" Sometimes South Sudanese leaders act and behave in a way that makes me ask: Are these people really South Sudanese? But western ‘experts’ write about South Sudan and South Sudanese people in a way that makes me stop in the middle of the article to recheck the author's name to ensure I'm not reading a Hegel or a Kant reincarnate in 2020."
2005, when the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) was signed and the interim
period started, South Sudan has been going downhill. But it is not because the
SPLM leaders, who led the implementation of the agreement, were too greedy and
did not care about the people of South Sudan and the land. I do think they
cared about South Sudanese and I still believe they do. But there are several
things to which they did not pay attention.
They did not know that they were against time but also against cultivation of
bad political and economic practices. They naively believed ‘we have time’ to
fix things after secession because most of us were assured of secession of
South Sudan. But any political novice knows that entrench political cultures and
economic practices become difficult to fix. It was a big blunder. As Hilde Johnson
has argued in her book South
Sudan: The Untold Story, SPLM leadership was more interested in making
sure the referendum took place. They were not worried about putting down
important institutional rudiments and protocols. It was a big, dangerous blunder.
The leadership of the SPLM did not focus on transitioning from militaristic modus
operandi to party politics in order to change its leadership principles and
how to relate to South Sudanese citizens. Without this change, the non-conventional
militarist psychology of revolutionary politics and disciplinary logic makes it
difficult for politico-military leaders to understand the lucidity of consensus-based
political decision making. Military leaders, even well-trained and ideologically
shaped ones, find it difficult to take orders from civilian leaders.
and SPLM officials found it a bitter pill to swallow to take orders from civilian
intellectuals, who did not join the war, especially those who came back from
refugee camps in neighbouring countries or the diaspora returnees. Having not
trained its political and military leaders to delink the army from politics and
to indoctrinate them about conventional politics, South Sudan had set up
politics and militarism as strange bedfellows.
As Bishop Anthony Poggo has argued in his book,
Us Build Today, returnees who did not join the SPLA war (even when they
were part of the path-setting and the pioneering Anyanya revolutionary war)
were labelled cowards or jellabas. Because SPLA war was dominated by Jieeng and
Nuer and Anyanya war was initiated and led, in most part, by Equatorian tribes,
especially Lotuho, Madi and and Karo people
(commonly known as ‘Bari Speakers’), this dynamic developed a tribal undertone.
But it was not addressed, reminding people of the infamous kokora
saga of Nimeiri and Lagu and its legacy.
During the implementation period, South
Sudanese, especially those who did not join the war but fought in their own
ways through education and political engagements abroad, thought South Sudan
would become a model country of conventional politics of political freedom, regulated but free economic enterprise,
tribally diverse people but politically faithful to the state and respectful of
their cultural and linguistic diversities.
no! These ideas were easy to sing during the war but in practical application,
they became worrisome to the military leaders and SPLM officials who felt
threatened by the new political realities. Instead of seeing that the political
liberation and economic liberations are two different undertakings, SPLM/SPLA
started political and military schemes to protect their interests in the rapidly
changing South Sudan. While they thought stealing public funds here and there
and making sure one’s relatives are employed without qualifications was not a ‘big
deal’, they did not know they were subverting a system in a way that would
become the politico-economic culture in South Sudan. As Peter Adwok Nyaba has argued in South
Sudan: The State We Aspire To, SPLM
and SPLA officials descended into ‘power politics’ as opposed to ‘liberation
they still believed they would fix the system as President Kiir said during his
Independence Day speech on July 9th, 2011.
leaders, from the most humble [sic] ranks to the highest offices in the land,
have to rally behind this national call,’ President Kiir said. ‘Our leaders, be
they in politics, administration, churches, and the entire civil society are
collectively responsible for serving the public interest first and self
last. Those who are unwilling or unable
to make the sacrifices required in the public service will not be part of this
government.’ Incredibly positive and consoling; but too optimistic as it would
only be empty rhetoric in the following two years and ever since.
he and his SPLM cohorts did not know (or perhaps they were using ‘we have time’
paradigm) was that they had allowed subversion to make itself economically,
politically and tribally entrenched. Changing would need creativity, strategy,
and self-will. As South Sudanese economist and former government minister, Lual
A. Deng, has argued in The
Power of Creative Reasoning, South Sudan was through with liberation leaders
now it needed development leaders. But survivalist desires had become more
important than care of the state and its people.
happened in this political and economic atmosphere, the fight to makes sense of
the changes and carve oneself a place on the economic and the political sphere,
became a kind of Darwinist competition not government by any civil discourse.
Military leaders fell back on their military and political leaders capitalized
on their affiliation with the army. Those with no army affiliation and returnees
became the despised ‘other’ with their education. In such a system, you need
near angels to resist corruption. I know colleagues who became seduced by this subverted
Sudan became an arena of heads-knocking and interest protection. It therefore
becomes easy to argue, as Alex de Waal did in When Kleptocracy
Becomes Insolvent, that South Sudanese leaders were not interested in
developing the country. This is a tempting argument if one goes by the effects
of what South Sudanese did. But this
grossly oversimplifies a complex situation informed by a complex history.
partners erroneously assumed,’ argued de Waal, ‘that either a nascent
institutional, rule-governed system existed, or that South Sudanese leaders
were genuinely seeking to establish such a system, and that corruption and rent
seeking were deviations from this system. This is no longer possible to believe.
Good faith efforts to build institutional integrity were routinely suborned toward
factional advantage and private gain.’
de Waal has a point, especially the last sentence about faction private advantage,
his argument that South Sudanese leaders were not interested in building South
Sudan and that what happened was not a deviation is a morally dangerous statement.
Of course, South Sudanese subverted the system and destroyed the country, but
to say that they wilfully destroyed South Sudan borders on colonial historicizing
and anthropological thinking (the most compromised of discipline as V. Y. Mudimbe
once argued) of the Hegelian tradition that believed Africans did not know what
was good for them.
Sudanese leaders indeed had the interest of the country at heart. They just let
things go out of hand to the point where politics became about political and economic
survival. And because tribal allegiances largely happen by default, they become
easy to activate by the
gun class in such an atmosphere, which Daniel Akech Thiong refers to as ‘politics
of the systemic apparatuses SPLM leaders have allowed, suspicion has run high
and survivalist politics and economic machinations have made criticism of the
government a deadly affair. South Sudan was destroyed by what was allowed to
happened not what was maliciously intended. Essentially, South Sudan is still
not beyond repair, but it has tragically ‘institutionalized’ a political,
tribal and economic mindset that will take decades to remove if we are lucky to
get a cadre of self-less leaders who plan, implement and publicly account for their
leaders have said they care about ‘jesh el amer’ (red army, a phrase inspired
by the then SPLA socialist leaning) and they continue to talk about their care
of the country. I do know that they care; but what matters is not what is said
but what is done.
Nyoka cannot settle freely in Ayod or Bor or Malakal without being harassed or
having her brother disappear in the hands of the national security, then ‘experts’
like de Waal appear justified. If Gatluak is afraid to apply for a government post
because he is afraid he is not going to get the job because of the ministry’s top
officials are not from his tribe, then we will find it difficult to defend that
South Sudanese leaders actually care about South Sudan. If Peter Biar Ajak is
arrested, released and flees because he had called rightly for a generational leadership change or ‘exit’
in Juba, then one risks saying ‘de Waal is right.’
no! We listen to South Sudanese leaders in places de Waal does not; we attend South
Sudanese speeches in local areas de Waal does not; we have suffered in South Sudan
in a way de Waal has not; and we have a historical and cultural connection that
gives us an epistemological and theoretical prism de Waal cannot have however
much he reads or empirically research about South Sudan. Too ethnocentric, I
am, maybe! But this is an opinion article, not a scholarly one. The reader can
take comfort in that.
I started with Foucault, I will therefore reiterate that leaders and power are
about effects; but we cannot allow South Sudanese experts to forget colonial
anthropology, history and philosophy and the infantilization of South Sudanese,
can we? Sometimes South Sudanese leaders act and behave in a way that makes me
ask: Are these people really South Sudanese? But western ‘experts’ write about
South Sudan and South Sudanese people in a way that makes me stop in the middle
of the article to recheck the author's name to ensure I am not reading a Hegel or
a Kant reincarnate in 2020. But then someone may, like Kant argue in Observations
on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime, ‘this fellow was quite
black from head to toe, a clear proof that what he said was stupid.’
you can dismiss this article and go back to your beer.
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