Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 1 November 2018

To the Leaders of the SPLM: Unity is Calling!


Elwathig Kameir

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) split on August 28, 1991, following the declaration of Riek Machar and Lam Akol of their "theoretical" coup against the SPLM chairman, under the slogan "Why Garang Must go now?" The Movement divided into two factions, which became known as the "Nasser" and "Torit" factions respectively. The split caused the people of the Sudan, especially in the south, incalculable harm and suffering, while retarding the march of the SPLM towards victory. It divided the Movement at a time of regional and international turmoil when unity was needed most, as well as dividing the population along tribal lines, inciting southerners against each other, resulting in the death of untold numbers of innocent civilians. On the other hand, the National Islamic Front (NIF) effectively exploited the split, both militarily and politically in its war against the SPLM/A. Besides, the 1991 episode led many Northerners wondering whether the SPLM/A was abandoning its long-held objective of the New Sudan, while Southerners started to have doubts about SPLM strategy and fears as to whether the Movement really had their interests at heart.

Since then, the SPLM/A remained divided for many years. The Movement entered negotiations with two separate delegations, one was Al-Nasser faction, led by Riek Machar, and the other (Torit) under the leadership of John Garang. Self-Determination was the only common position shared by both delegations. This is, while the military and political performance of the SPLM has declined. During this period, some parties from the Nasser wing, under various banners, reached separate peace agreements with the Khartoum government, the most important of which were the "Khartoum Peace Accord" on 21st April 1997 and the "Fashoda Peace Agreement" on 20th September 1997. Meanwhile, this schism continued to drain the capacity of the SPLA, weaken its cohesion and impede arriving at a just political settlement.

It appears that splits and fighting between the "comrades" have become an inherent attribute of the Movement’s historical development since the inception of the SPLA in 1983. Thus, in March 2017, the leadership of the newly founded Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM/N) was divided into two conflicting factions, each of them claiming ownership of the name. The essence of the discord lay, among others, in differences over two main issues: first, whether armed struggle is the principal, if not the only, means to achieve the legitimate demands of the people of the Nuba Mountains, thus adopting a negotiating stance that the SPLA/N should be preserved for twenty years as part of a comprehensive security arrangements agreement. The second issue is the demand of the right to self-determination for the people of the Nuba Mountains, in case it proved impossible to establish a unified, secular, democratic Sudan, on the bases of justice, equality and freedom, i.e. The New Sudan (Elwathig Kameir, Diagnosing the Discord in the SPLM/North:"(So) has been Decreed that Matter Whereof ye Twain Do Enquire"! Sudantribune.com, 28 September 2017). It goes without saying that these two demands reflect similarities with the CPA between the government of Sudan and the SPLM/A in 2005!

It should be noted that contrary to previous bloody conflicts over the leadership of the SPLM/A, for instance those occurring in 1991-1993, which left behind large numbers of victims and disabled, the transfer of power within the SPLM/N occurred peacefully and in the absence of bloodshed. This transition could not have materialized without the support and blessing of the military command of the SPLA/N. However, the bloodshed resulting from the fighting between different factions of the SPLA/N in southern Blue Nile, in May and August 2017, tarnished what could have been a smooth leadership transition.

Undoubtedly, this conflict must be perceived against the backdrop of the return to war in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, in June and September 2011, respectively, immediately following the secession of South Sudan. The war broke out at a time when the "transitional tripartite leadership", tasked by the Chairman of the SPLM/N to initiate the process of building the organizational structures of the Movement in Sudan, embarked on its assignment in March 2011. As a result, the restructuring process failed, thus derailing any serious and deep internal debate on the various contentious issues and challenges. This has, in turn, aggravated the situation, and coupled with gradual loss of confidence between the three leaders, and after six years of accumulated grievances, the conflict erupted. Indeed, these issues have precipitated confusion for the cadres and grassroots of the SPLMN since the outbreak of war in June 2011. The absence of leadership and the breakdown of channels of communication with cadres and the grassroots have resulted in an exclusionist decision-making process when it came to fundamental issues.

However, to properly understand the reasons, circumstances and considerations of the SPLM/N split, they must be placed in the context of the contradictions of the struggle of the SPLM/A encountered on the way towards reaching the exercise of the right of self-determination. The ultimate objective was to achieve the separation and independence of the South, at the expense of the New Sudan project, which the Movement had never ceased preaching to its membership and supporters for more than two decades In order to arrive at a sound and profound understanding of the options for resolving the emerging crisis and the challenges facing the movement’s future, there remains an urgent need to interpret the leadership split and associated disagreements in the context of the historical evolution of the SPLM, since its inception in May 1983. We should not view the Movement as a static and rigid organizational structure. Rather, it must be understood within the context that has evolved and developed since its beginning.

Paradoxically, the SPLM/N divided again in 2011, though this time it was not a violent split or a struggle over the leadership of the Movement, rather it was a "voluntary" split, i.e. an "organizational disengagement" between the SPLM in the Sudan and its counterpart in South Sudan, following separation of the latter and formation of an independent state. However, this disengagement precipitated future repercussions, which the Movement’s leadership did not consider or anticipate, adversely impacting the SPLM/N and the unity of its ranks. Indeed, the faithful implementation of the Two Areas Protocol, embodied in the CPA, was essentially premised on particular legislative procedures and security arrangements that were completely ignored by the leadership of the SPLM/A. To add insult to injury, the SPLM consented to an ambiguous protocol that left the people of the Two Areas vulnerable, particularly when the South Sudanese people had clearly opted for separation. Engrossed in their relentless pursuit of the right to self-determination and the race towards the long-awaited referendum, this leadership departed to the South "lock, stock, and barrel", while leaving the comrades in the Two Areas struggling and at the mercy of their own fate!

The SPLA, as per the terms of the Agreement on Security Arrangements, was unambiguously defined as an indivisible whole that belongs to South Sudan, and not subject to disaggregation by origin of combatants i.e. whether they hail from South Kordofan or Blue Nile. Indeed, Article (20-1), of the Permanent Ceasefire and Security Arrangements Implementation Modalities and Appendices, states "If the result of the referendum is in favor of secession of the South from the North, the JIUS shall dissolve with each component reverting to its mother Armed Forces to pave the way for the formation of the separate Armed Forces for the emerging states". Therefore, the Agreement was mute regarding, and made no reference to the fate of thousands of non-JIUS fighters from the Two Areas stationed with their mother units of the SPLA in the South. In light of the two partners’ conflicting interpretation of the meaning and substance of "popular consultation", it was undoubtedly obvious that the expected secession of the South will precipitate potentially explosive situations in the two areas.

However, incessant calls to the SPLM leadership for convening the NLC, and the imperative of serious and frank dialogue on these issues before the referendum were ignored and went unheeded. It was mistakenly believed by some comrades in the SPLM leadership that holding the NLC meeting might lead to a division within the ranks of the Movement due to the dichotomy of opinion regarding separation between Northerners and Southerners. Contrary to such understanding, however, our call for the imperative of convening the NLC meeting by no means aimed at standing against the Southerners’ option for separation, but to frankly discuss and prepare ourselves for dealing with the expected explosive situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile in light of the precarious CPA-premised security arrangements and ambiguous popular consultation process (Elwathig Kameir, SPLM Northern Sector: Genuine representation or token participation? Sudantribube.com, 11 July 2020).

The leaders of the SPLM/A in Juba are not only politically obliged, but are also morally bound to urge and convince the comrades of yesterday to resolve their dispute over the leadership of the SPLM/N, and guide them through a roadmap aiming at unity of ranks and cohesion of the organization, while standing by them in order to reach a common and politically realistic negotiating position with the government. The objective is to put an end to the conflict and achieve urgent gains for those affected by the war, and engulfed by its flames in the Two Areas, and for the Sudanese at large. This vision should be, translated into a just peace and preparing the political stage for a genuine democratic transition

This is a debt that must be paid. It remains that without the contribution of the fighters from South Kordofan and southern Blue Nile, and all the Sudanese in the rest of northern Sudan, attracted by the vision "New Sudan", in the name of which they made great sacrifices, the South Sudanese would not have realized the dream of establishing their sovereign state.

Even the ruling party and the Khartoum government mediated the conflict between the government of the South and the various opposition groups and armed factions, thus facilitating the way towards reaching a peace agreement in June 2018. It is ironic that these groups were enemies for many years, with whom the same government had fought a costly war leaving thousands of victims. Indeed, one wonders how the leadership of the SPLM/A in the South would withhold its support from yesterday’s comrades who fought, until recently, under the command of the same leadership.

The SPLM/A leadership in the South was well aware that negotiations with the government were the only realistic approach to stop the war and reach a peace agreement. Thus, negotiations between the GoS and the SPLM/A aiming at peaceful settlement began to gather momentum under the auspices of IGAD and on the basis of its Declaration of Principles (DOP) of 1994. Notwithstanding the intensification of war between 1998 and 2002, the prospects for decisive military or political victory of one side over the other diminished, and this came to be clearly understood by both the GoS and SPLM/A. Simultaneously, the value of accepting some measure of compromise, as well becoming aware of the risks of not doing so, rose greatly for both sides. A combination of internal dimensions, regional and international factors, including the emergence of Sudan as a producer of oil, increased the viability of a negotiated settlement, which later transpired in the CPA in 2005.

Above all, the greatest concern for the late leader, John Garang, was the reunification of the Movement and the cohesion of its army, not for the purpose of scoring victory over the government forces, but rather to support and reinforce the negotiating position of the SPLM/N with the government. Thus, John Garang could not have harvested the fruits of the peace agreement without his success in reuniting the Movement after the return of dissident leaders, led by Riek Machar and Lam Akol, in 2002 and 2003, respectively.

Although the present objective conditions and specific circumstances surrounding the SPLM/N are far different from those of the early third millennium, any observer of internal, regional and international political realities is not likely to miss the fact that there is no other realistic option to stop the war, except through negotiations with the government, leading to an acceptable political settlement. The regional and international scene has dramatically changed and the international community has become impatient with endless wars and bloody fighting, preferring a peacefully negotiated political settlement. Therefore, the unity of the SPLM/N remains key and is the password for achieving important political and economic gains for the people of the war-affected areas. Indeed, the latter have provided the fuel and have been victims of a devastating war which has continued to rage since the mid-1980s of last century.

It is certain that the leadership of the SPLM/A in the South is following up on the issues of the dispute in the SPLM/N. Undoubtedly, this leadership has the necessary capabilities and accumulated experience that it can use in its endeavor of re-unifying the Movement in the North, and in bringing the conflicting leaders around a common negotiating position, regarding the two contentious issues: self-determination and the preservation of the SPLA/N. The leadership in the South is well aware that cutting and pasting the historical experience of Southern Sudan, regarding these two demands, and fitting them to the situation of South Kordofan and Blue Nile is not a viable option! It is difficult, if not impossible, to reproduce a second "Naivasha"!

In any case, the leadership of the Movement, from both divides, must place as a top priority the unity and cohesion of the SPLM/N, together with a consensus on a unified negotiating position in order to reach a just peace, and/or preserving a future role for the Movement in the Sudan. This, in turn, calls for bringing together of the three areas/entities, South Kordofan, Blue Nile and the Northern Sector, into a unified and coherent organizational structure, especially since the achievement of this objective has been pending since the establishment of the SPLM/A in 1983.

The current predicament of the SPLM/N stands as a test for the divided leadership in how to review the evolution of the Movement in all its stages as a valuable lesson-learning exercise. They need to draw from historical experiences, before and after the secession of the South, and embark on planning to equip their cadres with skills necessary for the post-armed struggle phase, while preparing them to engage in formal competitive political activity, and to govern their respective areas after the end of the war.

Indeed, the hour of unity is here. Supporters of the Movement, and all aspirants for a just peace in the country, are hopeful that the leaders of the SPLM/N, and of the SPLM/A in the South alike, will seize this moment while cautioning against it going to waste like preceding lost opportunities.

The author can be reached at kameir@yahoo.com

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