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Nairobi - 31 Jan 2023

Interview:‘Kiir has deliberately destroyed SPLM and is not interested in genuine peace’-Pagan Amum

Real SPLM's Gen. Pagan Amum Okiech. (File photo)
Real SPLM's Gen. Pagan Amum Okiech. (File photo)

The former Secretary-General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Gen. Pagan Amum Okiech, who is now the leader of the holdout group, the Real SPLM, has faulted President Salva Kiir for betraying the ideals of the SPLM and scuttling the party.

In an exclusive interview with Radio Tamazuj, Gen. Amum who also doubles as the spokesperson of an alliance of five opposition groups dubbed the Non-Signatories South Sudanese Oppositions Group (NSSSOG), said President Kiir is only interested in maintaining the status quo and not in bringing genuine peace. He prescribed a roundtable of all stakeholders as the only solution to the crises the country is facing.

Below are edited excerpts:

Q: February 2023, marks the end of the transitional period as stipulated in the revitalized peace agreement. What is your assessment of the implementation of the peace agreement thus far?

A: Yes. Next month indeed marks the end of the transitional period as agreed in the revitalized peace agreement and after the extension of the period as well. The first extension of the pre-transitional period was from September 2018 to February 2020 due to delays in implementing the provision of the pre-transitional period, especially the deliberate delay by the SPLM-IG (in government) and their partners.

We have now reached the end of the transitional period without fully implementing the peace agreement and the situation in the country is even worse than before the signing of the peace agreement. The government has not achieved any peace or democratic transition as stipulated in the peace deal.

The crises in the country keep on increasing and the humanitarian situation is becoming worse according to reports from the UN and other international organizations, between 80 to 90 percent of the population is at high risk of hunger this year.

The security situation today in South Sudan keeps on deteriorating and the government has managed to tear the social fabric, creating strife between the different tribal groups in the country. The government incited communities, and inter-communal fighting is ongoing between Ngok Dinka of Abyei and the Twic community in Gogrial in Warrap state. As you may have been following, also the recent tribal fighting between Nuer and Chollo in Upper Nile, where these atrocities can amount to war crimes. There is another tribal conflict between Dinka and Maban in Upper Nile and now you are following up on what is happening in Jonglei and Greater Pibor Administrative Area. There are systematic killings of civilians, forceful displacement of civilians, and looting of cattle. There was also recent fighting between the Dinka Bor, Mundari, and Bari in Central Equatoria, and similarly, wars are going on in West Equatoria.

So, the whole country is witnessing unrest and the situation keeps on deteriorating. The government has lost the ability to control the situation and they are unable to carry out basic mandates as the government. They are unable to protect civilians and their property or provide basic services including security and stability. Their little presence is only significant in Juba and other state capitals. This is the situation in the county at the moment.

South Sudan is on the curve of a failed state and this is a dangerous situation that needs collective efforts from all the stakeholders in the country to try to resolve. Our citizens are divided and the social fabric is torn apart.

Q: What in your opinion is the solution to the problem afflicting South Sudan?

A: The only way to save our country is to initiate a roundtable dialogue that will include all the stakeholders in the country. It will be an opportunity for all the political parties, armed groups, government, opposition, religious and traditional leaders, women and youth leaders, and civil society organizations in the country to come together and agree on how to save our country from chaos and failure.

We need to renew the unity among our people, through a serious national dialogue outside the country to provide a conducive environment for the dialogue.

We expect all the stakeholders to seat, think and agree on a national consensus and adopt a new social contract as a basic foundation to build a new state for the people of South Sudan. This is the proposal we have come up with built on a dialogue among different stakeholders in the country for developing a national consensus to save the country before it collapses.

The idea is that all the extensions of all the transitional periods in the country have been proven to fail. No one will ever convince the people of South Sudan that the last extension of the transition will bring a solution. It has been clear since the announcement of the extension that there is no political will to implement the agreement. Instead, the situation in the country keeps on deteriorating. That is why we are calling upon all the political forces, religious, women, youth, and civil society leaders in the country to assemble around the proposal of the roundtable to save South Sudan.

Q: When and where will the roundtable be held and do you have the support of the international community?

A: We are about to present this proposal to all the political forces in the country, including the government, which are signatories to the current revitalized peace agreement, and to all other stakeholders.

We hoped that the Rome talks mediated by the Community of Sant’Egidio should be the venue for negotiations between the government, the non-signatories, and others. This is our hope! And we still appeal to the government, with all its political parties, to take responsibility for this national dialogue so that we can save our country. Therefore, we renew our call to the government and the people of South Sudan to pressure the government to return to Rome peace talks so that we discuss our proposal.

Q: Rome peace talks have dragged on for a long time. Are you still hopeful that they will bring peace to the country?

A: We still believe that the Rome Initiative has been very slow because the government has not been genuine enough to continue with the talks. They keep on suspending their participation in the talks now and then. Last year, the government suspended its participation and they did the same last November. So, the delay is from the government. That is why we urge the people of South Sudan and the regional and international community to pressure the government so that they can resume their participation in the talks.

The regional and international community must know that there is a need to save the country by supporting the proposed roundtable initiative and we got a lot of encouragement on this. The only obstacles now lay with President Salva Kiir and the SPLM party.

Q: As non-signatories to the revitalized peace agreement, what are some challenges that you see in bringing peace to the country?

A: We have now united as the non-signatories and more than 21 groups including civil society organizations, youth, and women groups are in agreement with us and we have agreed on a program to save the country from the current national crises. We also agreed to support the roundtable initiative and to draft a new social contract to save South Sudan from the current situation.

Q: The SPLM party recently banished you and installed a new secretary general in your place. What is your reaction to this development?

A: The SPLM in the government under the leadership of President Slave Kiir has lost the vision of the party and betrayed the mission and the vision of the SPLM to build a prosperous state for the people of South Sudan which led to the crises in 2013, through their coup against the party.

They accused some of us of organizing a coup against the SPLM but in the real sense, Kiir and his group are the ones who betrayed us and betrayed the SPLM party and its programs.

We regard Kiir and his group as those who lost the vision of the SPLM as designed by Dr. John Garang De Mabior. Therefore, we are not part of their group. We are working on rebuilding the vision of the Real SPLM and we will continue to stick to the vision as explained by our founder Dr. John Garang.

Q: Some members of the SPLM have accused you of using the name ‘SPLM’ illegally and some even threaten to take you to the court. What can you say about this?

A: It is clear that Kiir and his group are currently implementing policies that go against the vision and mission of the SPLM. They have failed to fully implement the program of building a new democratic state which is built on citizenship. Instead, they are now implementing policies based on tribal clashes and tearing the social fabric of South Sudan.

Whoever is following the situation in South Sudan will realize that President Kiir and his group are working against the vision of the SPLM. They have destroyed the name and the legacy of the SPLM as a liberation party. There is no question about this.

So, the argument should not be on who owns the name of the party and who should take the other to court but the real argument should be who is implementing the vision and the programs of the SPLM. If we go to court, it will be a historic trial. At the moment we do not want to enter into this discussion but we will allow our people to decide.

Q: Pope Francis is expected to visit South Sudan and part of his programs is to meet and discuss peace with leaders in the country. What is your take on the papal visit?

A: We as the six non-signatories to the peace agreement have been in touch with the Vatican. We recently visited and met with the Vatican leaders and presented to them our roundtable initiative as the only way to end the current crises in the country.

We welcome the visit of the Pope and his accompanying delegation, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

We do not know what the Pope is going to do this time round because the other time during the retreat in Rome, he knelt and kissed the feet of President Kiir and the other leaders and appealed to them to bring peace and save the lives of their citizens. Look at this sacrifice that is made by the Pope for our people.

President Kiir and his First Vice President Riek Machar have not honored even one percent of the request of the Pope despite the sacrifice to kiss their feet. So, this time around what is he (Pope) going to do again? Will remove his clothes and go naked before them or will he wear a sack for them to work for peace? How will the Pope convince them to bring peace? This is what we are wondering about.

President Kiir does not want peace despite the call of the Pope and other world religious leaders for peace in the country. This is apart from the repeated appeals by South Sudanese religious leaders who keep on calling on the government every Sunday to work for peace. President Kiir does not listen to these voices and he instead keeps on blaming some religious leaders and that is why he stopped going to church on Sundays.

South Sudanese citizens should use the occasion of the visit of the Pope, even after his visit, to put more pressure on the government to deliver peace because President Kiir who has been leading about five transitional governments for the past 11 years has failed the country. He has failed to achieve peace and realize a democratic transition.

Q: Can you tell us more about the objectives and plans of the Real SPLM?

A: Yes! The Real SPLM is an organization and a forum that is working to rebuild the original SPLM’s vision and mission in accordance with the initial ideas of the founder, the late doctor John Garang, who believed in building a modern democratic South Sudan that provides people with basic services. A country that can provide security, stability, health, education, and clean water, and can manage the economy. A state that encourages South Sudanese citizens to create national wealth that will help the people to come out of poverty. A state that can make an education revolution to raise the county to the level of other nations in the 21st century.

The Real SPLM is a forum to reunite and reorganize leaders of the SPLM who have been scattered and who lost hope after the betrayal of President Kiir to achieve the objectives of the movement.

So, we are the Real SPLM because our objective is to re-organize ourselves to restructure the programs of the SPLM to build a modern nation-state that is built on diversity and equal citizenship without segregation.

Q: President Kiir faulted you for corruption when you were the secretary general of the SPLM. What is your response to this allegation?

A: This is a baseless allegation. Days have proven that it is President Kiir and his allies that are practicing corruption. Corruption is now rampant across the country. National resources are looted even during the day, especially after we left the country.

Q: What is your take on the violent events in Chollo land in Upper Nile?

A: What is happening in Chollo land is not different from what has been happening in other areas across the country. We have seen similar incidents in Pibor, Abyei, and Twic and as I said earlier, about 9o percent of the country’s population is at high risk of hunger.

What is happening in Chollo land is a clear crisis and manifestation of the fact that the government is unable to protect the lives of its citizens or to provide them with basic services.

Leaders of the country, including President Kiir, are involved in dividing people along ethnic lines and encouraging tribal clashes. Unfortunately, the government is even going as far as funding these clashes across the country.  So, what is happening in the Chollo land is a sign of the failure of the state in South Sudan.

The only solution is to save this country, achieve lasting peace, and rebuild a system that can provide people with basic services, including protection, uniting the people, and building the nation for all the tribes of South Sudan.

Q: As a former senior government official and politician, what is the way forward in mitigating the crises in the country?

A: The most important thing at the moment is that we should accept the current situation we are living in. This newly established state is in a serious crisis. The country is at threat of failure and chaos. South Sudan is on a curve of being labeled a lawless state as happened in Somalia in 1991. The Somali people suffered for over 20 years and they faced a lot of challenges in rebuilding their state.

The first thing that we in South Sudan should do at the moment is to stop the ongoing tribal conflicts and unite as one people and come to a roundtable to discuss the way forward for our country. We need to put an end to the tribal and inter-communal conflict, the spread of tribalism, and the destruction of the social fabric among communities.

The second thing is that during the roundtable discussion, we should reach a consensus and draft a new social contract that contains the agreement between the people and the government on what kind of state they deserve. And if we need to build ourselves as “one people, one nation,” we need to begin to change from tribes to one united people. These principles need to be agreed upon in the new social contract. And after that, we will have to agree on a process to implement the national consensus as a result of the roundtable dialogue.

We need to agree that all the transitional governments since the independence of the country have failed the country due to internal divisions among different parties. The internal divisions have resulted in the continuation of war all the time. That is why we need to find a new approach to finding a new government in the country.

For example, one of the ways forward is for all the political leaders in the government and the opposition to step aside during a transitional period and allow professional South Sudanese to rebuild national institutions and implement the programs of the transitional period.

We need to bring professionals in education, health, agriculture, economy, and judiciary, among others, and bestow on them the responsibility of laying the foundation of institutions in South Sudan. They are responsible for implementing the programs of the transitional period that have been agreed upon during the roundtable dialogue. They will be responsible to lay down programs on peacebuilding, achieving reconciliation among communities, and transitional justice.

And at the end of the transitional period, they shall organize a free and fair election and the people of South Sudan shall choose their leaders in a peaceful environment.

The political forces in the country shall support the transitional government in building a permanent constitution for the country and the technocratic government shall ensure that there are conducive and equal opportunities are given for all the political parties to contest in a free and fair election in the country.

They shall hand over power to an elected government chosen by the people of South Sudan in a multi-party environment where there is an agreement that the power is in the hands of the people. They shall ensure that the people are the ones to choose their leaders and the government shall ensure that they hand over power to those who will win in the election.

This is the program that will save our country and build a peaceful state, sustainable and democratic system that will direct all the energy of our people towards rebuilding their broken lives and building a national wealth that secures their livelihoods and rebuild our dignity as citizens of this country.

Q: The government has accused the non-signatories of being unserious about peace. Is this true?

A: This is not true. The people of South Sudan and the media have been following the situation in the country. If there is no agreement up to now, there is a need to use the Rome forum to reach an agreement so that we prevent further war. The stance of the government is not logical and not convincing.

President Kiir and his group would want to continue ruling the country and destroy the country. They are afraid of engaging in talks because this shall prevent their continuation in power, especially after they fail to implement all the peace agreements in the country.

Q: Do you have any final message you would like to put across?

A: I would like to take this opportunity to wish all the people of South Sudan a Happy New Year 2023. It is my wish that this year should be the year of peace and I call upon them to unite and continue to put pressure on the government to accept to take part in the roundtable so that we save this country from crises, war, conflicts, and humanitarian disasters.

Our country is on a dangerous path and we do not have any option unless we go and sit down and agree on saving our country. South Sudan will collapse if we do not take action now.