Categories: Contributors

DR. RIANG ZUOR: Our Struggle for Democracy and Unity

People gather during independence celebrations in Juba, South Sudan, on Saturday, July 9, 2011. South Sudan raised the flag of its new nation for the first time on Saturday, as thousands of South Sudanese citizens swarmed the capital of Juba to celebrate the country’s birth. (AP Photo/David Azia)

I. Introduction

Since the Nuer massacre in Juba in December 2013, the beginning of the current civil war, the African leaders and governments have been relentlessly shaping and leading the opinion of the international community on the war in South Sudan. They want the world to understand the war as a power struggle between Salva and Dr. Riek Machar, or an ethnic war between the Dinka (Salva’s tribe) and the Nuer (Dr. Riek’s tribe), or both. It is their way of trying to trivialize a great struggle against tyranny. They have consciously and deliberately refused to accept the truth that this war is a national revolutionary war of resistance forced on the people by a tyrant who has badly divided the people so as to sustain his dictatorial rule. As such, the African leaders and governments do not want to see it as a struggle for democracy and unity. The result of this misguided campaign is that the tyrannical regime has to be protected as legitimate by all means, including military and diplomatic activities that are conducted over the heads of the people—resulting in the isolation of the SPLM/A—IO in the region and beyond with the hope that the isolation would force the people to give up the resistance.

However, recent developments work as indicators that the isolation strategy is not producing the results expected. There have, so far, been at least two visits to South Africa to meet Dr. Riek Machar. The United Nations Envoy, Nicholas Hayson went to Pretoria to discuss ways on how a political process could be initiated to end the fighting. Former President of Botswana, Festus Mogae, who has effectively become a special Envoy of the Juba regime went to Pretoria with a message to ask Dr. Riek Machar and the SPLM/A—IO to declare a unilateral ceasefire, renounce violence and join Salva’s ill-conceived national dialogue. Mogae failed to talk about the collapse of the peace agreement that he was supposed to monitor; he failed to talk about military offensives that the regime has been on against the SPLM/A—IO since July 2017; and he avoided talking about why he thinks that the national dialogue should replace the ARCISS. His hope was that these issues would go away if no one talked about them. Nonetheless, all of these visits are indications that someone somewhere has come to realize that he or she has been wrong in trying to dispense with the indispensable.

Any person who is keenly following the African affairs should not be surprised by these ostrich-and-sand behaviors. The struggle waged by the people of South Sudan is only a representative of the daily struggles of the peoples of Africa who have been exploited and misled by their own kinds since decolonization. Dictatorship is the political system throughout the continent, and division of the people on the account of religion, tribe, region and etc. has been the tactic used by the dictators to cling to power. And everyone else pretends that problems do not exist.
II. The African Condition

In the whole history of human kind, an African stands as the most historically humiliated and dehumanized member of the human race. He has once been on the world market as a commercial commodity to be sold and bought at a price. Once a possession of a slave owner/master, he was made a workhorse without getting compensated for his work, or without getting well-fed, or without being cared for in any other meaningful way. His mother, wife, sister, daughter, aunt and niece were subjected to rape by their heartless owners. Men were beaten ceaselessly, and humiliated in many other different ways. It was one of the most inhumane conditions that a human being of one race could be subjected to by another human being of another race. Even though this disgusting practice has come to an end, a black person has been left, socio-economically, behind nursing a very deep historical and psychological wound. It is not easy today to live with the knowledge of the truth that one’s own race has once been the subject of such a dehumanizing human institution.

After the slave trade, came colonialism to Africa. Colonialism under-developed and impoverished Africa by exploiting her resources and using them in developing the colonial nations. An African, at the time, did not have any power whatsoever to stop the colonialists from exploiting the land and its people. He was only reduced to subjugation. This resulted in Africans being powerless in their own land, oppressed, poor, unhealthy, tortured, uneducated, disrespected and divided. Therefore, colonialism was actually slavery in a new and different package. The colonial ruler was simply saying to the African: ‘If I cannot continue enslaving you in the process of developing my part of the world and—therefore—my race, I must take your resources and use them in developing my part of the world and, therefore, my race.’ While slavery targeted the human person of the African for exploitation outside of Africa, colonialism targeted the Africa’s resources for the same purpose. That was the main difference.

Beginning from the second half of the 20th century, Africans started the process of liberating themselves from the bondages of colonialism. They eventually succeeded in replacing the white faces with black faces, and the ordinary Africans began to feel that a new era of socio-economic development led by Africans themselves had dawned. Alas, an African man and woman could not be more wrong. They failed to understand that the colonial system had lodged, in the psych of the African elite, a culture of domination, oppression, dictatorship—using force and divisive means, and unjust usurpation of resources using corrupt means that are akin to daylight robbery of public resources. As such, the departure of the colonial powers only came to mean physical departure of the colonial officials and their replacement with African rulers. But, the colonial system remained, resulting again in an ordinary African remaining perpetually powerless, oppressed by his or her own kind, poor, tortured, unhealthy, uneducated, disrespected, and divided. He is still being exploited and manipulated today by the former colonial powers through weak people who refer to themselves as leaders, using unproductive international aid, or naked show of military power. Africans are currently a misled and neo-colonized people with a lower standard of living compared to their counterparts in other parts of the world.

On 25 May 1963, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was launched in Addis Ababa to, among many other things, “…co-ordinate and intensify the co-operation of African states in order to achieve a better life for the people of Africa, and defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of African states…” How exactly they could achieve those aims was and is still not clear. Today, Africa is diplomatically the weakest continent of all; she is economically the weakest continent of all; and she is militarily the weakest continent of all. Can a diplomatically and militarily weak continent successfully defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity? Can an economically weak continent successfully defend its independence?

In 2002, African Union (AU) was inaugurated in Durban, South Africa, to replace the OAU. One of its chief aims was to accelerate the process of integration in Africa. But as long as the current exploitative conditions exist, such integration will not happen any time soon. Each dictator will always want to cling to his powers in his own small enclave, never wanting to cede some to a potentially more powerful continental entity. They, to paraphrase Nkrumah, have so much gotten used to their small chiefdoms. In addition to the AU, which is a continental body, other regional organizations exist in their respective regions. All of these organizations have proven themselves to be out of touch with the reality facing the African peoples. They have become the clubs for the heads of state and government where dictators and genocidaires are protected so long as they are still occupying their offices. How they occupy their offices is never an issue. It is not a secret that some of these heads of state and government have never allowed the conduct of elections in their respective states; some have allowed some form of elections in which they were not opposed; some have rigged elections in which they were seriously opposed to remain in power; some have refused to leave offices after losing elections; some have amended constitutions to remove term limits so that they could remain in power in perpetuity; some have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the processes of retaining power; some have committed genocide against people perceived to be sympathizers to political rivals; and others have intentionally underdeveloped states or regions of their respective countries from which their strongest political rivals originate.

As long as one is still in power using any one, or a combination, of some of the above-mentioned means, AU and the various regional clubs of heads of state and government see themselves as having the obligation to protect the members from prosecution for war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, or from removal by the aggrieved peoples of Africa. The June 2014 AU Summit in Equatorial Guinea is an illustration of this kind of protection for criminal heads of state and government. In their views, a head of state must remain legitimate no matter what the people think until such time as when nature decides to act, or when he or she decides that he or she has looted enough resources to live on comfortably for the rest of his remaining useless life, and has killed enough to leave a mark on the history books as one of the strongmen of Africa, or when he has rubbed the West in the wrong way and gets threatened or actually overthrown.

Looking at the above prevailing situation, an African has correctly come to a conclusion that in the minds of the so-called Africa leaders, legitimacy of a head of state and government springs, not from the people, but from the office that he finds himself occupying. In their minds, it is the office that is more important and legitimizing than the people. As such, an occupant of the highest office in a particular African state or a sitting member of those clubs of brutal dictators must be protected from prosecution by the clubs regardless of what crime he commits against Africans in that state, or regardless of what the people of that particular state aspire to. In some cases, legitimacy is also maintained through the recognition of the occupant of that office by the West, and the African heads of state and government endorse. Such a recognition by the West is always entirely in the best interest of the West. All of this against the will and interest of the particular Africans concerned.

A good illustration of the recognition by the West and endorsement by the African heads of state and government is when Salva Kiir made a coup in July 2016 against the then First Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar Teny, and illegally replaced him with Taban Deng. The people of South Sudan quickly registered their rejection of such a violation to the peace agreement that had brought the two men to work together in a government of national unity. The IGAD heads of state and government also rejected the violative act. Then, suddenly, the then U. S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, surfaced in Nairobi and made a declaration that what Salva had done was legal. The IGAD heads of state and government who had previously pointed out the illegality of Salva’s action quickly and shamelessly abandoned their previous position and happily endorsed Kerry’s position. They did not even bother themselves to tell the people of East Africa and the African people in general how they (the leaders) had been wrong, and how Kerry was now right. They simply floated, going along with the current. It did not seem to matter to them where the current was taking them to.

III. South Sudanese Condition

In South Sudan, as in many parts of Africa, struggle for freedom started in the 19th century with the invasion of the Sudan by the Turko-Egyptians beginning from the 1820s. The Turko-Egyptians entered South Sudan as a result of a policy of expansion that was intended for the exploitation of areas and peoples beyond Egypt. The items to be exploited were timber, slaves, gold, ivory and many other resources. There was a collaboration between the Turko-Egyptians and the North Sudanese in the exploitation of the South. However, such a collaboration was terminated when the Mahdi revolted against the Turko-Egyptians beginning from 1882. Never the less, the forces of Mahdi did not see South Sudanese as their equals. Even though the South Sudanese soldiers (Bazingers as they were called) fought side by side with their northern counterparts in the war of liberation, they were still looked down up on as slaves fighting for the Arab and Islamic cause or for the cause of the master race. As a result, the Mahdiyya did not include the South in both the political and socio-economic lives of the country after the defeat of the occupying forces.

In 1898, Mahdiyya was defeated by the Anglo-Egyptians. England and Egypt signed a deal to jointly rule the country as co-domini. The Condominium was led by the Great Britain as the senior partner in the project. The British rulers of the Sudan came up with policies that were designed to retard all forms of development in South Sudan. At the same time, North Sudanese were being prepared administratively, politically, militarily, economically and socially. These policies began with the division of the Sudan into the two countries of North Sudan and South Sudan. However, these separate countries were merged towards the end of the Anglo-Egyptian rule. The merger was simply to hand South Sudan as a colonized territory over to North Sudan as a new colonial master.

The January 1, 1956 Independence for Sudan was meant for North Sudan, and South Sudan was just changing hands from the colonial Britain to colonial North Sudan. As such, relationship between North Sudan and South Sudan remained unbalanced, just as it was when British rulers were in charge of the two colonies. There was political and socio-economic marginalization of South Sudan by North Sudan; there was a problem of national identity; there were constitutional restrictions as to what role South Sudanese should play in the political and socio-economic lives of the country; there was an institutionalized cultural domination of the African South by the Arab North; there was religious domination of the non-Muslim South by the Islamic North; and there was a dehumanizing use of violence as a means of silencing the demand for equality based on equal citizenship.

The collaboration between the North Sudanese and the Turko-Egyptian colonial rulers in exploiting South Sudan, the marginalization of the South by the Mahdiyya, the collaboration of the North Sudanese with the Anglo-Egyptians in retarding both political and socio-economic developments in the South, and the continuing superior attitude of the North towards the South convinced the South Sudanese that their separate existence as a country was the solution to the problematic relationship between the two countries. Wars became inevitable between the North and the South. It was only in 2005 that a breakthrough was reached when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed that gave the South the right to self-determination for six years at the end of which the South would decide between unity and separation in a referendum.

It was such a long history of struggle for freedom, as outlined above, that culminated in the January 2011 referendum that resulted in Independence on July 9, 2011. Unfortunately, the disease of only replacing the former foreign officials with local elites, but without changing the old system, quickly infected both the political and military elites of South Sudan led by Salva Kiir. These people became millionaires within a short time and brutal dictators at the same time. They simply forgot that there were ordinary South Sudanese who were expecting to share in the dividends of peace and Independence through socio-economic development projects throughout the country; they willingly forgot that political liberty was central to the South Sudanese struggle; and they willingly forgot that democracy as a political system and federalism as a system of governance were among the leading ideals of the people of South Sudan in their long struggle.

Salva Kiir’s failure of leadership facilitated the unfortunate situation that the people of South Sudan have ended up finding themselves in during the six years of self-rule and after Independence. As a failed, visionless leader who, at the same time, was not willing to leave power, Salva quickly resorted to dictatorship to protect his power. However, dictatorship without a section of the society being designated as defenders of the system could not really survive in the midst of a freedom-loving people such as South Sudanese. Therefore, Salva turned to sectarian politics and divided the people based on tribes and regions. He is a Dinka by tribe and a Bahr al-Ghazalian by region. He has been using these two identities since his ascend to power in 2005 to maintain a support base. In addition, he has allowed corruption to flourish to buy the support of the elites from other tribes and regions. In the process of consolidating his power, Salva failed to make any delivery in terms of services to the people. He was making one excuse after another to justify why he was not delivering. At some points, he was blaming Khartoum, and at others, he was blaming his failures on his political rivals in South Sudan. Finally, South Sudanese spoke up during the first half of 2013 through the SPLM Party and expressed their dissatisfaction with the SPLM’s performance in the government for the previous 8 years. And that became a turning point in the South Sudanese history.

It was the stance that the people of South Sudan took that startled Salva so much that he placed the country on the path of war. Knowing that he had no way of convincing the people to democratically keep him in power, Salva decided to interrupt a democratic political process by militarily attacking the people on December 15, 2013, sparking the ongoing deadly civil war. In prosecuting his war, Salva has divided the people into his people versus others. The previous bad situation in the country only got worsened by the war. Democracy is now a word without any meaning in Salva’s inner circle as their political survival depends only on a brutal dictatorship; security of both person and property has been badly eroded and people are left in a constant fear; genocide is being committed in an unfettered manner; poverty is a conspicuous phenomenon throughout the country; illiteracy and lack of health care are through the roof; violence against women is skyrocketing; runaway inflation rate does not seem to be capable of being controlled; economy has steadily been on the collapse; human rights violations are daily occurrences; and unemployment rate is getting higher and higher. All of these are coupled with a very massive displacement of people. While some of these displaced South Sudanese are internally displaced and facing an unprecedented condition of famine, others have taken refuge in the neighboring countries, surviving only on handouts provided by international humanitarian organizations. The country is not only failing to progress, but it is actually regressing.

It is against this background that the war in South Sudan should be viewed. The people of South Sudan have stood up to resist the onslaught by Salva and his protectors in the region, continent and beyond, and demand a fundamental change in how politics in the country is played. Unfortunately, they are demanding change in the politics of the country in an undemocratic environment. It must be clearly noted that South Sudan is located in the eastern part of Africa where both regional and continental interests, through IGAD and AU, are to protect a sitting brutal dictator and keep the roads open for their goods to reach the South Sudanese market, rather than to respect the demands and interests of the people of South Sudan. In addition, the Western interests in the region in particular and in the continent in general are always to keep and use the weak and corrupt leaders so as to be able to freely exploit and keep the continent behind.

In this undemocratic African environment percolated by Western interests, South Sudanese, both in the country and in the region, have been denied their political liberty. No free and fair elections are allowed to take place; no one is free to publish his or her opinion for public consumption if that opinion is critical of the government; security agents are deployed in every institution, or even at tea stalls on roadsides, to spy on people; security agents have power to arrest without following due process of law; in fact, security forces have their own jails that are inaccessible by the public; and no group of people is allowed to go to the streets to dramatize its situation without risking being labeled as inciters against the state, or agents of those imaginary enemies with an alleged ‘regime change’ agenda. Either one or the other accusation amounts to treason which, of course, is punishable with either life imprisonment or death sentence. In addition, security agents are deployed in the neighboring countries to hunt, in collaboration with the security personnel of those countries, South Sudanese who are critical of the government; if one tries to engage in expressing one’s opinions against the regime outside the country, but within the region, one gets abducted and handed over to the enemy in Juba. It goes without saying that all democratic and peaceful means for change are closed to the people of South Sudan. As if these are not bad enough, Salva Kiir has initiated and forced a brutal war on the people, beginning from December 15, 2013.

At this point, the only available option for the people of South Sudan is to continue with the armed resistance against dictatorship and sectarian politics. In doing this though, South Sudanese must also accept the fact that this is a long and dangerous track to pursue. But the fact that their need for democracy and unity has already placed them on the receiving end of the regime’s military attacks, and the fact that they have no other option, other than surrendering—which should never be a thing for consideration at all—should drive them forward and defeat dictatorship and sectarianism and replace these two systems with democracy and unity of the people. It is only after this that they will be able to construct a new order of their society, one that is democratic, prosperous and harmonious in a federally arranged state. In this new society, the overarching tasks of the people shall be to build South Sudan so as to have a proper voice in Africa by strengthening its economy and political institutions, raise the status of women, improve education and health care, increase life expectancy and heavily invest in the youths so as to make them effective heirs to the future of the country.

IV. The New African

In their daily activities, as eloquently expressed in the SPLM/A Constitution of 2015, the liberated people of South Sudan and their would-be new state shall dedicate themselves to promoting—inter alia—democracy, unity, freedom, equality and hard work. All of this should be geared towards consciously creating a New African in South Sudan, one who is democratic, enlightened, brave, confident, independent, prosperous, healthy, self-reliant, incorruptible, cultured and people-centered.

The New African must be one who must not fear any African dictator; he must not allow himself to be exploited or manipulated by the industrialized world;

The New African must be one who, when outside of Africa, is not perceived as an economic immigrant or refugee;

The New African must be one who, when outside of Africa, is not perceived as a political refugee fleeing from political savagery in his country;

The New African must be one who, when shown on international media, is not that frail-looking child standing with a protruding belly and a wrinkled skin as a result of a persistent famine, resulting from man-made situations;

The New African must be one who, when outside of Africa, is not perceived as a potential criminal illegally residing in the host country;

The New African must be one who, when outside of Africa, is seen as probably a tourist, or just a citizen of the world touring his world, or a student on a full scholarship from Africa;

And the New African must be one who, when leaving the African Continent, is unlikely to drown in the Mediterranean Sea as a result of capsizing of a smuggler’s unseaworthy vessel in a desperate journey to seek a better life outside of Africa.

In short, an African who is never perceived as a potential beggar or a public burden once he is outside of Africa is the new person that must emerge to restore the Africa’s lost greatness. The New African must be one who is incapable of being easily disrespected.

V. Conclusion

An African was once an enslaved person, and once a colonized person. All of this was done to him by non-Africans. But now, he is a misled or neo-colonized person, being exploited by and through Africans who are masquerading as African leaders. These exploiters and, to borrow from PLO Lumumba, misleaders are now saying to the Africans, ‘If we cannot be your slave masters, and we cannot be your colonizers who can directly take your resources to use in developing a different part of the world, we, as your rulers, must use your resources to develop ourselves and our families at your expense.’ The irony is that the rulers loot the money to develop themselves and their families at the expense of the citizens, but they keep the money in the former colonial nations’ banks, making it possible for the former colonial nations to continue using the African money for continuing development of their economies at the expense of the Africa’s economies.

In addition to the money being kept in foreign banks outside of Africa, African leaders have refused to industrialize Africa’s economies such that the African raw materials are processed internally and exported as processed goods, which are value-added. Instead, Africa’s raw materials are exported to those industrialized nations where they are processed and value-added. Africans buy such processed products at exorbitantly higher prices than they sold them in the first place in their raw forms. The continent is not benefiting from these types of transactions. Africa only loses by selling its raw resource at a very low price and buying back a fraction of the exported raw material at a much higher price. It follows that the current misleaders/agents of neo-colonialism are indirectly developing the world outside of Africa and, therefore, the other races at the expense of their own continent and race. Therefore, Africa’s resources are still being sucked out through the so-called African leaders for the continuing development of the former colonial nations. In this sense, the so-called African leaders have no difference with the enslaver; they have no difference with the colonizer. As slavery came as the first form of exploiting Africans by enslaving them and colonialism as the second form by taking resources, misrule and neo-colonialism have come in as the third form of exploiting Africa. It is high time that Africans rise up against this third form of exploitation by and through the so-called African leaders, and liberate themselves once and for all.

It is in this milieu that the people of South Sudan, in their current struggle, should, therefore, see themselves as contributing their little effort to the larger liberation struggle for freedom of the people of Africa. They must get rid of dictatorship and sectarianism. These two systems have been keeping the country in the most backward stage of socio-economic development. They must, therefore, be eliminated to give way to democracy and unity. It is only after this that socio-economic transformation of the country will take place in a more meaningful way.

The author is a South Sudanese. He can be reached at riangzuor@gmail.com.

NOTE: The Opinions expressed herein are entirely for the author of the article. The Upper Nile Times has no authority on the contents published here.


Dr. Riang Yer Zuor: Is a contributor for The Upper Nile Times. He can be reached at riangzuor@yahoo.com