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Dr. Lam Akol (File Photo)
Dr. Lam Akol (File Photo)

 

Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin is a veteran South Sudanese opposition politician and leader of the National Democratic Movement (NDM).

Akol’s NDM party is a signatory to the 2018 revitalized peace agreement under the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA) umbrella, a grouping of several political parties.

Radio Tamazuj caught up with and sounded out the opposition politician about the implementation of the peace agreement, challenges facing SSOA, and preparation for the 2024 elections, among other things.

Below are edited excerpts:

(Part 2)

Q: Dr. Lam Akol, many observers are saying that you have almost withdrawn from commenting on the political events in Juba, why?

A: This is not true. This is coming from people that are not following the events themselves. Firstly, the National Democratic Movement is the only political party that has been regularly issuing statements on the political events in the country. We have been issuing statements every three months detailing our assessment of the revitalized peace agreement whenever it enters a new implementation phase. We have issued more than five statements in the 17 months before the transitional period. We also said that the agreement will not be implemented and we have come up with solutions. Every time they ignore us but eventually come back to us at the end. We also issued a statement as the National Democratic Movement when there were delays in the implementation of the agreement and stated that there should be certain solutions. When the other political parties suggested an extension of the transitional period, we said that is not a solution because if we accept it, it means that we were planning to extend it from the beginning and we suggested a round table conference instead because we wanted the peace process to be inclusive. That is why there is negotiation in Rome.

We said this is an opportunity since the transitional period is almost coming to an end. This was in July when we issued our first statement and they (other political parties) came up with the idea of extending the transnational period in August. We said the solution is not extending the period. We said this is an opportunity for those of us who signed the peace agreement and those that did not because those who are in Rome now rejected the peace agreement of 2018 because it did not address the root causes of the problem. Now, the agreement is coming to an end and with seven months remaining, we suggested a roundtable conference for all the parties to come up with their proposals so that we can reach an agreement by the end of the transitional period, which can lead us to the elections. They rejected our proposal of a roundtable conference. The opposition parties thought of the conference as something that is meant for the opposition only, but there is no roundtable conference for one party only, otherwise, it is not a roundtable. It should bring both the government and the opposition together to discuss the issues and come up with solutions for the way forward for the country.

Q: Maybe they are seeing your withdrawal because you have been outside the country for so long.

A: This is also not true because they think that the party is Lam Akol. Apart from me, most of the leadership of the party is in Juba including the Deputy and the Secretary General. We are part of the government and we have members in the National Legislative Assembly, the Council of States, state ministers and commissioners, members in the state parliaments and the counties. So, the party is present on the ground.

Q: Maybe not just the external observers think so but also members of the National Democratic Movement

A: No, I don’t think so.

Q: Many are also saying that SSOA has been silent about what is happening in the country, many people were hoping that the coalition would contribute to the implementation of the agreement especially after its formation during the negotiations period. So tell us, what is happening with SSOA? 

This is a good question. As you mentioned, the coalition was formed during the negotiation. When we entered the negotiation in 2017, we were facing two parties who were the warring parties and who caused the war in 2016. We were 14 parties and when we presented our suggestions, we were faced with the dilemma that the negotiation is between the two warring parties. We said that the conflict was caused by the two parties but the problem is beyond them and it is about the whole country, even the civil society has the right to participate and they did participate in the negotiations. What we faced during the negotiation is what forced us to form a coalition that is bigger than each individual party. We became a third party in the negotiation and presented new ideas which changed the negotiation process. The mediators came to the negotiation table with the strategy that there were no issues with the first agreement of 2015. From 2016 to 2017, the mediators; the IGAD and the international community were denying that the agreement of 2015 was over because if the two leaders who signed it (the President and his First Vice President) fought in the presidential palace, then there is no agreement. But they are denying it because if they say that the agreement is over it means the government is not legitimate.

So, when we came to the negotiations, they were focusing only on power-sharing, saying that everything else should remain unchanged. We organized ourselves and this is when the talk about the root causes of the conflict began. So SSOA came up with key demands and we changed the course of the negotiations and became a third party after the two warring parties and the other political parties and the former political detainees followed us. However, when we came to Juba, the pressure increased and some political parties left the coalition and got closer to either of the two warring parties. So, the role of SSOA was reduced.

Q: Does this mean SSOA is no longer a coalition? What led to its weakening?

A: As I told you, when we went to Juba the coalition came under immense pressure, but not necessarily intimidation but it could also be a stick-and-carrot approach. SSOA still exists as a coalition but it does not play its role as it is supposed to be.

Q: Let's talk about the National Democratic Movement. Recently, there have been some changes in the party. You have sacked three members who were part of the government, two commissioners and another official but they are still in the government, why?

A: First of all, the party is not facing any huge challenges as I am going to explain. Secondly, I did not sack any member, the party did. Because as I told you previously, the National Democratic Movement is an institution. There are no challenges simply because participation in the government is by a group of political parties. As NDM, among the positions in the government that we got as part of the agreement are; a commissioner in Mayendit County, Unity State, a commissioner in Pigi County of Jonglei State and a Chairperson of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission in Upper Nile State. The party is responsible for nominating any members to hold any positions in the government, including these three positions. The party is also the one to assess the performance of any of the nominated members. Therefore, the party also has the right to withdraw any member nominated to hold a position in the government and nominate someone else instead. So, what happened is that in April 2022 we asked the commissioner of Mayendit to resign from his position. The party thought that it is better for him to resign than the party sacking him but he refused. On 29ht May 2022, we sent a letter to the President that we want to replace the commissioner with someone else and we provided the new name. For some reason, the order did not come.

On 8th September 2022 we also sent another letter for the dismissal of the Commissioner of Pigi County and we provided the name of his replacement but nothing happened. On 6th June 2023, we also requested for the Chairperson of the Relief Commission to be replaced but this also did not happen. It has been 13 months since we requested for the dismissal of the Commissioner of Mayendit and nine months for the Commissioner of Pigi. This raised suspicion within the party that these members might have other agendas because if the party which nominated you asked you to resign and you don’t and if the office that is supposed to remove you didn’t, it means you are working on something. So, we want to make sure if they still belong to the party or are going somewhere else. That’s why the party asked them officially to resign if they cannot respect the party’s decision. They refused to resign and the party dismissed them and referred them to an investigation committee. The two commissioners refused to appear before the investigation committee but the Chairperson of the Commission came. The investigation committee resolved to dismiss the two commissioners for the party and gave the Chairperson of the Commission 72 hours to resign or face dismissal. So, there are no huge challenges in the party, these are just members that violated the party’s regulations and forgot that it is the party that nominated them to these positions in the first place. These positions belong to the NDM and we will not give them up, even if it means reaching out to the President.

Q: Radio Tamazuj did interviews with the Commissioners of Mayendit and Pigi counties. The recent interview was with the Commissioner of Pigi County, Nyok Malual, who said that they are working on taking action against you for leading the party while being abroad. You mentioned that the party is an institution and that your absence does not affect its functioning, but they as members think otherwise.

A: When did they come to this realization? When did they feel my absence from the party when I was away all this time? Why now? You should have asked him this question. You should have asked him as a member why he didn’t feel my absence from the party since July 2020 when I left the country? Why now? Is it because you have been dismissed from the party? This is just a reaction to their dismissal.

Q: How do you respond to their statement that they will take action against you?

A: They have already been dismissed from the party so they can do whatever they want.

Q: But they still see themselves as members of the party?

A: How can they still be in the party when they were asked to resign and refused and, when called for an investigation, also refused to come? Which party?

Q: What is the plan of NDM for the 2024 elections?

A: We have published a detailed document on the vision of the party on all the issues facing the country which I think this interview will not be enough to discuss. We have our vision for the economy, which we think is in a very bad condition at the moment. The currency is devalued, the prices of goods are increasing and the inflation is continuing to increase in a significant and rapid manner. The health and education system is also suffering and has many more issues. We have a comprehensive political program that we will present at the right time. However, for us to talk about the election, we should first talk about the issues that we mentioned earlier. Currently, the party will be focusing on two major issues: firstly, the creation of a conducive political environment for all the parties to move freely and conduct their campaigns. This does not require any funding or law because the Constitution grants basic rights, including the freedom of speech and the freedom to hold and conduct political rallies. This only requires political will.

We, as a party, will rally among other parties so that this is granted to all including the press so that citizens can make informed decisions in the elections. Secondly, we call for establishing a code of ethics for all the political parties to be signed in a public gathering so that the citizens can be sure that these parties will not lead the country into war again. If the environment is conducive and there is freedom of speech, then we will publish our elections program.

Q: If the environment becomes conducive for the conduct of elections, will NDM continue in the SSOA coalition?


A: This is another topic. First, before the elections, all the political parties must register. Will all the parties under the umbrella of SSOA register at the Political Parties Council? I hope so, such that the coalition can continue but on a new basis.

Q: We recently saw that NDM has launched an office in Juba. Are we going to witness new launches in the States?

A: Yes, we are going to open offices in the States if the environment becomes conducive because moving now is difficult.

Q: The King of Chollo has on many occasions called on Chollo sons, especially those in the opposition, to return to the country and work together with President Kiir. What is your comment?

A: First of all, I think those who left the country did so due to political reasons and not because they are Shilluk. They are South Sudanese politicians who have the right to hold their own opinions and political beliefs. The king, as a tribal leader, has the right to call on any member of the tribe but should also expect the person to respond differently because he is a politician, whereas the king is not a politician but a tribal leader. The rest are members of the tribe but also South Sudanese politicians who have the right to have their own say as they see fit. The mistake he made was to include my name because I am already a signatory to the agreement and part of the current government in Juba and my people are working under Salva Kiir. I do not need an invitation from anybody to go to Juba. I can go there anytime.

Q: Dr. Lam, when will you go to Juba?


A: Soon, inshallah.

Q: As we conclude the interview, what is your final message?

I would like to reiterate my congratulation to the people of South Sudan on the Independence anniversary. As I mentioned,  the people have made so many sacrifices to reach this point. It is an indisputable fact that we did not in the past 12 years act in the way that we hoped when we voted for our independence in January 2011. Some people had lost hope but I want to say that we did not make a mistake when we made that decision. The political leadership is the one that failed the South Sudanese but your will as the people can correct those mistakes so that we can achieve the goals that we gain our independence for. We did not just want to separate but to also achieve development, create a democratic environment in the country, provide services to the rural areas and build the infrastructure.

We gained independence so that we can become a developed nation and we have the human capacity and natural resources to achieve it. South Sudan might be the only country to gain independence with thousands of university graduates. In the 60s, when African countries gained their independence, they had less than 5 graduates and some did not even have one. We were lucky to have cadets in different fields, oil and agricultural resources when we gained our independence. But we did not manage these resources in a responsible manner. With your will we will achieve the goals that we gained independence for.

Source: https://www.radiotamazuj.org/en