By Ajong Mbapndah L
The last ten years of independence in South Sudan have been an epic failure and a betrayal not only of the liberation struggle, but of shared cultural values as South Sudanese and Africans, says Mabior Garang.
In an interview with Pan African Visions, Mabior says the leadership in the country has failed to deliver the promise of the liberation struggle as the population that bore the brunt of the war effort have been deprived the dividends of peace.
The fact that we have a country is worth celebrating, says Mabior, the son of the country’s iconic revolutionary leader Dr John Garang. As a country, the years ahead are more than the last 10 years of disappointment Mabior Garang says in the exclusive interview to discuss decade of independence in South Sudan.
How do you sum up ten years of Independence for South Sudan?
The independence of South Sudan is incomplete. We have gone through the procedures of establishing a modern country. We are internationally recognised by the global family of nations at the United Nations. We have a flag and a national anthem. It is a great achievement. Many generations of South Sudanese sacrificed over generations for this noble cause. I do not want to belittle the struggles of our ancestors,
but the job is incomplete.
We have failed to deliver the promise of the liberation struggle. The civil population who bore the brunt of the war effort have not received their peace dividends. Our civil population continues to suffer in abject poverty. The material conditions of our civil population could be said to have been better in the old Sudan than in our nascent Republic. We were more independent in the liberated areas of the new Sudan. Today we use oil dollars to import simple things like tomatoes.
In summary, the last ten years of South Sudan’s independence have been an epic failure. A betrayal not only of the liberation struggle, but of our shared cultural values as South Sudanese and Africans. It would take volumes to explain this failure and the way forward. I write about these topics extensively in my blog MGS www.mabiorgarangspeaks.com .
Where were you on Independence Day in 2011, and was the present scenario or shape of South Sudan something you envisaged?
I was at the Independence Day ceremony. It was a joke at best. While most independence ceremonies in Africa occurred at the stroke of midnight, ours happened hours after midnight. This was the day countless generations fought and died for over the years. For our leaders not to be prepared for this day, was a bad omen. President Salva Kiir even apologized for the embarrassment and stated we would do it better next time. There is no next time for the independence of a country.
This has been the mischief of the first Republic of South Sudan.
It was the most disorganized event in the history of our country and a sign of things to come – a culture of disorganisation. Simply put, it was an embarrassment. The security of President Zuma had a scuffle with President Salva Kiir’s security. The President of Togo left in protest. I saw current President Uhuru Kenyatta share a plastic chair with the late Hon. George Saitoti. Princes came from Europe and could be seen wandering around. I saw Amb. Susan Rice stand on a crate of beer to deliver her speech.
I have been writing about this for over a decade. Some of my articles about this topic have been published in this gazette over the years.
A curious thing about the 10th anniversary is how little we hear about Dr John Garang, the historic leader of the struggle. How different is South Sudan from the vision he had?
The vision was of the SPLA/SPLM, perhaps because the brand Garang is associated with the vision, some leaders have rejected the vision. The vision of new Sudan was cognate to the vision of the new society expounded by the liberation Movements of the 1960s – which gave us independence through the principle of self-determination. It was not a vision of a new land, but of a new man and a new woman. It was a vision based on a concrete analysis of our objective realities and a resolution to the contradictions we identified in our land.
There are traditional elite in the country with vested interests who are the beneficiaries of the power relations established during the slave trade and colonialism. These power elites are an anti-people clique who have no interest in the triumph of the people’s revolution. They have used their intellectual mercenaries and hired keyboards to engage in a serious propaganda campaign to discredit the revolutionary theory which guided us during the Bush war days.
The vision of new Sudan has been erroneously portrayed as John Garang being against the independence of South Sudan. Whether this is deliberate or genuine confusion, is a different question altogether.
Coincidentally, the government has shelved celebrations or festivities because of COVID 19. Still, is it possible to pick some positives for us, what would have been some of those developments’ worth celebrating?
The fact that we have a country is worth celebrating. It is our right to rule or misrule ourselves. As long as we live, we can always correct the situation and hopefully learn from the mistakes. As a country, the years ahead are more than the last 10 years of disappointment. I am hopeful that through ‘political education’, we can transform the situation in the next decade.
What is your take on the revitalized peace agreement and the efforts by President Kiir and Vice President Machar to put the country back on the rails?
I will not make the answer about these two leaders. I prefer to look at them as a generation. As a generation of leaders, they have failed the future generations. However, mother nature is on our side, and we shall correct these mistakes in due time. The peace process has been turned into a zero-sum game. It is impossible to find peace with such attitudes.
As a generation, they sacrificed to give us this day and we give them full credit. That being said, I believe the lion’s share of this credit goes to those who never made it to see the Independence Day. Those who saw the day and inherited the new Republic, instead of paying back our civil population for their invaluable contribution to the war effort, plunged us back into a tribal war of attrition. This generation will be divided in two. Those who died before independence and those who lived to see the glorious day our country was born. The legacy of independence will be the credit of those who died during the struggle. The rest of their generation of so-called liberators will take the legacy of the failure of our first Republic to their graves. It will be their legacy, unless they come to their senses now and unite for the sake of future generations. It is not too late as long as they are still alive. But they are running out of time. To use the words of Jr. Gong, I am confident my generation will make a change.
The oil seems to be flowing again, what role did oil play in the crisis and any advice to the present government on efficient management of proceeds?
Oil played a big role. It was when the Governor of the oil producing region – H.E. Gen. Taban Deng – was sacked and no longer had control of the 2% oil, that the low intensity conflict started. The main role played by oil, however, has been in fueling the war as the revenues are used to invest in their war economy. The infamous oil curse is definitely at work in South Sudan.
What is your appraisal of the role played by the international community in helping South Sudan navigate these challenging first ten years?
The international community is a community of the various nations of the human family. It is not some tangible thing you can sit down and have a conversation with. By becoming an independent country, we joined this community of nations, and we are part of it. The international community did all they could, even from the days we were negotiating the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The international community was the midwife to our newborn country – as it were. The world has a stake in our independence, and we have enjoyed tremendous good will. The leaders have squandered this good will and the world is tired of leaders who do not care about their own people.
We the leaders of South Sudan are solely to blame for the mess we are in today. It will be difficult for readers to understand this, and I shall expound on it in future writings. South Sudan’s slave trade history has influenced our constitution as a modern country. We are only a Republic by name, but we are closer to state Slavery than any other political philosophy out there. I remember Kenya even opened a whole office dedicated to helping South Sudan, so I cannot fault the international community for our country becoming a failed state.
It is shameful for our civil population to get food, clothing and shelter from taxpayers in other countries when our country is rich with oil, gold and vast arable land for agribusiness.
Looking at the future, what makes you hopeful for South Sudan and what are your fears?
I am hopeful because we have mother nature on our side. This generation will go with this mischief, and we shall continue to wage the struggle for fundamental change in our society. We have registered a local NGO in South Sudan and we have identified ‘political education’ as our method of struggle. Our aim is to have a politically empowered civil population which can build a free society to reflect its values. Through political education, we aim to demystify politics in the psyche of our peoples, who think politics is supposed to be a dirty game. Our basic documents can be found online on www.nationalconversationssd.com.
And about this future, what role for Mabior Garang, what will it take for you to join the government in Juba and contribute your quota in moving the country forward?
I am the Chairman of the board of trustees of the National Conversation South Sudan (NCSS) a.k.a. The Tomato Renaissance. Our organisation’s history is rooted in the history of the SPLA/SPLM Civil Authorities for New Sudan (CANS). As the country went through political changes leading to independence, the organization has undergone several incarnations as the objective realities have changed in turn. We have had to change our registration severally; from CANS to instructions of Legal Affairs-SSRRC Office, and finally Ministry of Justice.
Civility was lost in December 2013 and so the civil society had to either flee or go underground. Many of our members joined the SPLM-IO and we contributed our faculties to finding peace in Addis Ababa. We are using the opportunity of the current peace process to continue with our projects. We have no interest in power struggles in Juba. It is the contention of the NCSS that independence ended the political struggle in Africa. There is less need for the power struggles at the center, which are usually characterized by tribalism – a legacy of colonial politics.
The struggle we shall wage in the NCSS is not for political power of individuals or tribes, our struggle is for political empowerment, for our civil population to become bona fide citizens who understand their relationship to their government. It is only when the society is composed of empowered individuals that they can build a democratic society. Independence alone is meaningless without political education. Those fighting for independence in Biafra, Southern Cameroons, Tigray, Western Sahara and anywhere on the continent, should take the independence of South Sudan as a case study. There are many lessons to be learned. In conclusion, the NCSS is non-governmental, but we are most definitely political. We deal with macro politics as opposed to micro politics. Amandla!