Now that South Sudan’s self-determination has been realised, long-suppressed grievances and simmering political disputes have re-surfaced, threatening instability on the eve of independence.
Politics and Transition in the New South Sudan, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, cautions that unless there is an opening of political space and a participatory transition, the soon to be independent government risks recreating the kind of centralised, authoritarian and ultimately unstable state it finally managed to escape. The ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) cobbled together an important, though tentative, Southern consensus ahead of the January 2011 referendum. But its choke-hold on power and a “winner-takes-all” approach to the transition have since jeopardised those gains. Meanwhile, armed insurgencies, militia activity and army defections highlight internal fault lines and latent grievances within the security sector.
“A politics of exclusion threatens further polarisation of ethnic communities and their political leaders”, says Zach Vertin, Crisis Group Sudan Analyst. “The nascent state can ill-afford further antagonism, particularly when the challenges in realising independence and managing domestic security concerns make Southern unity all the more important”.
The SPLM should recognise that meaningful opposition participation is not a threat to, but an investment in, stability and legitimate rule. Opposition parties share responsibility for pursuing common national interests, shouldering national responsibilities and developing a robust multi-party system. International partners must re-calibrate relations with the government to reflect new political realities, including the need to cultivate greater democratic space within and beyond the ruling party, in the wake of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) – the treaty that ended the two decades of civil war in 2005 and that concludes in July, concurrent with Southern independence.
The liberation struggle is over, and the CPA era is coming to a close; the SPLM must mark a new chapter in its own evolution if it is to maintain cohesion 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.
Once independent, a series of governance issues – most notably sound management of oil resources and a more tangible commitment to decentralisation – will shape the political and economic structure of the emerging state and help manage sky-high post-independence expectations. Each can be a vehicle for empowering state and local politics and accelerating development in the new South.
“The months ahead present a considerable opportunity, but it comes amid enormous challenges”, says Ernst Jan Hogendoorn, Crisis Group Horn of Africa Project Director. “Failing to start on the right foot could undermine progress already achieved in the South and contaminate the institutions and institutional values in Africa’s youngest state”.