As I watched the celebrations by the people of South Sudan on their Independence Day, the 9th of July 2011, I could not help but do so with a sense of nostalgia. I listened with a critical ear to the new President of the new Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit swearing his allegiance to the nation and to serve it in good faith. I noted the presence of dignitaries from the international community with representatives from governments, as well as international and inter-governmental organizations including IGAD, the League of Arab States, the European Union, the African Union, the UN General Assembly with the UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki Moon present in person.
I observed the lowering of the flag of Sudan and the raising of the new flag of South Sudan symbolizing the victory of a People and the manifestation of a new identity.
I watched the jubilant crowds jumping, dancing, singing, and ululating-for a new nation had been born. I pondered over the significant signing of an ‘Interim Constitution’ of the Republic of South Sudan. I took a moment of silence to remember my fellow women who were raped, mutilated and subjected to the worst forms of sexual violence during the conflict. I paid my respects to the men, women, children, husbands, wives, sons and daughters to the crowds celebrating who died for this day to be realized.
Why did I feel nostalgic?
I remembered the Independence Day celebrations of Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980. Yes, I had not been born then but I have watched videos, read articles, seen pictures and heard many stories of how magical that day was. The vision of my country in 1980 is so vivid in my mind that I could have been there. It is a vision of a nation full of hope. A nation overflowing with joy for having achieved a hard won independence. A nation with scars and wounds: bearing testimony to a difficult and painful past.
I remembered the lowering of the Union Jack and the hoisting of the Zimbabwean flag with its bright and beautiful colors – green symbolizing our agricultural capabilities and the wide species of vegetation our land grows; yellow symbolizing the mineral wealth that is abundant beneath our soils; red symbolizing the blood that was shed in wars fought to liberate our country; black symbolizing the heritage and ethnicity of the majority of the population that our nation contains; the white triangle symbolizing our wish for sustained peace; the red star symbolizing our hopes and aspirations for the future as a nation; and the yellow/gold bird being our national symbol-the Zimbabwe bird. I remembered that moment, 31 years ago, when a charismatic leader on the eve of independence addressed the nation and said the following;
“Tomorrow is thus our birthday, the birth of a great Zimbabwe, and the birth of its nation. Tomorrow we shall cease to be men and women of the past and become men and women of the future. It’s tomorrow then, not yesterday, which bears our destiny. As we become a new people we are called to be constructive, progressive and forever forward looking, for we cannot afford to be men of yesterday, backward-looking, retrogressive and destructive. Our new nation requires of every one of us to be a new man, with a new mind, a new heart and a new spirit. Our new mind must have a new vision and our new hearts a new love that spurns hate, and a new spirit that must unite and not divide.” (Full speech available at
I can even see the crowds going into a frenzy as the legendary Bob Marley performed the song ‘Zimbabwe’ in the National Sports Stadium which opens with the lyrics “Every man has got a right to decide his own destiny” (Full song and live performance available at
). The ceremony was witnessed by Heads of State and Government and representatives of nearly 100 countries plus representatives of several international, political and voluntary organizations. I remembered the handing over of a new Constitution negotiated between the Nationalist leaders and the former colonizers at Lancaster House in England hence its name: The Lancaster House Constitution.
31 years on this is the picture of Zimbabwe I would like to paint. Our government has a reputation within the international sphere sourer than olives. In fact it has made enemies with the West choosing a “look-East” policy. The population is experiencing deterioration in living standards with difficulties in accessing fundamental basic needs such as medicines, medical care, education, food and shelter. Yes there have been improvements in 2009 and 2010 as compared to 2008 but the standard that we all once knew has not yet been restored.
The once charismatic leader who made such an inspiring observation as this;
“An evil remains an evil whether practiced by white against black or by black against white. Our majority rule could easily turn into inhuman rule if we oppressed, persecuted or harassed those who do not look or think like the majority of us. Democracy is never mob-rule. It is and should remain disciplined rule requiring compliance with the law and social rules. Our independence must thus not be construed as an instrument vesting individuals or groups with the right to harass and intimidate others into acting against their will. It is not the right to negate the freedom of others to think and act, as they desire,” (Mugabe in his Independence speech on 17 April 1980)
has resorted to organized violence and torture, abductions, rape, destruction of property including people’s homes to stay in power. The parties that liberated the nation from colonialism [the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union Patriotic Front (PF-ZAPU) have come together to form a single party [the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) that uses all manner of treachery and trickery to get rid of opposition. The Constitution that the country inherited, although imperfect then has been amended 19 times reducing it to a manual to keep some people in power and the rest of the nation on the margins.
How did we get to this?
Complacency I would say. We [and by this I mean Zimbabweans] did not make the right demands at the right times. We allowed our constitution to be manipulated for political expediency and neglected to jealously guard it. That could have been because we never really felt we owned it since it was given to us upon our independence but we certainly should have tried to better acquaint ourselves with it. We allowed a single party to grow to proportions that led it to think it is the only party with a legitimate right to exist in and rule our country. We entertained/tolerated/bore a leader for so long he now thinks he owns us and has eloquently stated so;
“We have fought for our land, we have fought for our sovereignty, small as we are we have won our independence and we are prepared to shed our blood…. So, Blair keep your England, and let me keep my Zimbabwe.” (Speech of the President of Zimbabwe at the Earth Summit in Johannesburg 2 September 2002)
They say history has a way of repeating itself and I hope that adage never comes to pass with regard to the people of South Sudan. I urge the South Sudanese to be wary and prevent the same thing from happening in their country and this is what they should guard against.
First, the women
A gendered analysis will show you that war affects women differently from men. Mothers cannot run away without their children. If they do run with their children, they worry about what their children shall eat, about keeping them warm and free from disease. Their hearts shatter when their children succumb to hunger, cold and disease and die. As wives they have to go for long periods missing the comfort of their husbands fighting on the warfront, fearing that they might be dead. As caretakers they cannot leave the old and disabled in their families hence sometimes they stay and face the worst when the enemy comes. They are often subjected to cruel and degrading treatment and rape. As combatants they fight alongside the men, keeping up with them despite the obvious physiological differences.
My point exactly?
War is rough on women! Why then is it that in most cases this fact is easily forgotten after the war. During the liberation struggle in Zimbabwe it was the women (chimbwidos) who cooked for the guerilla fighters, risking their lives to take the food to the places where the fighters were hidden. Some were raped by the same fighters they served because it was impossible to say no when sexual advances were made to them. The women lost sons, husbands, daughters and some died. They lost their homes. Yet after the war it was predominantly the men…the war veterans who were rewarded for their role. It was the men who occupied key political positions. Not to water-down the positive position that our first vice-President Joyce Mujuru occupies, but why did she have to wait for so many years after independence before she could be awarded this position. The rest of the women were relegated to cheerleading positions where they campaigned for male candidates to hold key positions.
The situation of women in South Sudan was terrible and still remains precarious. The war brought suffering, rape and abuse of women. Social services were continually disrupted. I try to imagine being pregnant in that context, constantly living in fear of rape or death and filled with uncertainty about access to medical facilities, food and water. Many women lost their babies and South Sudan is one of the countries with the highest mortality rates in the world. To further their miseries women’s livelihoods were continuously disrupted with, with cattle raids targeted on defenceless women.
South Sudan adopted a new interim constitution on its independence day after consultations with various stakeholders. A final constitution shall be adopted after the first 4 years of interim rule whereupon elections shall be held for a new parliament and president. These consultations presented an invaluable window of opportunity to the women of Sudan to advocate a supreme law and a system of governance that represented their needs as women. Women in Zimbabwe did not have this pleasure at independence. In fact there was no woman at the Lancaster House negotiations. If there was she was British and had no idea what Zimbabwean women wanted. Although over the 31 years of independence Zimbabwean women have struggled and largely succeeded in asserting their space within the governance of their country, the progress would have been much higher had certain rights been constitutionally guaranteed. The women in South Sudan should not be relegated to spectators and should vigorously pursue their interests before the adoption of a final constitution in 2015. They must place themselves strategically to have their needs addressed. The key women who arose during the long fought war should be the voice of the grassroots. The women in power must be the voice for their voiceless counterparts.
Allow me to digress a little…
The other day I met a female politician from my country (the diplomatic kind); This woman had the nerve to mock another female politician who has been making a lot of noise advocating the adoption of UN Resolution 1325 in Zimbabwe. As she spoke in that derisive tone I really wished that her little nest of diplomatic grandeur could crumble and that she would experience the terrible things that Resolution 1325 seeks to protect women from during and after conflict including rape; internal displacement; becoming refugees; exclusion from peace-building processes; as well as marginalisation of their voices in repatriation, resettlement, rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction processes. I thought to myself, a woman who cannot understand the value of this Resolution and stand and fight for her fellow women, does not deserve to be in a position of influence at all.
Back to my story…
In a nation emerging from years of conflict there is an unavoidable tendency to reward those who have ‘fought’ in other words those women perceived to have made huge sacrifices in the struggle. Yes, their contributions might have been outstanding but it must be remembered that all women ‘fought’ despite never having held a gun or gone to the battlefront. The key women must use their influence to represent the wishes of other women and not prioritize the designs of the political parties they belong to. Individuals like Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior, the wife of John Garang De Mabior the former leader of the SPLM, who already wields power as advisor to the President should push for reforms that draw in more women to participate in politics and prioritize that goal above the wishes of the SPLM. Women in Sudan constitute 60% of the population. At the moment 34% of Parliamentarians are women with 7 ministers in a cabinet of 32. Women have a high illiteracy rate with an estimated 80% rating compared to the 60% for men. Women and girls are still traded for cattle and these are the things the women in decision making should fight to change.
Second, the Constitution
South Sudan should ensure that when they adopt their final constitution; that constitution will embrace the views and aspirations of the wider population. Every voice and need should be heard and responded to in the Constitution. It must not only provide for civil and political rights but also incorporate social and economic rights. The Constitution must safeguard against majorities silencing the minorities or else the long and arduous war with the North would have been fought in vain. It must be the supreme law of the land and as such should be respected and adhered to and enforced by an independent and impartial judiciary. It must be based on inviolable fundamental principles which would make amendments even by the required majority in parliament impossible should those amendments be contrary to the founding principles. I say this because in Zimbabwe all the amendments to the constitution were legally made with a 2/3 vote. Some of these amendments violated basic constitutional precepts such as the separation of powers, giving the President excessive power. As of 17 September 2008, the day before the Global Political Agreement which introduced a power-sharing government in Zimbabwe was signed, the Constitution gave the President powers as head of state; head of government; commander of the armed forces; appointer of the judiciary, electoral commission, the attorney general, the registrar general and other key positions hence enabling him to control every decision making processes in Zimbabwe. Although the GPA has reduced some of these powers theoretically, in practice, these are the powers that our President still has. South Sudan should listen, learn and take all measures necessary to make sure this does not happen to them.
Third, the President
President Salva Kiir should not be mistaken as the only Sudanese capable of ruling South Sudan. Inarguably, he has been pivotal in keeping the momentum in the movement for the liberation of the South. His availability as a trusted member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) allowed the party to stand especially after the assassination of SPLM leader John Garang a few weeks after signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement which enabled South Sudan to secede from Northern Sudan. To mind comes the similar role that President Mugabe played after the murder of Josiah Magama Tongogara (whom everyone expected to become the President of an independent Zimbabwe) on the eve of Zimbabwe’s independence. However South Sudan should not lose sight of the fact that, leaders should serve the nation’s interests and should be removed the moment they cease to do so. The people of South Sudan should continue to nurture and encourage many options for the presidential post to avoid falling into the same trap as Zimbabweans have where some people believe that there cannot be a Zimbabwe without Mugabe. Excuse me! He was born in 1924 and Zimbabwe existed way before then.
Fourth, the SPLM
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement has been the force behind the success of an independent South. In other words the vision for nationalism in the South was spearheaded by the SPLM. They had to take up the guns and fight the North for 22 gruesome years. They lost friends and family who were killed, maimed, raped for South Sudan to be born. Indeed they paid a huge price for the freedom of their country. It was a noble cause they fought for which ought to be commended. However South Sudanese should be careful not to be held at ransom for the rest of their lives by this party because of the leading role it played. I urge the mothers whose sons died to remind anyone who comes to them claiming that the SPLA should be their only party that it is their sons who died and those who are alive should respect the choices of the living. For South Sudan to mature into a full democracy, they must encourage the growth of other parties. It will be up to the people to choose who they please based on their needs and their assessment of the fulfillment of their needs through the policies adopted by the party in question.
Fifth, the oil and land
The oil and land in South Sudan belongs to the South Sudanese and hence should benefit them. Their land holds the potential to diversify the Sudanese economy from being oil based to include large-scale commercial agriculture. They should not make the same mistake Zimbabwe made. Zimbabwe’s leadership agreed in the Lancaster House negotiations with the British to suspend discussions on ownership of or access to land (the main resource in our country) for 10 years after independence. In fact they waited for 20 years to begin to do something to address the glaring imbalance where 1% of the population owned 60% of the means of production and the rest of the 99% watched on with growing discontent. The people of South Sudan should assert their rights to their land and oil beginning now. Yes, foreign investment shall be pivotal to the growth and development of the South Sudanese economy but should it be skewed in serving the interests of the investor, and involve the exploitation of resources at the expense of the masses who are the true owners of the resources? Should the people of South Sudan provide cheap labour in the exploitation of their raw materials, fail to add value to their resources and see no benefits from having such resources at their feet? If that does happen then we can all be assured that it will only be a matter of time before a meltdown occurs when the people realize that this is not what they bargained for when they celebrated and jumped welcoming their independence.
I do wish South Sudan the very best as they join the world of nations.