Security personnel in Juba airport today confiscated all the copies of the Juba-based Khartoum-printed Juba Post before it could be distributed. According to Michael Koma, the editor of the twice weekly paper, the authorities seized the publication because of an article claiming that the rebel SPLA general George Athor was entertaining plans to launch an assault on the Southern capital, Juba, shortly before the official inauguration of the new state, South Sudan, on 9 July. Interestingly, the Minister of Information in the Government of South Sudan (GoSS), Bernaba Marial Benjamin, distanced himself from the incidence with the proposition: “Hostile articles should be allowed to run. That is freedom of expression which we support”. Signalling a pattern the Citizen, a Juba daily, suffered last February a revenge attack on its premises for the publication of articles critical of the performance of the Ministry of Interior and the police forces in the South.
The parallel with the situation of media freedoms in the rump North is of course self-evident, the difference being that Juba is yet in the challenging juvenile stages of fortifying a one party autocracy that feeds in ZANU-PF mode of the legacy of liberation while the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum is suffering the symptoms of an exhausted hegemonic power, short of arguments, and thirsty for the form of reform. Even Nafie Ali Nafie, the notoriously hawkish NCP headman instructed an audience of party cadres in the White Nile state yesterday to initiate a monitoring and evaluation campaign in the party structures and the state administrations to curb corruption and rejuvenate the inner life of the sclerotic party body. He further ordered an “opening” towards the oppositional political forces and reversed his condemnation of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its Northern Sector with the notion that the SPLM is not to blame for partition since it is the people of the South who have opted for an independent state. President Bashir has also lately modified his tone on the subject when addressing his citizens. To the Sudanese expatriate community in Qatar Bashir expressed his content with the outcome of the referendum since it reflected the free will of the Southern Sudanese. In a sense, the President marketed partition as proof of the democratic credentials of his government.
Nafie the reformer, Bashir the democrat and Benjamin the freedoms advocate, I presume, had in mind the global beholder personified, the newly appointed US envoy to Sudan, Princeton Lyman, in the back of their minds. The US administration’s overall goal as stated by President Obama and carried by Lyman is the establishment of two viable states in the North and the South by the end of the interim period on 9 July. The Sudanese parties apparently are bidding for the jobs of ‘stabilizers’. Only in that light can one understand Yasir Arman’s campaign late March in Washington. The Secretary General of the SPLM’s Northern Sector recycled a post-secession version of the late John Garang’s concept of a ‘New Sudan’ to his high profile American audience with the added value of a plea to maintain the American sanctions against Khartoum until it surrenders to the imperative of ‘democratic transformation’. It was the same Arman interestingly who skipped the rendezvous with the democracy of the really existing ‘New Sudan’ when it knocked his door in the April 2010 elections. Instead of guarding the democracy he so fervently espouses Arman the presidential candidate surrendered its promise of ‘transformation’ to the status quo terms of the NCP-SPLM detente. Arman’s official justification was that the NCP had already prepared the ground for fraud; the flip side of ‘conditions are not yet ripe for democracy’, the cherished argument of all dictatorships.