Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

South Sudan analyst responds to critiques of his previous articles on the challenges of building the new nation.

I would like to take a moment to respond to two commentators who wrote responses to my articles published by Pambazuka News: ‘South Sudan in the post-CPA era: Prospects and challenges’ [1] and ‘The role of women in nation-building in South Sudan.’ [2] I will begin by responding to that written by Divine Muragijimana, Editor in Chief at Applause Africa and President, Co-founder of The Council of Young African Leaders. [3] Lastly, I will address the critiques raised by Deng Chol, Founder and Vice President at The Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan: The National Network. I am grateful for the time and effort taken by each commenter, Divine and Deng, to respond to my articles and to foster a healthy, constructive discussion on an important subject. In the next section, I will respond to questions they raised about two of my articles.

Divine focused on leadership. She wrote that ‘the author’s devotion on problems seems to take away from a real problem that needs to be addressed.’ According to Divine, what I failed to address was the question of leadership. She urged South Sudanese to move on instead of focusing on Garang. In her own words, ‘Otherwise, the South Sudanese will find themselves facing the stagnation of the past- much like the Lumumba situation in Congo, the Che Guavaras (sic)- and the Nkrumah issue in Ghana (if not the rest of West Africa). Bottom line, South Sudan needs to get over its romance with Garang, move on and upwards (hopefully).’

The sweeping generalisation is without any attempt to understand Nkrumah, Lumumba and Che Guevara’s legacies. What is ironic in Divine’s response is that she also fails to understand Garang’s legacy as leader, visionary, scholar and statesman. More specifically, she misses Garang’s greatest legacy and instead rushes to advise South Sudanese to move on and find new leaders. This failure is likely due to her lack of familiarity with Garang’s works and specially his New Sudan Vision, which analyzes the problems of the Sudan and charts a way forward. It can be illuminating to compare Divine’s response to a person arguing shortly after the assassination of Martin Luther King in the United States of America, telling civil rights activists that Dr. King’s dream and his contribution to the civil rights movement died with him and should be considered as something of the past. This would be unthinkable in the United States. In regard to South Sudan, Divine’s analysis is likewise devoid of historical truth and thus deficient.

While arguing for sound leadership, she seems to completely miss the larger point: diagnosis precedes prescription. Her haste towards a solution blinds her to what made Garang such a powerful leader in Sudan and his inspirational vision. Without adequately diagnosing the problem, there cannot be a durable solution to any problem.

Divine proposes that ‘South Sudan needs to set an example to the rest of Africa by the inclusion of both gender (sic), race and age in the new leadership bloc.’ Had Divine taken the time to read Garang’s authoritative text on the problems of the Sudan [4] and the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan of 2011 [5] which was inspired by the New Sudan Vision, she would have realised that the Framework proposed an inclusive solution to the problem of Sudan.

The new dispensation was set ‘to involve an all-inclusive Sudanese state which will uphold the New Sudan; a new political Sudanese dispensation in which all Sudanese are equally stakeholders irrespective of their religion, irrespective of their race, tribe or gender.’ [6] The Framework, developed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army under the leadership of Garang was an attempt to solve the chronic problems of the Sudan in a holistic manner. A reading of the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan (TCRSS) testifies to the enduring Vision proposed by Garang.

I have elaborated on this in an article published by Pambazuka entitled ‘The role of women in nation-building in South Sudan.’ [7] There, I noted that the TCRSS ‘is a very comprehensive document that covers a broad range of rights for all South Sudanese and specifically includes an Affirmative Action Clause for women. It provides rights to women, as well as the right to have access to health care and education for all South Sudanese. More importantly, it does away with the legal ethnic distinction that is a common feature of many African constitutions.’ [8] I agree with Divine that leadership is important. The realisation of the New Sudan will depend on good leadership. The current failure in fulfilling the minimum of 25 percent of women in leadership position in South Sudan points towards lack of political will to implement the provisions.

The importance of Garang’s vision was noted by Hassan al-Turabi, the ideologue of the National Islamic Front, the predecessor to the National Congress Party, after the unfortunate death of Garang. Turabi noted that Garang was ‘the man around whom all the political forces and the Sudanese have built consensus for the first time in Sudan’s history . . . his departure will greatly affect the issues he has raised and on which the Sudanese have agreed with him.’ [9] Garang recognised that the postcolonial crisis in Sudan centered on how to build an effective plural society and manage diversity through an inclusive framework. He called this framework the New Sudan.

The realisation of the New Sudan proved daunting and South Sudanese voted to secede from Sudan in 2011. Despite independence the new state still has responsibility to build a modern state that manages diversity within an inclusive, democratic framework, where national identity transcends ethnicity, race and place of origin. This will have a profound impact not only in South Sudan but in Sudan and in East Africa at large where colonialism left a devastating legacy ‘of defining every individual on the basis of a racial or tribal political identity based on origin.’ [10] This is the same vision that the current Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) in the border regions and the many rebel movements in Western and Eastern Sudan are fighting to realise.

Instead of dismissing uncritically the legacy of leaders, it is instructive to learn from their successes and mistakes so as to build upon their legacies instead of tearing down everything they built and erecting a new structure in its place without understanding the points of convergence and divergence between the old and the new leadership.

Leadership is not about dismissing all past legacies without analysis. It is the ability to articulate a shared vision and inspire others to see the future. It is the ability to walk a well-traveled path, being grateful for established direction without getting stuck in the ruts created by previous travelers. To learn and build upon the past is wisdom. To reject the past unexamined under the pretext that it is old and useless for the present is youthful arrogance.

In the next section, I turn my attention to the points raised by Deng Chol. The call for a broader field of inquiry, an expansion of the criteria used to evaluate the ruling party in South Sudan and the one that came to power in Uganda in 1986 is welcome. Given the limited space to discuss in great details the many forms of injustices that exist in Sudan and South Sudan as well as the interaction between them in relation to context, history and deliberate government policies that produce these injustices, my article was brief. Hence, it did not venture into distinguishing between all the forms of injustices felt by societies in South Sudan or, for that matter, what Deng calls ‘state historical injustices’ and ‘historical injustices.’

State injustices do not arise in a vacuum. They are rooted in a certain socio-historical context and carried out by certain agents, whether government, the state or various actors within society. To make sense of injustices inherited by the new government in South Sudan is to situate each in its historical context. Lastly, the TCRSS does not distinguish between forms of injustices. It uses the term broadly. It was in that spirit that I used the term as well.

The article sought to do something else: point to current policies that, if left unreformed, will generate predictable outcomes: the disenfranchisement of women and youth. This is why the example of Uganda was deployed. Only deliberate and conscious effort by the state can lay the structure in which reform that rectifies historical wrongs takes place. Without active involvement by the state and with a weakened civil society, a divided population and political institutions still in infancy, the task ahead is very difficult. It was never my intention to present an exhaustive or conclusive comparative study of South Sudan and Uganda.

Next, Deng wrote that, ‘So far since CPA, there have been three major political events - all of which happened before independence: election, referendum and independence. Since you [author"> chose to analyse these events, by alluding to the election of governors, despite the fact that they occurred prior to our independence, I can as well critique the events as given. The right to vote and be voted in a participatory democracy is one of the key ingredients that cement the notion of the ‘government by the people of the people for the people.’ In all the three major events, men and women alike, I suspect, participated without discrimination either funded, administered or promoted by national government.’

First, the article was not an analysis of events. It was, rather, an analysis of issues affecting women in South Sudan and their inclusion or lack thereof in the nation-building project. The CPA was not discussed. Election, referendum and declaration of independence were not discussed in detail but the focus was on outcomes that are the result of those events and current government policies towards the achievement of and fulfillment of the Affirmative Action Clause in the constitution.

I sought to situate the issue within the larger context in which they occur. Deng’s larger questions are about democracy in South Sudan. His comments about elections of governors, qualification to run for office, the role of civil society organisations and rights of citizens are all related to democracy. Secondly, by reducing the question of democracy to election alone, Deng falls for the form of democracy instead of its substance. He mistook one small expression of a bigger process for its substance. Democracy reduced to elections, multipartyism, accountability, and transparency makes a total mockery of the process itself.

To confine the question of woman’s representativeness in governance, which gives them a say in the decision-making process itself, and to the fact that the election of governors and the holding of the referendum all took place before independence, completely misses my point. Deng’s analysis also does not capture the plight of women in South Sudan.

A remedial literature review would reveal the distinct nature of the problem faced by women compared to their male counterparts. Despite the fact that women constitute 65 percent of South Sudan’s total population, there is no corresponding representation in institutions of governance. A report produced by UNESCO (2011) found high illiteracy rate for both men and women in South Sudan. It showed that only 38 percent of adults are literate. However, among the women’s population, 92 percent were illiterate. Despite women constituting the majority of the population, ‘only 37 percent of those enrolled in school at primary level are girls. This drops to 27 percent in secondary school.’ [11] While literacy rate stands at 28 percent nationally, ‘it is much lower among women and girls age six or older (19 percent) than among men and boys in the same age group (38 percent).’ [12] According to another UNESCO report (2011), ‘Young girls face particularly extreme disadvantages.’ [13] With a lower entrance rate for girls than boys, completion rate is also lower for girls than boys. With some variation by states, the reality of women and girls is that they are at a disadvantage. The report recognised the urgency for a clear strategy to improve overall enrollment in addition to gender-specific policies for girls’ education. This reality is consistent with Sudan where women are at an educational disadvantage compared to their male counterparts.

Deng is right that one must distinguish between what is the outcome of failed policies today and the historical problems inherited from the old Sudan. As a matter fact, one gets this from the report authored by Dr. Nada M. Ali and published by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP). [14] Dr. Ali notes the obvious disparity in education between men and women, boys and girls and goes on to highlight other social factors that make the predicament of women deserving of a ‘clear gendered strategy’:

‘The dominant division of roles within the household, along with entrenched practices such as early and forced marriage for girls, contribute to this disparity. Similarly, the weak health care system affects the health and well-being of everyone in South Sudan, but many women die in childbirth due to a lack of healthcare services and reluctance to use what services there are. South Sudan’s maternal mortality rate of 1,054 deaths per 100,000 live births is among the highest worldwide.’ [15]

Many of these facts indeed go back to the policies of the old Sudan towards South Sudan. This fact stands in sharp contrast to the overly simplistic rationale proposed by Deng in his response. Perhaps Deng can explain to us the gendered similarities between men and women and provide the equivalent of maternal mortality among men. In what way does forced marriage for girls affect men more than it affects women? While men and women may face similar problems, there are gender-specific differences that place men and women in different situations. Deng fails to appreciate these gender-specific differences.

The reality of South Sudan and in particular that of women was obvious before 2005 and after. Election, referendum and independence have not altered these realities. To reduce this as Deng does by arguing that women are eligible to contest in election like their male counterpart is to completely miss the reality of women in South Sudan and reduce democracy and popular participation in governance to electoral contest. Dr. Rose Jaji, a lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Zimbabwe, reminded me in a discussion that, ‘women’s eligibility to participate in the country’s political processes does not translate into improvement in women’s plight unless this political participation is accompanied by corresponding policies intended to improve the circumstances of the general category of women. Rights are not enjoyed on behalf of others; they are an individual entitlement for each woman.’ [16]

It is the particularity of the struggle of women that prompted Dr. John Garang to say that the women are the ‘marginalized of the marginalized.’ [17] This observation does not mean that women are simply marginalized like men but are at a double disadvantage. This realisation demands ‘clear gendered strategy’ as Dr. Ali pointed out in her report and general intervention to resolve other societal inequities that affect men and women alike.

To dismiss the specific problems of women by equating them with the struggle of their male counterparts is to downplay the significance of the struggles of South Sudanese women and miss both the differences and similarities between men and women’s struggles. This blinkered analysis is unhelpful at this significant moment of great reform in South Sudan. We must grapple with the reality, as it is, no matter how uncomfortable the process might be.

In regard to the right theory, I also pointed out that rights are the outcome of a political struggle, dismissing the notion of rights as a handout from above. So I agree with Deng that, ‘The women civil society should deploy different approaches or skills to pursue gender equality in outcomes determined by election than ones in achieving outcomes brought about by the presidential decrees.’ However, it does not serve the interest of women or help the process of achieving gender equality if every success achieved by the civil society organizations is met with an equally disenfranchising decree returning the process to a prior era.

Deng finds it troubling that I penned my article only eight months after independence. He observed that, ‘An eight months-old nation is still at its infancy and very fragile. Should we keep our eyes on the prize instead! (sic)’ I find this comment less academic and useful for the simple reason that the job of a scholar is to critique, a right that Deng has rightly exercised in critiquing my article. If this is part and parcel of a healthy society, then why not critique the policies of a new state and a new government? That comment should be expected from a government official and not one in Deng’s position. If anything, South Sudan has much to learn from countries that have traveled this well-trodden path. Without pointing the pitfalls in the path to developing a modern democratic state in South Sudan, we risk repeating the mistakes of other states.

Perhaps Deng should tell us when the time is right to critique national policies. Wouldn’t a more fruitful discussion and critique be proactive rather than reactive, warning about prospective pitfalls on the road instead of waiting for the country to fall into them? Or would Deng want us to wait until failures occur in order to initiate a dialogue?

Without a healthy culture that fosters debate and discussion on what the government is doing, we can easily become complacent by remaining bystanders or, at worst yet, upholding the policies of the government even when they are detrimental to society under the warped notion that the new state is too young to critique. It is never too early or too soon to review policies that have a societal impact. The last comment I wish to address is contained in the last section of Deng’s critique. In his words:

‘While I follow your logic in seeing women in the forefront fighting for their rights, ‘fairness and justices’ do not have to be achieved only through a ‘prolonged’ political struggle. I am sure your logic is informed by the histories of other societal political struggle (sic), which tend to take tremendous effort, require patience and take time. Indeed, eight months is such a short time within which to lose patience or hope. With that said, the contemporary society of South Sudan needs to address its current injustices instead of deferring them for later generations simply because such rights have to be achieved through ‘prolonged political struggles.’ Every moment must be time for the justice and fairness to be exercised.’

I find this observation illuminating in light of what Deng wrote earlier is his eagerness to resolve the problem faced by the current generation without deferring it to the next generation. How can that be if women are not included in positions where they have the ability to make important decisions that impact on them in the first place? How can a majority be treated like a minority and excluded from important decision-making processes that affect it?

In regard to my assertion that rights are an outcome of a prolonged political process, Deng erroneously takes that to mean that we should postpone all attempts to improve social and political conditions till a latter generation. I would like Deng to show us where rights have been rightly secured without an active and organized social movement.

A little review of social movements in East Africa would have revealed to Deng the challenge faced by these movements in regard to the reform of the state and securing rights in the broadest sense. That brief review would have shown him the conundrum faced by political parties, social movements and civil society organisations in their quest to build a democratic state that is inclusive.

I would challenge Deng to show a country in Africa where gender equality was achieved without a prolonged political struggle, spearheaded by various political actors, civil society organisations, religious groups, and organized social movements. To assume that the required societal transformation can be achieved in the immediate time is not only naïve but sets one up for a predictable disappointment. This blindness to historical examples in East Africa and in Africa at large should be disposed of if we are to learn from the past and avoid the mistakes that other countries made in their attempt to build a modern democracy.

In no country have rights been a gift from above. In those countries where rights have been granted as a handout from above, it has been difficult to safeguard these rights. In most cases in Africa, rights have been defined in the narrowest sense, thus reducing them to political rights instead of civil and social. Is it a surprise, then, that the imported right theory and borrowed paradigms have had the disastrous effect of stifling both social movements and redefining rights to the narrowest possible sense? The bottom line is that we need to expand the discussion of rights beyond only political rights. To settle for political rights as the only rights available is to forfeit the civil, social and economic rights essential to social democracy.

It will serve us better to question the very premise of the knowledge we impart, the theoretical foundation informing our debates, and what we have imported from Europe and America, rather than deploying poor conceptual frameworks in an effort to understand the current subject matter. At the heart of this discussion is a distinction between forms of democracy. The current model in South Sudan with its emphasis on liberal democracy comes at a very expensive price. The experiences on the African continent suggest that where liberal democracy has thrived, social democracy has perished a slow death. History would serve us better if we used it to avoid repeating the mistakes of others — a failure to learn from history is sure to deliver an even worse situation.


* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!

* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.

* Christopher Zambakari is Doctor of Law and Policy (LP.D.), Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, and Rotary Peace Fellow (2014-15), University of Queensland, Australia. [email protected]


[ii"> Christopher Zambakari, "South Sudan in the post-CPA era: Prospects and challenges," Pambazuka News accessible from , no. 542 (2011).

[iii"> Christopher Zambakari, "The role of women in nation-building in South Sudan," Pambazuka News, no. Issue 578, accessible from (2012).

[iv"> Divine Muragijimana, "Response to South Sudan in the post-CPA era: Prospects and challenges (Letters & Opinions)," PAMBAZUKA NEWS, no. 543 (2011).

[v"> John Garang, The call for democracy in Sudan (edited and introduced by Mansour Khalid), ed. Mansour Khalid, 2 ed. (New York Kegan Paul International, 1992).

[vi"> The Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, (The Republic of South Sudan: Sudan Tribune: available at: , Accessed on November 01, 2012, 2011).

[vii"> Garang, The call for democracy in Sudan (edited and introduced by Mansour Khalid).

[viii"> Zambakari, "The role of women in nation-building in South Sudan."

[ix"> Ibid.

[x"> Cited in, Christopher Zambakari, "In search of durable peace: the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and power sharing in Sudan," The Journal of North African Studies (2012): 4.

[xi"> Mahmood Mamdani, "An African Reflection on Tahrir Square (Text of Keynote at Annual Research Conference on Social Justice: Theory, Research and Practice, American University of Cairo, Cairo, May 5, 2011)," Makerere Institute of Social Research, Makerere University,

[xii"> UNESCO, "Why Education Will Foster Stability in an Independent South Sudan," (Paris, France – Buenos Aires, Argentina: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2011).

[xiii"> Nada M. Ali, "Gender and Statebuilding in South Sudan.," in SPECIAL REPORT (Washington, DC: The United States Institute of Peace (USIP), 2012), 4.

[xiv"> UNESCO, "Building a Better Future: Education for an Independent South Sudan.," in Education for All Global Monitoring Report (Paris, France: The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2011), 7.

[xv"> Ali, "Gender and Statebuilding in South Sudan.," 4; ibid.

[xvi"> Ibid., 4.

[xvii"> I am indebted to Professor Jaji for this great observation.

[xviii"> Cited in, Ali, "Gender and Statebuilding in South Sudan.," 3.