How Political Wrangling in the Ruling SPLM Party Wrecked South Sudan Apart in 2013

Posted: March 19, 2018 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Arop Madut-Arop, Columnists, Commentary, Junub Sudan, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

Was The Political Wrangling In The Ruling SPLM Party The Root Cause Of The Current Crisis In South Sudan?

By Hon Arop Madut Arop, Oxford, UK

fighting in juba

fighting in juba, 2013, 2016

March 19, 2018 (SSB) — In this article, I will attempt to answer one basic question as to whether it was political wrangling in the Ruling SPLM party was to blame for the December 15th 20013 crisis or something else. This is important, because some people, both South Sudanese stakeholders and most members of the international community who are making efforts to resolve the on-going crisis appear to have lost sight of the fundamental causes of the said crisis. This oversight was clearly demonstrated when many stakeholders called upon the IGAD led HLRF to resolve the root causes of the crisis first before effort were made to revitalize the 2015 controversial peace deal.

Their request to resolve the root causes before the actual crisis could be addressed presupposes that other social and political ills: like bad governance, tribalism or corruptions were responsible for the crisis. Although these social and political ills are undeniably part of the problem, they are not the root causes of the problem per se. According to medical science, one has to diagnose the causes of the disease suffered by a patient before one can be able to prescribe right medicine to cure it. It is in the same vein that in order to solve the current conflict in the young nation, it will be instructive to discuss the main contributing factors to the current crisis in the hope that those engaged in an effort to bring peace to the world youngest nation would benefit from it. Bear with me.

As we start to discuss the contributing factors to the current crisis, it will be important to recall that, after the independence of South Sudan, all the existing political parties that were registered in accordance to the ancient regime’s constitution, including the SPLM, automatically became illegal entities. The political parties, the old and the new, were then expected to have their parties registered in accordance with the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan 2011 before the function as political entities. Basically, the SPLM, as the lead party should have also been registered afresh. This would have been followed by the calling for third-party national convention in order to approve the party’s basic documents namely, the manifesto and the constitution. Other procedural regulations could have also been revised and approved by the third party national convention.

Fundamentally, the first contributing factor to the December crisis was that, before the interim Politburo (PB) and the interim party liberation council (LC), as the highest organs of the party, were called upon to meet, two lead members of the party, Vice President, Dr Riek Machar and Secretary General, Pagan Amum, declared their intention to contest in the party upcoming national convention, each claiming to be the next party flag bearer in the 2015 general elections. The announcement by the two senior members of the party thus set a central stage for what would regrettably, set the world youngest fledgling nation, barely three years old, ablaze in the worst crisis in months ahead.

The second factor which would accelerate more bickering in the party was the activities of the Vice President of the Republic and Vice Chairman of the SPLM party, Dr Riek Machar. Immediately after independence, Dr Riek Machar had made his ambition crystal clear that he was preparing himself for the new country top post in the forthcoming SPLM Party National Convention yet to be convened in order to elect the new party leadership.

Dr Riek Machar first activity which surprised the South Sudan public was when he held a meeting with the members of Bor community in Juba, January 2013. In that meeting, Dr Riek Machar reportedly asked the Bor community to forgive him for the atrocities and agonies their members had suffered from his forces during the 1991 Nasir rebellion.

It is to be recalled that, during the Nasir rebellion large number from Bor community lost their lives and much property destroyed or confiscated including all the cattle by Dr Riek Machar White Army; a tribal militia consisting entirely with the Low Nuer tribesmen. In the same meeting, Dr Riek Machar was reported to have shed tears in the process as a sign of repentance to what his forces did to the said community in 1991.

Although this unexpected behaviour by the vice chair of SPLM and the vice president of the republic did not raise immediate reaction from the public, nonetheless, it kept the people asking themselves as to what had made their vice-president Dr Riek Machar apologise to the Bor community, on an incident which took place over twenty years earlier and why at that particular point in time.

Dr Riek Machar third activity which drew much attention from the public that he meant business was, when he started organising the members of South Sudan youths in Juba under the theme, national reconciliation and national healing. During this near political campaign, he held several meetings with the youths in Juba. The organisation of the youth, added to the apology he gave to the Bor community earlier, made the public aware that a serious crisis was brewing in the SPLM party.

Having assured himself that his message for national reconciliation was applauded and welcomed by the youth that attended his meetings, which he chaired himself, Dr Riek Machar finally called for the convening of a national youth conference. He immediately invited the youth representatives from the country ten states, to report to Juba immediately in order to come and attend the national peace and reconciliation conference.

It was in that light that President Salva Kiir disclosed to the public that his vice president and vice chair of the party did not inform him as the party chairman and the country president about the youth conference. The president stressed further that, such important national issues should have been discussed by the two highest party organs, the Politburo and the liberation council. Whether it was lack of keeping the party organs informed or some other underlying issues in the executive, President Salva Kiir stripped Dr Riek Machar of powers which were previously delegated to him during the interim period and soon after the independence of South Sudan in July 2011. As if that was not enough, the President also abolished the youth peace and national reconciliation conference which had reached advanced stage.

The abolition of the youth conference he helped organised and his being stripped of the powers delegated to him and, apparently, aware that his plan had become an open secret, Dr Riek Machar went public about his intention to challenge the incumbent President and SPLM chairman Salva Kiir. He made it abundantly clearer that, he wanted to be the next flag bearer of the party in the much awaited SPLM national convention.

In a series of releases to the media outlets, Dr Riek Machar accused his erstwhile President, Salva Kiir for having failed the country during the previous eight years in power, adding that, he wanted to be the party flag bearer in the 2015 general elections in order to correct the mess that would be left behind apparently by the would-be outgoing president and chairman. He then went on an open campaign and spelt out his vision and programme of action, in case he became the President of the new republic of South Sudan.

Attempts made by senior members of the party; shuttling between him and the chairman of the party could not bear fruits as it only accelerated further, his campaign. Several meetings with his colleagues in the politburo to hang up and allow President Salva Kiir to be the sole candidate in the next party national convention, did not even stop Dr Riek Machar from his campaign of Kiir must go which echoed his past campaign of Garang must go which led to the eventual splits in the Party in 1991.

The other event which may have sped up Dr Riek Machar campaign was the dismissal of two elected governors, Taban Deng Gai, of unity state, Dr Riek Machar political constituency, and Chol Tong Mayay of Lakes State. The dismissal of the two governors was out rightly condemned by Dr Riek Machar, arguing that the dismissal of the two elected governors was unconstitutional.

The third factor was that while the public was wondering and speculating about Dr Riek Machar next move, another issue which fuelled the disenchantment and bickering in the SPLM politburo occurred. This was the suspension of two cabinet ministers, Hon Deng Alor Kuol and Hon Kosti Manibe Ngai, of cabinet affairs and finance respectively. The suspension of the two cabinet ministers, who were also lead members in the SPLM party, was also out rightly condemned by the party secretary general, Pagan Amum Okiech. In a press statement, Pagan Amum directly criticised President Salva Kiir, for suspending two senior members of the party from the cabinet. Pagan Amum pointed out further that, the reason for the suspension of the two ministers by President Salva Kiir was unfounded.

In response, President Salva Kiir suspended Pagan Amum from his position as the party secretary-general. The President also ordered that, he should not be allowed to leave his house and the country or talk to the media. The President further told Pagan Amum that he was only an official of the party and had no legal right to encroach on the power of what is purely the prerogative of the Executive, in the person of Salva Kiir. Some weeks later, Pagan Amum went to Court questioning the legality of the presidential order not to leave the country and to stay put in his house. Pagan Amum moves to take the president to the court of law, complicated matters further.

Carried out at the time that the atmosphere was already polluted by the stripping of the vice chair of the party and his subsequent dismissal, adding to the suspension of the secretary general and the dismissal of the entire cabinet, the news was received with outcry by the senior members of the party and particularly by those who were affected directly by the reshuffle.

It can be concluded that the dismissal of senior members of the ruling party that, apparently, made many of them took the move as if the President was getting rid of what they called awlaad Garang, (late Garang supporters) in the government: Pagan Amum, Deng Alor Kuol, Gieer Chuang Aluong, and Oyai Deng Ajak among others. and bringing into the cabinet awlaad Kiir (Kiir Supporters), Aleu Ayieny Aleu, Telar Ring Deng and Dominic, just to name a few. Coincidentally, most senior members, dismissed in the July reshuffle were ardent supporters of John Garang except Majak D’Goot who was reported to have been very close to Salva Kiir throughout the war.

The fifth factor which triggered the December crisis was about a clause in the party revised constitution, which stipulates that, the election of officers into the party organs; the politburo and the liberation council, should be done, by a show of hands instead of secret voting. This clause could have been resolved amicably and the crisis averted. But as stated above most members had fallen out of favour with the Chairman of the SPLM, for dismissing them in the government, which was a bitter pill for them to swallow.

The sixth issue which led to Campaign of ‘Salva Kiir must go’, and which impounded the December crisis, was another clause in the interim constitution of 2005; which speaks of —no elected member of the party should hold office for more than two terms. Even this clause was intentionally or unintentionally left out in the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan of 2011. The answer to this question is explicitly, a constitutional issue and could have been resolved by a constitutional court. Looking at it, at another angle, the question arises as to whether the two terms of Salva Kiir in office as an elected president had expired by 2013.

What the party aspirants might have not known, or if they knew, decided to ignore it altogether, was that, there had been only one general election, held in the year 2010. In Accordance to the CPA, the interim period was spent preparing the people of South Sudan for the referendum; which subsequently led to the successful declaration of the independence of their country as a sovereign state on July 9th 2011. According to proponents, Salva Kiir first term of office would have commenced with effect from 2011 to 2015. Salva Kiir second term in office, if elected, would have commenced from 2015 to 2020. All in all, the December crisis could have been averted if the disenchantment in the SPLM did not happen as discussed in the exposition.

The final factor, blamed for the breakup of the party which plunged the country into unprecedented crisis, described above, were other important issues that confronted the SPLM leadership: whether the transformation of the SPLM and the democratisation of the Country was to be blame or whether President Salva Kiir term in office had expired; hence the need for scrambling for who would be the party flag bearer in the 2015. The resolution of these factors, personal ambition aside, will still confront the SPLM in any future attempt to forget the past by putting aside these differences and work for the future reunification of the party.

In conclusion, it will be important to draw the attention of the IGAD led HLRF and the international community that, unless the SPLM as the historic ruling party that brought peace and independence is reunified, efforts to resolve the current crisis will be like chasing the wind.

Hon Arop Madut Arop, currently an MP for Abyei at SSLA and an international media consultant, holds a Diploma in Socialist journalism – International institute of journalism (East Berlin); Advanced Diploma in Liberal Journalism International Institute of Media Studies (West Berlin) and Masters of Arts Degree in International Journalism (City University of London). He is the author of two books: Sudan Painful Road to Peace, a full story of the founding and development of SPLM/SPLA (2006) and The Genesis of political consciousness in South Sudan (2012). He is also the author of a number of unpublished books. He can be reached at

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, commentary or news analysis, please email it to PaanLuel Wël website (SSB) do reserve the right to edit or reject material before publication. Please include your full name, a short biography, email address, city and the country you are writing from.

  1. […] How Political Wrangling in the Ruling SPLM Party Wrecked South Sudan Apart in 2013 […]


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