Spark that glues SPLM to vote-rich Bahr el Ghazal

Spark that glues SPLM to vote-rich Bahr el Ghazal
SPLM members upon arriving from Malakal after they were allegedly chased by the youth in Fangak County. [Jenifer James, The City Review]

Banners held aloft, shooting from the sea of humanity dressed uniformly in red, are an assured spectacle from Wau, the capital of Western Bahr el Ghazal and the fallback hub of activities for the entire region.

President Kiir is expected to land in Wau for a mega political event where he will be treated to a princely reception by the delegates who are boiling with joy for his candidature at the presidential ballot next year.

Although the political parties, including Kiir’s SPLM, have downplayed engagement in political activities, the Wau event is one of a kind. It is an event dressed up for the master, and the party adherents are leaving nothing to chance as they expect to be addressed by the head of state and the party leader.

While it is Kiir’s second visit to Wau this year, it remains unclear why the head of state is on a charm offensive to cement his presence in the Bahr el Ghazal region ahead of the 2024 elections.

In an interview with The City Review Yesterday, Abraham Kuol Nyuon, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Juba, argued the move is a good political step for Kiir as he seeks to balkanize support across all regions in the country.

“It is not a bad idea for the president to attend such a celebration in his region, but it needs to later be applied in all the regions in the country,” Kuol said.

“The same event or function also needs to be done in other regions so that the President will be able to consolidate his support and his powers,” he added.

He argued that by having the support of his supporters from his home state, particularly Warrap, the SPLM supremo will be on an impressive footing to maintain the seat come next year.

Western Bahr el Ghazal State is under the leadership of Governor Sarah Cleto, who is from the SPLM-IO, presumably a direct political rival of the SPLM.

One would have thought that the leading opposition would be jittery about the visit given the massive attendance and the deeper political message it will convey.

But according to the Acting Press Secretary in the office of the First Vice President, Puok Baluang, the event in Wau will have no negative political implications for SPLM-IO. Baluang told The City Review in an interview that their party’s support is not assured.

“For now, they (SPLM) can make it red during their event, but that would not change the fact that it (Wau) is still blue,” Baluang said.

Baluang appealed to President Kiir to use the avenue to preach a message that would create political space in the state and the three Administrative areas.

According to the Baluang, SPLM-IO believes in a democratic venture where every party is free to conduct their own parties, and for them, their concentration is in Juba for now.

“We are not worried; we are implementing our policies, such as opening our secretariat in states,” he said.

Other factors

The Bahr el Ghazal region boasts three populous states that can serve as voting baskets appealing to the major political parties in South Sudan.

On April 6, 2023, the South Sudan government released a population estimate revealing a surge in the country’s population to 12.4 million, a rise of over four million people.

The PES 2021 was conducted between May 28 and June 15, 2021, across 10 states and three Administrative areas. It showed that the female population was at 52.9 percent and the male population at 47.1 percent, while the youth population stood at 77 percent.

According to the Population Estimate Survey (PES), Northern Bahr el Ghazal is estimated to be the second-most populous state with a population of 1,924,342.

The estimate also places Warrap State, Kiir’s home state, at a population of 2,639,484, making it the state with the highest population compared to Central State, which hosts the city of Juba with a population of 1,324,521.

Lakes State is home to a population of 1,265,473, while Eastern Equatoria State has 981,902. Oil-rich Unity State has an estimated 892,780 residents, followed by Upper Nile State (790,147), and Western Bahr el Ghazal State (562,555).

The Greater Pibor Administrative Area has 240,102 people, while the Ruweng Administrative Area has 234,416 people, and the Abyei Administrative Area has a population of 133,955.