The status quo and Why it Must be Changed

Public Service Announcement

Fellow South Sudanese!

This public service announcement serves to inform the public about some of the reasons for the struggle being waged by the SPLM/SPLA (IO). The catalyst for the current civil war has been well documented by the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (commonly referred to as the Obasanjo Report) and we need not go into those details. We can however say with certainty that the main causes of wars throughout history have been economic, and conclude that the failure of the SPLM/SPLA to fulfil the promise of the liberation struggle is the major factor which led to the current conflict in our nascent Republic. In the December 6 2013 press conference, SPLM leaders issued a statement that said in part:
The government of South Sudan is misleading the public that it is servicing a 4.5 billion USD debt. It is not known where these monies were loaned from and on what they were spent as the country has been under an austerity regime since April 2012. This is definitely a question of corruption that must be addressed together with the dura saga, the shoddy road contracts and the issue of 75 letters of defamation of SPLM historical leaders and cadres.

This challenge to the authority of President Salva Kiir is what escalated into the Juba massacre and consequently into civil war on December 15, 2013. The SPLM Leaders were demanding a change from the status quo; which was ultimately the promise of the liberation struggle which led to independence.
The status quo- and our desire to fundamentally change it- has led to a violent confrontation between those who want to fulfil the promise of the liberation struggle and those who want to maintain the status quo. The following is my small contribution to the national conversation:

Beloved Countrymen/women!

1. I have spoken extensively over the past several publications about “status quo” and the need to bring about fundamental change in our society. The regime’s propagandists are trying to portray the concept of “status quo” as being the natural order; as if it is synonymous to “good governance” and “legitimacy”, while they associate radical reforms (fundamental change) with anarchy.

2. When our leaders talk about maintaining the status quo, it is important for the public to understand what this status quo is.

3. The most prominent idea in conflict theory is the idea of class struggle; most conflicts throughout history have been economic in nature. Our situation in South Sudan therefore, is not a peculiar one.

4. When we talk about “status quo”, we are referring to the prevailing social economic realities that characterize the social order. The state of social order is in turn determined by the economic conditions of that society. The welfare and prosperity of a society depends on the level of economic success achieved by that society. Economics and Sociology are inextricably linked because any economic system is upheld by a social system.

5. In order for us to understand the status quo in our country, we must have some understanding of the economic system and of the social system which accompanied it. A concrete understanding of this will make it clear why fundamental change is essential to our survival as a people.

6. The Republic of South Sudan attained her independence on July 9, 2011. Our history does not however start on that date. The history of the Republic of South Sudan is intertwined with the history of the old Sudan. It is therefore important to understand some of the colonial history of the old Sudan.

7. The old Sudan was a colony of the Ottoman Empire (present day Turkey). The slave trade was a major part of their economy and the territory that today delimits the Republic of South Sudan was a major source for extracting slaves. The trading companies of the Turkiya (as the Ottoman period is known locally), recruited local partners in South Sudan in their slave trading companies. These shareholders would eventually become the traditional elite. Some of these partners eventually became the local authorities, through whom indirect colonial rule was administered. The local authorities were empowered by their masters to introduce the nizam el jedid (new system). The way our people organized our societies in precolonial times was banned and a social system that would uphold a slave economy was imposed through brutal force.

8. The Turkiya lasted for 70 years in our country and only ended when the Ottoman Empire lost World War One (WWI) and the colonies of the Central powers went to the Allies. This is how the old Sudan became a British colony. By this time, the British Empire had become abolitionists. This led to a confrontation between the traditional elites and the British -a fight to preserve their way of life- in a struggle which came to be known as the Mahdist Revolution. The Mahdist Revolution was eventually crushed by the British and by 1924 the slave trade was officially abolished. Enforcement of this abolition was however weak and after the Sudan gained her independence, there was nothing to stop the traditional elites from returning to their way of life, briefly interrupted by the British. The slave trade continued even during the liberation struggle, with Northern Bhar el Gazal facing most of the devastation.

9. Although slavery and the slave trade had ended de jure, it would be more accurate to say that it ended de facto in 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The CPA was the culmination of generations of resistance against colonialism and slavery. It provided our people with the best opportunity in our history to determine for our self our own destiny. Unfortunately, the end of the slave trade was not accompanied by an end to the social system which upheld the slave economy. This is the historical background which characterizes the status quo in our country.

10. The army through which this status quo has been maintained has its genesis in the slave trade, as it was preceded by a slave army. Our army may not be a slave army per se, but the conditions they face are quite similar. The Sudanese slave soldier was world renowned and fought all over the world, the most famous of these having fought in the armies of Napoleon III. Many were later absorbed by the British into the Kings African Rifles (KAR) after the Allies defeated the Central powers in WWI. The slave army survived through slave raids and plunder, and these patterns still exist today in one form or another. The South Sudanese soldier has been subjected to undignified living conditions and is not paid for up to six months. If he is killed in action, there is no system through which the family can claim anything. It could be argued that the status quo as far as martial culture in our country is still strong. Our soldiers are being treated like slaves and not with the dignity befitting a national army. The peasant army raised during the liberation struggle- which is responsible for our freedom- has been purged by President Salva Kiir and replaced with a tribal army which is fighting hard to maintain the status quo.

11. In the slave economy of the past, the would-be citizen is at the bottom of the proverbial totem pole. Our civil population was the segment of our population considered savages and thus eligible for enslavement. Our people soon discovered that abandoning the culture for Abrahamic religion was a sort of refuge and a way to achieve upward mobility in the system.

12. It is curious to note that the coming of Abrahamic religion coincides with the coming of the slave trade and so it is a legacy of the history of slavery in our country. Our people were not savages who did not know about God, running in the jungle with bones in their noses. This is not an attack on Abrahamic religion but an honest look at the facts. It is a fact that Abrahamic religions have made war on African cultural values; however, we understand that ideals expounded by Abrahamic religions are consistent with the values of our ancestors in precolonial times. We are only talking here about the contradiction between the ideals of the religions and the behaviour of those who imposed them on us.

13. There is little respect for the citizen today in our country, because the citizen is still associated with the civilian who is outside civilization, outside of the sanctity of Abrahamic faith, an infidel a kafir. It comes across clearly when a soldier utters to a citizen; muat’in sakit (just a civilian). The concept that the civil servant works for the civilian is foreign, despite the fact that it is suggested in the name. This mentality helps to maintain the status quo by assuming that these negative traditions are our culture- which needs to be preserved- as opposed to being the results of our conquest.

14. The traditional leadership we inherited from the social order imposed during colonialism and slavery was one in which leadership culture is oppressive. A leader was a strongman who could keep his people pacified and succeed in raiding weaker tribes for slaves, who he would use to pay his masters as taxes. It was also a way for the strongman himself to avoid the terrible fate of being raided and enslaved, and is where the pride in being from a large community- and disdain for small communities- comes from. The indigenous knowledge systems of governance according to our culture in precolonial times; based on upright conduct and democratic principles, became a thing of the past. A new type of African leader was born. This continues today through the counter insurgency of the regime of using tribe against tribe by identifying a strongman or imminent personality they can use within the community to do their bidding.

15. The traditional elite are the descendants of these leaders. They are not familiar with our precolonial past, so they don’t know or don’t want to know about how our people lived before colonialism and slavery. They are not familiar with the culture of leadership in which they should serve our people- a government of the people and by the people.

16. Our civil population has never experienced modern systems of governance, having been isolated for centuries from the rest of the world. The territory which today makes up the Republic of South Sudan was once a closed district under the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, and special permission was required from the colonial authorities to travel there. The civil population who lived in the territory under the “closed district ordinance” were considered as part of the flora and fauna. This mentality continues today and is what we mean by “status quo”.

17. The people of South Sudan have never had access to a modern economy in our country. Our experience is instead of being goods in an economy. In a way, the traditional elites have modernized the system of oppression. In the past, the traditional elites would do the raiding on behalf of their partners in the slave trading companies and keep the slaves in thorn bush human kraals known locally as zeriba, where slaves were held before being driven to the markets of Omdurman and Cairo.

18. Today, the same thing happens. The traditional elites are still raiding and plundering our villages with their unpaid army, creating insecurity in the country. The result of this insecurity is great displacement, which has forced our people to seek refuge in zeriba like conditions in Refugee camps and Internally Displaced (IDP) Camps. These IDP Camps, also known as UN Protection of Civilian sites (PoCs) are not made of thorn bush, but the barbed wire fence serves the same purpose. The modern-day slave is no longer sold into slavery by force; they voluntarily migrate to find greener pastures in wage slavery in the Western World, since their own government has failed them. The traditional elite are depopulating our country so that they can remain with the land and eventually sell it; we have heard allegations that the Sudd has been sold, the Jong’lei Canal has been sold, Buma National Park has been sold and who knows what else President Salva Kiir and his henchmen have sold in their futile attempts to cling to power. That is the status quo!

19. Through abusing the government’s monopoly on violence, the regime has instituted a culture of fear in which the regime can embezzle public funds without fear of repercussions. The most prominent case of fraud has been the dura saga, which was one of the issues mentioned by the SPLM Leaders in their December 6 2013 press conference. A World Bank audit endorsed by the Government of South Sudan found that “290 companies were paid without ever having signed contracts, and another 151 were vastly overpaid”- as reported by the Voice of America (VoA) on May 16 2013. The situation in our country is one in which unscrupulous business people rip off the public, while public servants including the army go unpaid for more than six months. This includes our foreign service who are not paid for up to one year and constantly face the humiliation of being evicted from their homes, with many embassies also facing eviction for rent arrears. That is the status quo!

20. It is an open secret in our country that oil revenues are not accounted for. This was finally confirmed in 2018 when the Deputy Director of Accounts at Nile Pet leaked the information to the media. The Central Bank (BoSS) is very disorganized by the regime’s own admission: “we have no money”, which was confirmed by non-other than the President himself during his speech at the swearing in ceremony of the new Minister of Finance in March 2018. There is no real banking infrastructure in South Sudan, making honest business nearly impossible if you are a local investor and completely out of the question if you are a foreign investor. Visitors to South Sudan are often shocked when they find out they cannot use their visa card in South Sudan’s cash economy. The shocking baseline from which we must start development in South Sudan cannot be imagined by those who are accustomed to international best practice.

21. The status quo is unbearable. The ordinary citizen can hardly find a job. The traditional elite have looted the national coffers and banked the money in foreign countries. This is beyond corruption, it is treason. If these so-called elites engaged in corrupt practices and invested their ill gained wealth in the country, then it might have been progressive. The money might trickle down and the poor man/woman would benefit from job creation. Unfortunately, the only way one can be industrious in South Sudan is by being employed in government. People join the government, not with the intention to serve, but to be privileged to have access to looting. It is a system of patronage used by the President to reward those who are the most loyal to the status quo. In this system, education is used as an instrument of privilege by the traditional elite to lock out the majority of our people from governance in their own affairs. This is the status quo!

22. This lack of accountability is now being used by the regime as a means of undermining the peace process. The regime claims they have no money for the implementation of the Agreement. The President went as far as absconding his responsibility as head of state when he shifted the responsibility of funding the Agreement to the President of Eritrea and the Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, during their recent visit to Juba.

23. While the government claims they don’t have money for the implementation of the Agreement, by their own admission oil production has resumed (“the economy is booming” according to the Minister of Petroleum). Additionally, they are busy issuing wasteful contracts. The latest scandal is one surrounding a Sudanese trading company- the Al Cardinal Trading Company- in which the head of the National Pretransition Transition Committee (NPTC), Hon. Tut Kew, is alleged to have shares. One of these contracts was for 1,000 units of vehicles worth 94,505,000 USD, and another for supply of food items worth 47,675,000 USD. The President recently ordered his Minister in the Office of the President Hon. Mayiik Ayii, to arrange for Al Cardinal to be paid in crude oil for services rendered to the government. The President ordered the company to be paid 3,733,208 barrels, which comes to 223.9 million USD. Only the President knows what services have been rendered to the government. It is also an open secret that the recent excursion of the President to mobilize what he perceives as his base allegedly cost 2 million USD. The government has money; unfortunately the implementation of the negotiated settlement is just not in their best interest.

24. The fourth Chapter of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) deals with our collapsed economy and what can be done to revitalize it and make it suitable for local and foreign investment. We don’t even have an informal economy as things currently stand, as an informal economy is part of an established and functional economy. What we have in South Sudan can be more accurately described as a black-market economy. The Bank of South Sudan even makes official public announcements about the rate of the USD in the black market. This would have been funny were it not so tragic a situation.

Compatriots, this is the status quo in our country!

25. The status quo is untenable and any leaders and their lackeys advocating for it are actually advocating for the death of our people. It is better to die trying to change the status quo, than to die from the effects of the status quo, which are manmade. The status quo has become even more unbearable under supposed self-rule than under colonial administration. After the destruction of our ancient civilizations, the majority of our civil population found refuge in the mountains, forests and swamps of South Sudan and were able to live off the land in the deep rural areas, out of the reach of government administration. Some communities have lived in isolation for hundreds if not thousands of years. Our civil population have sacrificed their livelihoods to contribute to the war effort which led us to the independence of our country. This sacrifice has been rewarded with the worst treachery in the history of liberation struggles in Africa. The Republic of South Sudan not only needs radical reforms in the public sector and the economy; we need to have a cultural revolution, so that we can repair the negative effects of colonialism and slavery; So that we can move together as a people out of the centuries of isolation from the rest of the world, into modernity and prosperity. So that we can take up our rightful place in the world.

26. We should never allow the traditional elites to sell the status quo as “tradition” and confuse that with “culture”. Suffering is nobody’s culture- it is inhuman. The waves of invasions of the Nile Valley, from the time of Alexander the Great, in 332 BCE, to the Romans in 330 BCE, down to the Byzantine period (6th Crntuty), succeeded by the Ottoman Empire (commonly referred to by our people as the Turkiya), have had a negative effect on the culture of our people. There has been an erosion of values which are shared by our Peoples and these values are being replaced with traditions developed as a way to survive the destruction of our civilization.

27. The people of South Sudan and indeed the entire Sudanese population need a cultural revolution. It does not matter if you are a descendant of the former slave traders, or if you are a descendant of the former slaves, our future is in a new society. There is no future for our people in the old way of doing things. The epochs of survival are over and it is time to usher in a new age of peace and prosperity for our people.

28. The answer of the Nationalist Movement which came before us was the vision of new Sudan. This was not a vision of a new place on the map; no! The new Sudan was a vision of a new Sudanese Peoples, transformed by struggle from centuries of oppression. A new way of thinking. We continue to call for this fundamental change, since the Nationalist Movement which came before us has been hijacked by the traditional elites who are using it as a brand and have failed to deliver the promise of the liberation struggle.

29. The SPLM/SPLA (IO) is waging this struggle for fundamental change in our country to end the status quo inherited from colonialism and slavery. The People’s Movement’s call for radical reforms is not an issue of Dr. Riek Machar Teny’s ambition for power- that is a simple issue that can be resolved at the ballot box. Who our people choose to lead them should not depend on the feelings of President Museveni, or President Salva Kiir, or an entitled SPLM Aristocracy. The issue is not “Dr. Riek Machar”, nor is it “1991”; the issue is that the promise of the liberation struggle has not been fulfilled. The SPLM/SPLA (IO) is committed to waging this struggle for fundamental change to its logical conclusion.

A luta continua!

Cpt. Mabior Garang de Mabior
Mobile Office
12/03/2019 – 15:02 Hrs.

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