Interview with Dr. Lam Akol – Chairman, National Democratic Movement

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Who is Dr. Lam Akol, for those who may not know more about you?

I am the Chairman of the National Democratic Movement. Professionally, I hold a PhD from the Imperial College of Science and Technology, University of London (1980) and was a lecturer at the Department of Chemical Engineering in the University of Khartoum (1980-1986). Politically, I was one of the founders of Sudan African Congress, SAC (1985), senior commander in the SPLM/A and member of its Political-Military High Command (1986-1991), served in several capacities in the SPLM/A and SPLM-United after the Nasir Declaration in 1991. With the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, I served as the Political Supervisor (Governor) of Western Bahr El Ghazal State (July 2005) and thereafter as Minister of Foreign Affairs (September 2005-October 2007). I had previously served as Minister of Transport (1998-2002).

How, why and when did you become a politician?

It is difficult to pinpoint a specific time as to when I became a politician or got involved in politics. I became interested in politics at an early age of fifteen (15). However, that interest crystallized after the Wau massacre of July 1965 in which my elder brother, Dr Justin Papiti Akol, was killed by the government army together with 75 other civilians. He was a paragon of the family and his loss was devastating to all of us. In those troubled days my father risked going to Wau to find out what really took place. There were many eyewitnesses of the incident still in Wau by then. By that time the schools in South Sudan were closed due to the insecurity occasioned by the Anya-nya insurgency. I was in my village, Doleib Hill, some 25 kilometres south of Malakal town on the Sobat River. Later in 1965 we joined Malakal Intermediate School. There, one got involved in some political discussions, especially the South Sudanese politics particularly the South –North tension. I was a staunch supporter of the Southern Front, the only party representing Southern Sudan after the October Revolution in 1964.

The year 1965 saw many tumultuous events. In February that year, Queen Elizabeth II visited Sudan. Also in February that year William Deng Nhial who had abandoned the Anya-nya struggle the year before came to Khartoum forming a party in the name of SANU (Sudan African National Union) which was the name used by the political leadership of the Southern armed struggle which he had just parted ways with. This created a great deal of confusion during the Round Table Conference in March 1965 and thereafter. That year also saw the escalation of the war by the government in Khartoum under Prime Minister Mohamed Ahmed Mahgoub resulting in the worst time for Southern civilians in towns in Southern Sudan. It had become government policy to target government officials from Southern Sudan accusing them of being rebels. The Juba and Wau massacres in July and the killing of government officials in different towns in South Sudan were but a few examples of that dark episode in the history of South-North relations. Such a kaleidoscope of political developments opened my eyes to this field. In the secondary school, we founded a students’ organization in the name of the Students Union for Southern Sudan (SUSS), of which I became the Chairman for two consecutive terms (1968-1970). In the University of the Khartoum, I was a member of the Students Welfare Front (SWF) which changed its name to the African Nationalists Front (ANF) in late 1970. I was elected a member of its Political Bureau and Executive Committee for two consecutive terms (1973-1975). I continued to be interested in politics ever since.

What would you consider as the root causes of the conflict in South Sudan?

The root causes of the conflict in South Sudan are embedded in the social, cultural, economic and political underdevelopment of the masses of our people. During the colonial period, Southern Sudan was cut off from any semblance of development; in fact as a backyard of colonialism. It was denied education by the Condominium government. Our people rose against the government in Khartoum in 1955 and 1983 to resist marginalization and the imposition of a mono culture, the Islamic-Arab culture, on them and also to chart a course of development denied them for decades. These wars of liberation were resolved through negotiated peace agreements that acknowledged the grievances of the South Sudanese to govern themselves and determine their own political, economic and social destiny. However, the liberators lacked a clear vision of what to do after the guns were silent. What united the Southern Sudanese most in their struggle was their abhorrence of the Khartoum successive governments.

The biggest error of judgment in 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement was the decision by the South Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM) to dissolve itself and melt into the Sudan Socialist Union (SSU), the one party imposed by Khartoum on the country. Thus, the Southerners could not develop their own policies that could guide the regional government within the confines of the AAA. The 1972 -1983 regional government quickly became a tool in the hands of Khartoum to promote its divisive policies exploiting the power struggle among the elites to control the regional government. It pitted one group against the other. The manifestations of these were the unilateral amendment of the Addis Ababa Agreement by Khartoum in 1982, the Kokora, the division of the South into three regions in 1983, followed by the imposition of the Islamic laws on the whole country in September that year. This was the ice on the cake as far as the regime was concerned. Similarly, the SPLM/A ignored the cardinal bedrock on which all liberation movements were founded and wars of liberations waged. That is the supremacy of the political organization over the military. There was no SPLM in reality; it was the army, the SPLA, that ran the show. Therefore, the SPLM/A developed a militaristic culture, looked down on political work and lacked respect for the people. The half-hearted attempts in late 1990s to create some political structures were too late and too little. When the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, naturally, the SPLM saw itself as the only player in Southern Sudan. Everything in the agreement was tailored not on the Southern Sudanese, as was the case in the AAA, but on the SPLM. This sense of entitlement and exclusion of other South Sudanese is what led to the rampant corruption, lack of service delivery and eventual power struggle among SPLM leaders resulting in the December 2013 war. In the eight years of SPLM rule in the South before the civil war in 2013, the SPLM run government never ever presented to Parliament any government plan of action for any length of time.  Consequently, our masses continued to wallow in their poverty and underdevelopment in all aspects, what is more is that they were divided on ethnic basis by their own sons. It soon became clear that marginalization was not after all a monopoly of the Arabs in Khartoum but a tool employed by the unscrupulous leaders that lack vision wherever they may be.

The condition of our people today, even before the 2013 crisis, is worse than it has been before 2005 despite the enormous resources at the disposal of South Sudan government since then. The country needs a leadership with vision to marshal the human and natural resources available in the service of our suffering people.

As a liberator and a very senior former member of the SPLA/SPLM, do you share in the blame for the mess the country is in today?

For sure.  As a senior member of the SPLM/A one must bear collective responsibility for the errors and excesses that were  committed by the SPLM/A.  However, this does not deny one’s efforts within the Movement to see that these errors were corrected.  Such efforts are well documented.

What is the vision and political program, for South Sudan, of the National Democratic Movement that you lead?

The National Democratic Movement (NDM) was born in answer to the national call to rescue the country from the imminent collapse its leaders were leading it to.  It is a front bringing together the social and democratic political forces as well as civil society activists, who want the political discourse in the country to be centred on the transformation of the centuries-old conditions of extreme poverty, ignorance, illiteracy and cultural backwardness of the masses of our people.  The Movement is founded on the principles and concept of national democratic revolution based on the core values of freedom, equality/justice and fraternity/solidarity anchored in their historical and philosophical perspectives. These values translate into fundamental rights and freedoms as provided for in the Bill of Rights and in the UN Conventions of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

The National Democratic Movement emerges in order to create conditions for the realization of a just and sustainable peace in South Sudan by addressing in a satisfactory manner our diversity through nation-building and development. These vital objectives can only be realized in the context of a sustainable Political System in the Republic of South Sudan based on democracy and the rule of law. The starting point in this respect would be to mend the social fabric that was torn apart by the ethnically tainted evil war since December 2013, and strive to bring about reconciliations and healing at all levels of the society.

The National Democratic Movement emerges to transform and place the masses of our people in the centre of the socio-economic development discourse. The NDM shall therefore engage with other political parties and social forces in the country to build a national consensus on national issues.

The NDM has developed a comprehensive political programme encompassing all aspects of social, cultural, economic and political spheres in society and the state in South Sudan. The general aspect of this programme is the rapid modernization of South Sudan society and the state. The modernization of South Sudan means the radical transformation of the social, economic and cultural underdeveloment of the masses of our people. This will entail changing their means and relations of social production making use of advances in knowledge, science and technology. This will underscore the sustainable development and utilization of the natural resources in agriculture both in large scale crop production and modernizing the traditional indigenous animal husbandry to transform the enormous livestock population from cultural wealth to economic assets; harnessing the water resources for energy production and transportation; building physical infrastructure in roads, railways, power transmission lines, information and communcation technology;  protecting wildlife and promoting tourism. There can be no political independence without economic self-reliance.

The political programme of the NMD is summarized in our “Ten Point Programme of the NDM” which reads as follows:

 

  1. Unite the masses of our people and build alliances to wage a struggle against the ethnocentric regime in order to attain the objectives of the national democratic revolution.
  2. Guarantee and uphold all basic rights and fundamental freedoms
  3. Build national professional army and other security organs
  4. Establish an independent , federal and democratic state
  5. Strive to build a self-reliant and self-sufficient economy
  6. Implement an agricultural policy based on the transformation of traditional farming and rural production through modernization and expansion of agriculture and industrialization.
  7. Commit to a comprehensive social programme to render basic services to our people
  8. Develop a national culture that derives from our rich diversity
  9. Empower the women to assume their rightful role in society
  10. Adopt an independent foreign policy that promotes global peace and security.

Do you have confidence in IGAD’s mediation, if yes why and if not why?

As we all know, IGAD brokered the 2015 peace agreement. It was therefore natural for the people of South Sudan to expect IGAD to fix the violations and eventual abrogation of its agreement in 2016 by the regime in Juba. It was in this context that the NDM got involved in the IGAD High Level Revitalization Forum. However, after two rounds of talks, it turned out that the 2015 Agreement was an orphan after IGAD , due to individual interests of its constituent countries with the regime in Juba, ignored the regime’s violations and abrogation of the Agreement it brokered in 2015 which it was claiming to revitalize. It instead was busy trying to goad the other stakeholders into accepting the government’s position.  Thus, IGAD was rewarding violations of its own brokered agreement. After all this, what chance of survival has any agreement IGAD can broker again?  By so doing IGAD has thrown away the confidence of the South Sudanese in being an honest broker to help resolve their problems.

Do you think the pre-forum consultation and the next round of the HLRF will result to a peace Agreement?

I have already alluded to the answer to this question in my last answer. There is little prospect for the HLRF to yield results. The IGAD think erroneously that they just need to work out an agreement that finds the blessing of SPLM-IG and SPLM-IO and they would have succeeded. Let us wait and see.

What are the key issues which must be included in an Agreement for you to sign it?

First, the root causes of the conflict must be addressed. A Physician cannot prescribe treatment for a patient without carrying out a diagnosis of what he/she is suffering from. There must be an overhaul of the governance and the security sector to create organs that are national, accountable to the people and serve the people.  This is the only way to combat corruption and the sense of entitlement. Second, all violations of the provisions of ARCSS that took place since 2015, such as changing the number of States, must be reversed. Third, power sharing has been proven a failure and can never bring about the level ground necessary for democratic transformation. It must give way to a technocratic transitional government. Fourth, we need a lean government so as to free resources for the humanitarian needs of our suffering people and to build basic infrastructure. Bloated government as espoused by some circles is put to be synonymous with inclusivity. This is false. Inclusivity is both being involved in the peace process and taking part in the transitional government.  Even if we take inclusivity in the narrow sense of being part of the transitional government, why shouldn’t 18 ministries, for instance, be inclusive when 30 or 42 can? It is just the greed to keep many ministries rather than inclusivity that drives the proponents of bloated government.  They don’t care if our people continue to suffer as long as they are ministers and members of appointed Parliaments. Fifth, federalism which has been acknowledged in the ARCSS as the will of our people should be applied during the transitional period by devolving powers and resources to the State and Local governments. It is the other detailed aspects of federalism that could wait until the National Constitutional Conference is held during the transitional period.

President’s Yoweri is facilitating the reunification of the SPLM. Is this initiative complementary to or supplant of the IGAD mediated peace forum?

At the beginning of the conflict in 2013 there was a belief that since the war was triggered by the split within the leadership of the SPLM, reuniting the bickering factions will fix the problem.  A lot of energy and resources were spent in the pursuit of this premise.  Meetings were held in Addis Ababa, Arusha, Kampala and Cairo and the unity was as elusive as ever. Time has shown that the assumption was false.  President Yoweri Museveni, in his determination to keep Kiir in power, does not seem to give up yet. No doubt, the initiative which is exclusive is meant to supplant IGAD’s inclusive mediation.

What is the impact of Gen. Taban Deng Gai joining SPLM-IG on the TGoNU and the Peace Agreement?

We have said from the very beginning that General Taban Deng Gai was a creation of Salva Kiir and never was leader of an independent faction of the SPLM/A-IO. The idea was to give the impression that the SPLM/A-IO was still a participant in the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) to give legitimacy to his abrogation of the agreement when Kiir drove away his First Vice President. The lie was believed by those who wanted to believe it but it has been quite transparent. By joining the SPLM-IG, Gen Taban was actually acknowledging publicly the reality he and Kiir have been trying to hide so as to deceive the whole world about the fact that since July 2016, the so-called TGoNU was indeed the SPLM-IG government. The impact of this joining is significant; it is a further proof that there is currently no TGoNU in Juba and hence ARCSS is dead.

Some political groups have insisted that for there to be a peace agreement, President Salva Kiir must leave. Do you share such sentiment? If yes why and if no, why?

Yes. I do share this sentiment. President Kiir is the one who violated the Agreement several times, such as imposing 28 States on the country as opposed to the ten (10) stipulated in the Agreement, he had declared when he signed the Agreement in 2015 that he will never implement it. He followed his words by deeds when he continued violating the provisions of the Agreement culminating in its final abrogation in July 2016 plunging the country into a more devastating civil war. Such a person should be facing proceedings of accountability for his misdeeds that had cost and still costing the country and the entire world dear in terms of human and material resources.  Continuation of Kiir as President to oversee the implementation of a revitalized ARCSS is like putting a hyena in charge of the sheep.

The Government has threatened that if the next round of peace talk fails it will extend its term of office through the parliament and organize elections. What is your take on this? If the Government goes ahead with its threat, what will you and your group do about it?

The government has actually started the process of legitimizing itself. It didn’t need to wait for the failure of the second round of talks which he was scuttling.  The government has tabled before the Transitional National Legislature (Parliament) a bill to that effect on 30 April 2018. The bill will be debated on the 30th of May, a few days from now. This government has specialized in creating fait accompli and running away with that. We have put in place a plan to counter such a move but time has not yet come to disclose it.

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