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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs