[Photo: UNDP] South Sudan leaders with a United Nations official

On July 9 the nation of South Sudan celebrated its second independence anniversary. Around the world, birthday wishes and dance celebrations marked the event. While the country is on a path towards self-reliance and development, it faces lots of challenges.

In two years, a lot has been achieved. Roads and bridges have been built, hospitals and schools are under construction and a lot is going on. But a lot remains to be done.

In this guest opinion piece, Duop Chak Wuol takes a look at the Sudan People’s Liberation Army(SPLM), and how the country and its leaders can get on a path of success.


The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) is a political party in South Sudan. It was founded on democratic principles and waged a successful war against Khartoum’s brutal regime of more than twenty-four years. Yet despite the resolution of this bloody, decades-long struggle between Sudan and South Sudan, the hope for a democratic government that the people of South Sudan once had is slowly fading.

Both Khartoum and Juba are still complaining about each other for their own self-legitimization, the young nation is overwhelmed with immense internal conflicts, and the leaders of the new republic are still struggling with ideas of Marxism-Leninism. The international community is thus left to choose between facts and lies as the liberated new country faces a gloomy future.

This critique is an attempt to show how the SPLM runs and manages South Sudan, why it fails to live up to its promises, and the consequences that the people of South Sudan might face.

The successful 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that was signed between South Sudan and Sudan effectively made the SPLM the ruling party of South Sudan. The hopeful legacy of the SPLM has since been diminished and continues to diminish.

The SPLM has had near-total control of political, economic, security, and military sectors, among others. However, its promise is being undermined as it imposes autocratic practices that were among the very reasons it waged war against Sudan’s ruling party, the National Congress Party (NCP), from 1983 to 2005.The SPLM runs and manages the country using a constitution that was designed, passed, and implemented to serve its own autocratic predispositions.

This is the turmoil the young nation now faces, and it is contrary to the motivations of the people of South Sudan, who sacrificed their lives for the democratic promises of the SPLM.

The SPLM was founded on democratic principles and sought to liberate the marginalized Sudanese from Khartoum’s ferocious regime. The movement faced international isolation with some of the world’s most influential nations not recognizing its legitimacy, including the United States, United Kingdom and many other European nations, all of which cited communism and inhumane practices during the struggle as reasons to condemn it.

Nevertheless, the ideology of secular Sudan, first introduced and practiced by the late South Sudanese leader Dr. John Garang, was instrumental in helping the SPLM regain the trust of some of the world’s most powerful players. Garang’s attempt to secularize Sudan was intended to transform the nation into a democratic state. The SPLM was indeed involved in horrendous acts during its struggle, and it is now apparent that the concern initially raised by the Western countries about the practice of autocracy in the movement is being realized by the people of South Sudan.

Under the leadership of the SPLM, those who were assumed to be visionaries during the struggle have since become visionless. Since assuming power as the ruling party of South Sudan, the SPLM-led government has backtracked from its democratic principles, subsequently demonstrating that it neither respects nor follows its own policies.

It was not long ago when the people of South Sudan embarked on a path to nationhood after years of being denied it by the Khartoum regime. However, they came to realize that their decades-long struggle led to more of the past they were trying to overcome; the common goal that the people of South Sudan fought for is slowly vanishing before their very eyes.

In 2007, I wrote an article titled The Untidy Path to Normalization in Southern Sudan (Sudan Tribune, October 7, 2007), which described the difficulty of creating a viable country under the SPLM and suggested the steps southern leaders at the time should take to achieve the goals set out under its democratic principles. I also explored South Sudan’s internal conflicts and examined the causes and effects of ethnic conflicts in South Sudan. At the time, I was confident that the SPLM was moving in the direction that the party envisioned during the liberation struggle.

It has since become clear that this was a naïve view.

I would like the South Sudanese to know that in a democratic country, that which is good for an individual does not necessarily coincide with what is good for the collective—it usually does not. It is this very tension between individual and collective interests that creates a sense of responsibility in society. Humans are not perfect, and that is why they establish laws to guide behavior.

Hence, it is just as important for the ruling party of South Sudan to establish laws that are humane and respect human rights. Such a commitment to and dedication for all South Sudan’s citizenry must be the central overarching vision of its rulers; only then can citizens enjoy the fruits of living in a just society.

Without such a dedicated commitment on the part of rulers of South Sudan, the country devolves into a failed experiment, wherein its citizens are made to witness their ruling party continuously infringing upon and disrespecting laws on a large-scale. When the government is not held accountable by its own laws, such laws do little to maintain social order and integrity.

The SPLM fails to understand that a political party with a moral vision for its citizens and country must always be guided by the principles of this vision when justifying its actions, rather than hiding selfish interests by coming up with false justifications that make it appear as though it is acting in the common interest of the people it governs, while in fact acting in the contrary ways.

However, this is not the case in South Sudan under the SPLM; the elites of the ruling party of South Sudan appear to have no plans for the nation. They enjoy describing their successes that they achieved when they were in the bush during the struggle, and assert that they should be accepted as the leaders who liberated the South Sudanese from Khartoum’s dreadful regime.

No one would doubt or question these leaders’ bravery or loyalty during the long violent and agonizing wrestle for freedom.  But now as the smoke clears, these leaders, and everyone else fighting for a free South Sudan, must come to terms with the startling fact that their fight for justice has managed to carve out of the madness merely a potential for the establishment of a democratic country.  This potential must be made actual with equal bravery and dedication once evidenced on the battlefield.  It is our new field of battle – but this time we must fight for peace and justice. Most of these leaders are not interested in considering and constructively responding to criticism; they are satisfied with praises honoring their courage in the bush, but they cannot rest on their laurels.

If the SPLM is to be the only political party to provide essential services to the people of South Sudan, then it must make major changes. Failure to do so will force the competent South Sudanese to question the legitimacy of the party to act in the interest of the people who put it in power. The ruling party must either act now to restore its tainted image or it must prepare for what could be a crushing end to a historic political party which was founded on a veneer of democratic principles.

No government can shrug off critical issues that are vital to the survival of the nation and expect to remain in power without losing support and legitimacy.


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