South Sudan: Africa's newest communist party

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By Kerryn Williams

December 16, 2011 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- Africa’s newest communist party has been born with the formation of the South Sudan Communist Party. On June 28, the SSCP was formally launched at a press conference in Khartoum. On July 9, the Republic of South Sudan officially came into being after seceding from Sudan.

The new party was established by the former section of the Sudanese Communist Party in the south, and also involves returning southern SCP members who fled to the north of Sudan during the civil war.

The party includes former SCP members who joined and were active at all levels in the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), now the ruling party of South Sudan.

Preparation for the new party began after the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed, which ended the three-decade-long north-south civil war and paved the way for the January 2011 referendum on independence.

Long road to independence

The new South Sudan state faces enormous challenges after a long and difficult road to winning independence.

While the most recent phase of the war in the south, from 1983-2005, caused the death of some 2 million people, the conflict and the suffering of the people of South Sudan long predates this.

Under British colonial rule, divisions were perpetuated between the mostly Muslim, Arabic-speaking north Sudanese and the southerners, who spoke local languages and practised traditional indigenous religions.

Development, education and administration were all focused on the north, while the south was kept underdeveloped and isolated from its northern neighbours. Education in the south was left to the Christian missionaries.

In the late 1940s, prior to granting Sudan’s independence in 1956, the British colonial rulers began to impose Islam and the Arabic language on the south. After independence, power was handed to a narrow elite in Khartoum, which furthered the policy of “Arabisation” of the south. This was the basis for a two-decade-long civil war that killed half a million people.

In 1972 the war ended when the Jafaar Nimeiri regime granted limited autonomy to the south. However the government continued to deny southerners resources, development and political power.

In the early 1980s autonomy was revoked and Nimeiri subjected the south to a harsh form of Islamic sharia law. A rebellion of southern soldiers -- led by John Garang, who went on to form the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army -- sparked the renewal of the civil war. This second phase lasted until the CPA was signed in 2005.

The 2 million deaths caused by this war included hundreds of thousands of victims of war-induced famine. The coalition government led by Sadiq Al Mahdi -- which came to power in 1985 after a mass popular uprising overthrew the Nimeiri dictatorship -- consciously blocked food aid to the south, as the army conducted a brutal campaign that displaced the overwhelming majority of the population.

After Al Mahdi was forced to open negotiations with the SPLM/A in 1989, the right-wing Islamic forces, who opposed any peaceful settlement of the conflict, launched a coup. In June of that year the National Islamic Front seized power and installed current Sudanese President Omer Al Bashir.

Visions for the south

From its formation, the SPLM/A campaigned for southern autonomy within a united, democratic and secular Sudan, which was the vision of the party’s founder John Garang.

However the SPLM/A leadership later shifted to support the secession of South Sudan.

There was a major setback to the struggle in the period following the CPA when John Garang, who became Sudan’s First Vice President after the CPA was signed, was killed in a helicopter crash in July 2005. Street battles erupted in Khartoum as southern youths accused the government of murdering Garang, and right-wing Islamic thugs conducted violent retribution.

After Khartoum failed to implement most of what it agreed to in the CPA, few people in southern Sudan retained any hope of achieving liberation while remaining within greater Sudan.

The referendum result was a near-unanimous endorsement of independence and from the towns to the villages across the south, there were euphoric celebrations in the streets.

Sudanese Communist Party

The Sudanese Communist Party, which was formed in 1946, has had extensive involvement in the struggle for justice and democratic rights in the south. One of the founders of the southern democratic movement, Joseph Garang, was a leader of the SCP. He was executed by the Nimeiri regime in the 1970s.

The SCP was a key force in the National Democratic Alliance, a coalition of northern opposition parties that worked in collaboration with the SPLM/A.

Up until the separation of South Sudan, the SCP continued to campaign for a united, secular, democratic Sudan, where the rights of all peoples were respected and resources and development were accorded equally across the vast territory.

However once it became clear that the people of South Sudan desired independence as the only viable means to escape Khartoum’s repressive rule, the SCP began preparing to launch a new, independent party in the south.

The SCP leadership in Khartoum put forward the perspective that the best way for members from the south who were living in the north to further the struggle was to return to South Sudan after independence and join the new SSCP.

Establishing a democratic state

The Republic of South Sudan’s first government faces the onerous task of rebuilding a devastated, war-ravaged country with low levels of literacy and education and very poor health indicators.

Attempts to establish basic infrastructure and services have been undermined by Khartoum’s efforts to extract maximum revenue from the south’s oil exports. While most of the north and south’s combined oil reserves lie in the south, the south’s oil must be exported via the infrastructure in the north and Khartoum has demanded substantial transit fees.

Violence from Khartoum and the continued threat of renewed war with the north remain. The Sudanese Armed Forces have for several months been conducting a sustained bombing campaign in South Kordofan and Blue Nile State, just north of the border with South Sudan. It has also aggressively pursued its claim over the disputed territory of Abyei, whose status was not resolved through the CPA.

The northern regime has also extended its bombing across the border into South Sudan’s northern states.

The SPLM government itself has faced much internal dissent, with widespread allegations of serious corruption and accusations that the ruling party favours the Dinka people over other groups within the diverse South Sudanese population. Since independence there have been numerous conflicts with armed groups opposed to the SPLM’s rule.

The government has also been criticised for curtailing democratic rights, including the arrests of journalists and other critics.

At a press conference in South Sudan's capital, Juba, on November 19, SSCP secretary general Joseph Wol Modesto called for a democratic, secular state to be established in South Sudan, The Citizen reported on November 21. He called on the new government to reduce its “huge administration” to enable better service delivery to the people, and for development to be balanced equally across the country’s ten states.

Modesto also denounced Khartoum’s bombing of several South Sudanese states near the border with Sudan.

According to the November 22 edition of the SCP newspaper Al Midan, Modesto welcomed the release of Al Masir (The Destiny) editor Ngor Aguot Garang, who had been arrested several weeks earlier. The press conference was held in the offices of Al Masir, a new Arabic-language newspaper.

Modesto also noted the problems of famine and deaths caused by disease epidemics due to the lack of a decent health care system. Modesto criticised government corruption and called for the establishment of an independent judiciary, democratic rights and a multi-party parliamentary system.

The SPLM government has introduced a new law prohibiting civil servants from being members of political parties, which the SSCP strongly opposes. reported on December 6 that the SSCP issued a statement pointing out that civil servants played a decisive role in the long struggle for independence, so it was hypocritical to now deny civil servants the “right to participate in the political work through the parties of their own choice”.

The statement asked whether the thousands of SPLM members in the civil service will also be denied this right and banned from working in the party, or is the new law “designed to restrict and silence the opposition forces only?”

The SSCP said the outcome of the act would be to transform South Sudan into a one-party state. The Political Party Act also imposes harsh conditions for the registration of political parties, including the requirement that a congress of at least 500 members be held and the founding minutes be given to the Ministry of Justice. The SSCP likened these efforts of the government to regulate and control the activities of political parties to “an innovation of some totalitarian governments to restrict the activities of the parties”.

The SSCP said it was important in such a poor country with high illiteracy to allow the democratic space for political parties, student organisations, trade unions and the press to develop.