By Paula Cristina Roque
Fourth, the party is still grappling with divisions among its elites, especially over the vision/ideology of the SPLM, which has become cemented into different camps with opposing ideas of how the party should be acting. In the post- Garang and post-independence eras, the need for a new vision was a fundamental requisite, but this was never defined.
Because of these four factors and, importantly, the inability to regulate authority within a structure that lacks organisation, the SPLM has continued to degenerate into an ethnic- and patronage-based movement that has been unable to define an effective and sustainable governance plan. However, several people within the SPLM
already understood that the inherited practices and structural affectations of the liberation struggle were becoming dysfunctional in a post-independence state. Others within the party believed that in a post-independence setting it was sufficient for the SPLM to continue adapting to change and transforming
in a manner that would allow it to strategically survive the challenges of state-building in an underdeveloped and highly heterogeneous nation without having to address deeper and more difficult issues. It adapted only to secure its hegemonic position. This is why addressing the political vehicle that rules South Sudan is vitally important to any future stabilisation strategy.
President’s camp includes key SPLM leaders such as Kuol Manyang, Daniel Awet and Michael Makwei; ‘third-level’ SPLM leadership members (Aleu Anyang Aleu and Telar Deng, among others); and former National Congress Party (NCP) members such as Riek Gai and Tor Deng Mawien. This faction is perceived as having a heavy Bahr el Ghazal and Dinka bias. The men surrounding the President are accused by other SPLM members of promoting this internal discord in an effort to divide and rule and maintain their own political relevance through proximity to the centre of power. They have created a level of distrust among former comrades that has resulted in many high-ranking SPLM and Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) officials being sidelined within their own party.
Machar’s SPLM-in-Opposition faction includes allies that defected with him in 1991 and, more importantly, other dissatisfied groups and individuals within the party and the military. Machar’s quest for reform began as a political one, only
political and military elements that stand outside the SPLM. These arrangements will complicate any future transitional arrangement, as the different groups will feel entitled to play important roles in governance and military arrangements. This will serve to further perpetuate the accommodation strategy that contributed to this political and governance crisis.
The third group (the ‘Reformers’, or the SPLM-in-Detention) is headed by several key SPLM leaders and spearheaded
by dismissed Secretary General Pagan Amum. This group, most of whose members were detained, has an array of PB and National Liberation Council (NLC) heavyweights who all carry important credentials within the SPLM.2 They are not part of the rebellion and can play a vital role given their multi-ethnic and multi- regional backgrounds, united under a common nationalist platform of reform. If it remains a cohesive and ‘uncorruptable’ unit, this group should take the lead in mediating between the other two SPLM factions on the route the party should take in a new peace agreement. It claims that the SPLM has lost its way and
that internal reform is the only option to recalibrate what has become a failed nation- and state-building enterprise.
History of internal conflict – prelude to the current crisis Internal crises are not new to the SPLM. The movement almost lost the war due to the 1991 splintering, it came close
to fragmenting in 2004 as it prepared to rule the South and implement the CPA, in 2008 it faced another internal struggle, and it showed its fragilities as it approached the 2010 polls. All these were signs of a structurally fragile organisation that needed to be reformed from within, in order to curtail the destabilising effect of antagonism between different high-ranking officials translating into dysfunctional politics and manipulation of government offices.
Several people within the SPLM understood that the inherited practices and structural affectations of the liberation struggle were becoming dysfunctional in a post-independence state
Today the party is divided into three main fronts: President Kiir’s faction, Machar’s SPLM-in-Opposition faction, and the reformers’ SPLM-in-Detention. Alone, none of these factions has the necessary traction or capacity to lead a reform process and govern the country, although the ‘reformers’ are by far the most balanced and nationally representative group that remains untainted by the war.
The mutual reliance vital to political survival is a fact that needs to be highlighted in any mediation, as zero-sum calculations will in this case mean the demise of the SPLM, a further implosion of the state, and a more difficult conflict to settle. The
taking a military dimension in December, although several people within the SPLM claim that a rebellion was already being prepared at that time. Fighting alongside Machar are elements of the late Paulino Matiep’s South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF) militia, the Nuer ‘White Army’ community forces, and SPLA generals Peter Gadet (8th Division in Jonglei), James Koang Chuol (4th Division in Unity), Gabriel Tang-Giuye and others.
This group is also perceived as having a strong Greater Upper Nile and Nuer bias. In addition to the perceived ethno- regional bias, President Kiir and Machar’s factions are both forming alliances with
However, with every crisis came an opportunity for reform.
The SPLM faced its first serious defections in 1991, led by Machar and Lam Akol, over grievances that John Garang’s rule had become too authoritarian and personalised, and that the High Command had failed to establish an effective and democratic governance system. The Nasir faction built its political agenda on the call for secession, although it aligned itself with Khartoum for military and political support. After the 1991 split there was a re-evaluation of the liberation struggle and the movement, leading to Garang’s SPLM holding its first national convention in 1994. The party vision was refined, a governance programme defined, and the party structures created. However, many important issues remained unaddressed.
The second crisis occurred in the run-up to the final stage of the CPA. The famous Rumbek crisis occurred in 2004 when Kiir clashed with Garang over claims that the movement was being mismanaged, that Garang ruled the SPLM as his personal fiefdom, and that there were no processes of inclusive decision-making and internal reflection. As a result, Kiir left with his troops to Yei where he was forming alliances with militia groups to oppose Garang militarily. It was Machar and a group of other SPLM officials, mainly Deng Alor and Paul Malong, who went to appease Kiir and bring him back to Rumbek to reconcile with Garang. Kiir apparently shared with Machar a list of 52 grievances, a list very similar to the Nasir declaration of 1991.
The parallels to the current crisis are interesting, with several major differences. Firstly, the potential party mediators that existed in 2004 were sidelined before
the December 2013 crisis. Secondly, just before the 2004 crisis a new level of debate within the party was emerging, even though Garang wanted to control the pace of reform so that it was gradual and
slow. The ‘SPLM strategic framework for war to peace transition’ policy document emerged as a result, and recognised that the democratic transformation of Sudan first had to see the transformation of the SPLM itself. This 2004 document called for the reorganisation of SPLM structures; transforming the NLC into a Central Committee tasked with revising the party documents; the convening of a National Convention to elect rather than nominate the SPLM Chairperson and members of the NLC, who would then elect the PB, Deputy Chairpersons and other office holders; and the formulation of a post- conflict recovery and reconstruction strategy. It was this 2004 document that Rebecca Nyandeng, Garang’s widow, quoted in her intervention at the 6 December 2013 press conference where several SPLM leaders publicly criticised President Kiir’s chairmanship, blaming him for the poor governing record, lack of collective leadership and paralysis of the General Secretariat.
The third crisis came in 2008, as the party held its Second National Convention in preparation for the 2010 national elections during the CPA transition. The convention allowed for some reorganisation of the party’s organs and a revitalisation of the roles of the youth and women’s leagues, although it also exposed some of the its organisational deficiencies. The party was confronted with several difficult realities: that the leadership of the party was not prepared to manage all the congresses’ elections, resulting in senior cadres
losing their seats to new recruits and former NCP members; that delegates were not given the opportunity to debate and devise the SPLM’s new strategy, or socio-economic and political policies for the government; and that the leadership was not prepared to be challenged.3 The Convention was paralysed for a week while the leadership decided who would be second-in-command in the party, an issue that threatened to split the SPLM
into different power centres where some tried to ethnicise and regionalise their positions,4 possibly because the second name would be regarded as President Kiir’s successor. About the author
Paula Cristina Roque is an expert on South Sudan and Angola, and is currently finishing her PhD on the SPLM and UNITA at Oxford University. She was previously a senior researcher with the Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division at the Institute for Security Studies.
About the ISS
The Institute for Security Studies is an African organisation that aims to enhance human security on the continent. It does independent and authoritative research, provides expert policy analysis and advice, and delivers practical training and technical assistance.