Ateny Wek Ateny, the press secretary in the office of the President of South Sudan recently wrote a provocative article about who should be considered the ‘Father of the Nation’ between late Dr. John Garang de Mabior and President Salva Kiir Mayardit.
“Notwithstanding, President Salva Kiir Mayardit is the Father of the Nation with his wife Madam Mary Ayen Mayardit as Mother of the Nation, not the other way round [sic]. Dr. John Garang was the Father of the SPLM/A because he founded it and fought together with Salva Kiir and millions [sick] others to secure for the people of South Sudan the Right to Self-Determination that culminated into the independent from the Sudan, but there was no nation before him. The Nation of South Sudan came to being exactly six years after the death of Dr. John and therefore, it cannot be retrospectively attached to him as its father,” Ateny wrote.
Before I even go into the semantics of what it means to be called ‘The Father of the Nation,’ I have to ask first what the author wanted to achieve by such a message. What was Ateny’s intention in trying to create such an unnecessary discord? Is Ateny trying to win favors from the president and his family or is Ateny trying to add fuel to the already compromised relations between Dr. John’s family and President Kiir’s family? Or is Ateny trying to confuse Mabior Garang de Mabior’s opposition to president Kiir’s rule and the facts of nation founding?
In a nation that’s already jittery with armed rebellion and leadership incompetence, one has to wonder what the likes of Ateny Wek Ateny are doing in the office of the president! Someone who can barely express his ideas well—and who embarrasses the president at every chance he gets—works for the president!
Unless President Kiir fires Ateny Wek, a plethora of needless bootlicking writings will continue to tarnish the image of the president and his office. But for those of us who knew Ateny’s stand against John Garang even before the signing of CPA through Gurtong discussion board, this article comes as no surprise.
Now, one has to ask if Ateny wek knows why a given leader is called ‘The Father of the Nation.’ The father of the Nation is the person who not only fought in the liberation war, but also the one who put down all the socioeconomic, sociopolitical and liberation strategic conditions and principles that made the creation of the nation possible. And without such conditions, the creation of the nation would not be possible. The question then becomes, who put down all the modalities and conditions that made South Sudan possible? Who breathed inspiration into the facts that made South Sudan possible? These are questions the readers will answer for themselves.
But one has to acknowledge what Ateny called ‘truth’ in his support of the theory that Salva Kiir is the ‘Father of the Nation.’ That President Kiir was the president at independence is a fact that is misleading Ateny Wek. One has to forgive Ateny Wek in this case. President Kiir Mayardit is the first president of an independent South Sudan. That’s a historical fact no one will deny or rationalize away. However, President Kiir only implemented what was already negotiated by John Garang between 2002 and 2005. Without John Garang and his role in founding of the SPLM/A, Liberation strategies and CPA negotiation, we wouldn’t have a nation called South Sudan. Without John Garang negotiating the CPA personally with Ustaz Taha, President Kiir would have had neither an agreement to implement nor any country for which he’d have assumed presidency.
Founding Fathers of all nations are the ones whose ideals and ideologies give birth to their nations. You are not the ‘Father’ simply because you were the leader at independence. While President Kiir was instrumental and fundamental in keeping the SPLM/SPLA successful after the split in 1983 and in 1991, one has to acknowledge that the creation of South Sudan has little to no individual ideas and political ideologies from President Kiir. Presient Kiir was a leader by default not ideas! He was a leader by mere hierarchy not political and leadership meritocracy.
The only leadership ideology that can be attributed to president Kiir when he assumed leadership in 2005 is what Hilde Johnson calls the ‘Big Tent Philosophy.’ This is the idea that South Sudan is big enough to include everyone. Kiir was seen as more inclusive than Dr. John in leadership approach. History will judge that given what we have now in the country. And to Johnson, this philosophy failed miserably as it wasn’t founded on any strong leadership and political principles. It was simply a copy-and-paste inspired by Dr. John Garang. On January 9, 2005, Dr. John said this regarding what he called ‘south-south dialogue:
“on issues that concern southern Sudanese, I want to say a little on south-south dialogue. On building national consensus, the SPLM will also spearhead the south-south dialogue. This dialogue, above all, is to heal wounds and restore fraternity and mutual respect so as to create a healthier political environment that is accommodative all southern Sudanese political forces, both at the level of southern Sudan and at the national level. But south-south dialogue is not only about power. It is about all and (enviable) democratic exercise based on mature and selfless political discourse among southern Sudanese with a view of galvanizing all our human material resources for the service of our people.”
But this leadership initiative—South-South Dialogue—which many elder statesmen like D. K. Matthew were instrumental in, was adopted by President Kiir without any credible understanding of the underlying implementation principles. This half-baked adoption is the method that’s now destroying South Sudan.
So to reduce Dr. John’s role to SPLM/SPLM founding and liberation struggle while ignoring the fundamental role he played in the creation of South Sudan is an affront to decency, historical facts and the respect accorded to those whose role is the pivotal center of national freedom and founding. Whether it’s Mwalimu K. Nyerere of Tanzania, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Sam Nujuma of Namibia, Samora Michel of Mozambique among others, their ideas helped found their nations. All these founding fathers are called so because their sociopolitical ideas shaped their struggles and informed their national foundations. If one has to call Kiir Mayardit the ‘Father of the Nation’ then one has to first clearly articulate Kiir’s sociopolitical and socioeconomic ideals and politico-military strategies that shaped South Sudan.
“The simple and humble logic dictates that no one could father or conceive a child in his/her grave,” Ateny wrote. This is simply bizarre. A dear friend of mine passed away a few years ago leaving his wife pregnant. His son was born while he was dead! So what in the hell is Ateny talking about? Garang conceived South Sudan and died before its birth! Ateny writes as if CPA, which guaranteed the right to self-determination, was started by President Kiir after Dr. John’s death.
Well, it’s crucial to excuse Ateny wek for believing that being the president at independence translates to being the ‘founding father’ even if one had no pivotal ideological and strategic contribution but mere physical presence. He is so out of line that he even contradicts the same president he pretends to be supporting.
“To some extent, Mr. Kiir’s adversaries often intentionally referred to Dr. John and Madam Nyandeng as Father and Mother of the Nation, in an attempt to belittle him and his wife Madam First Lady. Sometimes, it is understandable,” he wrote.
But on Independence Day, July 9, 2011, President Kiir said that “Let me also once again state clearly the sacrifice made by the founder of our nation, Dr. John Garang De Mabior. This great day is testimony that our martyrs did not die in vain!” So is President Kiir his own adversary, Mr. Ateny? Oh Jesus son of the Jewish carpenter help us!
It’s so irresponsible for Ateny Wek to try to win favors from the president by showing South Sudanese that he’s less informed about what he’s talking about. In a way, he’s going to suck-up to the president even if it means contradicting what President Kiir acknowledges.