By PaanLuel Wël, Juba, South Sudan
May 4, 2015 (2015) —- On Sunday, April 29, 2015, there was an informal get-together by members of the Agaar Dinka community at the residence of one of their sons, Bol Makueng, South Sudan’s deputy minister for education, in Juba, South Sudan.
The Hon. Bol Makueng told the gathering, “We must be frank to ourselves and the world around us,” because it would not be unthinkable if President Salva Kiir Mayaardit “stays longer in power than expected, citing the period spent by revolutionary leaders in other African countries.”
Speaking of those who don’t like the president, Bol Makueng added, “they must accept that President Salva Kiir Mayardit is going nowhere anytime soon, and they must prepare for a long wait because I don’t see our people changing their minds to choose [an] alternate leader soon.”
So what do the South Sudanese make of Bol Makueng’s startling statement? Well, one conclusion would be to think that the honorable minister has inadvertently let the cat out of the bag. Another conclusion would be to take him at his word: he is thinking out loud as a free citizen of South Sudan addressing his guests in the privacy of his own residence.
Let’s examine the former rather than the latter for a minute. Surely, there are several factors currently at play that might compel the president to consider running for many presidential terms in direct contravention of the transitional constitution of South Sudan. These factors will, more or less, have everything to do with the legacy and interest of the SPLM party.
For example, any circumstance or prevailing condition that would threaten the power, honor, interest and legacy of the SPLM and of President Salva Kiir might induce him to seek unlimited presidential terms in power, with or without the blessing of the interim constitution.
The first and foremost reason could be if there is no viable successor to the president within his own camp. Before Pagan Amum fell out of favor with Kiir in July 2013, there was the assumption that Wani Igga or Pagan, rather than Riek Machar, might be Salva Kiir’s successor. With the departure of Pagan, there is only Wani Igga left.
If the president and his inner circle feel that Wani Igga cannot be entrusted with the power, interest, honor and legacy of the SPLM, then the party might settle for Salva Kiir as president for life. The president could then be “forced” to govern until a suitable successor could be groomed and anointed to protect the power, interest, honor and legacy of the SPLM and of President Kiir.
The second reason could be the “Riek Factor”. In the event that no strong and unifying political figure emerges within the government camp, it might be inconceivable for the supporters of the government in general, and the Dinka community in particular, to retire President Kiir only for Dr. Riek Machar to inherit the kingdom.
Of the majority who back the government in the current civil war, most support the president because of their strong opposition to the prospect of Dr. Riek Machar becoming the president of South Sudan. Therefore, fear of a Riek presidency, if nothing else, would necessitate Kiir to press for unlimited terms of power in breach of the constitution.
After all, it is easy to contemplate a political scenario where parliament amends the constitution to commensurate with a new political reality. The robber barons of South Sudan—the 75 Mafioso—would briskly gang up to propose and pass the amendment. These thieves need political protection and would naturally press for the president to stay put to safeguard and perpetuate their ill-gotten gains.
The third factor, as cited by the Hon. Bol Makueng, is the propensity by African revolutionary leaders to cling to power at all costs. With the exceptions of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Nelson Mandela of South Africa, almost all of the revolutionary leaders of post-colonial Africa have, in one way or the other, striven to stay in power for life. Among the current leaders are President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Omar Bashir of the Sudan, and until recently, Muammar Gadhafi of Libya and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, to mention but a few.
What is so interesting—or controversial—about the legacy of these revolutionary African leaders is their blatant claim that their power grab is necessitated by the lack of a viable successor. In other words, they are forced against their will and conscience to stay at the helm when they would rather be resting at home with their families or drinking beer with their old war buddies.
“When a country sees no alternative leader,” the Hon. Bol Makueng reminded the Agaar Dinka audience at his Juba home, “the incumbent leader continues to lead because people are happy with the style of leadership of that particular leader. We have seen this happening in Sudan, in Uganda and as far [away] as Zimbabwe. This is not because these leaders do not want to leave power but [because] the people themselves in these countries are the ones who do not see the alternative.”
Fourthly, there is the “Burundian Factor”. The peace deal in Burundi between the rebels and the government ended the civil war in 2006 and saw the enthronement of Pierre Nkurunziza as the country’s new leader. Five years later, he won the presidential elections. Now, the ruling CNDD-FDD party has nominated Nkurunziza as its candidate in the June 26, 2015 presidential election, which would hand him his third term in office since the end of the civil war.
Unsurprisingly, the opposition is accusing him of clinging onto power in direct violation of the constitution that bars him from running for a third term. But according to Nkurunziza and his supporters, the first term does not count because he was not elected by the people of Burundi in a general election in 2005. Rather, he was designated to head the coalition government born out of the peace deal.
Thus, they claim only the second term counts because it was his first duly elected presidential term; following that reasoning, he is now running for his second official term in office. Street demonstrations have broken out in Bujumbura, the capital city, and at least five people have died so far.
You may wonder how this is related to South Sudan and President Kiir. Well, according to the leaked report of the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS) that questioned the legality of President Kiir’s constitutional mandate as the elected president of South Sudan rather of Southern Sudan, there is a compelling reason to believe that President Kiir stands a good chance of arguing that he has never been elected in a general election as president of the Republic of South Sudan and should therefore now be give his constitutional and democratic right to run for his first full term as the democratically elected president of the Republic of South Sudan.
“Some others asked the Commission: Is President Kiir an elected President or an elected Vice President, and of South Sudan or Sudan? After all, Salva Kiir was elected as Vice President, and not President. And that election was organized by the Republic of Sudan, not South Sudan. For that matter, South Sudan has never had an election since it became independent.”
According to Ngundengism, Riek Machar was prophesied to be the first president of an independent South Sudan. Therefore, the insinuation that President Kiir is not an elected president of South Sudan but of Southern Sudan, to the supporters of Riek Machar, still leave them an ample room to fight for and claim the divined title of the first president of the Republic of South Sudan.
Unwittingly, however, they are playing into the hand of Kiir and his inner circle to press for a fresh start of his reign as an elected president of the Republic of South Sudan. The fact that this statement was made by President Kiir’s political opponents would further strengthen and justify his resolve to press for a fresh start of his official presidential terms.
Finally, if President Salva Kiir Mayaardit were to consider and press to run for his first elected term as president of the Republic of South Sudan, he would not be the first leader to exploit such political loopholes. In 1992 when the multi-party system arrived in Kenya, President Daniel Arap Moi, who had then been in power for decades, successfully argued that he should be allowed to run for his first official term as the democratically elected president of Kenya since he had never been democratically elected in his past terms. He successfully ran and reigned for the next ten years until he handed power over in 2002 after his second term was over.
Verily, if the political rivals of President Kiir do believe that he was merely elected as president of a defunct entity called GOSS and therefore has no constitutional right whatsoever to be regarded as the first democratically elected president of the Republic of South Sudan, then doesn’t President Kiir deserve the right to offer himself for the chance to stand for his first elected term as the president of the Republic of South Sudan?
PaanLuel Wël, the Managing Editor of PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers, is a South Sudanese national currently residing in Juba, South Sudan, where he works for one of the International NGOs. He graduated with a double major in Economics and Philosophy from The George Washington University, Washington D.C, USA. He is the author of “Return in Peace (R.I.P) Dr. John Garang” and the editor of the speeches of Dr. John Garang, published as “The Genius of Dr. John Garang, Vol. 1 &2“. He is currently working on two books to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of Dr. John Garang: Vol. 3 of “The Genius of Dr. John Garang” and “Who Killed Dr. John Garang“, an account of events and circumstances leading to the death of the late SPLM/A leader in July 20005. You can reach him through his email: firstname.lastname@example.org