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Friday, February 20, 2015

Why our ‘Intellectual Journey’ doesn’t lead to ‘a Coherent Political Ideology’

Charity begins at home and the originator of that charity most likely ends at home.

I was advised by some colleagues several times to join a certain policy forum. I refused three times citing the fact that the forum is too 'elitist' and most of the times the elites are out of touch with the average folks like me. When the reminders to join the forum became really constant, even from people I've not met personally but know me from my writings, I finally gave in and joined the forum.
My innocent assumption was that the forum would merely be a discussion or critiquing of policies that'd be beneficial to the country. I expected to see policy suggestions [only] and how they could be modified and perfected into usable policies for the government of South Sudan.

Naïve me! I was disappointed to realize that the debates were no different from those vexatious ones on my Facebook wall: circular, partisan, hypocritical, dishonest with education taken at face-value. Big theories are suggested without context! Partisanship is so much intellectualized that it takes one through rigorous analysis to discern disguised partisanship. My disillusionment became so intense that I had to unsubscribe from the forum in less than two weeks.
Believe me, if leaders argue with ‘take it or leave it’ conditionals then I wonder how the leadership we have (or are building) inside and outside the government of South Sudan can be salvageable. Leadership is about relationship building and bringing the best out of people (Corrales, 2007). The purpose of leadership, Corrales argues, can only be achieved through building of strong relationships. Are our leaders (inside and outside) the government doing that? Even Dr. Nyaba, who’s done more through writing than anyone in South Sudan to highlight the problems we have in the country, does little to build relationships with ‘the other side’ or even within the Chollo community leadership. It’s always a blame-game (see IGAD’s ‘Peace Talks’ & Arusha Intra-SPLM dialogue).

Perhaps the RISC model (Rapport, Initiative, Structure and Commitment) can help in our leadership purpose; and that is, influencing our people into coalescence of canonical togetherness…or simply, doing good (Corrales, 2007).
If the learned, veteran politicians and the nation's elites have the same mindset my younger Facebook friends have, then Kiir and Riek aren't our major problem. It seems our ‘intellectophere’ is either irrelevant in national coexistence, or our national future is being intellectually crippled by intellectuals with holier-than-thou attitudinal ontologies. We are learned but we don’t know how to give our knowledge context and relevant usability. We seem to have what cognitive psychologists call ‘declarative knowledge’ as opposed the helpful ‘procedural knowledge’ (Van Greenen, 2004).

And this reminds me of a very excellent article written by Dr. Adwok Nyaba (SSN December 30, 2014) about ‘Our intellectual journey towards a coherent political ideology.’ Anyone who’s not read that article should do so in its entirety. The article pinpoints, with surgical precision, the problems in South Sudan and within SPLM. These problems range from poverty of democratic mentality and ideals, indifference to development of institutional capacities, incoherent sense of nationhood (post-1956 & post-2005), the infamy of militarism mixed with the malady of tribal essentialism, lack of essential development programs, the Siamese-twins problem of the SPLM-SPLA, the primal nature of our tribal relations etc.
We can all agree that Dr. Adwok’s article is very crucial to our structural, functional and governance problems in South Sudan. The question then becomes: are the power holders in South Sudan able to easily apply the content of the article? If not, then the appropriation of what Dr. Adwok wrote needs to be procured in a manner that’d make it beneficial to us through the power holders.

Pointing out the problem is part of the solution but devising how the problem should be tackled shouldn’t be left out. Without intersubjective understanding among the political actors, nothing can be possible. Institutions aren’t ‘brute physical facts’ as Stephen Krasner (1999) has said. They exist because people exist.
Political leaders are audience and consumers of intellectuals’ works. Understanding the general psychology, state of mind and intellectual capacities and consciousness of who is in power helps in devising mechanics and avenues of knowledge provision for purpose of ideological creation and reification.

Intellectuals (whatever that means) in South Sudan needs to remember that leadership is about relationship building and appropriation of knowledge with people-people relationships in mind. We in South Sudan seem to think of knowledge in the abstract or in self-serving appropriation!
Besides, we have the problem of hypocrisy in South Sudan. Most, if not all of us, are mired in what I call ‘stuck-in-the-past syndrome’ in South Sudan Ideologically (2013). And as Adwok highlighted, some South Sudanese leaders don’t want to let go the past and embrace future-relevant ideas and facts to develop the country. We are all stuck in the past in one way or another.

With no doubt, we have ten states in South Sudan. These ten states, midwifed from the previous three regions of Bahr El Ghazal, Upper Nile and Equatoria, are constitutionally recognized. However, most of us (Nyaba included) talk and write as if the previous three regions have constitutional relevance. These regions are stuck in our heads and we simply can’t let them go! Some of us talk of Greater Upper Nile and Greater Equatoria!
However, our intellectual and political integrity depends on saying things that make sense. We tend to ignore this fact; however, it exposes the hypocrisy we exudes on daily basis.

If the learned in South Sudan can’t let go this simple fact, then why do they blame the semi-illiterate generals and politicians, who can’t seem to understand that SPLM is now a political party and that SPLA is the national army.
No one should advise if he/she can’t lead by example! Greater Upper Nile is constitutionally defunct and exists only in our heads. If we have nostalgia for these three regions then let’s wait until we go back to them through the abolition of the current ten states. There and then can we have political and intellectual currency to utter that [Greater X…]! Let’s be consistent to be believable and respectable! What in God’s name is ‘Elders of Bahr El Ghazal?’ What’s the contemporary or constitutional relevance of Bahr El Ghazal to Lakes State and Warrap State? Nothing! The only relevance is a past that’s stuck in our heads!

Yet, we hope to develop ‘a coherent political ideology!’
Another good example of intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy (in this discourse) comes from my own county (Twic East). Some potential intellectuals, who can help in the development of ‘a coherent political ideology,’ come out here as very hypocritical and untrustworthy, intellectually!

Twi people (or Twi Dinka) were part of Kongor District from the mid-1970s to mid-1990s and prior to that, they were part of ‘Bor District’ (Sammani, 1984). Kongor District is the one that is now divided into Duk County and Twic East County. The ‘Bor District’ housed (until mid-1970s) the Dinka sub-tribes of Hol, Nyarweng, Twi and Bor before being divided into Kongor District (Twi Dinka, Nyarweng Dinka & Hol Dinka) and Bor District (Bor Dinka & Thony Dinka). These subtribes have distinct Enthno-dialectal differences (see Ethnology of Africa, 1930; Beswick, 2004) despite having forged a close existential relationship for centuries. Because they were part of the ‘Bor District’ they were known collectively as Dinka of Bor District (see Raymond Kelly, 1985, Willes & Douglas, 1995).
Sound intellectuals and politicians know that this close relationship, good neighborliness and brotherhood can be maintained without falsification of identities.

However, against the required intellectual integrity, the intellectuals among the four subtribes are mentally stuck with the old, defunct ‘Bor District’, which they left in 1970s. While the District was named after the now inhabitant of ‘Bor County’ (Kelley, 1985) the other three subtribes were erroneously referred to as ‘Dinka Bor’. The inhabitants of Twic East County and Duk County are not ethnolinguistically ‘Bor.’ The Bor Dinka (now the inhabitants of Bor County) would call me ‘Cuir’ and President Kiir would be president Ciir!
Bor only applied to Twi people because of their administrative inclusion in the ‘Bor District,’ however, Twi intellectuals, while they apply research-based debates or methods in some aspects, refuse to apply the same method in the case just cited. You wonder why! They want to look politically good…but they know what that means in terms of intellectual and scholarly integrity!

There are tons of books to establish what I just cited (in addition to what elders can say). And Dr. Nyaba should probably ask the likes of Dr. Majak D’Agoot and Dr. Lual Achuek Deng (in the spirit of intellectual journey) the essence, intellectual and scholarly soundness of ‘Greater Bor.’ What historical facts (Oral or written) support ‘Greater Bor’ etymology? Is it an administrative area, a geographical area, or a dialectal group?
Consulting historians like Douglas Johnson may help! Here, intellectual soundness and historical-facts are sacrificed for political expediency or prudence. It’s not about scholarly establishment of facts, which is required, but political necessity. Is that the message to our youngsters?

And we wonder why we have incoherent political ideologies and a herd of confused young ‘intellectuals’; and some misled western scholars like Stephanie Beswick in Sudan’s Bloody Memory, who beautifully presents the correct ethno-histories and ethno-dialectal categories of the four subtribes but added that the ‘Eastern Dinka’ are now referred to as  ‘Dinka Bor’. Or Deborah Scroggins, who says Kuol Manyang is a ‘Twic Dinka’ in her book Emma’s War (2004).
What does that say about our ‘intellectual journeys’, ‘incoherence’ of ‘our political ideologies’ and how we make political decisions? Is preferring political gentlemanliness over facts a good way to act as role models for the younger ‘intellectuals?

Sadly, this is the very problem we have in Juba! And as Peter Thatcher (2013) argued in Leading by Example, “Behaving with integrity is…about standing up for what is right however uncomfortable that might be.” To create a sense of togetherness through gigantic falsehood (or conscious misleading of uninformed masses) is to create a great disservice to our people, the integrity of our intellectual force and a blemish on our scholarly claims.
Does this tie in coherently with our ‘intellectual journey toward a coherent political ideology?’ Sadly yes!

We need to ‘live what we are thinking’ as Weldon Long said. Some folks in Kiir’s leadership see research-based or knowledge-based decision making as an inconvenience to their political agenda. They understand its value but it’s an ‘inconvenient truth’ as Al Gore said about the facts of climate change. Democratizing SPLM would chip away on the powers of the president! Strengthening institutional structures for accountability would reduce the chance of the corrupt to embezzle public funds.
For younger learners like me, I’d love to see our leaders and intellectuals appropriate their knowledge in a usable manner, lead and live by example and take it upon themselves to embark on people-people creation of honest understanding. I’d want to look up to leaders and intellectuals who don’t make decisions because of their convenience but because of certifiable facts future generation can learn from. If intellectuals make decisions because of convenience then why would we blame Kiir Mayardit? If we are stuck with defunct administrative centers that no longer exist then why would we blame an illiterate commander, who sees the power of the guns as the only solution to his remaining relevant?

Even if SPLM had a sound political ideology, a coherent policy framework and feasible programs to implement, all would mean nothing if inter-tribal relations are still thorny or if they are informed by falsehood or conscious skewing of facts. Our intellectual journey and coherent political ideology needs intellectual honesty, reduced partisanship and tribal essentialism; and application of reductionist appropriation of knowledge.
Theories can be understood or interpreted differently. And postmodernist theories (while ridiculed as ‘everything goes’) are a cautious reminder that positing something without providing context is to either leave one’s audience with confusion, or to have done nothing helpful at all in a functionalist sense.

If our intellectuals aren’t consistent or functionally honest in their intellectual outputs, then we can’t wonder much as to why our ‘intellectual journey’ doesn’t lead to ‘a coherent political ideology!’ It’s informed by politics rather that facts!

1.    Beswick, Stephanie (2004) Sudan’s Bloody Memory: The Legacy of Slavery, Ethnicity and war in South Sudan, Rochester, University of Rochester

2.    Corrales, Roman (2007) The Leadership Relationship, Quenzon City, Katha Publishing Co. Inc.

3.    El Sammani, Osman Mohammed (1984) Dynamic of the Planned Change in the Twic Area, Berkshire: Ithaca Press

4.    Kelley, Raymond Case (1985) The Nuer Conquest: The Structure and Development of an Expansionists System, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press

5.    Krasner, Stephen D. (1999) Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy, Princeton, University Press

6.    Nyaba, Adwok (2014) Our intellectual journey towards a coherent political ideology, South Sudan Nation, December 30 < http://www.southsudannation.com/our-intellectual-journey-towards-a-coherent-political-ideology/>

7.    Scroggins, Deborah (2004) Emma’s War, New York: Vintage Books

8.    Thatcher, Peter. (2013), Leading by Example, Bookboon.com (Kindle)

9.    Van Geenen, Erwin w.G. M (2004) Knowledge structures and the usability of knowledge systems, Delft, Eburon

10. Willes, Charles, Armine (1995) Upper Nile Province Hand Book: A Report on People and Government in Southern Sudan, Oxford: University Press