratic elections. Of course, technocratic transitional governments are not without problems, but taking all factors into account they come up far on top compared with a transitional government of politicians if the purpose is to prepare a level field for all.

To recap, the main reason for proposing a technocratic transitional government in South Sudan is to put in place a team that can deliver the Transition to its intended purpose. That purpose is to prepare a level ground for all citizens for the country to leave its troubled past behind and embark on a truly democratic path.


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2 Responses to Why a technocratic transitional government in South Sudan?

  1. malakalpost says:

    Dear Dr. Lam
    Thanks for sharing your ideas.
    The government of technocrats is as nebulous an idea and impractical as the international transitional administration (trusteeship) of South Sudan. As an idea, it came out in the deliberation of the questionable IGAD high-level independent experts meeting held in Bishoftu, Ethiopia early last month.

    It would amount to an admission of political and ideological bankruptcy on the part of the opposition to capture such ideas, which I believe come from the regional leadership lack of genuine concern for South Sudan and its people. I would admonish that such ideas not be allowed to germinate and take roots in society.

    We all agree that the country is on the brink and could collapse any moment. You will agree with me also that our lack of concerted efforts, as opposition groups, have maintained Salva Kiir at the helm. Therefore, while I concur with the urgent need to supplant the ethnocentric totalitarian dictatorship, only that your proposal for a technocratic government falls short of people’s expectation.

    Both Sir el Khatim (1964) and Gizouli (1985) transitional governments took power after the complete overthrow of the Abboud and Nimeri regimes respectively, and the transitional governments were established consequent to agreements by the political and social forces. In the current situation in South Sudan Salva Kiir still retain power and enjoys regional and international support. How and by what political mechanism would the government technocrats take over and exercise power of the state in Juba? Further, will the formation of the proposed government of technocrats involve some form of compromise on the part of the political and armed opposition to enable it to function in Juba?

    If that is going to be the case, why then isn’t it that the political and armed opposition sit down, through some mechanism of regional and international mediation, and agree to establish a coalition or alliance that now can face Salva Kiir either in a negotiated peaceful settlement or military defeat of the regime. I thought this I what you have been trying to do since the Consultative Meeting in called in Nairobi, August 2016. I see this as the only possibility given that Salva Kiir is adamant and the IGAD and the international community is bereft of legal and diplomatic tools for intervention.

    Kind regards

    Peter Adwok Nyaba

  2. malakalpost says:

    Dear Dr Peter Adwok Nyaba,

    Thank you for your rejoinder. As I said when I posted my article on this Forum, it was meant to generate healthy debate not dogmatic pronouncements as some few individuals are unfortunately doing on this forum. I applaud you for your objective contribution.

    First, my apology for responding late as I just saw your piece.

    Second, the idea of a technocratic transitional government is neither new nor is it coming from some external forces/groups. I proposed it in June 2014 in Juba in a public forum and it was subsequently adopted by the National Alliance as its position in the Addis Ababa Peace Talks. In fact, we think the idea was one of the reasons why the delegation of the NA was refused by the government to continue in the talks on 13 September 2014. We did not tire but continued with the idea. The NA wrote a letter to the Mediators on 22 June 2015 urging them to table the idea with the stakeholders as our position since we were no longer in Addis Ababa. I will share with the Forum in a separate message that letter. Therefore, I want to assure you that it is fully home grown and has nothing to do with “trusteeship” which, incidentally, you personally lend it support in 2014 or thereabouts and others followed your footsteps later. Trusteeship never crossed my lips nor will it ever do.

    Third, let me start by pointing out what the idea is not. It is not a substitute to the armed or political struggle to jettison out the ethnocentric kleptocracy in Juba nor is it a replacement for the unity of the Opposition. These are totally different processes altogether. The Opposition can still go ahead to unify its ranks either to overthrow Kiir’s regime or jaw jaw peace with it or both. This is beside the point here except in respect of the Opposition adopting one position in the peace talks should it become their choice.

    Fourth, my assumption is that the Opposition whatever its means of the struggle will always be ready to sit on a negotiating table with the sitting government to negotiate a peaceful means of ending the war. These peace talks usually end up with an agreement on a transitional government to lead the country or region to democratic elections or referendum. This was the case in the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972, the CPA in 2005 and the August 2015 Agreement. The mission of a transitional government is usually to implement what was agreed upon by all stakeholders in the peace agreement. Whereas the aforementioned agreements have all gone for power sharing to institute the transitional government, what is being proposed here is to do away with power sharing in favour of a transitional government run by technocrats for the reasons spelt out in my paper. Like a TG through power sharing, this one is also by agreement of the stakeholders in the talks. They are the ones to vet them and sanction their appointment. So, the question as to how and by what mechanism will the technocratic TG come about is superfluous. Needless to say, all agreements entail compromise from all parties.

    Fifth, the relevance of the technocratic transitional governments in Sudan in 1964 and 1985 here is in that they were sanctioned and approved by the political parties and the Trade and Professional Unions in the country that brought about the Uprising as you correctly point out. So, the political and social forces in the Peace Talks can do the same in the context of South Sudan. The government is expected to resist but if the Opposition is united on one position, it will have little room to manouevre.

    Sixth, it must be stressed that any power sharing agreement will always have the sitting government getting a bigger portion of power than the rest combined. The agreements mentioned above and others elsewhere support this fact. So, if some Opposition groups think myopically in terms of getting some power positions during the Transition not looking at the long term impact of that arrangement, forget about change or transformation. July 2016 was a disastrous eye opener. We all saw it coming but some faith in the unknown blinded some of us until disaster struck.

    Finally, statements like “such ideas not be allowed to germinate and take root in society” are scary. I hope we are not about to revisit the times of the inquisition. Let the ideas flourish and blossom. Society knows what is best for it.

    Best regards


    Sent from my iPhone

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