Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 6 February 2021

Museveni proposal for political ethnicization in South Sudan is wrong prescription

By Steve Paterno

I just came across a video clip of President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda addressing a delegation of the USA and UK on the situation about South Sudan. The meeting took place sometimes back in early December of last year. The delegation was seeking the advice of President Museveni on the situation of South Sudan. President Museveni suggested to the delegation that as a solution, he is pushing for elections in South Sudan.

Under the current South Sudan peace deal, the country is scheduled to conduct elections at the end of the interim period of three years. The elections are expected to transform the country from armed conflicts into a democratic civil rule.

In the ensuing elections, President Museveni said, he expects the leaders of South Sudan to be forced to form ethnic alliances among the Dinka, Nuer and Equatorians, in order to win elections in similar vein ethnic alliances shape Kenya’s elections. He dupes the process for South Sudan ethnic alliance as “kenyazition of South Sudan.” To him, that is a magic wand to rid South Sudan of conflicts, which is a result of “sectarian politics.” According to him, the ethnic alliance is the best solution to mitigate ethnic conflicts in nations like South Sudan and Kenya, where leaders fail to embrace political ideologies in fostering nationalism.

However, President Museveni reading of the current situation of South Sudan is not accurate or if anything, it is a premature assessment of the actual situation. Even though the current conflict in South Sudan appears to be ethnically based, the real political power dynamic lies on organized conflicting parties, which are partners to the peace agreement and will be participants to the anticipated elections, where President Museveni expects the parties to form ethnic alliances. The measured strengths or lack thereof, of these conflicting parties to the agreement, is armed based, not ethnically based. The party, which is better organized, armed wise, will carry the elections, hands-on. Therefore, ethnicity and ethnic alliances can never be a great factor in play in South Sudan upcoming elections.

It is these same organized armed parties, which will also determine the future politicking of South Sudan, as they will shape the process for formulation of viable political parties along the way for future South Sudan. Nevertheless, the danger is, as long as political parties remain armed organizations, the country will be characterized by violent conflicts throughout the future. The hope, though, lies in the nationalization of armed forces, the process, which will take years to materialize, certainly not in next cycles of anticipated elections.

President Museveni compares South Sudan to the practice of ethnic politics to Kenya for obvious reason. He views both South Sudan and Kenya as countries dominated by ethnic politics or “sectarian politics,” his favourite term. Regionally or in African in general, President Museveni fashioned himself as a revolutionary icon who rescues Uganda from “sectarian politics”—an exemplary leader that other African countries torn by ethnic conflicts to emulate. He brags that as a revolutionary fighter, he instils successful political ideology to Ugandans to foster nationalism and shun off “sectarian politics.”

Perhaps, President Museveni is right about his revolutionary legacy and zealotry, then, he also ought to know that South Sudan is born out of decades of history of revolutionary struggle; hence, the people of South Sudan are also endowed by revolutionary legacy and zealotry for the establishment of a prosperous nation-state, free of “sectarian politics.”

Therefore, ethnicization of South Sudan power politics is not the solution for South Sudan conflicts, at least for the foreseeable future. After a successful revolution against the Arab north, South Sudan is undergoing an evolutionary process toward building a prosperous nation-state. The process is a gradual one, from armed organized politics, through into civil organized political parties, not ethnically-based political parties as President Museveni could think and expect.