Khartoum, Asharq Al-Awsat – Lam Akol, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement- Democratic Change [SPLM-Democratic Change] Party, a party that split from the SPLM, which is a partner in the government of Sudan, has launched a fierce attack on the SPLM. Akol says that after the comprehensive peace agreement the SPLM had the opportunity in the south to implement its ideas, but it failed, moreover it turned the south into “hell.”
Akol, who is a former foreign minister, in an interview conducted by Asharq Al-Awsat in his house in southern Khartoum, accuses the leaders of the SPLM of corruption and says that corruption in the south spreads from “top to bottom,” and presents evidence on this.
On the other hand, Akol denies strongly that his party is nothing more than a southern copy of the ruling National Congress Party, which is led by President Omar al-Bashir. Akol says: “This accusation does not deserve to be denied, because it comes from people who want to escape from reality.”
Akol, who is a former university professor, reveals that he has the funds to participate in the upcoming elections. However, he keeps silent about the sources financing him “unless the others reveal their sources of finance.” Akol declares his challenge: “We will participate in the elections, we will win, and we will implement the peace agreement.” He also denies that he has “military force.”
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What were the motives and aims of yourself and others splitting from the SPLM and forming a parallel party under the name “SPLM-Democratic Change?”
[Akol] The members of any party are a group who engage in a contract of political action, and who have common principles and ideas. Some of them, when they do not find any role in the party, will split from it; I do not think that they can continue. The SPLM, which augured to be a national movement with ideas, principles, and programs, found a great deal of acceptance among the people. This is proved by the thundering reception with which the delegation of the movement was met in the SPLM first visit to Khartoum after the signing of the peace agreement. However, the SPLM did not honor what it promised the people, and failure accompanied every step it took.
After the signing of the agreement, the south became an opportunity for the SPLM to prove to the world that its project could be implemented, this was because the entire south was handed over to the SPLM, whether in administration or in security. There are some 8 billion dollars that reached the south in the past four years from the oil revenues, but there is no evidence whatsoever that this sum was spent on issues that interest the citizen. The fact is that the south has no services, from education to health; the citizen now reminisces regretfully and says that the war days were better than the peace days now, security is lacking, and the war erupts in all the provinces of the south except two provinces.
The current leaders of the SPLM are the ones who have let the masses down, and hence the democratic change project came to rescue the SPLM, which controls power in the south. The SPLM now have the opportunity to rule the south and create stability; however, rather than becoming stable, the south now has turned into hell. There is no freedom in the south now, when the leaders of the SPLM are making a great deal of noise in Khartoum about the democratic change. Therefore, there is a disparity between words and deeds.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have said that the lack of a role for you in the SPLM was one of the motives for splitting from the movement and for forming the new party. However, you are a well-known leading member of the movement, and you assumed the post of foreign minister; Is this not a senior role in the SPLM?
[Akol] I am saying a role, not post. This is because I do not think that the post will add anything to me. The role is to influence the decision making. For instance, when I was foreign minister the result was that the movement was running after me. This is not the stance of the movement, but it is a personal stance. The SPLM was not capable of playing the national role. Moreover, look at the post of the first vice president, which is a senior post, you will find that currently it is vacant. This is because First Vice President Salva Kiir is in South Sudan nearly permanently rather than in Khartoum, and hence the movement has not benefited from him. What do the eight SPLM ministers in the national unity government do? Also there is the drawing up of the SPLM policies and stances toward the major national issues, such as the UN forces in Darfur, the International Criminal Court, and the census. All this does not give you the impression that the SPLM is a responsible movement that has national programs.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The SPLM has been fighting for over 20 years. Is it fair to label it a failure after four years in government? Is this a hasty judgment?
[Akol] (Interrupting) How long does the Sudanese Governments continue? (I did not answer, and then he interrupted me again) How long does the US Government continue?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Four years?
[[Akol] (continuing his answer) Thus, the US Government is given four years by those who gave it their confidence in order to achieve something [interrupted]
[Asharq Al-Awsat] (I interrupted him) But the US president does not govern a country that has just come out of a war, or an unstable country. He rules a country that has been stable for many decades. Therefore, there is no comparison between the two cases?
[Akol] (He continued asking me) What is the problem that has been caused by the war in the south all along the past years?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] (I answered) There are many problems; the least of which is there is no infrastructure, and if it exists it is destroyed because of the war. The southern government is starting from the effects of war?
[Akol] No, this is not true. The SPLM inherited buildings from 1974. Also the SPLM inherited the resources of a complete state in the south, without anything missing; also during the past years it has been dealing with a budget of 1 billion dollars every year. Therefore, where is the problem that hinders the SPLM from working to implement its ideas?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Anyone who visits the south will see roadwork, for instance, in the major cities, such as the capital Juba, Malkal, or Waw?
[Akol] This also is not true at all. In Juba there is only one road that leads to the airport; where are the other roads in the city? Brother, Juba is all dust, because there are many cars, but there are no paved roads. Now, the citizen in Juba feels that the city is polluted because of the dust.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have been accused of being a political worrier. This worry is what motivated you to split from the SPLM. It is the same worry that was the reason for the first split from the movement in the beginning of the nineties?
[Akol] I do not understand what you mean by political worry. I am a man who has principles, and the party is the means to implement these principles. If the party fails in implementing the principles in which you believe, you will leave the party, and you will not be a hostage, or abandon your ideas and principles. The same ideas over which I disagreed with the SPLM in 1991 (the first split by Akol from the SPLM) made me disagree with the National Congress Party in 2002 (Akol returned to Khartoum in 1996 after the agreement called the Khartoum Peace Agreement, but he rebelled against Khartoum again in 2002, and returned to the jungle again, and joined the SPLM again). These are the same ideas that we want to express through the SPLM-Democratic Change. If the party becomes incapable of implementing your ideas, you ought to leave it without any regrets.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] These transfers are considered not to help in implementing the ideas, and [interrupted]?
[Akol] (Interrupting) This is not a transfer, because my ideas are firm, and I have not changed anything in them [interrupted].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] (Interrupting) You are rejecting the word “transfer” from one party to another. Therefore, let us say “leaving” the party. Some people consider that “leaving the party you adopt as a means of rectifying the situation always is debited from your political account. Is this true?
[Akol] No, what I did was not leaving; they are the ones who are leaving the SPLM through their practices all along the past years.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Why aren’t you working at changing the situation from within, especially since you are a leading member of the movement, rather than leave it and form a new party?
[Akol] The change from within is possible when you have a role within the movement.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Where is your role, and the role of your supporters in thinking to introduce change from within?
[Akol] If you were absent from any institution of the party, how can you influence it? How can you introduce change?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are a leading member, and you have supporters and followers who represent your way of thinking. You can create this role?
[Akol] There is no democracy in the SPLM. Change does not come except through democracy. The Political Bureau of the movement is appointed, and I have not been appointed to the Political Bureau; therefore, how can I introduce change from within?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you expect your party – the SPLM-Democratic Change – to have a role in the south during the upcoming period in the light of the SPLM’s control of the south?
[Akol] How can it not have a role? We have announced this role. We would like to implement the ideas of the SPLM in the south; the SPLM has failed, and hence given us the opportunity to implement its ideas in the land of the south. It has failed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But also your party currently is only in Khartoum, and it does not exist in the south?
[Akol] We have held a general congress for the party in which delegations from all the southern provinces participated. The same number of delegations required for the conference [quorum] came. This indicates that we have a presence in the south.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are those who believe your move represents only your tribe, the southern Al-Shalak Tribe?
[Akol] No, Al-Shalak is a part of one province in Southern Sudan. Perhaps they are one third of a province, because there are other tribes in Upper Nile Province, such as Al-Nuwayr, Al-Dinka, Al-Maban, and so on. All these came to the conference. Well, what do you say about those who came from other provinces such as Al-Buhayrat, Warab, and other provinces, which do not include the Al-Shalak Tribe?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] They say that the SPLM-Democratic Change represents a blatant expression of the competition between Akol and SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum, the son of the same tribe, within the SPLM?
[Akol] Why do they create other aims for our movement that are different from the aims I listed to you earlier?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Perhaps you forgot to mention this goal?
[Akol] No, I mentioned all the aims, and you have no right to mention any other aims.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You accuse the SPLM of spending 8 billion dollars in the past years without having any significant return for public life in the south. In your assessment, what is the reason?
[Akol] Corruption, the corruption now in the south is from top to bottom, but no one is being investigated, not to mention being presented to court.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the evidence?
[Akol] The leaders of the movement are buying houses in the United States, Australia, South Africa, and Uganda. Where did they get the money? Their families now are abroad, while they ask the others to return to the south. If your family has not returned, is it conceivable to ask the others to bring back their families? Ask them this question.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Perhaps their sons have academic ties abroad that have not completed yet?
[Akol] All our children used to study abroad, but now here they are studying at home.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is corruption only at the level of the leadership in the center, or is it also at the local level in the south?
[Akol] It is at all levels. If corruption starts at the top, it will cascade down.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you prepared for the upcoming elections?
[Akol] Yes, we are prepared, and the general conference of the party approved this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] At what level?
[Akol] At all levels.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Even at the presidential level?
[Akol] At all levels.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The SPLM accuses you of being another copy of the National Congress?
[Akol] (Asking) How solid is this accusation?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Your sudden emergence and the big support you have obtained from the National Congress Party?
[Akol] This is not a solid accusation. Are not there enough internal motivations for the establishment of our party? Does the establishment of a party stem from external and not internal factors? The motives I mention are stronger. Why does the National Congress Party choose Dr Lam Akol and not the others to form another party in the south?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This is because in the past period there has been rapprochement between you and them over many of the issues?
[Akol] In what field?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In all political aspects and on the issues of the peace agreement?
[Akol] Brother, the National Congress Party has joint committees with the SPLM, which meet everyday, and perhaps more than once a day. Do you call this rapprochement between the two sides?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But between the two sides there is an agreement that necessarily needs to be implemented?
[Akol] Then, what do you call what is between us and the National Congress Party?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Then, you strongly deny the circulating rumors about the existence of a relationship between your party and the National Congress Party?
[Akol] This talk does not deserve to be denied, because it comes from people who want to escape from reality. The SPLM leaders are only trying to throw their mistakes on others; they do not recognize their failure in administering the south, and they are looking for someone else to accuse.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] They accuse you of obtaining funds from the National Congress Party to form your party?
[Akol] Where is the evidence?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Originally, you did not have the funds to form a party, but suddenly the party was formed?
[Akol] Why do not I have funds, but they have?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] They are a movement, and you are an individual?
[Akol] These are not a movement, they are individuals.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you deny the existence of an institution called the SPLM?
[Akol] The movement is administered through individuals. There is no democracy within the movement, and this is the reason we left it.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Then, where did you get the finance to form the party?
[Akol] Where did the others get the finance? Invite all the parties, and ask us where we got the finance; then I will talk about our sources for financing the party. Why do you ask about our sources of finance, and not about the others’ sources of finance? Why ask us alone?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Transparency dictates that you talk about your sources of finance?
[Akol] Then we all have to be transparent.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your stance toward the self-determination referendum in the south?
[Akol] Our party’s stance is the implementation of the peace agreement, because it is the one that brought the referendum. What is required is to purge many things, the most important of which is to administer the south in a proper way, and to direct the billions that the south gets to the establishment of services for the citizen. The citizen in the south should feel that there is a government in the south that came as a result of the peace agreement, and that the unification is attractive.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is not the attraction of unification the responsibility of the north?
[Akol] Yes, the movement according to the agreement is committed to stand by unification.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So is the other partner, the National Congress Party?
[Akol] Yes, it is a joint responsibility of the two sides. The SPLM ought to make the unification attractive, rather than to say that the north ought to do this. The SPLM ought to make the unification attractive at the Foreign Ministry, at the Council of Ministers, at the Investment Ministry, at the Ministry of External Trade, at the Ministry of Health, at the Ministry of Higher Education, and at all the ministries in which the SPLM is present according to the partnership.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Who is responsible for ¬ making the unification attractive?
[Akol] Both partners are responsible. They both made mistakes in the past period. However, the largest mistake was committed by the SPLM; rather than working in partnership with the National Congress Party, it allied itself with the opposition powers. The SPLM cannot be in government and in the opposition simultaneously. What do you expect from the other partner if you are allying yourself with his opponent? Imagine what the situation would be if the National Congress Party allied itself with people opposing the SPLM.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Should we expect that your party would ally itself with any of the political powers in the upcoming period?
[Akol] Yes, there is no political party that operates in vacuum, and alliance with political powers is part of the resolutions of the general conference of the party. Our criterion is the acceptance by these powers of the comprehensive peace agreement. We might hold a coalition with these powers even after the elections in order to form a coalition government. All these are possibilities.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Observations indicate that your alliance with the National Congress Party is the most probable?
[Akol] Why is this considered the most probable prediction? These are your illusions. You have imagined certain things, and then built inferences on them. We establish alliances on the basis of our declared principles and stances. Whoever wants to weave stances for us that are different from our real stances let him “feel free to do so.”
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The SPLM acquires its influence on the arena through the peace agreement. From where will you acquire influence in the upcoming period, especially when you talk about the elections?
[Akol] The influence will come through the elections. We will participate in the elections, we will win, and we will implement the peace agreement.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Talking about influence, does Dr Akol possess military force?
[Akol] The Sudanese people are the ones who protect the peace agreement, and not the armies.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you deny that the People’s Army, the forces of the SPLM, is an integral part in the implementation of the peace agreement?
[Akol] The People’s Army is part of the institutions of the southern government.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It also is an influential side in the operations of implementing the peace agreement?
[Akol] But, what does it do?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] From time to time, there are threats from the two sides of returning to war. This means referring to the armed forces in the south (the People’s Army) or in the north (the Sudanese Army)?
[Akol] These are meaningless words. I do not think that the war will erupt again though the threats of both sides.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Then, you do not possess any military force in the south?
[Akol] This is well known. I do not have even a single soldier in the south. We have announced this before the Party Council.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are those who believe that your movements at home and abroad aims at obtaining weapons for your party in preparation for any developments in the south?
[Akol] If any one wants weapons why should he go abroad? Weapons are available in abundance at home. This does not need any foreign moves. Our future is in peaceful action, and we are confident that the people are with us. We are working to participate in the upcoming elections; therefore, why should we create instability? Those who are afraid of the elections are the ones who accuse others of this.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] At the moment there are security tensions in the south. Based on what you know, what are the reasons?
[Akol] There is lack of stability and wars in the south; “tension” is an understatement. The reason is the weakness of the SPLM and its inability to spread its prestige all over the south.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does your party have a role in the current tension, as some people accuse you?
[Akol] No, on the contrary, we now are trying to contain the situation.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the holding of the elections next April?
[Akol] I am very optimistic that the situation will proceed in the direction of the elections.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What was the aim of your recent visit to Egypt?
[Akol] It was political work. I am a leader of a party, and I have the right to visit anywhere I wish. We have relations with Egypt.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Was the purpose of the visit getting financial support?
[Akol] We are committed to the Sudanese Parties Law, which prohibits any party from getting any financial support from abroad. We are not like the others.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does your party have funds to help it in participating in the upcoming elections?
[Akol] The masses are with us.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you mean the sons of your tribe, Al-Shalak?
[Akol] Brother, write down: When you say that we rely only on Al-Shalak, this is slandering us. We are a movement in the entire south. What you have said is similar to saying that the SPLM is only the Dink party, to which belong the current SPLM Leader Salva Kiir, and the late leader Dr John Garang.