What a political savvy is Lam Akol?
By Mayom Alier Nyok
The African Union summit in Khartoum has ended in a massive foreign policy debacle for the National Congress Party (NCP), the dominant partner in the Government of National Unity (GNU). It is a debacle for which only the NCP should bear the blame, notwithstanding the fact that GNU's chief diplomat is SPLM's Lam Akol.
The failure of President Bashir's bid for AU presidency left the NCP gnashing its teeth and subsequently triggered a spate of angry and impolite comments about Africa and its leaders in the pro-NCP press in Khartoum.
Mustafa Osman Ismail, Former Foreign Minister and Presidential Advisor for Foreign Affairs told Jezirah TV on January 23rd that "most of these African countries are held hostage to foreign powers who provide them with aid. The Africans have no decision of their own". Al Rai Alaam columnist Rashid Abdul Raheem said: The Sudanese were justifiably bitter not because they lost the AU Presidency but because the whole continent is controlled by the US. We should remember that America frustrated several projects in Sudan in the past but it still failed to stop us from extracting oil". Dr. Abdul Latif Al Bouni, a Rai Alaam columnist and Dean of Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Omdurman Islamic University said: "We have lost diplomatically despite the excellent performance of Dr. Lam Akol, the Chief of Sudanese diplomacy…..the most important lesson that we should learn from the summit is that all the African heads of state who blocked Sudan from the AU presidency live in glass houses. Their own citizens are crying for help from the white man. Although there are too many Darfurs in their own backyard, they still blocked Sudan simply because they were ordered to do so. They were helplessly grabbed by their stomachs…therefore; whoever waits for help from Africa will have a long wait. (see a round up of these comments in Sudaneseonline.com, Jan 27th).
In sharp contrast to the rage frenzy in the NCP circles, there is a similarly simmering anger in the SPLM and Northern Sudanese opposition constituencies over the performance of Foreign Minister Dr. Lam Akol. While his performance won plaudits from pundits of the NCP, it won utter distaste among SPLM followers and raised serious questions as to whose agenda was he really serving.
African diplomats at the AU Ministerial Council meetings raised eyebrows as Lam launched a spirited rebuttal of the African Union report on Darfur and the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). He told the delegates that the AU report was contradictory and did not take into account the efforts of the Government of Sudan to implement the CPA. He blamed what he called the "Darfur rebels" for lack of progress in the Abuja talks and boasted that the presence of an SPLM delegation in talks was a sign of seriousness of the SPLM and NCP to resolve the Darfur conflict.
In a nutshell, Lam was more aggressive in his spirited defense than the NCP itself. He was being more royal than the king.
What is outrageously baffling about his performance is that he totally but deliberately ignored the palpable facts on CPA implementation that were clearly articulated by First Vice President and President of the Government of Southern Sudan Salva Kiir Mayardit during his historic press conference on Jan.28th.
More seriously though, Lam knew that President Salva was on record as telling some of AU foreign ministers who visited Juba that CPA implementation was too slow. It was therefore no secret to Lam that the NCP was not cooperating with the SPLM in implementing core aspects of the CPA such as withdrawal or redeployment of the Sudan Government armed forces in the South, the formation of the administration commission for Abyei and the payment of the share of the Government of South Sudan in oil revenues. He knew that figures of oil production and sales are still being kept secret from the SPLM and that there was no coordination between the SPLM and NCP over Darfur. The NCP intentions to fail both the UN and AU in Darfur are no secrets to him too. Moreover, Lam knew that NCP members in established commissions such as oil and border demarcation commissions are not attending meetings as part of their deliberate attempts to frustrate the work of these commissions. This is not to mention the efforts of NCP to stall the development of Southern Sudan through its continued support to Lord Resistance Army (LRA) as well to the Southern rag-tag militia of Gordon Kong.
But the top hush-hush however, that Lam and the NCP did not tell the Sudanese people about the AU summit is that the SPLM was never part of the AU summit preparations. President Salva was being diplomatic when he said during his press conference that "certain preparations should have been made before the summit and, more importantly, before the arrival of heads of state. But the SPLM was not given a chance". This is the plain truth. The entire SPLM-sans Lam was not involved in the preparations for the summit. Apart from a few but carefully chosen messages of invitation that were given to one SPLM official, the rest of preparations for the summit remained a secret NCP affair. Even the notion of Sudan's candidacy for the AU presidency was not discussed in the cabinet! More significantly, when heads of state began to arrive, SPLM ministers were not chosen as delegates of honor to accompany the high-profile guests. The NCP was afraid that SPLM ministers might whisper something in the ears of African leaders that could affect Bashir candidacy. The NCP was dying for a diplomatic victory behind the SPLM's back.
In view of the above facts, it is hard to believe that Lam went to AU ministerial council meeting unaware of the hurdles impeding the implementation of the CPA. If we assume , for the sake of argument, that he was indeed unaware of these realities, was there no better way that Dr. Lam, - who has been described by his admirers as a political savvy-, could express his views without damaging the strategic interests of the SPLM as he did during the summit?.
Did he really consult with President Salva and his SPLM colleagues before going to the summit, or did he go it alone. If he knew all these facts, then what kind of a political savvy is he?
Whatever the truth might be, Dr. Lam has made a monumental mistake by misleading SPLM friends in the African Union and the international community. It is painful that at a time when the NCP is adamantly refusing to de-link itself from its allies, -notably the Southern militia and the LRA rebels- , Lam is robbing the movement of its friends abroad and allies at home such as the Darfur and Eastern front fighters. It should be recognized that any SPLM official who misinforms the world about the CPA implementation cannot do so without partaking in the conspiracy being hatched by the NCP to dismantle the hard-won agreement that cost over two million lives of our folks. This is what Lam is doing. He is clearly serving his own personal agenda. We do not need to remind ourselves that he let us down before and is doing it now again at the most critical juncture of our history. Let there be no mistake. Lam wittingly or unwittingly had himself dancing to the pulsating music of his erstwhile NCP allies.
The CPA is at a stake. That is why President Salva's move to break his long silence was a brilliant bravado. This move could not have come at a better time. Now is the time to call a spade a spade.
The Sudanese people, particularly SPLM constituencies expect President Salva to introduce urgent but clinical measures to back up the alarm siren that he had sounded. He certainly knows what to do next. However, the wider public opinion expects his measures to include the following:-
a- A limited re-shuffle that should include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is necessary. If the current performance of Dr. Lam remains unchecked, irreparable damage to SPLM's strategic interests will be done. Even before the public furore over Lam's AU behavior could subside, praises on his performance at the United Nations Security Council meeting on the Great Lakes region continue to flow from the NCP press. Quoting diplomatic sources that spoke to her from New York, Al Rai Alaam reporter Maryam Abashar described the performance of Dr. Lam as "outstanding". According to her, Lam made a strong case on the efforts of GNU to implement the CPA and resolve the Darfur conflict. He is also getting the same message across to Permanent Security Council members with whom he is now meeting. He has already met the ambassadors of Britain and Russia (see Al Rai Alaam Jan.30th). He continues to pursue his own agenda even when President Salva has clearly told the world that the CPA is stalled and that there is no SPLM-NCP coordination on Darfur , let a lone a common proposal to resolve it. What then, does Lam mean by "efforts to solve the Darfur conflict? Does he mean NCP efforts? Or did he mean to tell the world that Salva was wrong?
b- President Salva should consider recalling the SPLM delegation from Abuja. Since the government is not coordinating with the SPLM on the exact offer that is on the table for Darfur, the presence of the delegation there is meaningless.
c- There is an urgent need for the SPLM to strengthen its presence in Washington, London, Oslo and other capitals of the Friends of IGAD countries. Obviously, a strong SPLM representation in Africa is extremely important to keep these countries informed about the progress or failure of the CPA. The fact that the SPLM has resigned itself to the idea of implementing the CPA has left the NCP playing freely in New York, Washington and the rest of the world. For instance, the Washington embassy issues regular press releases, reflecting only the NCP views on different issues, from Darfur conflict to CPA implementation. Since Lam is unable to bring a balanced and fair representation in key embassies, the party should have a counter plan as it is increasingly becoming clear that the NCP is hell-bent towards stalling and destroying the CPA.
d- The joint coordination and follow-up committee with the NCP should be beefed up with SPLM officials who negotiated the CPA. The Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs needs to adopt a tougher and uncompromising stance on CPA issues as is now the case with the ministers of state for interior and energy. For instance, the Minister of State for Energy, despite her inexperience, is uncompromising and articulate on CPA violations. President Salva should also issue a strict code of conduct to SPLM members in the commissions. For example, any important meeting with the NCP side must be followed by a press statement to the public with copies served to SPLM representatives abroad. Socializing with NCP members must be strictly prohibited. This sound may sound un-Sudanese but it is essential. It means that suspicious emissaries visiting SPLM officials, including women must be ditched. Fishy dinner invitations by NCP must also be ditched. Business should mean business.
e- Finally, President Salva need to be reminded of the glorious days of the SPLA Radio, which painted the picture of the SPLM/A as the awaited messiah of the Sudanese people. We cannot excuse ourselves, whatsoever, as to why there is no satellite TV channel to counterbalance the current NCP domination of the mass media. Given the current challenges facing the CPA, it should be recognized that the second most important defense machinery after the SPLA army is to have a Satellite TV channel to inform the Sudanese people and the world at large.
Mayom Alier is a Sudanese journalist
He can be reached on