By John Adoor Deng, Australia
Many people who have the focus in South Sudanese politics, these days have been bombarded with many coined Acronyms around SPLM. Truthfully, it has been a sense of confusion in digging to understand why do people defect from SPLM but later align themselves again with the SPLM in terms of retaining the Acronym; examples in his context are SPLM-DC, SPLM_OP, & SPLM-FD respectively. For clarity and for layman consumption, SPLM stand for Sudan people liberation movement, SPLM-DC stands for Sudan People Liberation Movement for Democratic Change, whereas SPLM- OP stands for Sudan People Liberation Movement in Opposition, and lastly SPLM-FD stands for Sudan People Liberation Movement Former Detainees.
This article shall explore historical origin of political parties, and unpack the significant reasons surrounding the importance of SPLM in the South Sudanese history of struggle and in the context of political genesis of freedom, and as well as the current political dispensation of South Sudan as a new republic. The article shall expose implications depicting why SPLM should not be a political party, but a national common identity that should be left with either national army or other national commonly shared ideology.
On the onset, it is essential to first look at the origin of political parties in the world, their common ideologies so as to understand whether what we popularly call the South Sudan really fit in the context of the world politics. The origin of political parties goes back to the 1600s. The ancient Greeks, who were pioneers in developing democracy, had no organized political parties in the modern sense. The senate of the ancient Romans had two groups that represented people with different interests — the Patricians and the Plebeians. The Patricians represented noble families. The Plebeians represented the wealthy merchants and the middle class. Although these two groups often mingled, at times they voted as factions or parties, on particular issues that were important to the groups they represented. In Africa, the governing system used were chiefdoms, eldership and kingship along separate tribal groupings
For many centuries after the fall of Rome (AD 476), the people of Europe had little voice in politics. Thus, there were no true political parties — only factions that supported one noble family or another. Political parties developed as representative assemblies gained power. In England, this change began after what was called the Popish Plot of 1678. These narrowly based parties were later transformed to a greater or lesser extent, for in the 19th century in Europe and America there emerged parties depending on mass support. However, the 20th century saw the spread of political parties throughout the entire world. The political parties are guided by their ideologies; common in the western world politics are conservatism and liberalism. For example, in the United States of America, the Democratic Party represents liberal ideals, while the Republican Party commonly represents conservative ideals.
Apparently in Africa, arm struggle was used as a major tool in the quest of independent in many countries in the continent. Arm struggle was predominantly the strategy used to unseat the colonial regimes. Contextually, after Sudanese (both Arabs & indigenous African) fought and achieve independent of Sudan in 1956. The South Sudanese was forced conditionally to wage second war for the independent of South Sudan. The independent which was later achieved in 2011. Historically, the SPLM was born in the second phase of South Sudanese quest for independent; it was thus a tool used to achieve South Sudan independence. Hence, SPLM was not meant to be a political party in scientific terms but an ideology meant to rally all South Sudanese around a common agenda which was than the self-determination of South Sudan with hope to culminate into total independent of South Sudan. The key word was liberation and movement. Obviously, it becomes inactive after independent. The question is liberation from what after independent?
This brings me to parade significant reasons dictating why SPLM should not be a political party. The following in my view have sharpened my intellectual impetus on opposing the existence of SPLM as apolitical party in South Sudan.
Firstly, SPLM has an outdated or already achieved mission that was a total liberation of the people and land of South Sudan. The independent was brought by a liberation movement carried by all South Sudanese people. This memorable and sacrificial work of all people from all work of life, from all creeds, faith, and gender cannot be narrowed to a single membership based entity.
Secondly, SPLM has become a source of conflicts, political bullying, and divisions with some cadres saying they are the ‘real liberators’ and questioning a patriotism of others who in really sense contributed to the struggle just like them. It is clear from daily utterances from SPLM speakers that boosting on who did what during the struggle is the only slogan being repeated each day.
Thirdly, SPLM is using the gone war rhetoric instead of policies that enhance social and economic development of a newly born country. It is not democratic in practical terms although democratic terms are used in pretense.
Fourthly, current SPLM is old school based, most of the powerful cadres in the current SPLM lack conventional knowledge of current political civilization. The world has moved from institutional power to people’s power. Hence, SPLM still holds to institutional power in the expense of people’s power.
Fifthly, SPLM is still using what Professor Anyang Nyiogo of Kenya call a political militarism. They act militants instead of using power of political persuasion. Honorable members of parliament like to be referred to as ‘Generals’ instead of civilian politician preferably.
Sixth, quitting SPLM is equated to deleting history of struggle. Quitting SPLM is seen as betrayal. It is this very reason that people leave SPLM but added in SPLM in their names (SPLM- DC, SPLM -OP, SPLM -FD) so that they are accepted or given credit of struggle. These are foundation set on falsehood rather than on ideologies
Having stated these, SPLM as a historical name that connotes the struggle of the people of South Sudan should be only instituted on a ground where all South Sudanese people should feel belong to and embrace it proudly. Realistically, SPLM should only be aligned to a commonly shared identity. For example, the national army fit this very well or other institutions such veterans, etc. The rationale and benefit of taking off SPLM name in politics are to provide:
- Equal platform of all parties to compete on policies and strategies for social and economic development of South Sudan.
- Encouragements of parties that are now badly labeled as non-contributors to the war of liberation to active participate without intimidation.
- An opportunity for South Sudanese to sees and practice politics.
As an SPLM file member, I believe that for the change to occur, SPLM must be repositioned, reconfigured, refocused to fit the current human political civilization or migrate it to commonly shared institutions. I also believed that a political party must be ideologically driven and that the membership of the party is crowded by people who identified with the party‘s ideology.
Although ethnicity has shaped most of the African political parties, it is important for South Sudan, a country born lucky in the 21st century to embrace what I now call current human civilization. With this realization, SPLM should not be a political party.
The Author is John Adoor Deng, Director of Civil Society Organization in Australia, Former President of Sudanese community of Queensland INC, & Former President of the Federation of Sudanese Australian communities. He is reachable by emailing: email@example.com