SSOA chooses the downtrodden masses over the elites at the Khartoum Peace Talks

By Dr Lako Jada Kwajok

The Khartoum round of peace talks provided many South Sudanese with a rare
opportunity of knowing whether their political leaders meant what they propagate
and preach. The events of the last four weeks were quite discriminating in the
sense that they revealed those politicians who care about the welfare of the
ordinary citizens and those who don’t. Khartoum may seem far away from the small
towns and villages of South Sudan, but modern technology has made
communications and the flow of news within reach of a significant number of the
populace.
Do not underestimate how closely these peace talks were followed by our folks in
the refugee camps in the neighbouring countries, in our towns and cities, and in
the bushes of South Sudan. The future of the homeland hangs in the balance thus
every citizen is very much concerned and very keen to know what’s going on be it
in Addis Ababa or Khartoum. For the overwhelming majority of our people, SSOA’s
stance and refusal to initial the Agreement on the Outstanding Issues of
Governance represented a breeze of hope amid desperation.
Many never saw it coming. The majority of the observers thought at best there
would be a split within SSOA and most likely two or three Movements would hold
out and not succumb to the enormous pressure exerted on the delegates. They
were proven wrong, and SSOA defied the odds by remaining compact and steadfast
to its original positions.
It might not be possible to gauge the magnitude of the widespread support that
some SSOA members harvested by standing firm behind popular demands like
federalism, the abolition of the illegal 32 States, and accountability. But from the
outset, a bombshell landed and exploded in the midst of the peace talks audience
when the news of coercion, intimidation, and the obtainment of signatures under
duress was leaked out. That alone added a new dimension to how the public
perceived the political leaders who went through that ordeal. It depicted to many
of them the idiom ” When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Some leaders
have done themselves a great favour by standing their grounds. Others might not
have known that they have curtailed their political future by giving in to pressure
and personal gains.
It’s quite evident that SSOA’s popularity has surged as it’s increasingly being seen as
the entity presenting real solutions to the root causes of the conflict. As for the
SPLM IO, its initialling of the Agreement on the Outstanding Issues costed it dearly.
Its popularity has plummeted significantly. It’s apparent that the SPLM IO is in
turmoil due to Dr Riek Machar abandoning the fundamental objectives that
persuaded many in the past to join the Movement. Riek Machar has dropped the
three major issues namely, federalism, the abolition of the 32 States, and
accountability. For many SPLM IO supporters, what he did amounts to a deal
breaker.
It’s incredible that people like Dr Luka Biong seem to have turned 180 degrees
against what they believed more than a couple of years ago. He was dismissed

from his Juba University lecturing post following a direct order from President Kiir
to the University administration. The reason was that he organised a public lecture
to discuss the constitutionality and legality of the Presidential order number 36 to
create the then new 28 States. The majority of the participants including himself
were against the Presidential order. He had to leave the country hurriedly to avoid
detention or even much worse.
Now, Dr Luka Biong has criticised SSOA for refusing to initial the Agreement on the
Outstanding Issues of Governance that stipulates the maintenance of the 32 new
States. So, how can he be against the new 28 States back in 2015 but now supports
the expanded number of States in 2018?! It makes no sense at all!
His argument that SSOA shouldn’t have refused to initial the Agreement because it
did sign the Khartoum Declaration of Agreement (KDA) relinquishing the
sovereignty of the country to Sudan; is unconvincing. It’s not a secret that apart
from the Former Political Detainees (FPDs), SSOA was never aware nor negotiated
the KDA. Dr Luka Biong precisely knows how SSOA ended up signing the document.
Signing an agreement in such circumstances means nothing. Appending a signature
to some official document is not enough to constitute a deal, but a commitment to
abide by it is all the most important. Contemporary history is full of such
examples. Perhaps the most famous was the Munich Agreement of 30/09/1938
where Hitler gave the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain a white paper
with his signature on it promising non-aggression before the invasion of Poland the
next year. And why even go far, the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the
Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) was signed by President Kiir on 26/08/2015 and
violated by him in July 2016.
Decrying the loss of sovereignty by signing the KDA is misdirected. Dr Luka biong
should have known better as a former Minister of Presidential Affairs. South Sudan
sovereignty continued to be compromised since the time he was in office. Was he
unaware of the alien forces on South Sudan’s soil?! Did he not know that we do not
possess a radar system and that Khartoum and Kampala are controlling our
airspace?! Has he ever heard of a sovereign country that does not have full control
over its territory and airspace? And being a senior member of the SPLM party, does
he not think that his leadership bears the responsibility of firstly, failing to equip
the country with a good radar system? And secondly, signing the Khartoum Oil
Agreement (KoilA) and the KDA? Finally, is it logical to pile up criticism on SSOA for
its signature on the KDA while saying nothing about the ruling party?
Dr Luka Biong could have alerted his President to the numerous encroachments on
the sovereignty of the State by foreign powers since the inception of the
Government of South Sudan. He was the Presidential Affairs Minister, and that was
the closest one could be to the President and the decision making process. He
chose to do nothing for reasons best known to him because I don’t think he was
unaware of such glaring facts. It wasn’t an issue of affordability as a fraction of the
loot from the oil proceeds would have provided the country with some of the
modern radar systems in the world. He was a member of the cabinet when the
South Sudanese people first knew about the list of 75 top-ranking officials who
purportedly embezzled 4 billion USDs from the coffers.

Some of Luka Biong’s assertions were contradictory when put to scrutiny. On the
one hand, he wants SSOA and the FPDs to form a unified opposition to challenge
Juba from within while on the other he admits that Salva Kiir and Riek Machar may
not provide a conducive environment for sustainable peace. Without the
fundamental changes in the system of governance that made SSOA reject the
Khartoum proposal, does he not think that it would be the same political
environment that led him to flee Juba in 2015?
It’s inaccurate to say that SSOA and the FPDs have accepted President Kiir and Dr
Riek Machar to lead the transition. SSOA has declared it time and again that it’s not
seeking power-sharing (responsibility sharing) which would certainly not address
the root causes of the conflict. SSOA wants the establishment of a government of
institutions based on federalism and the devolution of powers to the States. Once
the appropriate system of governance is in place, the participation of Salva Kiir
and Riek Machar in the transition would depend on how they meet the
requirements of such a system.
His claim that SSOA and the FPDs have got no moral standing to convince the South
Sudanese people why they refused to initial the proposal is indeed the opposite.
Some of the SSOA member organisations would have perished, had they betrayed
their masses by initialling the agreement in the form presented to them. Gone are
the days when people follow leaders blindly.
Of late we have seen the eminent scholar trying to position himself in the middle
of the political debate between the government and the opposition. Well, actions
speak much louder than words. In one of his articles, he suggested that President
Kiir should be persuaded to step down amicably. What he alluded to would have
been reasonable in a democratic environment whereby a leader was cleared of any
wrong-doing but still bears the responsibility of mistakes committed by his
subordinates. It isn’t the case in South Sudan. There’s a consensus nationally,
regionally, and internationally that South Sudan hasn’t been doing well since the
SPLM party took power in 2005. The country tops the list of the Fragile States in
the world (aka failed states) with Fragile State Index (FSI) of 113.4 points. Somalia
comes second with FSI of 113.2 points and Yemen in the third position with FSI of
112.7 points.
On the corruption front, our country is number 2 behind Somalia with a score of 12
points and above Syria. Somalia and Syria both scored 9 and 14 points respectively.
Luka Biong remains loyal to his previous boss otherwise he would have been vocal
within his party asking President Kiir to step down. His political allegiance and views haven’t changed a bit although he is now tactically masquerading as a neutral figure.

I am under no illusion that the road would be easy for SSOA to realise a
government of institutions, the upholding of the rule of law, and lasting peace in
the Republic of South Sudan. Things would most likely get worse before they could
get better. But SSOA has shown to the word the kind of leadership the masses are longing for. It deserves recognition and support from the regional powers and the
international community.

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