Full Text: Response to the testimony of Peter Biar Ajak at the recent U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the State of Democracy.
During the recent US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the State of Democracy in the World, Dr. Peter Biar Ajak testified making a series of largely unsubstantiated allegations against President Salva Kiir Mayardit and the Government of South Sudan. Some of these baseless claims merit a response.
The charge incessantly repeated by Dr. Ajak that he narrowly escaped death at the hands of South Sudanese Security agents in Nairobi, Kenya is patently false. All along meanwhile under detention in South Sudan for dangerous subversive activities, he was totally at the mercy of the Government. Yet, not only did he suffer no harm both physically and psychologically, but the very same President Salva Kiir Mayardit whom he continues to vilify, showed clemency and ordered his release after hardly serving any significant jail term following his lawful conviction by a competent court of law.
The narrative that Dr. Ajak was set free and allowed to leave the custody of South Sudan’s penal institutions only to be pursued and hunted down in Kenya with the objective of murdering him is a cock and bull story that deserves to be dismissed with the contempt it deserves.
Having said that perhaps Dr. Ajak is entitled to sorme credit after all for this elaborate ruse, probably crafted with the help of his lawyers, to enable him instantaneously gain political asylum in the US as an applicant whose life was allegedly in immediate danger. In that he has succeeded with flying colors. On the mandate of President Kiir, Dr. Ajak asserts that the President assumed power upon the country’s independence as an appointed rather as an elected leader.
By this he insinuates, that as an unelected leader of independent South Sudan, President Kiir lacks legitimacy. Naturally the new political dispensation ushered in at South Sudan’s independence in July 2011, was an interim arrangement that could not conceivably start in a vacuum. The incumbent Government led by President Kiir had by necessity at the time, to be entrusted with the task of steering the country through transition to elections.
“It is fanciful to think that the SPLM should have dispensed with and proceed to organize elections immediately upon the proclamation of independence. need for an interim period The unfortunate and tragic events of 2013 denied South Sudanese the opportunity of exercising their inalienable right to go the polls and elect their leaders in 2015 as originally envisaged.”
Had elections gone ahead as planned, President Kiir and the SPLM would have undoubtedly sought the renewal of their mandate to run the country. It is regrettable that South Sudan missed the chance of holding elections, but that is not a credible basis upon which to brand the current Administration as a regime that is undemocratic and hence bereft of any legitimacy. Legitimacy does not stem from form but rather from substance or essence. When President Kiir was elected in 2010 as the President of the Government of Southern Sudan, those who cast their ballots for him are the very same South Sudanese who would have done so again had elections been held in 2015.
The fact that eligible South Sudanese voters voted in 2010 in the context of a united Sudan and were expected to vote again in 2015 as citizens of an independent South Sudan, does not affect one bit, the mandate they bestow upon whoever they vote into office.
The constitutional and political context in which they vote is immaterial for as long as the voters remain the same people. Therefore President Kiir’s right to lead South Sudan, at least till the next elections determine the post-transition power architecture, is undiminished.
Furthermore, the claim that democracy in South Sudan is being stifled is totally without merit. Responsibility Sharing (Power Sharing) during the Transitional Period among multiple political entities is the bedrock of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) of September 2018.
These arrangements that have been embedded in the Agreement, constitute an eloquent manifestation of democracy in action. Therefore the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGONU), by its very nature, is a recognition and full acceptance of the reality that South Sudan is irreversibly locked into a trajectory towards multi-party democracy.
The call for early elections in 2022, is again without justification. It must be borne in mind that the actual inauguration of the (R-TGONU) following conclusion of the Agreement in September, 2018 took some time. Hence the time lost must be recouped so that there is adequate time to complete all the tasks of the transition before elections are held. Dr. Ajak himself would acknowledge the absolute necessity of first producing a Permanent Constitution and conducting a population census as indispensable pre-requisites to holding any credible elections. And since these two processes, especially adoption of the Permanent Constitution on the basis of which elections shall be held, and others require time, there is no plausible rationale to insist on rushing elections.
All the critical transition tasks on which genuinely free and fair elections would be predicated must be accomplished before the polls, even if that means adjusting the electoral time-table to accommodate these tasks. Premature elections cannot reflect the true will of the electorate and would consequently amount to an act of practical disenfranchisement, a travesty of political justice and a recipe for disaster.
The Government’s commitment to the further consolidation of peace and rendering the current dispensation more broad based and inclusive is underlined by ongoing peace talks with hold-out opposition Groups. The three separate rounds of negotiations held under the auspices of St. Egidio Community with the two factions of the South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA) thus far, have yielded promising results.
This engagement will relentlessly continue till (SSOMA) joins the peace fold. Conflict-induced political instability continues to seriously aggravate the already daunting economic challenges facing the nascent Republic of South Sudan. The Covid-19 pandemic has only made matters worse. However this grim scenario is not without a silver lining. Thanks to the (R-ARCSS), which is being successfully implemented, albeit at a somewhat slow pace, the factor of conflict and its impact on the economic situation is fast receding.
The Government has been pro-active in the search for solutions to economic difficulties. The Ministry of Finance & Planning has undertaken in collaboration with and the active participation of South Sudan’s Development Partners, a Public Financial Management Reform Process that will enhance accountability and transparency. And in tandem with this process the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of South Sudan (Central Bank) have engaged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in an economic policy review exercise aimed at liberalizing the exchange rate and improving overall economic performance.
We are optimistic that the cumulative effect of these measures will among other things, assist the Government meet its financial obligations, notably the payment of salaries, fully and on time. The humanitarian situation currently obtaining in South Sudan is difficult and continues to demand robust intervention. Acting in concert with the international community the Government has managed to ameliorate the level of suffering engendered by the humanitarian crisis.
The Government constantly strives to remove bottlenecks constraining the timely delivery of humanitarian assistance to needy communities. Inter-communal conflicts over access to pastures and water among pastoralist and agro-pastoral communities have been largely exacerbated by the proliferation of small arms among the civil population.
Ultimately it becomes imperative that these illegal arms are collected and disposed of in a manner that ensures they never find their way back again into the hands of those from whom they were taken in the first place. The ongoing disarmament process that is regulated by law is essentially a peaceful exercise whereby Chiefs and Traditional leaders solicit the voluntary surrender of weapons from their people.
It is hoped that this endeavor will succeed and the Government will not be compelled to have recourse to coercive measures to strip the civil population of these weapons. However, in the event that the use of force becomes unavoidable the Government will not hesitate to use it to save lives and preserve law and order.
And such action if at all needed, will be carried out meanwhile strictly observing fundamental human rights. The Government of South Sudan cannot reflect on the humanitarian situation without pausing to express its profound gratitude to the international community for all that it has done thus far to mitigate the crisis.
We thank the United Nations, its Agencies and the international NGO community for the action they have taken to date, to ease the plight of the thousands that have been uprooted from their homes in Jonglei State and Pibor Administrative area by a combination of violent conflict and devastating floods. Given the recurrent nature of the phenomenon of flooding in those areas, we urge continued support in helping devise more durable solutions so that flooding and its attendant woes in flood-prone areas of South Sudan becomes a thing of the past.