Lessons from the 2017 Kenyan election: Is democratic South Sudan 30-40 years away?

Posted: August 10, 2017 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers, Philip Thon Aleu

By Philip Thon Aleu, Juba, South Sudan

Ugandan election

The Ugandan election: do or die scenario

August 9, 2017 (SSB) — At the onset, I would like to make it clear that no person in her/her right mind would wish for disenfranchised and miserable communities, but realities must be said publicly to prepare for the worst possible outcome. Having said that, it’s necessary to try to figure out when will a democratic South Sudan, the dream nation that generations of men and women fought for in about six decades (1955 – 2011), be attained.

The SPLM-led war of liberation (1983-2005) and Interim Period in Southern Sudan (2005-2011) succeeded partly because the most marginalized people were promised a democratic, secular and prosperous Sudan/South Sudan.

At Independence in July 2011, the new country had very remote from or no single indicator of a democratic state. The SPLM leaders never provided basic services like roads to connect villages to towns. Babies in the countryside continue to die of preventable diseases like measles, tetanus, TB, malaria and watery diarrhea because the free medicines – supplied by World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF – were never delivered to the people to save lives.

In towns like Juba and the state capitals, there was no clean drinking water, no electricity, and no decent paved roads. Oil money was mainly spent in Juba – a small fraction of the petrodollars was delivered (often airlifted using aircraft) to state capitals and literally eaten by the local politicians there.

The few drugs in health facilities and educational materials were provided by the International Organizations and ‘donors.’ In 2010, the SPLM leaders made clear their intention for a chaotic Independent South Sudan during the first ever inclusive general elections in Southern Sudan.

Voters were coerced to vote SPLM candidates and rival politicians were given all bad names even though it was clear SPLM was destined for a resounding victory. Unfortunately, those indicators did not bother us about the direction of our future country because there was relative peace though there were skirmishes like fatal road ambushes and cattle raids and children abduction.

2011, 2012 and much of 2013 passed peacefully because the communities, which never benefitted from security and other services expected of a government, were held together by a tiny and fragile SPLM political unity. Politicians were united in abusing the masses and held them hostage by refusing to disagree on mismanagement of public resources, nepotism, and abuses of public trust.

That unity collapsed in December 2013. At that point, the ground was fertile to butchering ourselves. Any reason would have led to the scenes witnessed in Juba at the onset of the conflict – targeting of innocent people based their ethnicities – and elsewhere in the country.

Let me repeat; all communities in the country – including those villages from where top politicians were born, never benefited in any way. Only a few top politicians and individuals connected to them have been siphoning oil money.

Having given that background, I think it will take a while before those beautiful dreams are realized in South Sudan: Justice, Liberty, and Prosperity! Liberty would include democracy where citizens are free to choose their leaders and/or recall them using peaceful means.

Thirty to forty years is an appropriate time frame to realize a democratic South Sudan if a new approach is adopted today. That radical approach has to include:

  1. End the war: The primary reason for inventing government by humans is to provide security to the most vulnerable and protect individuals’ incomes (being money, cattle or crops) from criminals. With war raging on in the country, we shouldn’t even think about democratic South Sudan.
  2. Address corruption: This is the leading cause of war in our country. Resources meant for development, provision of health, education services and building of road networks, funding law enforcement officers, are misappropriated. Without education, without protection from criminals, without the infrastructures needed to deliver services – and indeed democracy to the people, a democratic South Sudan will remain elusive.
  3. Provide Education: Going further downwards, you need informed citizenry to have a credible democratic nation. With our maiden education, the few elites who are able to read and write are in fact the front runners in championing division and fanning tribalism for their benefits. Our neighboring countries, well over 50 years into their Independence, are still struggling to attain transparent, free and fair elections. We need more than 30 years of good leadership to build schools and education a generation of nationalists.
  4. Build a national identity: We have to accept our identity as one people, one nation. Not the political slogan we see on state-owned TV but a truly inbuilt and accepted national identity – where my tribe, my mother-tongue, should not be a thermometer of accepting my views.
  5. Disciplined Armed Forces: It is common in Juba and elsewhere in South Sudan for soldiers, police and other armed government men and women to intimidate civilians. You need to train a professional army, police and other security agents. This will take more than 40 years because, by the time the Chief of the Armed Force was rising in the ranks, he/she must have been going through all military levels, not this system of jumping to the bush and returning as a military general. Or this promotion by Presidential Decree. A disciplined military officer must grow within the system.

The above points, in my view, will take not less than 30 years to address. I bet that the political theories we learn in formal education and foreign countries, and indeed in foreign languages, will take a while to shape our future. We have a unique situation and it requires a unique, a completely different approach.

A short route to stability would require the ruling class, in all camps of the political divides, to think thousand times about the legacy they want to leave behind when the creator recalls them. Change, in any situation, is unavoidable and it will come anytime. Currently, our fate seems to be at the mercy of God.

A change of heart from politicians is number one. A luck for the country is the second. By luck, I mean a quick shift of management of national resources. Realistically, luck and time cannot be factored into political life. But a combination of factors mentioned above needs more time to realize a democratic South Sudan.

Unbaked change – which is most likely in the foreseeable future, will only hand over the country to another batch of opportunists, not leaders with the intention to improve the poor living conditions of South Sudanese people.


The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB) website. If you want to submit an opinion article or news analysis, please email it to paanluel2011@gmail.com. SSB do reserve the right to edit material before publication. Please include your full name, email address and the country you are writing from.

Philip Thon Aleu has Bachelor Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Ndejje University, Uganda.  As a journalist, Philip started his career as a reporter for Sudan Tribune website in Jonglei State (2007) and moved to work for UN’s Radio Miraya (2010), Voice of America (VOA) and BBC Focus on Africa.  He is currently working with a diplomatic mission in Juba as a political analyst but the views expressed in this article are not from that embassy. Contact: pthonaleu@gmail.com

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