23 February 2018

SOUTH SUDAN ANNIVERSARY: Another Crocodile Liberation story?

South Sudan Flag Nailpolish

(Photo: Essdras M Suarez / Boston Globe)

History is too vast an ocean of information, we construct time periods and select certain events to summarise and explain key trends and changes. Africa in the 20th century witnessed a series of colonies receiving independence from their European colonialists, some peaceful such as Ghana  in 1957, others through violence, Algeria in 1962 and Angola in 1975; and some through external pressures, Sudan  in 1956.

In historical retrospect there was a common trend that awaited states that had fought for independence. First, the largest rebel group becomes the key mobilising force, and fights for the goals of freedom, democracy and prosperity. Then, when they win the war through military might or a international brokered peace agreement they take power via elections or simply through popular support under the banner of  ‘the liberators’. Finally, the leader, or party, betray their goals, become ‘crocodile liberators’ and rapidly become authoritarian and corrupt regimes.

This was the case with Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe, Isasias Afwerki’s People’s Front for Democracy and Justice in Eritrea, the MPLA in Angola and the Front Liberation National of Algeria.

Some Sudanese from Sudan and South Sudan had fears that the dominating Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement party would follow in this historical trend, that the SPLM might become ‘crocodile liberators’ after their rebel leadership in the second Sudanese Civil war. Pastoral worker John Deng in Bentiu feels ‘as if the war never stopped’; his feeling could indicate a zeitgeist among South Sudanese people this past year.

Incidents furthered the fear of this trend, Reporters Without Borders recently published a report stating South Sudan ‘has yet to embark on a road to civil liberties’. The report also says there has not been ‘significant improvement’ of press freedom with journalists censoring themselves and cases of journalists being arrested such as with Ngor Aguot Garang, editor of the Juba-based Destiny, and one of his reporters, Dengdit Ayok. They were released after two weeks.

Corruption and poor governance has already become endemic to the point when President Silva Kiir himself wrote letters to 75 government officials demanding a return of 4 billion dollars of state funds, in the letter Kiir stated “We fought for freedom, justice and equality. Yet, once we got to power, we forgot what we fought for and began to enrich ourselves at the expense of our people.” Gerald Prunier a French scholar on Africa resigned as advisor to the government describing the leadership to journalist Alan Boswell, as a ‘government of idiots’ who are ‘rotten to the core’. One can say ‘give South Sudan a chance its only one year old’, yet the government had six years of semi-autonomous rule and international assistance to form the basic pillars of a state.

You have to also question, is the flag of South Sudan the flag of the SPLM? First President of the Government of South Sudan the late Dr. John Garang’s face is printed on South Sudanese pound notes. Who asked for his face to be put there? Was it the choice of the people or the SPLM? The main thing remains that South Sudan cannot fall into this trend and fortunately there are those in the government who want to avoid this, for if South Sudan’s government repeats this past trend, it will betray the very things it fought for; freedom, democracy, social justice and equality.



Omar Zaki is a half-Sudanese student studying History at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He’s the Union Secretary for the SOAS Student’s Union, with a strong interest in politics, international affairs and culture.

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