First I would like to congratulate Dr. Lam Akol on his emphatic and eloquent response to Kuir Garang's open letter dated October 29, 2012!
In his reply he recognized that an open dialogue among South Sudanese is indispensable to the national discourse. That gesture is long overdue and much welcome. In a country where citizens below the age of 40 years continue to be mere spectators in the political process, however, any politician of his stature who is willing to engage the disgruntled youth in anything remotely resembling a dialogue is more likely to succeed in preying on them for his/her selfish political interests. If his commitment to a broad and open dialogue on vital national issues is genuine, let's take a step further by ensuring the conversations are honest and worthy of the efforts and time we invest in them. Although the reply has struck a chord of sympathy in me and in other readers, I believe he missed an important opportunity to clarify his position and that of the SPLM-DC on important national issues brought up by Kuir e Garang's letter. In the remainder of this letter, I highlight portions of his reply where responding with more honesty instead of seeking political mileage would have advanced the debate on national issues more effectively.
The 1991 SPLA/M split
First, let's examine his reaction to a question on the infamous 1991 SPLA/M split. Instead of concerning himself with the semantics of whether the split was incoherent or not, unfortunate or not, the national conversation would have benefited from his vast experience as a leading veteran politician if he had seized the moment to clarify his position and that of the SPLM-DC on the 1991 genocide in the context of national unity. His response is typical of our politicians' attitudes in general; being overly defensive while ignoring a course that advances national unity. The petty politics of priding himself on being one of the architects of the split to the extent of calling it an "honor whose credit you do not claim alone" belong in the 1990s. Now more than ever on our national journey toward real freedom, our nation does not deserve and cannot afford to be distracted by a trivial debate on which between the two SPLA/M factions was right or had a better vision for South Sudan. Of course we all have individual opinions on that subject, but what is important now is the recognition that the 1991 split aggravated existing tribal hostilities among our communities.
Despite all the professed grand objectives of the 1991 split, the deliberate massacre of unarmed citizens is a contradiction of a quest for a cause that respects human rights. To overcome the divisive legacy of 1991 and advance together as a nation that can compete in the region and beyond, leaders and citizens need to abandon denial by recognizing that the 1991 genocide is a symbol of a divided nation. As a former leading member of the Nasir faction, therefore, he owes it to the nation to apologize for any deliberate or negligent wrongdoing on his side. The incessant and misguided argument that the killings were "some unforeseen consequences" of the split is irrelevant to national reconciliation - no patriotic citizen would have failed to understand that in a region that has existed largely as a heterogeneous union of quarreling tribes for most of her documented history, the split was destined to revive tribal vendetta at a time when the region was awash with arms. Instead of denial, citizens expect all leaders regardless of which faction they supported in 1991 to unite the communities they once divided. In fact, a reconciliation process led by leaders from both factions is a mandatory prerequisite for a durable national unity. Our nation as he knows too well is forgiving although this is a fact that has often been misconstrued by politicians who mistakenly think that they are welcomed back because of their intimidating militias.
In allowing Dr. Riek Machar and other leaders of the 1991 genocide to play leading roles in the ongoing national reconstruction, South Sudan has demonstrated the kind of compromises that go into the foundations of a truly united nation. On his part, Dr. Riek Machar has reciprocated the gesture by demonstrating the kind of strength expected from leaders of his stature. Although his apology falls short of sincerity, it is still a gesture for reconciliation and peace. Remarks such as "If some people, for one reason or the other, are today afraid to admit so, this does not change the historical fact." that seek to discourage citizens from getting over the horrific memories of 1991 are not just plain disgusting, they represent many steps backward in our national healing. The ball is now in Dr.Lam Akol's court; it's up to him and the SPLM-DC to determine if the right course for our nation is to remain in denial at the expense of our national unity.
His tenure as Sudan Foreign Minister
On his tenure as the Sudanese Foreign Minister between 2005 and 2007, Dr. Lam Akol responded by focusing on invalidating the implied assumption that the Sudanese foreign policy positions were not for the interest of the South Sudanese. The gist of his response is: "In the first place, why should you assume that the Sudanese position was not for the interest of the South Sudanese people? Be informed that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) stipulates that the SPLM and the National Congress were in partnership to implement the agreement. They were not enemies as some who entertained hidden agendas misled a good number of South Sudanese to believe. We were in a coalition government known as the government of national unity (GONU) that came about as a result of the CPA and whose main function was to implement it". It is exactly such kinds of evasive reactions to honest inquiries from the youth that break down the "bridges for communication between and among us" that he sought to build in his reply. While he is right that the NCP and the SPLM were partners in GONU tasked with the full implementation of the CPA, that mandate did not stop them from bickering over portions of the agreement or foreign policy. I'm sure he understands that being partners to an agreement is not the same thing as merging the foreign policy interests of the parties to the agreement outside the agreement's domain.
Certainly, not so when the two parties had just emerged from over two decades of a devastating armed conflict with lingering bitterness and suspicions. Even within the narrower confines of the agreement, the NCP and the SPLM maintained distinct positions on some portions of the CPA at the incipient stages of the agreement's implementation. For example, while the NCP rejected the ABC report in 2005, the SPLM supported it. What's more, the NCP and the SPLM are still gridlocked to this day over some important protocols of the CPA such as the Abyei referendum, while the NCP's revocation of the popular consultations in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states has precipitated a civil war in the Sudan. Being parties to the CPA, therefore, did not ensure the two parties implemented the CPA in its entirety, let alone foreign policy interests as he would like readers to believe. Contrary to his assertion, the NCP which controls the Sudanese government proved to be against the interest of the South Sudanese by reneging on parts of the agreement. On foreign policy interests, the two partners clearly have some distinct international allies in the UN, the African Union and the Arab league as a simple consequence of their different backgrounds and philosophies. Again, the chicanery manifested by this response does not advance an honest national conversation. A more honest answer would have explained the challenges he faced as a Foreign Minister caught up in the dilemma of portraying a positive image of a government controlled by a party that was seriously undermining his party and his people.
The formation of the SPLM-DC
On the timing of the formation of the SPLM-DC, let's first note that the alleged treatments meted out on him by people who should be providing security to all citizens is quite chilling and retrogressive. If one of our leading politicians can be treated as described, there is little wonder when citizens complain of similar or worse experiences. However, our nation is at a crossroads and the solutions to the immense challenges facing our country today can only be provided by inclusive parties with compelling visions for guiding our nation into the future we deserve, not by a protest party whose vision is nothing more than the protection of Dr. Lam Akol and his friends from being humiliated by the SPLM as he revealed in his only instance of candor in "I and others with me refused to accept humiliation. Such was the birth of SPLM-DC in June 2009." A genuine change agency would come in the form of a protest against the abysmal performance of the SPLM in delivering development to the nation, but not in the form of a cocoon whose sworn mission is to shield a few from being humiliated by the SPLM. In the absence of a platform for national development other than a protest against SPLM's humiliating treatment of some of its members, is the SPLM-DC worthy of being considered as a genuine alternative to lead real change in South Sudan?
In keeping with the pattern of ducking questions is the way in which he re-framed the question to recast it as a choice between either forming a new party or remaining in the SPLM to end up as an opportunist. Clearly, forming a new party is an option that has the support of many South Sudanese (even in 2009) if the new party has a visionary platform unlike the myopic one that is suggested by the motives behind the formation of the SPLM-DC. But remaining in the SPLM doesn't necessarily mean winding up as an opportunist; he could have remained in the SPLM and became a competent leader if you had wished and if resources would have allowed. Therefore, he had more than two options and his attempts to dupe readers into believing there were only two options available to him prior to founding the SPLM-DC is engaging in an either/or logical fallacy.
Despite the unfair treatment he faced in the SPLM, what other steps did he take to work with his opponents and friends within the SPLM apart from asking President Kiir for intervention and readily accepting the victim status? As he is well aware, nation-building is a process that is inherently full of compromises and his political resume as we speak seems to portray an impression of a leader who barely understands the need for a give and take approach in politics and governing. I wonder if he is bold enough to make the changes needed in order for the SPLM-DC to become a party that can champion the interests of South Sudanese, not just those of Dr. Lam Akol and his friends.
While the youth are less burdened with the rigid differences of our liberation leaders, they are enlightened enough to distinguish opportunists from leaders with new ideas who can lead our nation to unity and prosperity. Sadly, the SPLM-DC and its current leadership have a long way to go to convince the youth that they are a genuine national opposition party that can be trusted with governing our country or championing real change in our country. My advice to Dr. Lam Akol is to realign the mission of the SPLM-DC with the dreams of our citizens instead of focusing it on your past and present rivalry with the SPLM. Of course that process will require him to change and realign his ambitions with the common interests of our citizens.