Congratulations are in order for President Salva Kiir Mayardit of the new republic of South Sudan. The journey to this auspicious occasion has been long, difficult and fraught with dangers. Indeed, it has taken 25 years of blood, destruction, exile and tears for hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese who took a stand against the tyranny of the Northern Arabs to reach this point.
As Salva Kiir and his team take to the podium to usher in Africa’s newest state, the fathers of the Sudan’s People Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its armed wing, the Sudan’s People Liberation Army (SPLA) must be acknowledged and honoured. The late Dr John Garang must top that list. His death in a helicopter crash in August 2005, just three weeks after he was appointed vice president of Sudan and barely six months after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan, was truly tragic..
A full Colonel in the Sudan National Army, he deserted his position to join the Southern rebels in 1983, after he was sent to crush a rebellion by the Dinka in the South, His presence and leadership gave a fresh impetus and direction to a rebellion that been simmering since 1980. In the intervening years, he strode the world stage seeking allies, recognition and support for his people’s cause. It was not always easy; he picked allies and foes in equal measures and indeed, played the Cold War adversaries – US and the defunct Soviet Union – against each other, as he sought advantage and succour for his cause and his people.
He finally did manage to bring his adversaries in Khartoum to the negotiating table and Kenya’s retired President Daniel arap Moi must be credited for his efforts in bringing the two protagonists to the negotiating table in often acrimonious and protracted talks.
The South is finally free and independent under the stewardship of Kiir; a key operative in SPLM/SPLA ranks, who neither has the charisma nor the presence of the late Garang. But fate and fortune have brought him to this point and he must now seize the opportunity and strive for greatness.
Africa’s post independence story has been one of false starts and lost opportunities. The scourge of corruption, tribalism and abuse of human rights that is so rife in the continent is not foreign to Kiir. He is already facing some of these very charges. He must immediately and drastically change both tack and direction. Theft of public funds, packing the government with his allies and tribesmen, and acquiring palaces up the hill and in the most pricey of addresses in Nairobi and elsewhere will not do. The people of South Sudan have suffered too much and for too long to see their dreams and aspirations put to waste.
Kiir must provide credible, honest, efficient and credible leadership. He has no choice. As, he steps up to the highest of offices, the question of Abyei region must hang heavily on his shoulders. How he tackles this thorny and highly emotive issue will determine what kind of leadership he will offer his country.
His people and, in particular the Dinka elite who run the government, will be deeply averse to let go of their native Abyei region. On the other hand President Omar el Bashir, who is increasingly looking cornered, has vowed not to recognise the South if it lays claim to the region, which has oil deposits, water and rich pasture. Kirr will need all the skills at his disposal to past negotiate the mines placed in his path by Khartoum.
Kiir has qualities that have served him well in the past – a calm disposition and strategic thinking. He will now need these and whatever other arsenal he can find in his armour like never before. And the rest of the region must hold him to account. We, at Diplomat East Africa, can only wish him and his people the best of luck.
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