Reports of political defections and counter-defections in South Sudan are alarmingly common occurrences and mind-boggling, especially when the destinations have all the carrots. In countries like the United States and the former Republic of Sudan, where I had the opportunity to observe some political developments, political party defections are rare events. That explains why they are celebrated with pomp when they occur. This is because political parties in these countries have well-orchestrated manifestos and deeply rooted ideologies. In South Sudan, defecting to a political party is just like crossing a stream or a shallow river, and the benefits for doing so are instantly too obvious.
The No. 1 Citizen Newspaper of October 9, 2023 carried a very interesting news item under “Military defections hits SPLA-IO.” When you read the details of the article, it talks of soldiers, including senior officers, having defected from Dr. Riek Machar’s SPLM/A-IO to the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) and the SPLM party led by President Salva Kiir. On his part, the SPLM/A-IO military spokesperson confirmed the defection of only six high-ranking officers to the SPLM. It is further reported that the defectors were welcomed by the SPLM Secretary General and the Governor of Unity State who is also the Ex-Officio Chairman of the SPLM in his state. Without going into the reasons given for the defection, I would like to focus on two very interesting aspects of this news item.
First, how can officers defect to the national army and a political party? Individuals can join the military as soldiers in whatever rank, and civilians may join political parties of their choice. To me these defections were understandable when we had SPLM/A-IG and SPLM/A-IO because each of these SPLM factions had their armies under separate commands. But now that we are moving toward a unified army under one command, why are we still fanning these military factions as if we are gearing up for possible confrontations. I remember very well that during the graduation of the necessary unified forces in August last year, the President of the Republic, Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit, reminded those in attendance that he is now the sole Commander-in-Chief of the Army. I don’t think that was a joke.
Second, if an officer in the South Sudanese Army wishes to join or defect to a political party, he ought to relinquish his position in the army for him to do so. Soldiers should not be encouraged to join political parties. A confusing situation existed when the SPLA was technically the military wing of the SPLM. This is no longer the case. We now have the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) which is not supposed to be an affiliate of any political party, and any officer serving in it has no business in politics. The SPLM, or any other political party for that matter, has the right to recruit it cadres from the civil population but not the army.
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