The SPLM: Reconciling the South’s public opinion with the New Sudan Vision
I will ask Dr Elthawig Kameir to allow me to take the heading of this article from his analysis of December 24: “The SPLM and the Imperatives of Internal Dialogue” which was posted on Sudan Tribune. In his article, the sub-title was “˜Reconciling self-determination with unity’. I have reversed this sub-title in this article to express my feeling about the current state of public opinion in the South as it relate to the question of unity or separation and the historic new Sudan vision amongst the SPLM supporters.
Dr Elthawig Kameir, Yasser Arman, Dr Mansour Khalid, The late Yousif Kuwa Mekki and the late Dr John Garang were the top people whose names were synonymous to the New Sudan Vision during the 22 years of the liberation struggle. His article which I quoted above provoked an enormous soul-searching and critical evaluation of one’s position on the issue of self-determination and the new Sudan vision among the SPLM supporters, especially us who are in the South.
Although Dr Elthawig’s article called for an internal dialogue amongst the SPLM supporters and cadres, I used it to evaluate my own political thoughts and the thoughts of millions of Southerners like me who 10 years ago would never think of separation as a solution to the fundamental problem of the Sudan. In this short article, I will evaluate the decision of separation and the new Sudan vision from the point of view of a desperate South Sudanese who if he go to the polling booth today will cast his ballot in the separation box despite 17 years of upholding the new Sudan vision.
Many people ask, Why have the SPLM’s current leadership abandoned the vision of the new Sudan? Did the New Sudan Vision died with Dr John Garang? I may not know the answer to the 2nd question. Dr John Garang was a savvy leader who knew how to influence the public opinion very well. He would give hope where there was complete hopelessness. At this juncture, I cannot gauge what he would have done in the face of this desperate situation.
My answer to the first question is that the SPLM’s current leadership has not abandoned the vision of the new Sudan. The likes of Yasser Arman, Pagan Amum, Abbas Goma and the rest who are arrested, tortured and humiliated in the police cells of Khartoum are fighting for the new Sudan vision. In my opinion, there is less that the SPLM leadership can do, under the prevailing circumstances, more than it has been doing since 2005.
However, the entire populace in the South Sudan feels that the moment of truth has arrived. The CPA was signed five years ago, ending the war and is now coming to the end, but the Southern populace feel that nothing has changed of the old Sudan in Khartoum:
1. The oppressive Sharia laws in Khartoum constantly show South Sudanese that they don’t belong there. The flogging of Southern women by the police is an everyday even. It was surprising to see the whole world appalled when Lubni Hussein (The UN worker) exposed that evil oppression four months ago.
2. Southerners are still detained without trial for drinking locally made traditional drink called Araqi.
3. The pre-CPA policies of discriminations are still intact.
4. The allegation of NCP instigating the current security situation in the South through LRA and other proxies deepen the distrust and suspicion about Khartoum’s motive on CPA.
During the 22 years of war, the SPLM used to tell Southerners that the war would be won and the Islamists policies of segregation would be eradicated and replaced with the all-inclusive vision of new Sudan, that there was no point of opting for a separate South Sudan. After 22 years, both the SPLM and the national Congress Party came to realize that the war was a loss on both sides and on the country at large. The peace was signed and the people of South Sudan were promised to determine after six years whether the all-inclusive Sudan they were aspiring for is achieved and that they can vote to remain in a united Sudan, or the unity is not an attractive option to them and that they can vote for separation.
Now, five years after the CPA, the policies that were in place before the CPA are still in place. There is no change in sight for the foreseeable future. Those elites at the centre who currently hold power are willing to shed blood if their power and ideology is tempered with; the NCP have bowed that they will never relent on the Islamist ideology. On Dec 12, Nafie Ali Nafie had this to say:
“If SPLM insist on imposing their secular ideology, we can go back to war, we offered 50 000 martyrs in the war and we are ready to offer 100 000 more martyrs.”
The South Sudanese people have suffered enough and do not want another war. I must tell you that nobody abhors war more than those who lived through its horrors, ordeals, pains and tribulations. A woman named Cecilia from Eastern Equatoria state was recently reported to have said, “I and my 5 children survived the 22 years of war here in Torit. But now I must say, if the war breaks out again I will not survive it. I will die.” The SPLM witnessed the unbearable suffering of the people of South Sudan during the 22 years of war and even long before that. Most of its members like Cecilia are victims and survivors of that war. It does not want to take the people of Sudan back to war to force the Islamists in Khartoum into accepting a secular all-inclusive Sudan as it believed before the CPA. President Salva Kiir always assures the Sudanese people in any forum he speaks that under his leadership, he will ensure never to take the Sudanese people back to war.
Under the current circumstances, the only tool the SPLM is left with is a political mean to fight for its ideology. However, they are in a very weak position in this battle. On one hand they have to cooperate with the NCP as peace partners to ensure the implementation of the CPA provisions, on the other, they have to fight its dictatorial and Islamist policies to ensure a democratic transformation which may lead to a new and a united Sudan. Moreover, NCP has the police force, the security force, the mechanical majority in the national assembly and the constant threat that they will abrogate the CPA and return the country to war.
The recent arrest of the SPLM politicians and the ban on the opposition demonstration shows the vulnerability of the SPLM as a party in this battle. The approval of the security law by the parliament using the NCP’s mechanical majority despite SPLM protest also shows SPLM’s vulnerability in this battle.
The NCP only agreed to the referendum legislation to shut the SPLM up from further democratic protests. Ibrahim Ghandour, a senior figure in the NCP, warned the SPLM on December 13 that any attempt to stage a demonstration on December 14 would nullify the agreements that were made on the referendum legislation. He added that the agreement stipulated that the SPLM will not be part of any protest as long as the outstanding issues in the referendum legislation have been resolved. The fact that the SPLM would have to buy the implementation of the CPA provisions from the NCP with their non-participation in the national democratic processes shows the vulnerability of the SPLM in this battle.
Under this unfortunate state of affairs, few people in South Sudan expect the forthcoming elections to bring any significant change in Khartoum. It is naive to think that the NCP will allow free and fair election. If NCP cannot allow the oppositions to gather, how can anyone think that they will allow a different party to win an election and remove it from power? It is an open secret that the outcome of the April election will just be an endorsement of the status quo. Whether the international community will declare such elections a success just by the sheer fact that an election has taken place in Sudan since 1986 or whether it will declare it as fraudulent will be as irrelevant as many other international resolutions on Sudan.
The people of South Sudan have therefore turned their hearts and minds to the only thing they see as an alternative to the status quo; the separation of South Sudan from Khartoum. Many analysts and opinion polls correctly suggest that South Sudanese will overwhelmingly vote for independence. To them, it is a natural choice. They do not and will not accept an Islamic Arab Sudan as presented by the NCP. They have been resisting this mono-religious and mono-ethnic system of governance since 1956 and have gone to war twice because of it. If the Islamists in Khartoum think that it is a red line to have a secular and inclusive Sudan that represent the values of all its citizens, then the people of South Sudan have no choice but to separate and form a country that is all inclusive of its citizens.
The Southern politicians both in the SPLM and other political parties are left with either of these two choices: to set sail with the feelings of their constituents and dance to the separation drum or be unresponsive to their feelings and become irrelevant to them. In most of the rallies attended by the politicians in the South, the most vocal supporters of separation receive the loudest cheer and applause. Most politicians including the president have acknowledged that and voiced their support for separation irrespective of their party positions. Even the NCP’s vice chairman, Dr Riek Gai Kok, when he visit South Sudan last month for the first time since the signing of CPA, he quickly acknowledged these feelings in the atmosphere and his welcoming speech was inclined towards what he called the people’s choice despite NCP’s hostile position toward South separation.
It is almost certain that when South Sudanese go to the polls in January next year, no sane unionist whether in the SPLM, NCP or other Southern parties will tell them not to vote for separation. It will be the moment of truth for all. NCP will not erase decade’s long distrust by promising that it will treat the Southerners better starting from February 2011 should they vote for unity. SPLM Unionists on the other hand will not tell the people of South Sudan that “this current situation (Sharia law in Khartoum, NCP policies in place) was the New Sudan vision we promised and hence you (Southerners) should vote for an attractive all-inclusive Sudan.”
Even the late Dr John Garang, the architect of the New Sudan Vision, had this to say during the SPLM’s first convention in 1994 in Chukudum; “I assure you all that the present NIF regime is the last government of the Old Sudan for the next government after the NIF will either be the government of the New Sudan according to the SPLM vision, or else the Sudan will break up into several states.” At the current state of despair, many people in the South believe that moment of disintegration is now.
As President Salva Kiir said on December 27, the next 12 months will be the most challenging times in the history of the Sudan. No one can tell with absolute precision what will happen this year. By January 2011, the North and South will either part ways as the current situation indicate or NCP will decide to abrogate the CPA and engulf the country into another destructive war, or both. Whatever will happen, history will not curse any spell on the people of South Sudan on their decisions or SPLM as a party for any of its actions.