Happy Birthday South Sudan, R.I.P SPLA/SPLM!
The Sudanese People’s Liberation Army/ Movement (SPLA/M), as an institution, will be remembered for two historical acts of heroism: First, for fighting a very successful liberation war and securing the independence of the country; and second, for committing a revolutionary suicide in the process.
The first achievement is attributable, in part, to a compelling understanding of the problem facing the country by the then SPLA/M leadership. In its July 1983 Manifesto, the SPLM said: “ the central problem of the Sudan is that its reality, both in terms of its historical perspective and its contemporary context, conflicts fundamentally with the policies of the various governments that have come and gone in Khartoum since independence in 1956. These policies have been pursued with impunity and almost complete disregard of the country’s rich diversity.” In framing its struggle around the question of the disconnect between governors and the governed, the disparity between the reality of the country and its policies, and on the question of impunity and exclusion, the SPLM, in just two sentences captured three decades of the litany of governance failures in the Sudan. With this profound and inclusive definition of the challenges facing the Sudan, the SPLM won the minds and hearts of Sudanese and galvanised international support.
Tragically, though, the seed of the death of the SPLM was also rooted in the same document that gave it life – the Manifesto. According to the Manifesto, “The vision of the SPLM is therefore that of a New Sudan.” It continues: “The New Sudan is not the antithesis of the Old Sudan nor does the vision imply the complete destruction of the Old Sudan and building the New Sudan on its ashes. The construction of the New Sudan is, rather, a “transformative” process for fundamental socio-economic change and political restructuring that would build on all the positive elements of the Old Sudan…” Thus, the vision of the SPLM started and ended with the Sudan. The SPLM saw only the ‘Old’ Sudan and how to make something ‘New’ out of it. The SPLM did not envisage making something out of nothing and so, when it ended up with a mere geographical mass, south of the Old Sudan, it simply marched on into oblivion.
Even though the SPLM may be in a political mortuary waiting for a decent burial and a mausoleum of its own, the country – South Sudan – must and will live on. So also the resilience, will, desires and sheer determination of the men and women who fought and those who paid the ultimate price to ensure the birth of the country, must and will live on.
As we celebrate the 5th Anniversary of our beloved country and mourn, with fond, the memories of a historical Movement, we must do so fully aware of the monumental challenges we face. In doing so, we must also not allow the magnitude of the problems we face dwarf us, but rather embolden and envision us to build a country and a nation out of what we have today.
At five, South Sudan is an orphan! Those who mothered the country are dead. Its current caretakers have prioritised their bellies. Our stomachticians, turned politicians, see a point in killing for positions and no point in positioning the country for a life after them. Our international friends are pained by the recklessness and heartlessness of our leaders, to the point of disillusionment.
But, as a country, we have no choice than to survive and thrive against all odds. It is in us to do so!
In order to do so, we must learn from past mistakes. Such learning may include these five lessons, one for each year of our nationhood that I think we need to take note of as we mobilise and organise for a new country. As we fight for peace, state and nation building let us:
- Fight not only injustice, but also, fight for justice: One of the mistakes of the SPLM is that it saw, fought and thought the injustice of the Old Sudan, mainly. But obsession with injustice alone, though a necessary requirement for dismantling the unjust system, is not sufficient for building a just system. This meant that the SPLM knew exactly how injustice looked and felt like, but lacked experiential knowledge and a vison of how justice and a just society would look like. So expecting the SPLM to build a just society is akin to expecting a vision-impaired person, from birth, to paint the colours of a rainbow. So, we should not only fight the past, but in equal measure, fight for a future.
- Not fight evil with evil: In addition to a lack of vision, internal haemorrhage is one of the contributing causes of the untimely demise of the SPLM. To suggest that the SPLM just suddenly became allergic to criticism, inordinately corrupt and a killing machine, upon the country becoming independent, is to grossly censure the history of this heroic Movement. From its inception, the SPLM eliminated any internally dissenting views, thrived on corruption and injustice and committed mass murders on its way to power. These were the very evils the SPLM set out to fight. But it did so at the expense of fighting the same evils internally. Thus, a victory over the external evil was easily replaced with the tyranny of the internal one.
- Not fight for power, but rather for a purpose: It is so clear today that the SPLM fought for power with no purpose. Even more disturbing is the SPLM’s misconception of position for power. As a result, in fighting for positions, it lost power.
- Together we stand, divided we fall: Even though numbers, whether of our tribesmen and women or of guns and bullets were crucial to the process that brought us thus far, we must now realise that the task of Nation building is not a game of numbers, but norms. It is values and ideas that cement a nation together. Values, like vices and ideas have no tribe and we should harvest the potentials of everyone in the nation building project.
- Finally, take seriously the statement attributed to Buckminster Fuller that “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”