With the death of Dr John Garang, our hearts sunk to an all-time low. But with the reassuringly smooth transition of power to his deputy, Commander Salva Kiir Mayardit, our hopes for a new and vibrant Sudan have been rekindled.
Those who know Mr Kiir describe him as being largely a soldier and not the philosopher-king that the larger- than-life Dr Garang was. The challenge now is Mr Kiir's to midwife a new dispensation for his people in the south.
And, assuming the north-south peace treaty holds, and we pray it does, he is better placed than his predecessor was to play the critical healing role - one which does not require him to prove he can match his charismatic predecessor.
The use of force to gain liberation from repressive conditions is hardly favourable for the establishment of humanitarian values and norms. The armed liberation struggle was not suitable for establishing democratic systems of government required in peacetime.
For the SPLA/M to succeed, resistance against the totalitarian north had to be organised on strictly hierarchical and authoritarian lines. But blame for whatever human rights violations the SPLA/M committed landed squarely on Dr Garang's doorstep.
As the overall leader during the war, it was Dr Garang's unenviable job to make difficult and maybe unpopular but necessary decisions to hold the movement together and move it forward.
This, alone, would hardly give him the clean plate he needed to appeal to all in peacetime. Yet southern unity is the ultimate weapon against the north.
When former military liberation movements come to power, the very "command character" that ensured success against the enemy tends to become the structural flaw which impedes their building of the democratic institutions required by civil society.
The undemocratic military structures tend to result in the rejection of accountable, democratic governance, preferring personal dominance, rent-seeking and corruption.
Already in the Sudan, Dr Garang had become a much sought-after individual, not just by governments, but by big business as if to say the general and Southern Sudan were one and the same thing. How he would have fared in that poisonous atmosphere is now a matter of speculation.
The main agenda for the SPLA/M during the war was to attain and exercise national self-determination for the southerners. Democratic concerns were hardly on their radar screens. In fact, of necessity, the liberation movement had to shun democracy.
Mr Kiir's challenge is to steer Southern Sudan away from the possibility of internal repression. He must resist all factors inimical to internal political stability such as the allure of personalised power, bad governance, and the centralised authoritarian command and control structures that served them well in the war.
The SPLA/M is far from being a non-violent movement. When they take over state machinery and hopefully survive as an entity to reorganise themselves as a political party, their legitimacy to rule will rest on the very thin base of their having stood up in times of need.
Hence, the temptation to use further physical violence to strengthen their political dominance and control over the state will be great.
And in most cases, individual opportunism will be bound up with social transformation.
The post-liberation engagement in politics by large sections of the liberated southern Sudanese will most likely betray a blatant lack of democratic awareness, making them vulnerable to manipulation by unscrupulous politicians.
Add to this the temptation the political rulers will face for self-enrichment and the established of comprehensive controls to secure the continuance of their rule, and you have the perfect powder-keg that has blown away Africa's dream.
The leadership's willingness to constructively and self-critically tackle within the SPLA/M the negative elements of the oppressive system they fought, and which inevitably reproduced themselves in the struggle for the system's abolition and now threaten good governance in the new era, is critical to their being midwives for a new and universally rewarding order in Southern Sudan. Those who fought for liberation should not become perpetrators of oppression.
The much-celebrated attainment of formal peace with the north and, may be eventually, independence for the south, should not be equated with liberation, and certainly not with the creation of lasting democracy.allafrica.com/stories/200508080338.htmlE-mail this article