The leader of South Sudan’s main opposition SPLM-DC party, Lam Akol, has said in his first public address since he was pardoned by President Salva Kiir early this month that he opposes the country's bid to join the East African Community (EAC).
Akol said he was against membership because South Sudan does not have the same production capacity as other EAC members, and he was worried that development would suffer in South Sudan as traders struggle to compete with their counterparts from other EAC member states.
"Nobody will tell me right now that we have exports that will compete even with Burundi, let alone the other giants of the East African Community," Akol said in a speech delivered at the University of Juba.
"Nobody can tell me now that our infrastructure is better placed so our products, even if we had products now, could easily be transported to the market. Nobody can tell me this. So I believe the argument for joining now, I need to be persuaded...my conclusion is that this is not the time for us to commit such a suicide," he said.
An EAC committee last year recommended that the regional grouping, which standardizes trade, immigration and labor policies between its member states, allow South Sudan to become a member. The EAC currently comprises Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.
Akol called for public debates on EAC membership and other government plans that would impact the country's economy, before a bill is passed into law. Such a move would allow people across South Sudan to have an open discussion on key issues, and might avoid what happened with the recent devaluation of the South Sudanese pound, he said.
Two days after South Sudan's Central Bank announced earlier this month that it was devaluing the pound from nearly three pounds to the dollar to 4.5 pounds, saying the move was necessary to reduce volatile pricing and to stymie the country's black market, the National Assembly forced the bank to reverse the decision, claiming it harmed ordinary South Sudanese.
Devaluation was "an issue which is very important. But, to my own understanding, it was handled very emotionally, to the extent that people lost sight of what was meant to be done," Akol said.
"The talk now is about, 'Let it be canceled,' and it has been canceled. But the question remains – why from the beginning was it proposed?” he said.
Akol, who was accused of encouraging rebel groups and lived in exile for the last two years, was pardoned by Kiir at the beginning of November and returned to South Sudan, where he began calling on the government to clearly present its long-term political and economic plans so people across the country can have an open discussion about them.
Doing so would foster national unity, he said.
“For a consensus to be meaningful, it must address the real concerns of all of us. It is amazing how we always identify the point of difference. But if we go deep into the issues that we are handling, we shall be surprised to find how much it is that we are united on many issues,” Akol said.