It is obvious that the scheduled elections in South Sudan in 2024 will not be free and fair. This is something the SPLM-in-Opposition has reiterated. Conditions in the country are not conductive for the conduct of free and fair elections, they have noted.
So why would anyone want to take part in such elections? This is a very good question. Why would anyone indeed?
I don't have any convincing answer. But I have my answer (s), nonetheless.
Ironically, supporters of President Kiir, the chairman of the SPLM-in-Government, ask a contrary question: Why wouldn't anyone want to take part in elections?
This is the same question the governor of Lakes State, Riiny Tueny Mabor, asked recently in the SPLM rally in Wau: "There are people who say, the elections should not be conducted? Why shouldn't they be conducted?"
He either doesn't think there are any reasons to the contrary, or he doesn't care if such reasons exist.
SPLM-IG supporters, who do not need any reason to justify why President should be president, find it irrational that there are people who are jittery about 2024 elections. They are not only confident about the elections happening this year, but they also take the permanence of the presidency of Kiir with a very dangerous intuitiveness.
As the governor of Warrap State, Manhiem Bol Malek, said during the rally in Wau, it is "Salva Kiir forever! Forever!"
The following sad facts do not bother Kiir's supporters: Millions of South Sudanese are refugees in neighboring countries; no passable roads; there is rampant insecurity; increasing intra and inter-ethnic feuds, flooding; hunger and diseases, etc.
These are of course mere political theatrics. We see this everywhere. A Trump rally in the United States or a Neo-Nazi rally in Germany or Italy would have similar uncritical, emotionally charged remarks.
Because South Sudanese governors serve at the behest of the president, these kinds of mindless utterances are to be expected. The governors answer to the president not the people of South Sudan.
It is therefore reasonable, as the SPLM-in-Option has noted, that the elections will not be free and free.
But I doubt that elections in South Sudan, given the attitude of SPLM-in-Government noted above, will be free and fair in the next ten to twenty years. South Sudanese politics is still self-justifiably ethnocentric. It will therefore take time for some South Sudanese at the grassroots to realize that leaders are elected because they can deliver services to the people not because they belong to one's ethnic group.
Free and fair is therefore a distant echo!
But here are two issues that may give South Sudanese a glimmer of hope. Rigged or not, conducting elections in 2024 may start an election culture and psychology. South Sudanese may get used to the conduct of elections every five years until the general political consciousness matures into the strict demands for free and fair elections. Some Africans have slowly gravitated toward free and fair elections.
South Sudan may arrive there in the longue durée. But we must start somewhere, sometimes.
Here is another possible positive outcome.
It may afford those who want to challenge the president a change to air out the weakness of SPLM and President Kiir without severe repercussion. I am dreaming I know! Candidates, in the process of promoting their platforms, may help in the normalization of criticism of the political system in South Sudan. Criticizing President may start as part of the elections. This, hopefully, may help initiate a culture where the president is criticized for his failures without his critics being killed or forced into exile.
I'm of course not taking things at face value. None of what I have noted above may happen. But we must start somewhere overwise elections will continue to be postponed in perpetuity.
It is also important to note that President Kiir will win either way. So why not initiate, or start the process of something that may lead to South Sudan desired end: A democratic, inclusive future.
Kuir ë Garang (PhD) is the editor of TPR.