Seizing Statesmanship: Why President Kiir should Declare His Retirement Now, But Not Quit yet. 

(Gurtong):-Salva Kiir Mayardit, the current president of South Sudan – the world’s youngest republic – is a man admired and loathed at equal measures. His supporters staunchly believe he is an able leader. In contrast, his rivals and their supporters think the president is insensitive to the plight of the citizens. But there is more to these explicit binaries, particularly with regard to the prevalent crisis and future.
Five years after gaining independence from Sudan in a plebiscite referendum in 2010, South Sudan is gripped by ethno-political civil war. Just two years shy of celebrating her third anniversary, war broke out in the capital, Juba, in 2013. The conflict has since killed nearly 50,000 people and over 1.5 million displaced. Although the situation started as a political tension within the ruling party, SPLM, the conflict fanned out as an ethnic clash between the Dinka and the Nuer elements within the armed forces, primarily due to uninstitutionalized and unprofessionalized army.
Progressively however the war has since gained traction as a quest for political reforms. This latter moderation and presentation of the fundamental issues as necessitating serious overhaul in critical institutions has placed the president between a rock and a hard place. As much as there is avowed internal resistance, regional, continental and international tones do concur in the urgent need for reforms. This pressure is being amplified by domestic opposition voices, civil and armed alike. It will be wise to heed to those concerns. To rescue the country from total fragmentation and from being a source of regional instability, the president needs to demonstrate statesmanship.
That the nascent nation has succumbed to tragedies cannot be overemphasized. In fact the country has fallen prey to two major predictions: one is that countries that emerge from war have a tendency to always recoil back to war; the other is that, once let alone, South Sudanese would turn against each other. At any rate, those prophecies have been coincidentally affirmed. The question now is: how can the fledgling nation get out of the current mess?
In His Life, Speeches and Writings (1893), from Notes on the Situation, Senator Benjamin H. Hill, Jr. is highly cited for his statement on the role of a leader in saving his country. According to Benjamin, “Who saves his country, saves himself, saves all things, and all things saved do bless him! Who lets his country die, lets all things die, dies himself ignobly, and all things dying curse him!”
It is high time for President Kiir to save all things. Mr. Kiir must not let his country die. He must save life, deteriorating economy, and a possible disintegration of the country into ethnic or regional enclaves.
Most critically, Mr. President must guard against yielding to parochial appeals. In fact, as a former guerrilla commander who has seen and experienced the worst of it all, Mr. Kiir’s ability to resolve problems did withstood the test of time, and therefore many expected him to exercise self-restraint in handling the current tragedies.
Why President Kiir’s pronouncements and actions, insofar as the two-and-half year old civil war is concerned, are riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions are indicative of deep-seated systemic problems. There is a problem of grander scale in his new empire. That the president has become hostage to hosts of competing interests is quite apparent. It will be wise for the president to own up and bow out, honorably. Whereas quitting in the middle of crisis is not noble, signaling that he will not contest any forthcoming presidential election would distinguish him as a statesman, setting him at par with continental leaders such as Macky Sall of Senegal, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, among others.
There are five salient reasons why President Kiir should make clear his intention to retire from active politics once the peace agreement implementation gets underway.
1. Greatness and Legacy
Greatness is when the leader exits the scene gracefully and with passion, leaving the achievements intact. As a founding member of SPLA/M and the state of South Sudan, Mr. Kiir has no doubt earned spot in the historical records of the land and continent. Following Military victories against various armed groups that sought to dislodge him by force since 2013, President Kiir has cemented his leadership acumen.
 
Yet it is important to be cognizant that military conquests are not permanent; they are temporary overtures toward an ultimate goal. That goal should be a stable, peaceful, and progressive South Sudan.
As things stand now, majority of South Sudanese are hurting. They do not feel safe and are starving. That they will wish to be under the same leadership in another electoral cycle will be an underestimation of their anger and frustration. That is why it is prudent that, while current military victories are in his favor, the president should seize this opportunity to declare his peaceful exit. This will help both calm down high tempers across disillusioned citizens as well as securing his legacy.   
2. The Youth are Bitter
Youth in South Sudan and abroad are very bitter about the state of affairs in the country, which they overwhelmingly believe have been brought about by the old guards. The olds, through gerontocracy, have surrounded, shielded, misadvised, misled, and held the president hostage.
Worst, the old guards, by virtue of their various Councils of Elders, are confirmed to be inconsiderate and divisive. They are obsessed with decade-long personal and communal ambitions and grudges. Not least, all these realities are compounded by the fact that the old guards are regarded as semi-illiterate, not technologically savvy, and lack pace with rapid global changes.
In contrast, the youth, despite their high level of modern education, view themselves as victims of overt marginalization and tools for war. They feel deprived. They are tired. Comes any election, they will vote Kiir out. In fact, such grievances by the youth have been politely wrapped up in what one South Sudanese political analyst, Peter Biar, calls “Generational Exit.” 
3. Ethnic and Regional Animosity 
Whether there will be elections in 2018 or not, one thing is crystal clear: The next president of South Sudan will inherit a plethora of complex problems, among them a highly polarized society. The South Sudanese people have never been so politically and ethnically divided in the past as they are now. Besides tribal tensions across groups, there is an additional, potent threat entrenched in the regional configuration.
Historically South Sudan is divided into three main regions, namely Equatoria, Upper Nile, and Bhar el Ghazal. Each of these geographical regions is ethnically diverse, which somehow inadvertently impeded groupthink, ethnic cleavages, and hegemonic contention. These dynamics have been provoked and intentionally altered. And the consequences are not only detestable, but are ominous.
Ominous in the sense that the arbitrary creation of new states and counties have caused newer disputes and deadly conflicts. For some communities, sustaining or reversing the 28 states declaration is a matter of life or death. Either way, the penalty is huge for a candidate Kiir. Moreover, and this is if the war continues under President Kiir, there is the likelihood of Upper Nile, Western Bhar el Ghazal, and Equatoria opting out of a one, uniculturally-seeking, South Sudan.
4. IDPs, PoCs, and Refuges
The fourth reason rests on affected civil populations. There are tens of thousands internally displaced populations either in PoCs or sheltering in towns, churches, mosques, schools, or vocational centers due to insecurity and starvation. There are further more than three millions new influx of refugees into the neighboring countries of Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. The agony and hatred these affected people have developed towards the president is just too deep. No candidate can run against such backdrop and still wins.
As Machiavelli advises, “Princes must avoid making themselves hated and despised; the goodwill of the people is a better defense than any fortress.” It is clear the president has lost this fortress. His only defense now is the military and a chunk of some loyalists. That is not enough to keep him in power for long. Nor will this win him an election.
5. Regional and International Frustration
As a new country South Sudan depends largely on regional and international goodwill. Besides donors’ funds, the country also imports teachers, technical skills, food and other essential goods and services from neighboring East African nations. Naturally, such dependability should necessitate fluid and reliable partnership.
 
Unfortunately, and under Kiir leadership, there have been puzzling trends and instances where the government extended the domestic, rule-ignoring attitudes toward dealing with regional and international institutions. The Juba loose talks and posturing has been received with frustration.  
South Sudan, as a player and new member of the club, must be well disciplined in order to win the confidence of the club members. In As You Like It, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) casts one Bard of Avon as a wise political commentator as well as a literary giant. 
To wit: “All the world’s a stage.” “And all the men and women are merely players.” These lines are dramatic portrayal of how politics, whether domestically or globally, operates. Kiir and his spokespersons have antagonized regional and international supporters. Absent such cordial rapport, productive interaction with partners will continue to dwindle. This is not helpful for a landlocked, nascent state. Perhaps there is certainly and urgently need for diplomatic approach under new leadership.  
Given the relative calm in Juba, a functioning parliament, and given that Kiir’s supporters see Kiir’s archrival, Dr. Riek Machar, as having been militarily and politically liquidated, Mr. Kiir should seize the euphoric mood to highlight his milestones from liberation to independence and defeating his biggest threat.
Telling his supporters that he has done his best and henceforth would prefer someone else to carry on with the rest of the journey will speak volume and earn him a glorious send off, landing him the honor of statesmanship. He will be respected domestically and internationally for showing true leadership. All he needs to do now is labeling the ground for all potential contenders, assuring all citizens that he will be out of political scene in 2018
*Julius Nyambur is a Nonviolence International Fellow. He is based in Washington, DC.
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