South Sudan: Whose power is it to change the name of the SPLA to SSPDF?

Posted: October 4, 2018 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in History, Junub Sudan, law, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

By Wol Deng Akech, Lucknow, India

Salva Kiir

President Kiir paying his last respect during the public viewing of the body of the late Gen. James Ajonga Mawut, chief of general staff of the SPLA

Thursday, 04 October 2018 (PW) — On Tuesday, 2nd 2018, H.E President Salva Kiir issued a presidential decree which changed the name of the nation’s national army from Sudan people’s Liberation Army to South Sudan People Defence Forces. It is not known what triggered for this prompt change. The change of the name seems to have come into the power of President as Commander-in-Chief of the SPLA. Many critics have been commenting on the name SPLA and appealed for the change of the name of the army to meet what they think may be the conformity of the army to its national duty. As it appears from the decree itself, the decree came as a result of the SPLA 6th Command Council Conference held on 3rd August 2017.

With such circumstantial developments, one has to look at it and find out as to where does such power fall under or originated from within the Constitutional scheme(i.e powers of the president and Commander-in-Chief under Articles 10, 151-154 and the Schedules provided in the constitution) and the statutory framework provisions under the SPLA Act(Amended), 2009.   In both frameworks, nowhere it is mentioned specifically whether the naming of the armed forces shall be exclusive power of the national executive/the president.

It is therefore pertinent to be said that such powers are incidental in the exercise of the constitutional powers expressly and impliedly provided under the constitution. Thus, the question is whose power is it? The answer to this question is the purpose of this article. Another question which poses itself as a result of the name effected is whether the name changing guarantees a “reform or transformation” of the army or promising?

The fact that H.E President Salva Kiir has issued a presidential decree changing the name of the national army from Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to South Sudan People Defence Forces (SSPDF) does not amount to a “reform or transformation” by itself unless followed by practical logic. For this, many precedents teach us that such changes are not reform or transformation, however, it can be deemed as a means to reform or transformation to professional army if pursue thereafter empathically.

 For instance, the “National Islamic Front” when it came into power in the Sudan June 30th, 1989 got spilt in the early 1990s and changed its name to “National Congress Party” and “Popular Congress Party” under President Bashir and Dr. Hassan Alturabi respectively but that fact has not changed their initial ideology and the persistent shortcomings.

The decree can be correctly said to have been welcomed by all political and social forces in the country including the intellectuals with the exception of substantial context of the name. Of course the passionate defenders and lovers of liberties like the author of this article will have their view on this exercise.

Our so called educated class or intellectuals must refrain from being moved by mere decree if they want to maintain their intellectuality and have a noble place in the society.

With the changing of the national army’s name, the valid constitutional question(s) still remain unanswered in the minds of the few men who shun the “oh yes ideals”: Is the naming or changing of the name of the army, country, Parliament or any other institution thereof within the prerogative powers of the Executive/President under our constitution or any constitutional conventions? Is the changing of the name of the army not a fundamental issue under the constitution that should have been made by the National Legislature?

To put the answers across these questions and as mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, the changing of the name of the national army is an incidental event and thus, must have been effected within the democratic scope of government engulfed by “rule of law” and “constitutionalism”.  The powers of the president under Article 101, and the powers and functions of the Commander-in-Chief in any provision under Article 153 and section 14 of the Act do not expressly in any sense confer such fundamental change in the president of the Republic or the Command Council as provided under Article 154 and sections 15 and 16 of the Act.

Of course it is within the executive powers to initiate and frame the policy and at that note; the Command Council is empowered and competent to do but the concerned ministry should have submit it to our Parliament.

Regarding the substantial meaning of the name, sometimes it is confusing and controversial to interpret “People’s Defence Forces”, for ruling elites and their supporters/associates may constitute people who can be defended and does not necessarily include the defence of all elements of a State as it was/is the case in Germany during Hitler rule under Weimar Constitution and in Uganda under Presidents Idi Amin and Yoweri Mueseveni.

With such controversies, wasn’t it right to serve better and clear purpose to be “National Defence Forces” to include defence of everyone (all the citizens) and the territories of South Sudan?  The reader may repose a question in this regard as to whether the SPLA name has never been a correct in history. This question will be answered below with historical and logical facts. The confusion or controversy in interpreting the expression People’s Defence Forces” is because of two main relevant reasons.

Firstly, under our constitution (Articles 151-154) the expressions “South Sudan Armed Forces” and national Armed Forces of South Sudan have occurred once and seven times respectively under these provisions. This shows the ideological intention of the constitution makers in regards to the future of the army in the process of its reform and transformation. It was also right and advisable to adopt the adumbrated name in the Constitution.

Secondly, our army’s historical name (SPLA) reflects the liberation of the oppressed and marginalised people of the Sudan. To put it negatively, it impliedly exclude the oppressors/the ruling elites and their associates or fighting a particular group, thus it was an army of the oppressed majority. Hence, the name SPLA would/should have been reconsidered once it attained the power whether in the one united Sudan or in our contemporary aspect.

The history of authoritarian constitutional and political systems shows that almost all the countries with armed forces with name “People’s Defence Forces” do not entertain political pluralism and democratic principles in the modern context. For instance, Pol Pot, a French trained Marxist who served as Prime Minister of Cambodia in the 1970s was shunned even by Communist/Socialist forces in the world due to his individualistic interpretation of the People by moving away from the orthodox Marxist ideals.

Such unprecedented moves are clear from the acts of his army “Khmer Rouge” which can be literally translated as “People’s Red Army”. This army murdered almost half of the population of the country in defend of the ruling elites/which had contravened the doctrine of proletarians dictatorship. In his rule, any person found wearing eyeglass [such people were seen as intellectuals who had critical views about him) was perceived as the enemy of the people.

Most of the countries which go for the name of People’s Defence Forces or people’s Liberation Army/PLA like China apart from the Liberation Movements do not allow democratic exercise or there is no space for the dissents. And as a passionate defender and enthusiast of civil liberties the name raises my eyes brow when I think of the conditions of civil liberties in those countries such as China.

It is up to the reader’s approach whether we separated from the Sudan only to imitate Chinese. Justice Dr. D. Y. Chandrachud of the Supreme Court of India and the most liberal judge in the Indian judicial history and in the modern era has rightly observed in the case of Bhima Koregaon(2018) that:“dissent is a safety valve of democracy. If you don’t allow dissent, the pressure valves of democracy will burst”. Of course there is no sober mind from South Sudan who would wish more burst of democracy now or in the future.

Methinks, of course not, i.e that the power so exercised is outside the provisions of Articles 101 and 151-154 or any implied provision thereof under the TCSS, 2011 and the SPLA Act, 2009. That such conference resolution should have been tabled before the national Legislature to deliberate on it. The army is just important as the alteration of the names or boundaries of states or the naming of the national institutions such as Parliament, Commissions and the Constitution itself which cannot be exercised by unelected representatives in the army.

In nutshell, the power is incidental and its nature and importance makes it a legislature function and if acted/exercised contrary it raises the fear of it being not commendable and not enthusiastic for fear that it may be falling foul to civil liberties.

The author, who is an Advocate before Courts of Law, graduated with LLB (Juba) from the University of Juba and is currently LLM Candidate (Lucknow) in India; he can be reached via his email: Wol Deng <>

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 Media (PW) website. If you want to submit an opinion article, commentary or news analysis, please email it to PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website 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.

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