Lessons Learned from Formation of the Government of National Unity (GONU) in Sudan

John G Nyuot Yoh


The formation of the Government of National Unity (GONU) in Sudan on 20 September 2005 after several weeks of heated debates between National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement(SPLM) have revealed four important lessons which the SPLM leadership must carefully study and take some actions on

Firstly, the debate over who should take the ministry of energy and mining has sidelined the central role of the SPLM as the guardian of the Sudan’s transformation and the guarantor of the Southern Sudanese rights in a united transformed Sudan. The SPLM’s ideological and philosophical tenants of change and transformation, from decadent corrupt old Sudan, where leadership’s main objective is to accumulate wealth, manipulate poor people’s sentiments in the name of religion and Arab chauvinism, using political Islam as a means to rule the country, to a Sudan where the ordinary Sudanese is the main focus of the government, these important tenants were blurred by the Energy and Mining politics.

The NCP leadership was and is aware that the oil is in the South and knew that the SPLM has the right to be allocated the ministry. What the NCP had in it side was time. It knew that the SPLM needs to gain time, and that was what the NCP used against it. Throughout the negotiations over the Energy Ministry, the SPLM was made to concentrate on the South, so that its real potential as the main political catalyst for the transformation of the Sudan in the country could be watered down.

The SPLM is seen by Sudanese to be the vehicle for change and the instrument of change in the country. The fact that the NCP managed to make the SPLM looked during the negotiation as a local Southern party, was a big blow to the SPLM as a national progressive movement. The SPLM must take immediate remedial actions to correct that situation. One way to do so would be become directly involved in peace negotiations with Darfurians and Easterners and make sure that their shares in power are secured. The New Sudan ideology was never about distribution of positions or power, it was about equality and just distribution of these positions, but most importantly about bringing change to the whole country where each Sudanese feels that truly she/she is a Sudanese who deserves a government, for which she/he will be proud of. The SPLM as the guardian of change in the country, there is no doubt was hard hit by the death of Dr.John Garang.

However, the unity and the collective approach which the new SPLM leadership had shown during the past month and half, was so strong that, had its leadership concentrated on its national agenda, by not only negotiating on the behalf of the South, but of all the progressive political forces in the country, it would have won more substantial positions, not only for the South, but even for the Darfurians, the Easterners and the NDA as its natural allies. What Al-Beshir-Taha alliance did, was to show the SPLM that the NCP is the main power broker in the country, and that it is the NCP that offer positions, and therefore, any talk of power and wealth sharing, should be determined, not by the provisions of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), but by new negotiations with the NCP. The SPLM has therefore committed itself to an open ended path to continuous negotiations over government positions, commissions and financial rows that will certainly follow. It therefore does not make sense that the SPLM allowed the NCP take ministries of defence, interior, finance, energy and mining and Justice, because it’s simply means, the provisions over power and wealth sharing in the CPA have been trashed. It also means that the provision that unity should be made attractive to Southerners during the interim period, will no longer have meaning, not only to Southerners, but also to other political groups in the country who feel that the CPA is a good document that could be applied to their situations. Even if the SPLM leadership was convinced that the NCP was playing with time, knowing that it is the SPLM that will bring back hundred of thousands of returnees and displaced persons into the South and that it is the SPLM that will need to deliver to the people of the South essential services, and therefore the SPLM should have not wasted time negotiating positions with people who have no respect to agreements, even if the above factors are genuine as they were, there is no reason why the SPLM should have given up all the most important economic and political positions to the NCP, thus creating the impression that every time a new round of negotiations comes, and there will be many of them, the SPLM will give in because the NCP is not interested in implementing the CPA.

Secondly, the formation of the government of national unity has also revealed that while the decision making process within the SPLM leadership has improved compared to what it used to be, where very few were the core of the decision making process, the manner in which positions were announced, without the knowledge of 80% of those who were appointed, has revealed that something seriously needs to be revised in that process. Some members of the movement were allocated positions, which, if they were informed, might not have accepted, or if given the choice, would have declined them, because those positions did not fit well with their experiences. While the SPLM line up is by and large representative, regionally and ethnically, the nature of the line up, especially its technical aspects, have lots to be desired.

The SPLM leadership should make it VERY clear that those of its members, who are appointed in Government of National Unity, are given assignments to represent the movement not themselves. This could be done in two ways: recalling all those who are appointed in GONU to Juba, for a week of political briefing, where the whole leadership, plus the Southern Assembly give the SPLM ministers in GONU a code of conduct, advise them to work as a team, rather than as individuals. The SPLM leadership may as well ask its representatives in GONU to report every two months to Juba for a briefing. If this is not done, then it will be like sending these men and women to exile, where each of them within the next year or so, will find himself, or herself alone, cornered by NCP petrodollar politics, and who knows what next.

Some of the SPLM members in GONU have protested, because they felt that they deserve higher positions than the ones they have been appointed to. Others strongly felt that the communities and the nationalities they come from were allocated very junior positions, compared to their real political and numerical sizes. Others complained that some individual members of the Movement were allocated senior positions in GONU, which should have been allocated to more senior members, who joined the Movement earlier. One of the explanations given by some members of the SPLM leadership to answer some of these complains, was that some of these senior SPLM members do not want to work in the north. The question then is, if these members have already informed the leadership, directly or indirectly, of their intention not to work in the north, then why allocate to them positions in the north? These issues should be carefully studied by the leadership, and if the SPLM leadership has not already allocated positions in the government of Southern Sudan and in governments of states, it has to widen its consultations, inform those it intends to deploy.

Most importantly, those who are currently advising the SPLM leadership should open their eyes and ears widely, because the SPLM-NCP partnership suppose to avoid focus on distribution of positions, and concentrate on creating a true change in the lives of the people of Sudan and the South in particular. Giving the impression that the sole aim of the SPLM-NCP partnership is to buy people loyalty with positions, will definitely defeat the purpose of the SPLM/A struggle, for which millions have died, and other millions waiting to go home and find real changes there, when they go back. This is the real challenge for the SPLM leadership.

Thirdly, the lesson which the SPLM should learn from the politics of the formation of the GONU is that whenever a leadership of an organisation preoccupies itself with procedures and take longer times negotiating political issues, the other parts of the organisation, tend to paralyze. This is always the case in centralised system, where members of the movement waiting in anticipation of getting orders and do not participate in decision making. The SPLM leadership should start to divide roles among its members. And it has lots of qualified people to take up such roles, only if the leadership and its advisors look around them and spread the nets wider beyond their immediate surroundings.

Indeed, it was impressive that once it became clear that the NCP was buying time, the SPLM leadership correctly decided to speed up the process of formation of constitutional structures in the South. It could have been done faster and better. When the SPLM and NCP where busy negotiating positions, the NCP was busy emptying the treasuries of national economy and enriching its cronies and potential allies. The SPLM should have appointed a shadow caretaking government of its own, during the pre-interim period to work with the NCP. The SPLM did appoint one person to deal with NCP as a contact person; it should have appointed a representative in every ministry in central government to monitor the activities there. In fact, the NCP care-taking government had done so many things during the past six months that it would have not done, even when it was still a government.

During the negotiations, the NCP was busy signing contracts, cementing its international relations and indeed was busy emptying the Ministry of Foreign affairs from its staff, deploying them to all corners of the world, in anticipation that the SPLM will find all the embassies and consulates full with manpower, hence leaving no room for the new minister to employ Southerners and members from the other marginalised areas.

The SPLM leadership should therefore come up with a new mechanism, through which a selected dedicated group of its members are allocated responsibilities, to monitor every aspects of the CPA. Each of these members should be assigned specific tasks, which relates to the implementation of the peace agreement, so that when any new round of negotiations with the NCP commences, that group will have worked out all the modalities, so that time is not spent on small and minor things which should be delegated to technocrats within the movement.

Fourthly, the formation of the National government has revealed that the SPLM needs to strengthen its information and international affairs units. The SPLM should inform on daily basis the international community and African countries that guaranteed and witnessed the peace agreement about the process of implementation of the peace agreement. The SPLM diplomats should be assigned specific tasks to keep the world informed about the delays the NCP creates on daily basis. The Sudan TV and Radio were definitely supportive of the NCP position on the negotiations over the positions of GONU and the printed media was bias, to the extent of disinformation. International community representatives in Khartoum were daily given the impression that the Energy and Mining fiasco was under control and that it was going to be allocated to the SPLM.

The disinformation campaign was so well organised that each senior member of the NCP has played his role very well. Only Al-Beshir and Taha were not allowed to give any statements over the issue, except when they were cornered by the independent media, otherwise they avoided to give interviews. The impression was given in the media that the chief negotiators from NCP were Nafie and Khalifa, the reality was that Taha was the main reference point from the government side. Everybody else who is who in NCP was asked to play its role in the disinformation campaign.

As a result, important issues such as peace in Darfur, the frozen negotiations in East and the drafting of the constitution of Southern Sudan were sidelined in the media for almost a month and half. The SPLM has always been very weak in its information system. For the time being, the SPLM will need to collaborate with the existing Southern private newspapers and to start efforts towards the establishment of a national TV and Radio in Juba. Such a project would not need lots of thinking since the South is endowed with experienced and well trained journalists and technicians. Engineers could be recruited from aboard to run the stations, until such time the Southern technicians are trained. A call from President Salva Kiir and his Deputy Dr. Riek Machar to the talented Southern journalists to assemble in Juba to plan for the establishment of TV and Radio stations that would cover the whole Sudan, will be sufficient.

These are serious lessons to be learned by the SPLM leadership, but also are warnings for difficult times ahead. But what are the real political challenges for Post-John Garang SPLM leadership? This will be the topic for the next reflections.

* John Yoh teaches African and international politics, Department of Political Sciences at the University of South Africa in Pretoria