President Salva Kiir's Abuse of power and Rule by whim.
By: Joseph Aban Adyieng
JUNE 30; In the recently held SPLM Convention in Juba, General Salva Kiir was unanimously elected the Chairman of the SPLM. It is general knowledge that that convention was rocked by many internal squabbles of different sorts: factional, personal ambitions, conspiracies, power struggle, etc. For any leader of such desperate views and positions to succeed, he must try his utmost to be seen as fair and a father to all, so to speak. He must listen to all the different shades of opinions in the party and avoid being dragged to represent or stand for one of them.
This message was sent to Salva in many ways by many so influential people. Unfortunately, Salva has chosen to cocoon himself in a small unrepresentative and exclusive clique rather than be the leader of all. This behavior is reflected in many of the actions he has taken before and after the Convention. All this meant that the Convention has not changed anything in his attitude in choosing to work with a small group in the party to the exclusion of the vast majority.
What took place in Malakal yesterday is the most glaring example not only of that bias but more damagingly the emptiness of the slogans we shout very much about, such as democracy, sharing power and standing for the marginalized.
As a background, the Upper Nile State Legislative Assembly cast a vote of no-confidence in its Speaker, Dr Charles Yor Odhok (from the Shilluk tribe), last January. The procedures followed in that exercise were in conformity with the State Constitution and the Rules of Conduct of the Business of the Assembly. Both the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) and the Council of States in Khartoum sent fact-finding teams to Malakal to find out whether the procedures followed in the removal of the Speaker were proper.
Each of the two teams sent by the two organs of Government rendered separate reports to their principals which concluded that indeed the procedures were correct and the necessary conditions for such a move were satisfied. The Assembly members elected one of them, Mr Banruach Oluch Akoltong (from the Burun tribes), as their new Speaker.
For any fair exercise, the Assembly should have continued to carry on with its business as usual. But, this was not to be. Some influential quarters within the SPLM, especially the Secretary-General, were not happy with this democratic exercise and since they have got the ear of the President of GOSS, the Assembly was closed and members were threatened with dismissals if they didn’t change their minds and accept Dr Charles once more as their Speaker!!
The members were resolute in their decision and were not cowed down by the threat. Other methods of intimidation did not work it seems. Finally for the group to have its way, it was the credibility of the President of GOSS and Chairman of the SPLM that was thrown into question. He willingly obliged.
The President of GOSS flew into Malakal on Saturday the 28th of June. He held meetings in the State Secretariat of the SPLM with the State Secretariat and the other SPLM officials that went there from Khartoum and Juba. The issue was what to do with the Upper Nile State Assembly. Interestingly, SPLM members of the State Assembly were excluded from the discussion.
In the morning of Sunday the 29th, a day of rest in Southern Sudan, the Upper Nile State Assembly was convened and the decisions of the President of GOSS were read to the astounded and flabbergasted members of the State Assembly. The President of GOSS has cancelled their decision to elect Banruach as the Speaker and has appointed a new Speaker in the person of Mr Santino Ajang Aban.
Also, he has dismissed the former Deputy Speaker, Bol Andrew Wieu (from Dinka tribe) from non-SPLM Southern Sudan political parties, and appointed a new Deputy Speaker in the person of Ms Martha Nyamal (from the Nuer tribe) from the SPLM.
This decision raises a number of constitutional, legal and procedural issues the President of GOSS cannot afford to ignore.
First and foremost, the measures lack any legal and constitutional backing. The Constitutions of Southern Sudan and the Upper Nile State provide very clearly that it is the State Assembly that elects its Speaker, not the President of GOSS to impose one. This is a violation of these constitutions and a glaring abuse of power. As a matter of fact, the GOSS has no direct connection with the State Assemblies.
What kind of example in the practice of democracy does Salva Kiir want to show the Southerners if he himself does not respect the constitutions written and passed in Juba? Why didn’t he call for a meeting of the State Assembly members and discuss with them his proposal rather than impose it on them? Will they respect such a “Speaker”?
Secondly, it is the first time in the history of parliamentary practice that a Speaker is “elected” in absentia. Mr Santino Ajang is not in Malakal and is said to be undergoing medical treatment elsewhere. He is constantly sick let alone the fact that he has humble qualifications; all of which render him unfit for such a sensitive position. His only qualification is that he is the son of the Secretary-General’s maternal uncle. This makes nonsense of the SPLM’s claims for justice and fairness which are in practice replaced by favoritism and nepotism.
Thirdly, the decision is an abuse of the concept of power-sharing both within the SPLM and outside it. Power-sharing is one of the most important issues we fought the North hard to concede in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). If we accuse the North of hegemony, why would we accept it from the SPLM in the South?
Outside the SPLM, it was agreed in Upper Nile State that the position of the Deputy Speaker, the fourth highest ranking in the State, was to go to the Southern political parties other than the SPLM. This was in the spirit that the SPLM should share power in the South with its brothers in the same way it is sharing it with the National Congress Party (NCP) in the Northern States and in the Government of National Unity (GONU). The President of GOSS’ decision to take away that position and give it to the SPLM shattered that masterpiece in goodwill and cementing Southern unity initiated by Upper Nile State. How does the SPLM expect the Southerners to follow it if it is monopolizing power?
Inside the SPLM in Upper Nile State, the Assembly members have decided that the only way to stop the bickering within the party there and in order to bring about its unity within the Assembly and beyond was to elect the Speaker from a smaller tribe. The three bigger tribes, Shilluk, Dinka and Nuer, have been central in the acute differences within the party in Upper Nile State.
The Speakership of Dr Charles Yor proved to be disastrous in a number of ways. Although he was holding the seat in the name of the Shilluk tribe, he was not their choice nor was he the choice of his party, the SPLM. He was a rebel candidate sponsored by the Secretary-General (by then the Supervisor of the Southern Sector) and won on forging alliances with non-SPLM members. His conduct of the Assembly business, to put it mildly, left a lot to be desired. This is how he stepped on the toes of many in the Assembly accelerating his downfall as stated earlier. Santino Ajang was the only Shilluk in the Assembly (both SPLM and non-SPLM members) to stand with Dr Charles Yor in the vote of no-confidence.
Herein lies the biggest error of judgment in the decision of the Chairman of the SPLM and President of GOSS to impose him as the Speaker. By so doing, he has just sided with the Secretary-General in his scheming. It is obvious that the Chairman of the SPLM did not draw the right lessons from the Upper Nile State SPLM Conference. He has chosen to forgo the whole party in the State in lieu of satisfying the ego of a man who lacks any popular base.
There were some influential voices which were from the beginning unhappy with the election of Mr Banruach and made their opinions known in some quarters. They could not fathom how somebody from a minority tribe, however qualified he may be, could hold such a high office as the Speaker of the Assembly. They argued that the Assembly Speaker must be a Shilluk “not to disturb the tribal balance in the State Government”!! Is the cluster of tribes known as the Burun not part of Upper Nile? If they were, should they not be part of the ‘balance’? Or are they condemned to perpetual marginalization? And if we condone marginalization amid our ranks, why are we vociferous about being against the marginalization on the national level?
The lessons to be drawn from this sad episode are at least three: the SPLM is not yet ready to share power among its own constituent communities and with other Southern Sudan political parties; Salva Kiir has succumbed to the influence and will of a small and exclusive group within the party; and more seriously he has chosen to continue ruling by whims ignoring the constitutions of Southern Sudan and of the States. It is too easy to abuse power, but it is much easier to lose that power especially when it is the people who will finally have the say. This is a commonsense many a leader choose to ignore at the height of their glory.
Joseph Aban Adyieng