By Jale Richard
The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) being the army of the Republic of South Sudan was founded as a guerrilla movement in 1983 and was a key participant of the Second Sudanese Civil War.
In May 2017, it was reported that South Sudanese President Salva Kiir was restructuring the army and changing its name from the SPLA to the South Sudan Defense Forces (SSDF).
At this time every year, South Sudanese, young and old get involved (silently or publicly) in an acrimonious reflection and soul searching about the importance and relevance of this day. While others look back at that historical day with nostalgia, others especially the youth and those who do not profess the SPLM ideology always ask this intriguing question “liberated from what?” There are of course many answers to this question and I want to give my personal view in regard to the above question.
I am not lucky to have been born early enough to witness how the guerrilla movement started, but I am now old enough to remember what my father, and grandmother told me about the SPLA/Movement.
It is 35 years ago today when the movement started. Since then, a lot of things changed Millions of liberators lost their lives, including the founding father Dr. John Garang.
Following Garang’s death in 2005, Salva Kiir was named the new Commander-in-Chief of SPLA. As of 2013, the SPLA was estimated to have 210,000 soldiers, as well as unknown number of personnel in the small South Sudan Air Force. The SPLA is divided into divisions of 10,000-14,000 soldiers.
Slava Kiir then led the nation to the historic referendum which led to the country’s independence in 2011.
Only two years in to independence, the country plunged in to one of the deepest valleys dug by its leaders. The result: economic collapse, over four million displaced and millions severely food insecure.
The crisis could be attributed to the “we liberated” phrase said repeatedly by those who participated in the long war of liberation.
Does it mean those who liberated the country have the right to use or squander it from the rest of the country men?
The general security in the country now can be compared according to my history to the period before 1986 in the neighbouring Uganda when security of life and property of was compromised into a culture whose lingua franca was either jump on the military truck for screening/detention) or hundred shilling identification fee levied on every traveler at every military roadblock. I feel that most South Sudanese to a large extent have every reason to celebrate the SPLA/M day with questions had it not been for the independence of the country.
The underlying questions resolve on the untold suffering of millions of South Sudanese in the refugee camps and UN-protected camps, with no livelihood rather than depending on the food aid.
The thousands of the SPLA soldiers who for many years sacrificed their careers to fight for the country, only to live in squalid conditions without plots and proper health services let alone their meager salaries. They walk to work every day. This is the spirit of nationalism. Many South Sudanese have gotten used to that type of life and it had become ‘very normal’ to live for months without salaries.
Many of the South Sudanese youth have grown up to be unemployed and they have resorted to night armed robberies. They disguise as members of the organized forces by donning army uniforms. How do they get the uniforms? Is it just a way of disguise or it is actually true that some of the armed robberies are done by disgruntled soldiers? Only God knows the truth.
Another question running fix the mess it created? Even if there are positive signs about the reunification of the revolutionary party, many things remain to be solved by the party. The SPLM should be a party of all South Sudanese. In fact it should be developed such that it is deeply rooted in all South Sudanese. But with the existence of the current crisis, I doubt whether many South Sudanese will celebrate the SPLM/A day with the vigor of the first bullet in 1983, the sight of the first independence flag being flown high.
The SPLM party participating in the High Level Revitalization Forum should reinvent its image by bringing back the most sought after peace for all South Sudanese.
Despite all the mayhems happening in the country, one thing that reminds every South Sudanese that they belong to one country is the symbol of the SPLA/M. The liberation songs they sung together, the “belila” they ate together, the referendum they supported with one aim, and the independence they celebrated together for they directly or indirectly participated in the long civil war that brought their children the new nation.