Kuir ë Garang*
"My conclusions about Zuma and SPLM turned out to be right. But I’m not right because I have some crystal balls. I only used their track records. Simple! My critics and I had access to the same evidence."
When Kuol Manyang was appointed governor of Jonglei state in 2007, I wrote an article arguing that Kuol was not going to make an effective governor.
Kuol was effective during the war because he was feared. He fired people. Literally! With a gun! When it comes to administrative skills, I said, he has little.
That didn't sit well with one South Sudanese writer. He condemned me, calling my article an unsubstantiated opinion. It is unfair to judge Kuol before he has the chance to govern, he said. That seemed to make sense. Not quite!
A few years later, the same writer would say exactly what I had written. He condemned Kuol as a ‘failed governor’.
When Jacob Zuma was plotting to oust President Thabo Mbeki in 2008, I wrote an article arguing that Zuma is a populist. Populists, I argued, do not have set principles. They are 'wind-socky', I added. They go where the wind blows. At the beginning, they condemn their predecessors when plotting to oust them. When in leadership, however, they change from time to time. But they either revert to the very ideas they had previously condemned, or they adopt new ideologies they deem popular.
Using the story of Napoleon and Snowball in George Orwell's Animal Farm, I compared what Zuma was doing to what SPLM was doing in Juba to Napoleon’s treachery. Zuma initially supported ousting Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe as the ‘international community’ was demanding it. Mbeki opposed it.
In the SPLM, Chairman Kiir and SPLM members condemned Dr. John Garang in 2004 regarding his dictatorial tendencies and the then rampant corruption within the SPLM. They wanted change, apparently. We all supported their condemnation of Dr. John then.
To my surprise, two South Sudanese young men condemned me. They did not understand why I compared Zuma to SPLM leaders. But what happened to Zuma and SPLM? I will leave it to you to Google that!
In 2015, I wrote an article in which I highlighted how Jieeng dominated key positions in Kiir’s government. A prominent South Sudanese intellectual and scholar, who is also a former cabinet minister, sent me an email in a mild protest. He is Jieeng and he was opposed to Kiir’s government. But my article did not impress him, surprisingly. He advised me that it is not a good idea to write about Jieeng dominance.
Well! A few years later, he would write an article in which he focused on Jieeng’s dominance of the South Sudanese government. His article was more scathing and more comprehensive than mine. What did he learn that he did not know? Perspective? Clarity of vision? I don’t know.
What is my point? (Yeŋö luɛɛl)
It’s important to review how we draw conclusions. What do we use? Evidence? How we feel about something?
In July of 2019 Peter Chol Ajak of SBS Dinka radio asked me whether Riek Machar would become president of South Sudan. My answer was ambivalent about Riek becoming a better president. I, however, was not ambivalent about Riek becoming president per se.
As a citizen of South Sudan, Riek Machar, I told Chol, has the right to be president. However, I told him I had doubts about Riek becoming a better president than Kiir in terms of service provision and administrative capabilities. I look at what a leader has done previously to discern whether he’d make an effective leader. From what I have seen from Riek leadership abilities after 1991, I had doubts about his becoming an effective leader.
I however added that we can give Riek Machar the benefit of the doubt. Zuma? SPLM?
It is important to always self-interrogate to see if there is something clouding one’s judgement. Things may be very clear from a certain perspective. But shifting to a different perspective, just a little, may help us see what we are missing.
My conclusions about Zuma and SPLM turned out to be right. But I’m not right because I have some crystal balls. I only used their track records. Simple! My critics and I had access to the same evidence.
*Kuir ë Garang is the editor of The Philosophical Refugee. Follow him on Twitter @kuirthiy