Dr Peter Adwok Nyaba: South Sudan: The state we aspire to (2013)

The SPLM leadership is paralysed by internal schisms that compound the absence of a shared vision.  The leaders operate individually and without coordination, leading to contradictory public stances. [177]

Reading Dr Nyaba’s latest work – after his The Poltiics of Liberation in South Sudan: An Insider’s View (1997) – is like being slapped quite softly with a long, angry editorial from a man who (as per his reputation) has always been an internal critic.  It is refreshing, surprising – even the Sudd Institute’s briefing papers don’t have this element of anger and disappointment – and timely, despite Dr Nyaba pointing out at the book launch that the text has dated – it was supposed to be released in 2011, but the print run was accidentally sent to Khartoum and impounded.

I am going to do a quick sketch of Dr Nyaba’s main points regarding the SPLM/A in the interim CPA period, which is the meat of the short book, and his criticisms of the future of Southern government and leadership.

Firstly, Dr Nyaba acknowledges his reputation as an internal critic of the SPLM/A.

In the second edition of The politics of Liberation in South Sudan: An Insider’s View, I asked the question “what is the SPLM and where is it?”  This question did not go down well with many people in the SPLM, particularly Dr Garang’s court jesters.  I was accused of all kinds of things: being in opposition; a political sell-out, etc. [viii]

He summarises his argument:

I have criticised the SPLM leadership for its dismal performance in GOSS over the last six years and I really mean it.  There is no justification whatsoever for this performance except that the SPLM suffered from a congenital ailment which afflicted its leaders. [xii]

Satisfyingly for me as a historian, Dr Nyaba consistently frames the problems of the SPLM/A with reference to the administrative legacy of the Southern Region of the 1970s and the historic structures of the Sudanese state at large.  But he saves his criticisms specifically for the construction of the SPLM/A.

The “M” (for Movement) in the SPLM/A was always nominal.  It did not have a life of its own. … The militarists rigidly identified and dedicated the liberation process to armed struggle and made their political fate totally dependent on it, thereby producing the militarist elite whose existence and survival became linked with the continuation of war.  … the “A” was the dominant and the strategic factor in decision making.  This inadvertently reduced, with serious consequences, the capacity of the SPLM/A to absorb, organise and assimilate the then available intellectual and material resources, especially after 1989. … The SPLM/A used to behave like Siamese twins joined at the head such that any surgical operation to separate them could have resulted in their death.  This paralysed both the “M” and the “A”, preventing them from developing into authentic entities in their respective professional spheres. [111]

Dr Nyaba concludes with severe criticism of the SPLM/A’s failure to transform, and spends extensive time broadly detailing the move of corruption across the party and government:

The first signs of this political and ideological retrogression could be felt [104] with the introduction of “Your Excellency” instead of “comrade”, into the vocabulary of the SPLA combatant. [103-104]

He does not spare the first or second presidents, or their putative successors:

In 1970 … a BBC commentator remarked that “Anwar Sadat’s only achievement in life was that he survived as Nassir’s vice-president.”  This was a literal truth, for President Gamal Abdel Nassir was such an imposing personality that only someone with the character of a Sadat could endure the suffocating environment.  The same may be said of Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit.  I can also assert that none of those currently lined up for succession, namely Dr. Riek Machar and Hon. James Wani Igga, has the necessary political clout and tact for that leadership job.  Southern Sudan is in dire trouble given the dearth of tested leadership material. [163]

Dr Nyaba concludes with a recommendation primarily of the total transformation of the SPLM, which ‘will definitely require profound attitudinal change towards organised political work which, above all, would mean accepting criticism and self-criticism and rejecting the attitude of equating verbal and media criticism with disloyalty’ [112].  I hope that the criticisms with Dr Nyaba’s book – which are not necessarily unfamiliar, but are clearly phrased and delivered with the frustration of a long-time reformist – are part of this process.


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Filed under Current affairs, Politics, South Sudan, Writing

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