Will “Joshua Legacy” Survive Kiir’s Administration

“…there is a feeling that President Kiir is at last feeling both secure and confident enough to be making courageous decisions towards his widely publicised “zero tolerance against corruption”.

By Jacob J Akol

(Editorial, Gurtong Focus Monthly July 2013 Issue)-Salva Kiir Mayardit has been in leadership for about 30 years to date. Twenty-two of those years were spent fighting Khartoum-based governments as the No.2 man in the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). He was President of the Government of Southern Sudan during the Interim Period of 6 years 6 months, following the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in Kenya in 2005.  He is celebrating this month his second year in power as the President of an Independent South Sudan. Altogether a very impressive record! Yet, will the legacy survive his continued administration?

As the number two man in the liberation movement, some of the blame for the woes which beset the movement from its infancy in Ethiopia to the day the CPA was signed in Kenya, could rightly be placed at his door, just as much as at John Garang’s, the long-time leader of the SPLM/A to the day he tragically died in a helicopter “accident” in 2005.

But, like Garang, he would have the right to bask in the glory of a victorious movement and the people who brought the then “mighty Khartoum” government down to an internationally supervised peace table and abstracted from it an agreement which mapped the way to an independent South Sudan. Kiir’s signature on the “Machakos Protocol”, seen as the “mother of all the protocols” by the people of South Sudan because it promised them freedom, will not be easily lost to history.

However, what clearly defines Kiir’s leadership as unique was the Interim Period during which he was President of the Government of South Sudan. Admittedly, Khartoum got away with almost everything: An unfair share of the oil, which eventually began to look like 80 to 20 per cent in favour of Khartoum instead of the fifty-fifty share of the oil gazetted in the agreement.  Apart from consolidating its position in South Sudan’s territories such as Panthou (Higlig), Kafia Kingi and other so-called disputed territories, Bashir muddied the Abyei Protocol and eventually invaded the territory militarily just two months before independence of South Sudan in July 2011.

However, Kiir managed to lessen the impact of Khartoum’s sponsored South Sudanese militiamen by offering them one amnesty after another and integrating them into the SPLM/A along with their inflated ranks by Khartoum, this was a very expensive ploy designed by Khartoum to scuttle the referendum and with it the entire agreement! President Bashir underrated Kiir and never expected his administration would overcome the many hurdles he placed in his path.

But, when Bashir floated the idea of postponing the date of the referendum for the independence of the South, Kiir rejected it outright, saying he would not tolerate any delay in the referendum, not even for a second. The people of South Sudan were solidly behind Kiir and would have gone to war with Khartoum to defend the Machakos Protocol.

The referendum vote on January 2011 was close to 100% for the independence of South Sudan, which was formally celebrated on July 9th 2011; thus earning President Kiir the biblical leadership title of “Joshua of South Sudan”.  But, what evils of the Interim Period followed Kiir and his administration into “the Promised Land” and threatened to erase his hard-earned legacy? 

What truly threatened the survival of Kiir’s government in the Interim Period was the unbridled corruption within his administration. Thousands of millions of dollars of public money from oil proceeds, disappeared into personal bank accounts and property in the region and overseas. Ghost employees and companies took their unearned share from thepublic purse, leaving roads, schools, healthcare and food production with inadequate funds.

“Corruption”, it was pointed out in the editorial of the December 2011 – January 2012 issue of this magazine, “is at the root of everything that can go wrong for a nation. It is invasive and spreads like cancer or weed. It strangles justice and fairness, promotes vice and bias, overshadows creativity and celebrates mediocre and chaotic behaviour.”  

In an independent South Sudan, President Kiir would simply have to do something radical to halt and reverse the cancerous trend in his administration. How was he to do it and with what means?

It took President Kiir close to two months, following the independence of South Sudan, before he could announce his first cabinet of 29 ministers and 27 deputy ministers, a total of 56 ministers, far too large for a poor and young nation at war with tribalism, nepotism, corruption and insecurity. There was no element of the sacrifice, which had guided the liberation movement for two decades.  

The only positive aspect was the balance given to the three greater regions of Equatoria, Bahr al Ghazal and Upper Nile. Otherwise “…the present cabinet is largely recycled old wine in new bottles. Except for a few, most of the current ministers have been associated with the team which has been governing the autonomous Southern Sudan Region of the Sudan for the last six and a half years of the Interim Period. And if anything can aptly characterise the last Interim Period, it is the four enemies of development: Tribalism, Nepotism, Corruption and Insecurity. So what has changed?” (Gurtong Focus, September 2011).

By the time we celebrated the First Anniversary of Independence in July last year, it was evident that not much had changed. Gurtong Focus of July 2012 summed it up in the cover story as “A Tumultuous Year of Independence – At War With Tribalism, Corruption, Nepotism and Insecurity”.   

By May 3rd 2012, President Kiir had become so frustrated that he publicly appealed to 75 of his current and former ministers and colleagues in-arms to “wholly or partially” return an estimated $4 billion (figure disputed) of public money they had stashed away in foreign banks and real property to a new bank account known only to himself and “one another”; in return the compliant would receive an amnesty from the president. But, as we approach the Second Anniversary of Independence on July 9th, we have not been told if anyone has complied with the president’s appeal.

There is an Anti-Corruption Commission which should have by now investigated shady deals, such as the “Dura Saga” in which billions of dollars are believed to have been embezzled through shady deals with the connivance of ministers and public servants. But, whatever this commission does, find or doesn’t find, is never announced directly to the public, as they seem to be responsible only to the president.

Indeed there is a long list of “official investigations” into serious crimes, including the murder of a popular political commentator, Isaiah Abraham, which have not resulted in any publicly known arrest or charges against anyone; thus strengthening a culture of impunity among government ministers, officials and security agents.

However, eyebrows were raised recently when President Kiir suspended the Minister of Finance, Kosti Manibe, and the Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Deng Alor, thus lifting their immunity against investigation over the transfer of over $7 million to a foreign company selling fire-proof safes on behalf of the government. The ministers are to be investigated by the Anti-corruption Commission who must report within 60 days to the President who has already promised prosecution if there is a criminal case found against the ministers.   

The surprise is that Manibe has been generally regarded as honest and most able Finance Minister President Kiir has ever appointed to that post. Deng Alor, on the other hand, was generally regarded as the closest of Ministers to President Kiir and would indeed be privy to any confidential documents for or against the president. Couple that with the recent suspension of the Director of the President’s office following the theft of a large amount of cash from one of the presidency offices in Juba, there is a feeling that President Kiir is at last feeling both secure and confident enough to be making courageous decisions towards his widely publicised “zero tolerance against corruption”.

If such courageous actions against corruption by the president were extended towards the abuse of human rights and security, South Sudan may not by this time next year find itself ranked fourth after Somalia, Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo “among the world’s failed states”, according to the Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy magazine.

Most importantly, though, and without implying that those suspended are guilty, the South Sudanese public feel somewhat encouraged when President Kiir takes a strong stand against supposedly powerful members of his administration. Such a legacy, if he pursues it within the law without fear or favour, can only add to, rather than diminish, his established legacy of “Joshua of South Sudan”.    


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