On 16th May 1983, exactly 36 years ago in Bor, the Capital of Jonglei State in Southern Sudan, a determined group of military officers rose up in defiance against the government of Sudan. The 1972 Addis-Ababa Peace Agreement had just been abrogated when President Gaafar Niemeri declared the Sharia as the supreme law. This added rage to the already simmering waves of discontentment in the South where the majority associated with Africanism, traditional beliefs, African culture and to some degree, Christianity. Among the charismatic military officers were Salva Kiir, Samuel Khabas, Nyuon Bany, Kerubino Kuanyin. They were shortly joined by Col. Dr. John Garang who quickly rose to the helm of the Movement’s leadership and became a symbol of the liberation struggle in Southern Sudan.
Amidst contentious internal cleavages and conflicts, the SPLM/A managed to rally the Southerners against the common enemy in the North. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2005 and one of the key components of the historical pact was a provision for the people in South to have a right to self-determination. Even when tragedy befall Dr. Garang shortly after the CPA was signed, civic and political conscious in the South continued rising and in Jan 2011, a referendum was held. More than 98% of the Southerners voted in favor of a separated South. Half-way into that same year on July 22nd, South Sudan became the world’s youngest nation.
As SPLM Party celebrates its 36th Anniversary, Our Programme Officer, Donnas Ojok who is in Yei Town, the Capital of Yei River State, one of the 32 States in South Sudan caught up with Hon. Aligo Lo-Ladu, the current Secretary of the SPLM Party and also a senior Political Advisor in the State to reflect on the current state of the party and its future aspirations.
D.O: What is SPLM/As biggest political achievement?
A.O: We waged a successful liberation struggle and it was able to mobilize the South Sudanese masses from the oppression by the government in Khartoum. We would never have attained our independence without the relentless struggles of the SPLM. In fact, SPLMs achievements reverberate beyond the South. We even awakened the political and civic-consciousness other black people in Sudan. The struggles in Darfur, Nuba Mountains can all be attributed to the liberation fires lit in the South.
D.O: What makes you loyal to the party and fervently serve it despite the current political challenges and intricacies in South Sudan?
A.L: When I joined the movement in 1996, our party manifesto was clear: it was aout liberation and service to our people despite our various differences. Together with other young cadres, we wanted to be part of a movement with such a bold vision. Despite the current challenges, I still remain convicted to be loyal and serve the party and do whatever is within my means to make sure that the party stays true to its founding values and mission.
D.O: But are those values and mission still within reach? Haven’t you (the SPLM) veered off considering that South Sudan still remains one of the countries trapped in conflict with its ordinary citizens still some of the poorest people in the world?
A.L: South Sudan, like all countries haves it fair of challenges and its true, remaining focused and true to the task is a gigantic task which should be meticulously executed. Unfortunately, we wrecked it from the very beginning. When we got our independence, we couldn’t make priorities. The quest to better the life of the ordinary citizen ceased to continue being the primary objective of the struggle. There was a lot going on and we were overwhelmed. Significant among them was the petrodollars. The money came in billions and personal greed of some elements within the government took toll on our shared national agenda of transformation and development.
D.O. But these same problems still seem so prevalent to date, isn’t it?
A.L: Yes, we still have a long way to go. I think we are just still physically liberated as a country. For a transformational change to occur, we need a mental liberation. The entire South Sudanese population, including the political elites needs to transform their attitudes and belief systems. We need to start believing in ourselves and develop a deep sense of unity and understanding among ourselves. It ironic that even at the height of the conflict, neighbors were killing each other, only barbarians do that.
D.O: Is the SPLM Party prepared to take the South Sudanese people to the future?
A.L: Whilst many problems still exist, we have also made progress. Most importantly, we are learning from history and everything that is happening to date. For instance, we accepted to sign the peace agreement and are fully committed to ensure its effective implementation. That’s progress.
But regarding your question, for us to take South Sudan to the future, we need fundamental reforms within the party. SPLM should transform itself into a fully functional democratic establishment. We need to open up space for political contestations. We need to accept political competition. For, it is only through competition of political ideas that we shall refine our ideology and be prepared to take the people of South Sudan to the future.
More so, leadership of the SPLM party should get back to the drawing board and make the progress and prosperity of the ordinary citizen a cornerstone of its work.
We also need to reconciliate and come together as a country to reconstruct our social fabric and political life.
Unfortunately, if we do this now, we shall be fighting our most immediate future and shattering the hopes, dreams and aspirations of our people.