- by the International Crisis Group
JUBA/NAIROBI/BRUSSELS (April 5, 2011) Now that South Sudan’s referendum is complete and its independence from the North all but formalised, focus must increasingly shift to the political agenda at home. A new transitional government will preside over a fixed term from 9 July 2011, during which a broadly consultative review process should yield a permanent constitution. Critical decisions taken now and immediately after independence will define the health and trajectory of democracy in what will soon be the world’s newest state. Two factors may shape the coming transition period more than any other; first, the degree to which the South’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) allows an opening of political space in which a vibrant multi-party system can grow; secondly, the will to undertake democratic reform within the SPLM, as intra-party politics continue to dominate the political arena in the near term. Embracing pluralism now – both inside and outside the party – would lay a foundation for stability in the long term. Failing on either front would risk recreating the kind of overly centralised, authoritarian and ultimately unstable state South Sudan has finally managed to escape.
Post-referendum negotiations continue between the SPLM and the National Congress Party (NCP) toward a peaceful separation and a constructive North-South relationship. While they consume considerable attention of the SPLM leadership, the political landscape in South Sudan has begun to transform. From the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, South Sudan’s divergent ethnic and political communities were united behind a common goal: self-determination. Many suppressed grievances, choosing not to rock the boat until that objective was achieved. Now that the vote has been cast and its results endorsed, the common denominator is gone, and long-simmering political disputes are beginning to re-surface. Likewise, a series of armed insurgencies, recent militia activity, and army defections highlight internal fault lines and latent grievances within the security sector. Continued fighting has challenged government capacity to manage domestic conflict, risks further polarization of ethnic communities and their political leaders and could stoke broader insecurity.
Jockeying has intensified between the SPLM and Southern opposition parties over the composition and powers of a transitional government and duration of the transitional period. The SPLM desires to move expeditiously toward a transitional constitution amid all that must be done before independence, while the opposition fears it is manipulating the process to entrench its power. A domineering approach from the SPLM has jeopardised the goodwill created by an important political parties’ conference in late 2010. Stifling debate and poor political management of such processes unnecessarily risk further antagonism among opposition parties, particularly at a time when the challenges in realising independence and managing domestic security concerns make Southern unity all the more important. The SPLM must recognize that meaningful opposition participation – including in defining the transition and in a broad-based government – is not a threat to its power but an investment in stability and legitimate rule. A politics of exclusion may in the long run undermine the very power some party hardliners are trying to consolidate.
Managing South Sudan’s ethno-regional diversity will continue to be a tall order. Political accommodation is a necessity regardless of what form the transitional government assumes. The SPLM leadership will have a difficult chessboard to manage, finding roles for a wide range of party (including many members now returning home), army and opposition elements. It must avoid a “winner-takes-all” mindset and view the appointment of a broadly representative government not as appeasement alone but as recognition of Southern Sudan’s pluralist character.
The liberation struggle is over, the CPA era is coming to a close, and it is thus time for the SPLM to mark a new chapter in its evolution. A review of the party’s modus operandi is necessary if it is to maintain cohesion, consolidate its legitimacy and deliver in government. Party reforms should aim to manage internal divisions, erode a top-down military culture, professionalise operations and trade coercion for enhanced internal dialogue. Meanwhile, there is no denying that Southern opposition parties are weak; their resources, membership and structures are thin. While the SPLM must engender a conducive environment, opposition parties are equally responsible for pursuing shared national interests, shouldering national responsibilities and developing credible alternative platforms that target a national constituency. Continued national and international support for political party development is essential.
Once the transition period commences, reviews of several key policy areas and resultant strategies will shape the political and economic structure of the emerging state and help determine the response to the high post-independence expectations that Southerners have placed on their young government. Decentralization has been championed in rhetoric and neglected in practice. Examination of the current model is in order, as there remains a disproportionate focus on the central government and its capital city, in political, economic and development terms. Expectations for improved development and service delivery in the lives of ordinary Southerners will necessitate increased devolution to states and counties so as to avoid the very centre-periphery dynamic that lay at the heart of Sudan’s national woes.
Post-CPA arrangements on oil revenue sharing between North and South have occupied a prominent place in political discourse, but far less attention has been paid to future revenue sharing policy within South Sudan. Given almost exclusive dependence on oil money, decisions as to how petrodollars are managed and shared may soon occupy a prominent place in national politics. Ownership rights, a nationwide revenue allocation model and a corresponding regulatory architecture must be established. If well administered, the oil sector can be a key instrument for decentralising authority, empowering state and local politics and accelerating development in the new South. If not, corruption and mismanagement could prompt national division and surrender another victim to the resource curse.
The transition period will be capped by the country’s first independent elections. The electoral system must accordingly be reviewed so as to overcome the shortcomings of the 2010 polls by ensuring a level playing field and providing the best possible opportunities for diverse, accountable and genuinely representative institutions.
Fair or not, the soon-to-be independent Republic of South Sudan will for some time be judged in the context of its decision to separate. One-party rule, tribal-oriented politics or significant governance or internal security failures would generate criticism from sceptics who argued the region could not govern itself. The opportunity now presents itself to prove them wrong; it is up to the South Sudanese to take it.
- For the International Crisis Group recommendations on the above subject click here