South Sudan: In from the cold and out again
The ruling SPLM party will not go into April’s
national and regional elections as a united front, having created new
political enemies through its candidate selection process
Boy herders, naked save a ?Kalashnikov slung across their shoulders, tread carefully down a dusty track lined with mine-detection vehicles. It is past the Olkaya River crossing, four hours south of Juba, where Lieutenant General ?Alfred Ladu Gore’s convoy was met by 20 boda boda motorcycles that had driven down 50 miles from Kaju Keji, near the Ugandan border, the site of a rally that afternoon.
“This place is historic for me. In 1992, we set up a headquarters here with Garang,” says Gore, referring to his friendship with the late John Garang de Mabior, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). It is especially poignant that Gore is now standing against the party that Garang helped to found.
This is the first trip out of Juba County for Gore’s campaign. Among his inner circle are independent candidates aspiring for local seats, war veterans, academics from the East African diaspora, Juba-based professionals and university students, all of them volunteers and all of them unhappy with the SPLM’s selection of candidates. Margaret, a war veteran in her early forties, was shut out of the nominations, so she joined Gore’s team.
The convoy criss-crossed Kaju Keji County and the predominantly Barre-speaking population was talking about “fundamental change”. Until a few days earlier, Gore had been Salva Kiir’s foreign affairs and security advisor in Central Equatoria. He resigned his post in March when it became clear that the SPLM’s Politburo would not relent from its distancing of all independent candidates.
Gore joined the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in 1984, and became a key ideologue, fundraising and setting up international missions before breaking with Garang in the 1990s.
He was the SPLM’s natural choice for the Central Equatoria governorship.But the Politburo had picked the party man and incumbent, Clement Wani Konga, although Gore beat him on points in the selection. Wani Konga is a force to be reckoned with, controlling several militias in Central Equatoria. He is also riding on Salva Kiir’s presidential campaign and popularity.
Over the 30 miles to Kaju Keji, Gore’s convoy swelled from payyam to payyam – from one administrative division to the next. Cheering villagers now chanted “New change! New change!” instead of “fundamental change”.
Gore’s campaign in Central Equatoria has been bolstered by growing disenchantment with the SPLM government in Juba – accusations that liberation has been subsumed by personal greed and petty internal politics. Malisi Michael, a secondary school teacher who moved back to Sudan from Uganda after the 2005 peace deal, drove his motorcycle down to Olkaya to meet Gore.
“We know him,” he said of Gore. “He fought in the war and he is an educated man.” Malisi has not been paid his salary for four months. “In January, the government gave us our salary for the month, then told us to write off the rest of our outstanding pay.” Health workers, police and other civil servants go unpaid and 80% of the people remain illiterate while flamboyant SPLM officials organise banquets in Juba and drive luxury cars.
At his first rally in Kaju Keji, Gore tells the crowd how he watched a film on TV of a woman who had died during childbirth because the hospital “had nothing – no drugs, no syringes, no ?cotton wool. Why are our people dying of preventable diseases?” Gore says this is the reason he decided to run.
SPLM Deputy Secretary-General Anne Itto puts on a brave face: “We are confident of an 80% victory.” Yet a Gore win in Central Equatoria would mean that the most influential state in the south is in the hands of an independent. This election will be a litmus test for the future of southern Sudan.