News / Africa

South Sudan's Former Rebels Use Polls to Rally Support

Salva Kiir (L) VP and President of South-Sudan in Nairobi (File)
Salva Kiir (L) VP and President of South-Sudan in Nairobi (File)

Sudan is to hold elections next month, and the ruling party of South Sudan is crisscrossing the region asking for votes.  The former rebels' case to stay in power rests on a peace deal signed five years ago, and a promised secession vote now 10 months away.

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir steps out of his plane and into the sun of Sudan's Eastern Equatoria state, where he is instantly greeted by the swarming crowd of Toposa villagers.

Men drum and women dance. Cheers, chants, and whistles drown out the stern orders flowing from the president's security men.

Mr. Kiir and his running mate, the semi-autonomous region's vice president, Riek Machar, jump into the back of a waiting pickup truck, waving as they push through the swaying sea of people towards the dusty sun-baked Kapoeta town square.

The townspeople coalesce into a wide semicircle around the makeshift platform, raising campaign banners as designated youth from the village lead the crowd in party chants.

For the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement Party, and for Mr. Kiir, these elections mark less a serious challenge at the polls than an opportunity to re-mobilize southerners around their rule.

The party lacks a strong unified opposition in the South.  The sole presidential candidate running against Mr. Kiir has based himself in Khartoum, the seat of the South's long-time Arab foes and now shaky peace partners, and is not likely to approach Mr. Kiir's numbers for the region's top seat.

SPLM's main threat in the polls comes not from without, but within.  A heavily-criticized behind-closed-doors party nomination process has pushed disgruntled party politicians into declaring themselves independent candidates for the region's governorships.  Some, local analysts say, could win.

But internal squabbles aside, the former rebels have mostly managed to retain general popular support during its five years of peacetime rule.

When asked to point out the achievements of his party, Eastern Equatoria state legislator Angelo Lomoi says the former rebel group's primary credential remains the negotiated end to the two-decade civil war.

"The first thing they did is that they brought the peace, the CPA, and they have maintained that peace," he said.

On the campaign trail, references to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement are quick off the tongue of every speaker.  Synonymous with the CPA for most southerners is the much-anticipated independence referendum included in the pact, now scheduled for January 2011.

South Sudan's Former Rebels Use Polls to Rally Support
South Sudan's Former Rebels Use Polls to Rally Support

At a campaign stop in Eastern Equatoria's town of Nimule later the same day, the local county commissioner Emilio Iggo gives little doubt as to what outcome he thinks his people expect from the secession vote.

"We know this is not the end of the journey.  We have still the referendum to come that will give the last destination where we get our freedom. Everybody in this county is behind you.  SPLM oye! Salva Kiir oye!" he said.

Analysts say the glue holding the party together remains the region's quest for self-determination, fueled by deep resentment against the country's northern rulers.  Many think the real test for southerners will arise in the possible event the region achieves political separation, when many fear the region could begin fragmenting into competing interests.

The former rebels are vulnerable to inner strife, as indicated by the splinter independent candidates.  Deep tribal tensions simmer under the region's political surface, and the region carries a long history of bloody ethnic-based divisions.

Mr. Kiir's running mate, Mr. Machar, led a 1991 split in rebel ranks that proved a serious setback for the movement and caused the deaths of thousands in the subsequent infighting. It took the rebels the rest of the decade to slowly re-unify, and root grievances remain.  Last year, over 2500 were killed in the South and over 350,000 displaced during internal clashes.

Even the party's critics admit the southern rebels were handed a tall task in the peace deal, granted reign over one of the world's most undeveloped stretches, while possessing little institutional capacity to carry out much immediate change.

One unexpected turn of events struck SPLM especially hard.  Just months after the peace deal was signed, the party lost its charismatic leader, John Garang, who is revered postmortem as a near-god across much of South Sudan. While SPLM immediately rallied behind Mr. Kiir, the last remaining member of the rebellion's founding inner circle, detractors say he lacks his predecessor's political vision and tenacity.

If the region gets its independence, Mr. Kiir and SPLM will be given the chance to prove critics wrong.

But for now, the former rebels are urging the Southern Sudanese to remember the peace deal signed five years back and focus on another vote less than one year ahead.  At that time, they say, the people can claim their long-sought prize.

You May Like

Unpaid Kurdish Fighters Sign of Economic Woes

Sharp cuts in Kurdistan's budget by Baghdad, falling oil revenue, coping with refugees, inflated public sector have hit regional economy hard More

Koreas Exchange List of Envoys for Family Reunion Talks

Officials will discuss date, venue and number of participants for reunion; Seoul hopes to hold event late this month More

China Targets 197 in Online Speech Crackdown

Nearly 200 punished for 'spreading rumors' online in ongoing crackdown on free speech More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 02, 2015 6:19 PM
Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it’s handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. But not all Europeans believe building walls or passing repressive policies are the answer. A school for migrants in the French port city of Calais, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities. VOA's Lisa Bryant reports.
Video

Video Russia-Japan Relations Cool as Putin Visits China for WWII Anniversary

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing for commemorations of the 70th anniversary of China's WWII victory over Japan. Putin is expected to visit Japan later this year, but tensions between Tokyo and Moscow over islands disputed since the war, and sanctions over Ukraine, could pour cold water on the plan. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Kurdish Fighters on IS Frontline Ready for Offensive

Finger on the trigger, the Kurdish Peshmerga soldier stared across the dust at a village taken over by Islamic State extremists. The Kurdistan’s Khazir frontline, just 45 minutes from the Islamic State stronghold of Mosul. And at this point, the militants were less than two kilometers away. VOA's Sharon Behn reports.
Video

Video Yemen ‘on Brink of Disaster’ as Medical Shortages Soar

Aid agencies warn Yemen is on the brink of humanitarian disaster – with up to half a million children facing severe malnutrition, and hospitals running out of basic medicines. There are fears Yemen's civil war could escalate as the coalition led by Saudi Arabia tries to drive back Houthi rebels, who seized control of much of the country earlier this year. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Apps Helping Kenyan Businesses Stay Ahead of Counterfeiters

Counterfeit goods in Kenya cost the government as much as $1 billion each year in lost tax revenues. The fake goods also hurt entrepreneurs who find it hard to carve out a niche in the market and retain customers. But as Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi, information technology is being used to try to beat the problem.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.

VOA Blogs