On 9 July 2022, South Sudan marked her eleventh Independence Day anniversary amidst the wobbly implementation of the revitalized peace agreement.
Our Reporter caught up with and sounded out Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba, a Kenyan Professor of Public Law, Advocate of the High Courts of Kenya and Tanganyika, and a celebrated Pan-Africanist.
He urged the leaders of South Sudan to be selfless in the quest to achieve genuine and lasting peace in the country.
Below are edited excerpts:
QN: Professor in terms of your reading on the current situation in the country, is there hope for lasting peace, and what is required of this:
ANS: First let me say it is proper to congratulate the people of South Sudan as they celebrate their Independence Day. There is also a wish that the people of South Sudan should have lasting peace and you and I are aware that activities are ongoing which are designed to ensure that there is peace in the country. The pace should and could be faster so that the people can be spared the pains of conflict and we pray and hope that the two leading individuals in that country, namely President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar will ensure that the process is catalyzed so that peace is realized in advance of the elections.
QN: Do you see it as if the elections are going to happen in South Sudan based on your observation?
ANS: you are inviting me to swim in the ocean of speculation. What I know is that there is a process leading to an election in the year 2023 and there is nothing to suggest to me that that election will not take place. What we can do as friends of goodwill is to urge that an environment be created which will ensure that the elections are peaceful, successful and of course open and transparent. That’s the best we can do otherwise we are speculating.
QN: There is fear among the citizens that the leaders are not doing enough to save the country from collapse and a return to war. What do you think the leaders should do?
ANS: In an environment such as this, selflessness is the essence of the game. If the leaders could ensure that the country is given pride in peace rather than short-term political interests, then sustainable peace can be realized. This has been said, not once, not twice, and by very many people within the region and outside of the region. I remember when the two leaders had the opportunity to meet the Roman Catholic Pontiff, he reiterated to them that it is important that they consider the country and the population first and the leaders did undertake that they will do all that is within their means to ensure that that is achieved. We pray and hope that they will remain faithful to those undertakings.
QN: After independence, many African leaders fail in nation-building and are not able to lead or take the country to another level. Where do you think the African leaders have gone wrong?
ANS: The great American-African Pan-Africanist John Henrik Clarke once said, and I agree with him, that when African countries regained their independence, their governance systems were founded on mimicry of foreign systems. He said that no African country will in the long run succeed on the bases of imported systems. If you look at Africa today, there are so many conflicts. If you look at Africa today, politics is cutthroat competition and fundamentally we have allowed personal ambitions and myopic interests to govern our countries. The fact is that we now live in a continent that is bedeviled by conflicts from one corner to the other. We live in a continent where almost 50 percent of our young men and women want to run away to Europe and other parts of the world. If there is a curse on Africa, it is the quality of those who are in the political arena. They are myopic, selfish, and are prepared to sacrifice peace and the population because they want to occupy political office which is also the quickest avenue to material wealth. It is a tragedy of gigantic proportions.
QN: In your analysis, how does the region regard South Sudan’s Independence and how has it changed political and or economic interests?
ANS: You know, South Sudan just like many other African countries, is very rich but you and I know that South Sudan has underachieved because of the many conflicts.
When Dr. John Garang and his comrades were fighting the Arabs in Sudan, the promise was that the opportunity would be utilized to change the country economically, socially, and politically. What has been delivered is far short of the people’s expectations and I want to believe that if you talk to many Southern Sudanese, they will say it was better when we waited.
The promise has not been fulfilled and in the region, there is a sense in which there is no profound commitment. Every other country is interested in her domestic arena. That is why you see even conflicts like those between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda are being negotiated in Angola and the East African Community and the African Union have failed to come to the aid of countries that are within their membership.
QN: So, do you think it was worth it for South Sudan to gain independence with what is happening momentarily?
ANS: You are asking a question whose answer you know. I am quite saddened. Even if you talk to the (South Sudanese) leaders themselves, they would be able to tell you in honesty that they have not delivered on the promises of independence. That there is a lot that needs to be done for the dividends of that independence to be realized.
QN: Do you think that IGAD and African Union played a significant role in resolving the conflict in South Sudan”
A: There is a lot that can be done within the African Union. Peacekeeping and peace-making processes are very big and because we allow for that, that is why you hear countries such as the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Norway, and the European Union coming into the arena because they are filling a vacuum. We in the African continent have failed to solve our problems and we are allowing foreign countries to solve them for us and when they do so, they do it for their short-term interest, not for the interests of the country.
QN: What is your message to the people of South Sudan as they commemorate their independence?
ANS: I want to tell the people of South Sudan that however dark it appears to be, there will ultimately be light at the end of the tunnel. I believe many mistakes have been made but we should not be weighed down by those mistakes. We cannot afford the luxury of giving up the fight to have political stability and sustained peace and economic prosperity. It is not a fight that is won in one day and is an intergenerational struggle. So, they must never despair. Ultimately, it will be well. If it will not be well with the current generation, it will be well with the next generation.