Challenges And Prospects For Nation Building In South Sudan
By: Peter Adwok Nyaba
The flaws in the liberation movement and the present context
The republic of South Sudan is a multiplicity of ethnicity, language, traditional culture and beliefs. There are sixty-four ethnic groups of different demographic weights and at variegated levels of socio-economic and cultural development. Agriculture in its different sectors of crop and animal husbandry is the mainstay of the subsistence-based economy. The common struggle against, and resistance to foreign aggression, enslavement, extraction and plunder of their resources including the SPLA-M spearheaded war of national liberation united these ethnicities and indeed became the basis of the state now called South Sudan.
One may say with confidence that the state formation and nation building processes in South Sudan began simultaneously in the context of war of national liberation. That we are now speaking about nation building as if it as a conscious process had not begun attributes to the flaws in the SPLA/M management of the war of national liberation. The essence of the struggle for national liberation was to emancipate the masses from centuries old condition of socio-economic and cultural backwardness, free the national productive forces from all kinds of foreign domination and control and consolidate independence; and to unite the people in building the nation.
The main flaws in the SPLA/M management of the war of national liberation was its lack liberation ideology and a theoretical understanding for transforming the oppressive reality, which placed the unity of the people, including the factors occasioned by colonialism like ethnic negative subjectivities, in the centre of its political and transformative activities. This inadvertently led reactionary ethnic nationalism, particularly the Dinka and Nuer ethnic nationalism to pervade and dominate the SPLA/M, overshadowed, distorted and depicted the movement more of a personal power project than a genuine national liberation movement.
The SPLA/M’s proscription of political education and organization implying perversion and indeed subversion of people’s social awareness and political consciousness meant preventing attitudinal change to enable correction perception of reality. It was in this environment of ignorance and SPLA/M obfuscation of liberation that ethnic national and ideology of hegemony and domination flourished. The liberation struggle perceived as a means of power transfer from the Arab dominated northern political elite, and this exacerbated the ethnic rivalry between the Dinka and the Nuer in the liberation movement. The personification rather than institutionalization of the SPLA/M power and public authority entrenched by militarism heightened this rivalry resulting in splits and splinterism in the ranks, which the government in Khartoum exploited to obstruct the liberation process.
Thus, the SPLA/M squandered during the war of national liberation the opportunity for laying down the foundation of a democratic multicultural nation-state in South Sudan. This became even more difficult after signing the peace deal particularly following the tragic death of the SPLA/M leader, Dr. John Garang de Mabior and the ascension to the helm of Salva Kiir Mayardit. The initial shunning of ideological training, political education and organization as well as building institutions and instruments of power showed up immediately. The focus of SPLM leaders shifted to self-aggrandisement. This marred the interim period in primitive accumulation of wealth through massive corruption in government, nepotism, tribalism that rendered dysfunctional the public service; heightened the power struggle that fomented ethnicized conflicts and widespread insecurity. The management of the subnational entity produced a power and wealth configuration, which placed the Dinka first (as president); followed by Nuer (as vice president), and the Equatorian (as the Speaker of SSLA representing all the rest lumped together Equatorians). This unhealthy arrangement engendered political tension except that then the common concern for the orderly conduct of the referendum on self-determination prevented an all-out eruption of violence.
The civil war erupted barely three years into the independence. Its parameters were initially ethnic in nature fitting the Dinka against the Nuer nationalities suggesting that it refracted from the legacy of the war of national liberation exacerbated by the practices during the interim period. The civil war has now engulfed the whole country because of some factors. First, the surge of Dinka ethnic nationalism with its ideology of hegemony and domination; and the formation of the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) as the power broker surrounding Salva Kiir’s presidency. This was consequent to shunning of ideological training and political enlightenment and organization during the war of national liberation. Secondly, the emergence through corruption in government and society of a parasitic capitalist class and its control of consumption-based economy of South Sudan. This parasitic capitalist class for its political survival allied with the regional and international comprador capitalism in the context of extraction and plunder of South Sudan natural resources; and thirdly, the transmorphization of the regime into ethnocentric totalitarian dictatorship to facilitate this extraction and plunder. The involvement of the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces in the civil war on the side of President Salva Kiir comes in this context.