SPLM-DC and the Demise of Great Expectations
A year ago today, Lam Akol abandoned membership in the SPLM and formed the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement””Democratic Change (SPLM-DC). In a six-page statement released to the media, Akol rounded off a litany of grievances against his erstwhile colleagues in the SPLM.
He accused the SPLM of cronyism, lack of ideas and stifling alternative views to improve the party.
The SPLM-DC, he declared, was formed to “save the SPLM from the collapse it is heading for.”
By sticking to the SPLM name, Akol sought to tell the public that there was nothing wrong per se with the old SPLM. The problem, he said, was that a clique had taken control of the party and ostracized all progressive initiatives.
The SPLM, he reiterated, was now a spent force, one that “cannot pull crowds anymore, let alone dream of winning an election.” He emphasized that salvation rests in the new party, the SPLM-DC.
Akol’s attempt to appeal to the rank and file of his former party, the SPLM, was also visible in the symbolism he chose to evoke. The 6th of June, was the same day of the Ayod mutiny in 1983. The Ayod mutineers under Major William Nyuon Bany fled to the bush to link up with other renegades from the Bor garrison who rebelled a month earlier, to form the nucleus of what became the SPLA.
Given Akol’s stature as a senior member of the SPLM and architect of the 1991 split, the formation of the SPLM-DC was an emotional subject for Southern Sudanese as much as it was a major earthquake on their political landscape. On one hand, a section of the Southern polity felt that with independence from the North almost within reach, a unity of purpose was crucial to facing Khartoum. Akol’s actions, amidst accusations NCP bankrolling, were therefore retrogressive to the national objective of independence. On the other hand, there was a loud chorus that said the SPLM’s corrupt practices and overt nepotism deserved an answer in the form delivered by Akol.
But a year later, has the SPLM-DC become a viable alternative to the SPLM in the South?
In this article, I argue that despite the fanfare the SPLM-DC generated and the support it garnered from Southerners who were disgruntled with the SPLM, Akol’s new party is light years away from significantly impacting the political landscape in the South due to several factors which I discuss below.
The first factor has to do with Akol’s stature and political past. His seniority in the SPLM in the 1980s and subsequent leadership in the 1991 split has made him a recognizable name throughout the South. In this respect, the formation of the SPLM-DC gained wide prominence among the informed urban elite in the South.
On the other hand, Akol’s involvement in the 1991 break-up of the SPLA/M, and his numerous political alliances and party switching in the 1990s, casts him as an unreliable fortune seeker. SPLM propaganda was quick to capitalize on this, painting Akol as a back stabber out for his own personal interest. The refrain uttered to the Southern public was “˜He’s joined forces with the people who used to send the Antonov bombers and they are the ones funding him.’ To the simple Southern Sudanese peasant, this is a powerful message with far reaching consequences seen in the elections in April.
In other words, Akol’s leadership of the SPLM-DC is the party’s greatest liability in the South.
The other factor as to why the SPLM-DC is ages from having an impact in the South has to do with blunders committed by the party. The SPLM-DC has the dubious distinction as one of a few””if not the first””Southern–led party to be launched from Khartoum during peace time. This decision to launch from “˜foreign’ soil, coupled with allegations of NCP bankrolling, alienated the new party from its would-be base in the South.
To cut Akol some slack, it is true that the decision to launch the SPLM-DC in Khartoum, rather than in Juba, Wau or Malakal, was largely prompted by concerns for his personal security. However, no one expected that the fight for multiparty democracy in the South was going to be a walk in the park. In essence, those who aspire to enact change have to be in the thick of it, and if necessary, sometimes pay the ultimate price. Southern Sudanese liberation history is replete with examples of courageous people willing to be in the line of fire.
It is worth noting that the decision to establish the party in Khartoum greatly hampered efforts, if any, to develop a comprehensive policy to counter the accusations of NCP funding.
Another blunder that hampered the progress of the SPLM-DC in the South arises from the failure to immediately establish a foothold in the South after the launch of the party in Khartoum. Akol finally visited the South barely a month away from the April elections. And as expected, the party had very little time, amidst obvious intimidation from the SPLM, to market itself properly. As a result, the SPLM-DC won a total of five seats only: one in the South Sudan Legislative Assembly, another in the National Assembly in Khartoum, and three in the Upper Nile State Assembly.
Even in Akol’s home turf in Upper Nile State, where observers expected the SPLM-DC to win overwhelmingly, the party was a poor show. While it is true that the conduct of the elections leaves a lot to be desired in terms of free and fair balloting, the SPLM-DC’s long absence on the ground was equally an instrumental factor in this poor performance.
Has the SPLM-DC learnt anything from this experience?
Soon after the elections, the SPLM-DC retreated to its base in Khartoum. And once again, instead of building a base in the South, its secretary general has been reduced to writing press releases from Khartoum.
At its creation last year, the SPLM-DC was touted as a viable political alternative that would put the SPLM to task. Soon the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly will resume sessions. The SPLM-DC has only one member, a factor that is unlikely to advance the party’s overall objectives. However, one expects that the SPLM-DC will not abscond the duty of checking and monitoring the policies of the SPLM. A presence of its party leadership in the visitors’ gallery in the SSLA in Juba would still be a welcome idea in as far as monitoring government policy is concerned. What is not clear is how the SPLM-DC will do this with its party leadership still residing in Khartoum.
More ever, it has failed to act like an opposition party and contribute ideas on crucial issues facing the South. Currently, the Government of South Sudan is battling a rebellion under the leadership of Gen. George Athor. The UN, elders and the Government of South Sudan have attempted to resolve the situation. However, the SPLM-DC’s voice has been conspicuously absent in offering ideas on how to resolve the conflict.
Like the other Southern parties, often bereft of ideas and initiative, the SPLM-DC seems to have joined the list.
To sum up, a year after the SPLM-DC’s creation, the new party looks like a spent force, due to the factors eluded to above. And in a sense the dream of a viable democratic pluralism in the South has died too. A major stumbling block to the party’s progress lies in the person of Lam Akol himself. His political past viewed in the prism of the Southern collective struggle for freedom from the North serves as a liability for the SPLM-DC. However, this incongruous political past will cease to have significance after the referendum. In that respect, perhaps the SPLM-DC’s best days rest in the future.
Brian Adeba is a journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.