Battle for SPLM soul: Just what is at stake in the name?

Battle for SPLM soul: Just what is at stake in the name?
President Salva Kiir (right) greets the First Vice President Dr Riek Machar upon the former’s arrival at the Juba International Airport on Saturday, April 4, 2022. The President had travelled to UAE for an official visit. [Photo: Presidential Press Unit]

As the quest for implementing the pending chapters of the revitalised peace agreement takes shape, a dark cloud of the political scramble for the ownership of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) is also emerging.

SPLM parties such as the SPLM in-Government (SPLM-IG), SPLM In-Opposition (SPLM-IO), SPLM Democratic Change (SPLM-D), SPLM-Former Detainees (FDs) and the Real SPLM(R-SPLM) may have morphed out of what used to be the SPLM party that bears the honour of liberation; but the latest political overtures point to a political contest for the soul of the party.

It all started last week when the SPLM Political Bureau resolved to replace SPLM-IO leader, Dr Riek Machar, formerly the deputy chairman of the party— and Pagan Amum, the former secretary-general, from the party, citing betrayal.

Addressing the media last week, SPLM-IG Secretary-General, Peter Lam Both, said the duo had reneged on the Arusha reunification agreement signed in 2015, by forming other political parties and refusing to rejoin the SPLM as agreed.

At the same meeting, the PB would then authorise the chairman, who is President Salva Kiir, to expand the membership of the PB to 35, arguing that the accord allowed such.

Both said the reunification of the party was complete, as some splinter outfits, like that led by Vice President of Infrastructure, Taban Deng, had rejoined.  

He said, “[the] real unification of the party has already been completed because the members of the FDs have returned to the political bureau and the group that led by Taban Deng dissolved itself in 2018 and is part and parcel of the SPLM.’’

The move triggered an unreserved protest from SPLM-IO that termed the decision as ‘‘inconsequential’’ in a statement issued on October 24, adding that the SPLM-IG leadership had no powers to invoke such decisions.  

“We want to categorically state that none of these factions can claim to be the SPLM. As such, no faction can dismiss any member of the other factions from SPLM” the state partially read

“For more clarity, the SPLM is the three factions united together,’’ the SPLM-IO noted in the statement.  

It stated that the alleged removal of Machar and Amum was a violation of the SPLM Reunification Agreement signed in Arusha, Tanzania in January 2015. With the parties taking a strong stance and showing a willingness to do everything to have an association with the SPLM, the question is: what is there in the name ”SPLM”? Which political treasure is at stake?

According to Prof. Abraham Nyuon of the University of Juba, who is well-versed in politics, peace, and security, the escalating squabbles could have a lot to do with who owns the SPLM symbols, which will be crucial when party registration begins.

“The conflict is about the emblems and symbols of the party, and it will be problematic when the time of registration of political parties comes,” he remarked.   

According to the analyst, the SPLM-IO as an opposition party could develop its own identity by creating its own symbols for identification.  

Even as he called for peace, Prof. Nyuon said the death of the Arusha agreement was more imminent when the parties charted different paths and the glue that binds the parties in the SPLM house is just a mere partnership.

“There is a very big confusion between the two institutions. According to the Arusha Agreement, the three SPLMs were supposed to be united into one body… but that unification seems not to have worked,” he recalled.

When the parties divorced

The 2013 conflict triggered a disintegration of the SPLM into four factions, namely: the mainstream SPLM, the SPLM-IO under Taban Deng, the SPLM-IO under Dr Riek Machar, and the SPLM-FDs.

The fissures came up in 2013 after a disputed meeting by the SPLM National Liberation Council when the leaders failed to agree on who should fly the flag of the party in the 2015 election. Precisely, the SPLM members in the convention differed over whether to choose the flag bearer by a show of hand or secret ballot.

The conflict that erupted in 2013 was neutralized by the peace agreement that kicked off in 2015 with a lot of violations until it was revitalised in 2018 with a new agreement—the R-ARCISS.

Due to this conflict, the SPLM was a shared cake, with each party selling its image as the face of liberation up against the relics of slavery.

The party ended up being fragmented into four groups, each bearing at least the four letters “SPLM”.

Why the SPLM?

The Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) was formed on May 16, 1983, as a rebel movement after the Sudanese government abandoned the Addis Ababa agreement signed between Gaafar Nimeiry’s government and the Anyanya leader, Joseph Lagu, a southerner.

The founders of the SPLM/A were Joseph Oduho, Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, William Nyuon Bany, Dr John Garang, Samuel Abu John, Salva Kiir Mayardit, among others.

The SPLM gained its footing courtesy of the presence of the South Sudanese leaders of influence who had huge sway over the masses.

Amidst political darkness and frantic search for hope and freedom, SPLM offered a snippet of what a brighter future would be.

The movement signed CPA in 2005 gave birth to the government of Southern Sudan (GOSS).

After six years of the interim period, elections were conducted in Sudan and South Sudan in 2010, where Salva Kiir flew the SPLM flag and won by a landslide to lead Southern Sudan.

Kiir defeated his rival Lam Akol, the chairperson of SPLM Democratic Change (SPLM-DC) in the 2010 election.

While it may look superficially like an edifice of the liberation struggle that enjoyed an unchallenged wave of support; there seems to be more to SPLM than just bearing that tag.

For instance, during the campaign for self-determination, SPLM was heartedly organised to ensure that every South Sudanese voted for separation. The senior members of the party put all efforts together and vaccinated the masses with SPLM’s quest to liberate its people and effectively govern them. The message was convincing and efficient like an anaesthetic injection.

The SPLM abbreviation and the slogan “Oyee” still remain fresh in the memory of most people, particularly the followers, who identify with the founding father of the nation—Dr John Garang.