Lam Akol, the sole challenger to south Sudan’s incumbent president Salva Kiir, launched his campaign in the region’s capital, promising an end to corruption if he wins April’s election.
“The (southern) government has failed,” said Akol speaking in a local Arabic dialect in the south’s capital Juba.
“Corruption has defeated people in the government. That is why it needs new people,” he told a small crowd.
April’s presidential and legislative elections, Sudan’s first multi-party polls in 24 years, will be scrutinized especially in the south because many analysts believe the south will become Africa’s newest nation state in 2011.
Akol made waves when he split from the south’s ex-rebel and dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement last year. Akol, who was the SPLM foreign minister, said he formed his own party because of mismanagement in the SPLM-dominated government created after a 2005 north-south peace deal.
The 22-year north-south war killed some 2 million people and displaced another 4 million from their homes. Fought over religious and political differences, it also saw much fracturing, often along tribal lines, within the south.
Earlier this year, Akol said if southerners voted for separation in a January referendum on independence it would be suicide because the semi-autonomous government was so weak.
Tensions between Akol and the SPLM remain and Charles Kisanga, secretary-general of Akol’s party the SPLM-DC, told the crowd that four members of the party had been in prison for more than seven months without charge.
“We have been faced with unconstitutional bans and threats against our members,” he said.
Akol is based in Khartoum and has openly said he is supporting the SPLM’s former foe, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, for the national presidency.
Observers in the south view Akol’s chances of beating Salva Kiir as slim.
His anti-corruption stand may draw some support from southern Sudanese who have seen much of the aid and oil money promised to rebuild their war-ravaged infra structure pocketed by corrupt officials.
A handful of serious graft cases, some acknowledged by the government, have raised their heads in the past five years but no official has been jailed.
Akol himself is a contentious figure. In 1991 he first split from the southern insurgency movement saying it was undemocratic and formed a separate armed group. A few years later he signed a peace deal with the north before rejoining the SPLM.
Pic: South Sudan president- Salva Kiir