WHAT DOES SOUTH SUDAN’S FAILURE SAY ABOUT AFRICA;S POLITICAL ARRANGEMENTS, GENERALLY? By CAMERON DUODU
As soon as the leader of the Sudan People’s Revolutionary Army, (SPLA) John Garang, was killed on 30 July 2005, in a mysterious helicopter crash, while he was returning to his base in Juba, from a trip to Uganda, I smelt a rat.
You see, John Garang’s death was too “neat”! He had led the SPLA in a protracted civil war — waged by the non-Arab south of Sudan against the Arab north — that was inherited by Garang and led by him for three decades or so. Finally, the Arab north had agreed that South Sudan should become an independent state.
And just as the war is coming to an end, Garang gets snuffed out. The death is all so neat that someone or some group must have contrived it.
Usually, the first question that must be asked about situations like that is: “Qui bono”? [Who benefits?]
Khartoum had no love for Garang, we know, despite his having acted as Vice-President there during the short interim period, following the successful negotiations, that preceded South Sudan’s full independence. But questions about the oil deposits in South Sudan needed to be fully settled. And John Garang was a hard and stubborn man. Would a settlement more acceptable to Khartoum be easier to achieve if he was out of the way? But Khartoum had wanted him out of the way for a long time and not succeeded. Why would it succeed in July 2005?
However, — Khartoum was not the only player that might want to have Garang killed. Within the SPLA itself too, there were people who stood to benefit from the removal of the influential figure of Garang. The SPLA leadership was made up of a coalition drawn largely from two main ethnic groups – the Dinka and the Nuer. Garang was a very well-educated person with an agenda that largely overrode ethnic predilections. Was he too “cosmopolitan” for the less inhibited members of his coterie? Especislly, the Dinka elements supposedly loyal to him but some of whom might have been harbouring supremacist tendencies that Garang had been able, hitherto, to suppress?
In all liberation movements, such cliques with hidden agendas exist. The worst divisions are based on ideology, but equally devastating can be ethnic chauvinism. Both calamities often lead to “revolts” and “purges” characterised by serious blood-letting. Think back to the treachery that enabled Amilcar Kabral of the PAIGC to be killed in Conakry, Guinea, in January 1973. Next, to Zimbabwe, where the commander of the ZANU army – Zanla– Josiah Tongogara, a charismatic giant of a man, was killed in a road accident just before ZANU wrested power from the hands of Ian Smith and his racist Cowboy Cabinet. Was Tongogara accidentalised or did he die through an unfortunate but completely fortuitous mishap? Think also of Ben Bella and the Algerian revolution; of the murder of Tom Mboya in Kenya.
In the SPLA, the clear beneficiary from Garang’s death was his deputy, Salva Kiir. This chap is also a Dinka, however. But that a Dinka succeeded a Dinka was itself problematic, in that it signalled that the SPLA was Dinka-dominated. It all meant that an uneasy birth could be envisaged for the new, polyglot nation of South Sudan. Indeed, Garang had faced a revolt by non-Dinka elements within the SPLA before – in 1991.
Who had led the anti-Garang anti-Dinka group that had sought to depose him in 1991? A chap called Riek Machar. Surprise, surprise – he is the same fellow who is now challenging Kiir! The terrible massacres that have been going on since Machar started his revolt against Kiir suggest that the revolt might have been planned a long time ago and that the fuse was lit immediately Kiir foolishly attempted to prevent Machar from standing against Kiir, in the presidential election to held in a few months time. How can you convince a populace you are a democrat, if you close the door to elections in which those who disapprove of your government can legitimately throw you out? And how can you be so insensitive to the implied affirmation, by your current actions, that you had always intended to entrench a Dinka hegemony in power in South Sudan?
But it would be naïve to put too much weight on the undemocratic way in which Kiir acted. The scale of the subsequent bloodshed rather suggests, as mentioned earlier, that the Southern Sudan communities may have become irreparably splintered. In other words, dormant ethnic hatred must have resurfaced, especially when talk began to be focused, within the ruling circles — as they were bound to do — on who should get what from the country’s potentially lucrative oil industry. On whose land is the oil, it is being asked. And more crucially, who should decide what is to be done with the revenue from the oil?
These are issues that rear their heads whenever poor people suddenly become aware that their lands are teeming with rich resources. The lifestyle of a country’s leadership can, of course, turn consideration of these issues from legitimate, rational discussion into increasingly emotional and personalized in-fighting.
Now, even where there is a relatively homogeneous community, the sharing of oil resources can create an incendiary atmosphere. How much more in a country like South Sudan, where for decades, the Khartoum Government had deliberately fostered a divide-and-rule policy, to make it easier to subvert and defeat the SPLA? A tragedy was waiting to happen. And alas, now – it has.
Ominously, because it is Riek Machar, a rebel with well-known anti-Dinka credentials who is leading the revolt, it might be misconstrued as a mere power struggle between individuals. However the support he is receiving, which snowballs with every report that gives details of how indiscriminately killings of non-Dinkas are taking place, makes it clear that Machar might have lit an enormous bombshell under the future viability of South Sudan. Given the continuing unease over the situation in neighbouring Darfur, the area could quite easily degenerate into the sort of near-terminal, unceasing instability that has been plaguing Congo (DCR) for many decades now.
The situation is not helped by the eccentric behaviour of the South Sudanese president, Silva Kiir, a person whom it is difficult to take seriously, partly because he is always to be found wearing a cowboy hat! Now, the Sudanese are generally good at cattle-rearing, but is Kiir really one of the more renowned cow-herders amongst them?
Anyway, he will need more than fancy rodeo gear to survive this particular revolt. For where there is oil, there is money, and where there is money, politics can be manipulated to reap pre-determined economic dividends. Corrupt the actors and make sure they get into power. Then you can invariably hit pay dirt.
I must say that the Afro-pessimists are taking the opportunity of the South Sudan explosion – alongside the one in the Central African Republic, of course – to beat up on Africa once again. There is always this tendency for Africa to fragment, they are saying. Tribe hates tribe and hatred leads to killing. What is to be done with a land that is so inherently unstable?
But I am afraid the instability has now become almost a built-in factor in Africa’s political and economic development, is due to the fact Africa’s past is fast catching up with its present. The very superstructure on which almost every modern African nation is built is extremely fragile, and what is worse, it was deliberately designed to be fragile.
I do think Africans should be wise enough to appreciate the weak superstructures bequeathed to them by the foreigners who built their new “nations” for them. But the question is: how can Africa’s current rulers solve the instability issue when the rulers themselves constitute the base or foundation of the flawed superstructure?
What I mean is this: (and I am going to use the Ghana example to make my point more comprehensible) is government by numbers necessarily the best way we could have constituted our nation? If an ethnic group does not have a lot of people, but has more wealth to contribute to the nation’s coffers, must its outnumbered people thereby become hewers of wood and drawers of water, for ever?
Ask the Scottish National Party why, after hundreds of years of union with England, it now wants to establish Scotland as a separate nation. The English may abuse the Scots as backward recidivists or what have you. But they have themselves to blame. Cheating the Scots out of the revenue from North Sea oil by deploying numbers in the from of population figures – and its attendant temptation by the “majority” to resort to gerrymandering — could never succeed in creating a viable polity.
The founding fathers who framed the US Constitution anticipated this, and that’s why in the US, California has the same number of Senators as some of the smallest states in the Union.(You see, some constitution-framers are more intelligent and endowed with foresight than others) But even so, the cheaters never stop trying.
Re-delimitation of congressional districts along racial lines in recent times has been one way of cheating by numbers in the US, of course, but whenever this occurs, it is challenged in the courts. Court verdicts have been by no means universally sagacious on such issues. But the avenue is there to try and overturn cheating by numbers, whereas in Ghana and many other new countries, a silly one-cap-fits-all mechanism for sharing power has been imposed by foreigners like the British, and because of convenience, has become an article of faith amongst sections of the population. Yet the British, having failed to learn the lessons the Americans tried to teach them in 1776, are now themselves beginning to suffer the fallout from their superficial approach to contentious issues such as power-sharing, as I have pointed out by citing the Scottish independence issue.
In Nigeria, the constitution-framers at least foresaw and resisted the dangers inherent in the British one-track solution, and pre-empted the internecine conflagration that the distribution of income from oil would inevitably create. They evolved a new formula for the sharing of revenue, which recognised the notion of the origination of the oil resource. Thus, an oil-producing state like Delta is allocated more revenue from the Federal Government than a non-oil-producing state like Kaduna – even though Kaduna’s population is far greater than those of Delta and Bayelsa (another oil-producing state) combined.
Even so, the Biafran secession and the civil war it engendered (1967-70) demonstrated that tension between the Federal Government and the states over revenue allocation is an ongoing canker which (I dare-say) would hardly exist in any intensity, though, if the Federal Government were perceived to approach the task of national development without resorting to the massive corruption and straight-forward stealing of funds that is the order of the day in today’s Nigeria.
If the NDC Government in Ghana continues on its own similar path of donating state resources to entities it has created solely for that purpose, like the Ghana Youth Employment and Entrepreneurial Agency (GYEEDA) or by refusing to defend the state adequately when thieves take it to court to milk it for work they have not done,one does not need to be a soothsayer to forecast that Ghana too will see its share of tension in the coming decades, especially now that it too is being enriched by the exploitation of petroleum resources.
The question of decision-making in ex-British territories is indeed a ticking booby-trap. In almost every British ex-colony in Africa, nobody can be elected to Parliament unless he or she can speak and write English. I think the French did the same thing! Yet in both Britain and France, Parliamentarians are served by a secretarial service which could have been copied in the African National Assemblies and expanded to incorporate translation services.
For reasons best known to themselves, the British and the French didn’t impose restrictions on the expenditure to be enjoyed by the bureaucrats in the civil service and parastatals, to whom they were gladly handing over the resources of their former colonies. But they found it necessary to restrict expenditure on the National Assemblies, which are the authentic voice of the people! That singular act points to where the interests of the ex-colonialists lay – they wanted to butter up the educated class in the colonies that constituted the bureaucracy that would really rule the country after the colonialists had departed.
Why? Because they were clever enough to realise that the bureaucracy could be easily corrupted by the companies the colonialists would be leaving behind, whereas the companies would have little or no means of communicating directly with, and corrupting, the mostly illiterate farmers, fishermen, and other members of the ex-colonial holloi-polloi, who produce the real wealth if their countries.
The requirement to be ‘literate’ before one can become an MP is in fact an unacknowledged curtailment of the franchise of the people of the ex-colonies, for full enfranchisement does not only mean being allowed to vote, but also, being eligible to stand for election and be voted for.
As the case is, the literacy requirement automatically disqualifies from Parliament, roughly half to three-quarters of the cocoa farmers, the meat-producers, the yam-growers and the fishermen, many of whom are illiterate through no fault of their own — who produce the real wealth of the nation and pay taxes to bloat the Government’s coffers, which are then looted by the bureaucrats and their Ministerial accomplices. I ask you, is it better to spend money on two deputy Ministers for each Ministry in Ghana, than to provide facilities for simultaneous translation to MPs who may not be able to speak and write English?
If one cannot read or write English, does it mean one cannot think? Is one rendered incapable of deciding whether one would put a borehole in villages that have no running water, rather than buy jets for [a new version of] Ghana Airways or for the Ghana Armed Forces? Does it mean one cannot appreciate a hygienic toilet when one sees such a thing? Can one not tell a good doctor from a bad one, by his or her manner, just because one cannot spell ”dialysis” or “kidney”?
I submit that if you take decisions on the sharing of resources provided by the real producers of wealth out of the hands of that section of the population, and put those decisions in the hands of young ladies who are anxious to make a million dollars from politics before the next election, you cannot expect to create a stable socio-political situation.
If a young lady politician is able to spend the equivalent of a a season’s harvest money from cocoa, on a single Pompidou hairdo, does anyone know what the palm wine tappers of Kwakukurom or the pito-brewers of Tinkan, would like to do to her coiffure, were they ever to be able to lay their hands on it?
Do all those arrogant, cellphone-wielding young men and ladies of the Mahama government, who are all over the place cruising in air-conditioned SUVs that are filled with free petrol, and who retire to homes served by government-paid household help — do they know that the populace sees through them and regards then as parasites? What is done to parasites everywhere – starting from France in 1789?
Governance by only the “educated” elite has been a disaster almost eveywhere in post-colonial Africa. This is because they are self-absorbed and completely dysfunctional when it comes to serving society as a whole.Yet people refuse to analyse the true causes but stupidly resort to the facile non sequitur that it is the colour of the blackman’s skin or something similar that makes him such a poor practitioner of the art of good governance. Behaviourism is dead, right?
Currently, in Nigeria, one blackman, the Governor of the Central Bank, Mr Lamido Sanusi, has stirred a hornet’s nest by querying whether fifty billion dollars worth of oil revenue has been properly accounted for by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation – also run by blackmen! Where does colour come into that?
”?What is actually happening is only that the Nigerian political system makes it too easy to steal without being sanctioned with any deterring punishment. As Ken-Saro-Wiwa asked in The Prisoner of Jebs, “Can Government catch Government?”
Translated into the situation in Ghana, the question is: Can Mahama catch GYEEDA? Can Mahama — nay, is Mahama willing to — stop Fortiz from stealing the publicly-owned Merchant Bank from under the very noses of its true owners, the millions of contributors who are forced by law to make payments to the to the Social Security Fund whose administrators used the contributions to establish the Merchant Bank?
Another blackman, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo (himself no saint, mind you!) has been so angered by what he sees going on in Nigeria that he has broken protocol and leaked to the media, a closely-argued 18-page letter he has written to President Goodluck Jonathan, warning him that he is driving the country on to the rocks. Obasanjo details a number of ill-thought-out decisions, both at the national and ruling party levels, that Jonathan and his fellow conspirators have taken that smell to the high heavens.
Jonathan and his aides have, in their turn, taken Obasanjo to the cleaners. What has colour got to do with this purely internal disputation which could equally well have happened in China, North Korea or Greece? If tomorrow – God forbid – there was to be more unrest in Nigeria than exists even now, who could say that it is Nigeria as a country that is to blame, and not Jonathan and his clique, who have closed their ears to all good advice, and who continue to treat the nation’s wealth as if it was manna from heaven that had fallen into their “blessed” laps? They are the only people God has chosen to “bless” in Nigeria, abi? By the way, when General Murtala Mohammed was ruling Nigeria in 1975-76, was the country as dispirited as ti is today?
Why don’t those who run down Nigeria ever take that short but enormously significant period of excellent governance into account?
As elsewhere, there are people in Nigeria whose maxim is always: “Please, don’t rock the boat!” One of these is the waverer whom Murtala overthrew, General Yakubu Gowon, another former head-of state, who has waded into the current dispute to warn both Obasanjo and Jonathan to guard their tongues, lest they demoralise the nation and cause further instability. What Gowon should rather be worrying about is not public criticism of one man by another, but how the institutional arrangements in Nigeria tend to give too much power to the President, so that if he chooses to, he can exercise power in a manner derogatory to the true interests of the nation – without anyone being able to do anything about it.A propensity towards authoritarianism which even former authoritarians — like Obasanjo — find it hard to stomach!
Our own problems in Ghana are relatively simpler, but they also stem from the same institutional weaknesses. We have given our President power to appoint a total of nearly ninety repeat ninety Ministers and deputy Ministers! What do they do, for God’s sake ? They are mainly there because the President can appoint them and Parliament is full of his cronies, none of whom dares to say him nay. (Don’t many MPs want to act sycophantic towards the President so that they too can be given bigger appointments)?
Ghana’s gutters continue to stink badly. Our hospitals are turning into mortuaries. Our schools – oh don’t let me cry! Our rivers, the sources of our very God-given life, are being killed off steadily by the prevalence of galamsey. Can a society be stable if its rulers do not care that such provocatively poisonous conditions continue to exist?
It is not our skin colour that makes our rulers behave in such a manner. They were handed situations on a golden platter, and they have taken full advantage of their booty. Our problem is how to shake them up without destroying the body politic itself. If they would but accept responsibility for their actions — and more importantly, their inaction — half our problem would be laid to rest. But they are like the proverbial gourd: if you don’t kick it, it won’t open up!
But we mustn’t give up.We can begin by picking the President and his Ministers up on their shortcomings. Write letters to them. If they don’t reply to you, never mind. Keep writing to remind them io what you said earlier. Call the radio stations. The President and his Ministers may not show you that they care, but I tell you their confidence will be eroded and they will go to bed each night a little less peacefully than they did the previous night.
For, as the cliché tells us, “The voice of the people is the voice if God!” And God, they say, works in mysterious ways….