Monday, January 13, 2014

Princeton Lyman and Andrew Natsios distorting some facts about South Sudan

Princeton Lyman and Andrew Natsios distorting some facts about South Sudan

I used to feel sorry for Africa anytime I heard ‘western’ countries and intelligentsia misrepresenting Africa. However, the way I now look at the west’s perception and representation of Africa has changed significantly. Bizarrely speaking, I now feel sorry for the tellers of African realities and African leaders than for the average, misunderstood African. And this relates to the integrity of the tellers of the stories.
The current crisis in South Sudan has brought out the best and the worst of western journalism, western perception of Africa and her morbid realities. News is reported haphazardly with contradicting realities emerging the following day. Opinions are written by supposedly western ‘experts’ with mangled up facts. However, people who should correct such misinformation aren’t given any opportunity to correct them.

This not only questions the integrity of the news institution, it also questions the role of the news institution in regard to what African countries go through.
I realized with worrying bitterness that less care is taken when it comes to telling Africa’s stories. News is published without thoroughly checking facts. This affects the integrity of the news reporters than the integrity of the body being reported about. It is – as clich├ęd – Africa of course!

Admittedly, the crisis in South Sudan has left me with grave misgivings about the integrity of major news institutions in the world. And these include the likes of New York Times, BBC, CNN, The Guardian …etc.
South Sudan was destroyed by decades of war and is now being destroyed by self-centered politicians. I therefore can’t allow my country’s historical facts to be distorted or told by foreigners in a disrespectful, careless manner.

On December 25, 2013, Andrew Natsios published and Op-Ed article on New York Times: Save South Sudan from itself. While Mr. Natsios got the general sentiment and the situation right, he was a little careless in interpretation of the facts. He postulated the claims about the events of December 15, 2013 as if the truth has already been established. That wasn’t wise in such a tribally charged environment.
Being someone who’s been involved in South Sudan and Sudan for a long time and especially the process leading to the signing of Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, I thought he’d get the facts about South Sudan right, or be at least careful in regard to how he interprets South Sudan historical events. He sadly wasn’t.

In the article Natsios claimed that Dr. Riek Machar came back to SPLM in 2001 (instead of 2002) and that 1991 SPLA split was caused by ‘power struggle’ between Riek Machar and Lam Akol on one hand and Dr. John Garang on the other. What happened in 1991 can actually be seen as insubordination, opportunism and egotism. Power struggle only happened after the split not before it.
While Natsios admitted to being wrong (via email) on the first case, the reunification of Riek’s and Garang camps, he claims he’s right on 1991 SPLA split. However, because ‘power struggle’ claim in 1991 is a question of interpretation, Natsios could have done justice to Sudan and South Sudan by explaining exactly why he thinks the split was caused by ‘power struggle.’

Mr. Natsios claimed he had excess to embassy cables and that he has proof that it was actually power struggle that caused the split in 1991. Well, Mr. Natsios owes it to South Sudanese to explain and justify his claims otherwise he’s just adding to the misrepresentation of Africa by western elites and ‘experts’ on Africa.
To even make the matter worse, the testimony former US envoy to Sudan and South Sudan, Princeton Lyman, gave to US Senate Foreign Relation Committee on January 9, 2014 appalled me. Lyman was involved in South Sudan for three years but he couldn’t get some facts right. As someone who was presenting to select US law makers; people whose decisions or recommendations could affect the future of South Sudan, I thought Mr. Lyman would be careful and thorough with his facts.

How can we trust someone who jumbled up facts about South Sudan to say what is in the best interest of South Sudan? The testimony was like a joke: No facts referenced and basic facts were jumbled up miserably. While the recommendation on what is to be done about and for South Sudan was excellent, some facts were wrong.
Lyman, like Natsios, put 2001 as the time Dr. Riek came back to the SPLA. He claimed President Kiir is from Northern Bhar El Ghazal State when he’s from Warrap State. He bizarrely claimed that Riek Machar is a ‘Leader of Nuer’; something I fail to understand what it means.

The testimony was like Mr. Lyman wasn’t serious about what he was saying. It’s as if the testimony was something he did just as ‘let’s get over with it!’
And how can we forget how news reports about South Sudan were either wrong or contradictory.  Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, was in government control today then tomorrow the word is ‘sorry it isn’t!” The names of the ministers are most of the times mixed up, states are mixed up, where leaders come from is mixed up, the states where oil is drilled are mixed up …etc.

All these events tell me that care is not taken when it comes to reporting or writing about South Sudan. Some of us might not have access to prestigious news institution like New York Times, however, we’ll flood the social media, the blogging community and our local news outlets to show the world that the supposed ‘experts’ are either not serious about our countries or are not the people we can trust with the affairs of our countries.
These people should either straighten up when it comes to what they say about our countries or we’ll expose them as dishonest and incompetent.

We can’t have our historical facts distorted or misinterpreted in our watch.

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