Saturday, March 10, 2018

An Open Letter to Dr. Francis Mading Deng

Kuir ë Garang

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"Why would you expect these 'stakeholders' to join something that was formed by someone they are fighting? You've worked with many governments and in politics to know the vanity and self-interestedness of 'realpolitik.' Why are you surprised by something you expected? Did you expect Riek Machar to say, "Yes, it's a good initiative, we'll join it" without caring about the fact that this ND was formed by his archenemy? You dashed my hopes here when it comes to rational expectations."
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Dr. Francis Mading Deng
Photo: Foreign Policy
Many of us have read your books and reports on behalf of the United Nations.  When I tell people, casually, during conversations, that the person who formulated the 'Guiding Principles' and ideas now used by the UN to take care of the internally displaced is [South Sudanese], they stare at me with a confused sense of wonder and admiration. It is a good feeling in terms of the human communion and in terms of intellectual relatedness.

The Principles have not only been adopted by aid agencies and different governments, they have also been translated into different languages since they were introduced in the January of 1998. "A number of governments," you wrote in a paper in 2001, "publicly praised the development of the Principles and several governments in countries with serious situations of internal displacement have actively supported and participated in seminars on the Principles."  

This is indeed instructive on how valuable these Principles were and still are. You can understand why I'm inclined to speak about the fact that you were the brain behind these Principles with such a global appeal. 

Besides your work with the Sudanese government in terms of your foreign affairs services, your books, and other scholarly works, these PRINCIPLES speak loudly about how you perceive, and take seriously, the suffering of the internally displaced persons relative to their governments and your concept of 'sovereignty as responsibility.' This is a concept that I wished many African governments understood and practiced.

This brief reminder of your work with the internally displaced plays well into what I want to say and why I decided to write to you an open letter. This letter is about what is happening in South Sudan and what the government of South Sudan has become: a vengeful, suspicious force against the average South Sudanese and all critical voices. As you correctly said in your 2001 paper, The Global Challenge of Internal Displacement, that "Instead of being seen as citizens who merit protection and humanitarian assistance, these persons are often perceived as part of the enemy, if not the enemy itself." 

This, sadly, captures the reality of what is happening now to the average civilian in South Sudan. The government that is supposed to protect them sees them with a scary suspicion. 

So when someone of your caliber works for the government that is doing exactly what you used to advise governments against, someone like me assumes that you are doing something internally, something that would mitigate the suffering of our people. When you were appointed as the UN ambassador, my hopes were up. I told myself that "a cautious voice of reason will finally speak on behalf of the government of South Sudan." But I was being too optimistic or, to some extent, naive. Ambassadors are nothing but mouthpieces of governments. 

However, when I heard that you were again appointed as part of the national dialogue, my hopes were high again. But then I realized that the ND was merely a face-saving initiative with no real normative intent as resolving the conflict for it was very exclusive. Since President Kiir Mayardit is being opposed by the likes of Dr. Riek Machar and other opposition figures, it should have been clear to you that they would not want to be part of an initiative that was started by their 'enemy.' That Riek Machar refused to meet your delegation in South Africa was common sense. 

This statement, which you gave in December of 2017 in Addis Ababa, is troubling. You said that, "On the issue of inclusivity, however, it must be noted that it is a two-way challenge. When all the stakeholders are invited to dialogue, with flexibility on a mutually agreeable venue, and some individuals refuse to join, where does the responsibility for the lack of inclusivity lie?" That is strange.

Why would you expect these 'stakeholders' to join something that was formed by someone they are fighting? You've worked with many governments and in politics to know the vanity and self-interestedness of 'realpolitik.' Why are you surprised by something you expected? Did you expect Riek Machar to say, "Yes, it's a good initiative, we'll join it" without caring about the fact that this ND was formed by his archenemy? You dashed my hopes here when it comes to rational expectations.

However, you always have a way of warming our hearts by saying the right thing when we need it the most. You recently, in the February of this year, presented a noble address in Addis Ababa during the ill-fated 'High-Level Revitalization Forum' aimed at reviving the [2015] August Agreement that was meant to end the  December 2013 crisis. You wrote, with an eerie sense of impeccable humanness that 

I have always said that while it is sad and painful to hear that the outside world cares more about the suffering of our people than their own leaders, our response should not be anger or defensiveness, but to convince them that we indeed share that concern, perhaps even more than outsiders, and that we should join hands and work together to mutually reinforce our efforts toward our shared objective. We must also convince our people that we are indeed concerned about their suffering, and we can only do that through affirmative action.

Undoubtedly, this is a reminder of 'leadership as responsibility' as Robert Joss would say. That outsiders sound more alarmed than the very leaders who are supposed to be the most affected ones is deeply troubling.  However, given your history with the internally displaced, I do believe that you mean those words. I have seen your calm demeanor, calculated and carefully reasoned arguments that make one feel the need to listen. You bring out that traditional African wisdom within a value-impoverished contemporary African politics. 

Despite the fact that you are with a group of hardened and desensitized men, who will find it hard to listen to the suffering of the people, I still believe that you can help change things. However, I also believe that you are approaching this in the wrong way. 

First, for the ND to be inclusive, it has to be an entity formed by all the 'stakeholders.' This would force them to respect it and commit to it if they know they have people they can trust in the ND. These would be people they chose themselves. You also need to remember that the problem in South Sudan is the leaders so for peace to come to South Sudan, these leaders are the ones who are required to dialogue. Even if the average South Sudanese in the village and in towns reconcile, the bitter differences among the leaders will always divide them. Unless the leaders reconcile and the war ended, any ND would be futile. How do you reconcile people who are still fighting one another? 

While the ND is an excellent initiative, it's being used for the wrong reason and applied to the wrong people. You need to start by convincing President Kiir to dialogue with Riek and other stakeholders. You don't even have to go to Addis Ababa. 

Unless you help the leaders reconcile and end the war, you are wasting your time. Just imagine you going to Akobo and the people accept to forgive those who have wronged them. But then the government and the rebels fight again in that area and the very people who had accepted to forgive had their relatives killed. Would they still respect such a dialogue? 

Dr. Francis, while your heart is in the right place, you need to rethink what it means for something to be inclusive and who exactly needs to dialogue with whom and when. Inclusivity should not only be in the intended execution of the ND but also, in its very formation. The idea that calling people to be part of the ND is what it means to be inclusive, worries me. 

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Kuir ë Garang is the editor of 'The Philosophical Refugee.'

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SELF-ESTEEM AND DISCRIMINATION

As someone who grew up in war conditions and lived as a refugee for a long time, I'm sometimes considered by many people in the 'west' to be prone to (or have) low self-esteem, be poor or illiterate. Living as refugees or displaced persons, who depended on the good will of others put people in a situation where they don't think much about themselves. But that's not everyone though.

As I stood by our front desk at my place work talking about Race and Identity in relation to my book, Is 'Black' Really Beautiful?, the issue of why many African peoples in North America become so over-sensitive when racial issues come up! For many rational people, this owes its origin to slavery and racial segregation.

But one of my coworkers, a person of European descent, was surprised to realize that her 'black' friend, a very intelligent woman, easily becomes irritated by simple things she [friend] considers racist. The friend considers any mention of a watermelon racist; and complains a lot about 'white privilege.' This means that discrimination is considered something 'whites' don't face because of 'white privilege.' In any discussion between 'blacks' and 'whites', 'white privilege' issue comes up!