The legality and the politics of pardon: the case of Lam Akol

October 17, 2013

Few have anticipated the surprise with which the pardon of the leader main opposition, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement for Democratic Change (SPLM-DC), Dr. Lam Akol, was announced. The ‘perplexing’ aspect of the decree is that it holds no significant credence or it was erroneously applied in the case of the Dr. Lam Akol. In a sense, the decree was trying to address something that does not exist, or trying to remedy an offence that has not occurred—that is, there is no legal basis for issuing it. However, looking at the intonation of this decree, there is a lot to be desired. The decree can be seen as a political gesture or a calculated move with much further intent of neutralizing any future ambition by the opposition leader to aspire for higher office in South Sudan. Because, albeit the tainted history of the leader of the main opposition, there are hopes that, with the current row in the midst of the SPLM, dismal progress in realizing transition to democracy and post conflict development, the ruling regime may lose, out of rage and discontent of the electorate, the upcoming election in 2015.

Thus anticipating what may happen, it seems very obvious that this decision is meant to circumvent potential of Dr. Lam’s clean or suspect record from gaining any political momentum in the lead up to the elections in 2015. Though this scenario may seem farfetched, the dynamics of politics in South Sudan, at the moment is revealing some worrying signs that, regional balkanization auger well in this analysis. For, in the recent government reshuffle, there seems to be jockeying to cement as well as neutralize the potential of many who are aspiring for the highest office in the land. And if the current row within the ruling party is anything to go by, then any contest for the leadership of the nation from an outside party will be seen as a threat to the monopoly of the SPLM. Thus, neutralizing such threats from ever showing signs of hope is important for the current leadership within the SPLM

Hence, linking the current leader of the opposition, whether with facts or fictions, to the rebellion in South Sudan, will go far in limiting the political capital that the opposition stood to gain from the current discontent the general public have developed against the policies or lack thereof of the ruling regime. It is against the backdrop that author is building this analysis, drawing attention to the slow progress of transformation and lack of willingness to engage a wider spectrum of the political dispensation in the transition process.

So, in exploring the mechanics of the decision, one see that the leader of the SPLM-DC has been put, literally, ‘between a rock and a hard place.’ Why a rock or hard place? With this decree, the leader of the opposition has been served with two options: stay in diaspora and be considered a pariah or come home and be labelled as a leader of rebel movement that did not exist, to use the argument of the SPLM-DC. The latter, even if there is no proof that the leader of the opposition commanded a rebellion, the perception that has been hanging over him and accepting the pardon will just cement the validity of the claim in the eyes of the public in South Sudan.

In reference to legality of the decision to offer pardon, one sees very little justification for its use. In law, those who are charged and convicted in a court of law are provided with clemency or pardon, according the mood of the presiding leader. As such, those of Abdurahman Sule and co-shorts, even if not convicted, were known to have been or were actively involved in taking arms against the state. Thus, their pardon, can be justified, both under legal or political domains. But, the strongest of these will be a political pardon, since they were not convicted in a competent court of law. This varying degree of interpretation is important, in that, they provide clarity as to what these two mean and their implications in the current dynamic of political persuasion in South Sudan.

On the other hand, there seems to be a complete acceptance from the SPLM-DC of the decree and the potential it provides for its leader to return home. However, the measured reasoning of why the leader of the opposition and the party accepted the pardon is still outstanding. And even though the general consensus amongst South Sudanese suggest that peace and reconciliation is important and must given a chance in the process of nation building, it is in itself a cooptation of the opposition and fault-proofing the SPLM in safe-guarding their control over the political space in South Sudan for sometime to come.

Thus, welcoming the pardon and at the same time negating the premise with which it was intended, render the actual response to the President’s decision ineffective. And, as a result, the perception of guilt by act or association will still hover over the the SPLM-DC and its leadership. As such, confining the acceptance of the pardon to nation building and reconciliation is a failure on the part of the SPLM-DC from recognizing the long term impact of the presidential order or decree.

Consequently, the Machiavellian approach to this political decision is a highly sophisticated calculation that is rarely seen in South Sudan politics. For the ordinary political observer, the decision is seen as excellent gesture, but for experienced and knowledgeable analyst, this political move, if not properly studied by the main opposition, the impact will surely spell trouble for their aspiration to represent any significant political force at the national level for sometime.

Moving forward from here is going to present a different challenge for the leader of the opposition and his work on the ground in South Sudan, should he take the offer seriously. Because, the last time the leader of the opposition and the ruling party made such effort of reconciling, few months later, the whole consensus failed and all went back to the normal track of Dr. Lam seeking refuge abroad, “for his own personal safety.” So, for the hope of reconciliation and nation-building, let the perplexing situation proof that a real new chapter has been opened in the political discourse, rather than just another ploy that is meant to complicate the country’s tenuous transition to institutional and multi-party democracy.

But what is the alternative solution to this specific situation? From the perspective of the author, the proper process for realizing peace and reconciliation cannot be achieved with spate of decrees, especially at the political level. The president, in his capacity as the leader of the nation, cannot continue to hide behind is powers and hope that peace can be achieved by decreeing into reality a peace that has been so illusive since independence. His intentions to use powers vested in him as a president may be very promising, but it will not achieve the desired peace, if serious engagement of the political dispensation is not taken into consideration. Because from the look of it, there seem to be unspoken reality about these orders or decrees that the problem is caused by external factors alone and rectifying them, warrants a top-down decisions. Such approach to addressing complex issues of governance, transition and security will continue to be illusive as indicated above.

Thus using the framework established for “All Southern Sudanese political Parties’ Conference” of 2010, as the basis for building political consensus, goes further in addressing pertinent issues facing our national-building process. Hence, there should be no need to impose peace without actually talking or discussing it directly with the people whom the current leadership is trying to address so as to affect change on the issues of peace, security and transition. This process should not be replaced by a piece-meal approach to creating stability in the country. As well, the President and the ruling party should use the process to create real reform instead of using it to score points, when needed and completely absolve itself from the responsibility of accounting to its political engagement with the other parties.

Contextually, the proper approach to address the debacle of decrees should be for the President to call for a “Presidential Peace Summit,” where all political parties are invited for dialogue to create a sense of harmony as well as peace and reconciliation amongst the sons and daughters of South Sudan, to pave way for healing and serious nation-building process. This, the President can do, partly because, he built his legacy as a consensus builder, but mainly because for the past years, he has maintained a solid commitment to peace that should now be followed by actions.

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About dusouth

Passionate South Sudanese who is interested in advancing the cause of peace and new thinking into the political discourse in Southern Sudan.
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