The Missing Point in Kuir Aguer’s ‘Dr. Lam Akol Misses the Point’

Part One

By Patrick (Dunga) Papyec Pakwan

November 22, 2012 (SSNA) — Owing to the fact that Mr. Kuir Aguer’s article of Nov 10, 2012, titled Dr. Lam Akol Misses the Point: An analysis of his Reply to Kuir e Garang piece, like Kuir e Garang’s, is in public domain, I presume any concerned citizen is welcome to throw in their two-cent worth of thoughts. First, one is indeed grateful for the opportunity to exchange views with fellow South Sudanese through this informative website. Exchanging views, especially conflicting ones, on weighty issues is a learning experience that must be applauded and encouraged unreservedly. But before addressing myself to some of the issues in the said article, I must point out with the delicate humility of not wanting to sound preachy that exchange of views, like any other civilized human activity, is essentially informed and guided by a set of generally respected norms and etiquette. Even physical combat, an uncivilized activity, is conditioned by rules of engagement. Similarly, as advocates of ‘truth’, we ought to be susceptible to the fact that there are bound to be more ‘truths’ on both sides of every issue put on the table for discussion. Consequently, and unless the parties concerned are by and large in agreement about the universality of a set of truths that they both cherish and hold dear, no party in a discourse can morally and ethically arrogate to itself the monopoly of truth in order to force the other party to argues its own position based on the ‘truth’ imposed by the other party. Kuir e Garang in his open letter to Dr. Riek and Dr. Lam, for instance, makes the following fact-starved and logically-challenged assertion: “..I believe that if the two of you change course and start being doers not talkers, then good things can happen in South Sudan.” Kuir e Garang in his open letter    There are two baseless assumptions embedded in this sentence. One is that the two gentlemen are on the wrong course. By what objective facts has Mr. Kuir Garang determined that the two gentlemen are on a wrong course? That the gentlemen are allegedly on the wrong course is the personal opinion of the writer, his like-minded colleagues, and ironically, this is a view prevalent within the SPLM where, in Kuir e Garang’s own words, ‘the self-righteousness …is suffocating and disastrous for the country.” The second assumption germinating in Kuir’s statement is that the two gentlemen are ‘talkers’ not ‘doers’.

Yet, no matter how much one may wish to mud sling Dr. Riek and Dr. Lam, one of the things many people agree on, including the two gentlemen’s ardent distracters, is that these two are workhorses. That they possess amazing physical energy and brilliant minds is not a fact shared only by those South Sudanese who know the two gentlemen but also by foreigners with experience and knowledge of the SPLM during the days of the struggle and at present.

It is, however, the total disregard for simple logic in Mr. Kuir E Garang’s “I do believe the two of you are able to change South Sudan in a positive light” that exposes the disingenuousness of his assertion. Unless it was a Freudian slip, why would Mr. Kuir—or anyone else for that matter—have faith in two ‘talkers’ to miraculously turn into ‘doers’ overnight and single-handedly—and against fierce resistance from SPLM ‘crooks’—change a country of Medieval-like social, economic and political conditions.  If indeed it is your conviction that the two gentlemen are intellectually and physically capable of bringing change, then it is only fair to give them the recognition due to them without splitting hairs over ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’. Otherwise the Kuir e Garangs and the Kuir Aguers would rightly or wrongly be perceived as writers who are motivated by personal prejudice or communal vendettas.

We have seen time and again that some people, in a desperate attempt to win an argument, unfortunately resort to the employment and deployment of conjuncture, innuendos, blackmail, baseless assumptions and other methods of verbal combat. Although this kind of tactic almost always fails to produce the intended ‘shock-and-awe’ impact, it regrettably continues to be the method of first and last resort for many of our debaters on and off the internet.

Sadly, Kuir Aguer’s article, like the two pieces authored by Kuir e Garang, is fraught with conjecture, arm-twisting tactics, political blackmail and self-serving flag-waving rhetoric wrapped in words and phrases that wither under the slightest scrutiny. Although I will certainly allude to these points invariably throughout my article, it is necessary to point out that while the title of Mr. Aguer’s article screams out loud that Dr. Lam misses the point vis-à-vis the issues put to him by Mr. Kuir e Garang, Mr. Aguer volunteered that he believes that Dr. Lam “missed an important opportunity to clarify his position and that of the SPLM-DC on important national issues brought up by Kuir e Garang’s letter.”

I am sure that Mr. Aguer will agree with me that ‘missing the point’ and ‘missing an important opportunity’ are not necessarily the same animal.  As it is considered news when a man bites a dog and a non-event when a dog bites a man, it could be said that ‘missing the point’ is a supposedly objective thesis that entails objective factual analysis whereas ‘missing an important opportunity’ is more or less a subjective opinion that may or may not require any substantiation since it represents ‘truth’ as perceived by the author. But the yawning gap between Mr. Aguer’s hyped up title and his anticlimactic cry over missed ‘important’ opportunity is not the only disappointing aspect of the article. A spirited search for the point that Dr. Lam has supposedly missed turned out to be reminiscent to the proverbial search for a needle in a hay stack. There is no trace of the ‘missed point’ in the article. Instead, there was abundance of unexplainable tantrums, outbursts and warn out clichés. This is obviously because Mr. Aguer proceeded to build his analysis of Dr. Lam’s responses on ‘missed important opportunity’ rather than on the supposed subject matter of his article, namely the ‘point’ that Dr. Lam supposedly ‘missed.’ In any case, it is perhaps not a waste of time for as many people as possible to illuminate some of the issues that Kuir e Garang raised because some of these issues are shrouded in myth and willful misinformation.

The 1991 Split

It is more than obvious that Mr. Aguer does not like the answers provided by Dr. Lam to the queries raised by Kuir e Garang, particularly on the issue of 1991 and its aftermath. That is entirely acceptable in this world of multi-opinion and multi truths, where people should be able to agree to disagree without being disagreeable in light of the universal truth that, disagree or agree, the earth will –at the end of the day–continue to revolve around the sun in splendid order. Yet, the source of the visible irritation that underpins both Mr. Aguer’s outbursts and displeasure with Dr. Lam’s answers, as captured in the following sentences, is mystifyingly inexplicable. He wrote: “if he (Dr. Lam) had seized the moment to clarify his position and that of the SPLM-DC on the 1991 genocide in the context of national unity;” “his response is typical of our politicians’ attitudes in general; being overly defensive while ignoring a course that advances national unity;” and “the petty politics of priding himself on being one of the architects of the split to the extent of calling it an ‘honor whose credit you do not claim alone’ belongs in the 1990s.” 

In the first place, Dr. Lam responded only to the questions addressed to him by Mr. Kuir e Garang. Had Mr. Aguer taken a minute to review the questions addressed to Dr. Lam, he would have noticed that there was no question regarding the position of the SPLM-DC on the 1991 ‘genocide’ in the context of ‘national unity.’ To insist that the SPLM-DC or any other party, for that matter, should have a position on the unfortunate Bor incident is perhaps a deliberate attempt to change the conversation so that it focused solely on the Bor ‘genocide.’ As for Dr. Lam’s position on the killing of civilians, he acknowledged the killings to be unfortunate and an unintended consequence of the internecine fighting that took place during those dark days. Therefore, the writer’s lamentations about a missed opportunity to ‘clarify SPLM-DC’s stance on an event that took place more than two decades ago is nothing short of political extortion and blackmail.

“…his (Dr. Lam’s) response is typical of our politicians’ attitude in general; being overly defensive while ignoring a course that advances national unity,” Mr. Aguer surmised. If telling one’s side of the story, as requested by a fellow countryman, is being ‘defensive,’ then we should agree that our interpretations of the word are worlds apart. Dr. Lam’s answers were, in my opinion, crisp, forthright and anything but defensive. As for ‘ignoring a course that advances national unity,’ one has to point out again that this is an example of the fantastic rhetoric of national unity that presupposes that one group of people in South Sudan is the sole gatekeeper of the course that leads to the shrine of national unity. Needless to say that assuming one’s own group is more concerned about national unity than the other groups is misguided at best and jingoistic at worst. Wrapping one’s views in the flag of nationalism is equally repugnant, pretentious and downright shameful.

“…the petty politics of priding himself (Dr. Lam) on being one of the architects of the split to the extent of calling it an ‘honor whose credit you do not claim alone’ belongs in the 1990,” Mr. Aguer yells petulantly. Again, he opts to employ words and conclusions that do precious little to inform. I fail to see ‘petty politics’ in Dr. Lam’s acknowledgment of his role in the engineering of the 1991 split. I fail also to comprehend how that acknowledgement is “petty politics…that belongs to the 1990.” Anyway, and without the benefit of understanding the point which Mr. Aguer intended to communicate, allow me to make some observations regarding responses to the issue of the credit for the 1991 split, and I beg indulgence if I should also in the process pay some deserved attention to the minutia of the 1991 and its aftermath. I intend to do so because Mr. Aguer and other individuals from certain parts of our country seem to be interested in keeping the1991 split and its aftermath alive albeit strictly on their  own terms and according to their own ‘truths’ and their perceived political endgame.

First and foremost, it was Mr. Kuir e Garang who—in his signature outlandishness—claimed in his open letter to Dr. Riek Machar and Dr. Lam Akol that it was the latter who orchestrated the 1991 split in its entirety, and that Dr. Riek had ‘absolutely’ nothing to do with it. In his response, Dr. Lam has owned up to the fact that he indeed shares the honor of being behind the Nasir Movement with many other brains. What is then the source and cause or Mr. Aguer’s irritation and outburst? How such candid and bold admission turns into ‘petty politics that belongs to the 1990s’ is well beyond my comprehension. Perhaps the gentleman may want to illuminate this puzzling ‘logic.’

The writer of the original open letter to Dr. Riek and Dr. Lam has already supplied crucial answers to many of the questions he put to Dr. Riek, and now it is up to Vice President to find these glues if he deems it fit to respond. I was, however, struck by a pregnant sentence that was directed to Dr. Riek. “So, Dr. Riek Machar, your vision for South Sudan was thwarted by your disagreement with Dr. Lam, your eventual split …,” wrote Mr. Kuir Garang. This is an overt admission that DR. Riek did indeed have an articulated vision for South Sudan from the time of the 1991 split until his split with Dr. Lam a couple of years later at which time, according to Mr. Kuir, Dr. Riek’s vision for South Sudan was thwarted. More relevantly, this is an staggering admission that not only did Dr. Riek have a vision for South Sudan in 1991, but it is also a trumping rebuttal to the politically-motivated, ethnically-orchestrated, strategic position you and Kuir Garang espouse by suggesting that the 1991 Nasir Movement was orchestrated entirely by Dr. Lam and that Dr. Riek “had nothing absolutely to do with the split.” Well, it turns out, according to Kuir and I concur, that Dr. Riek and the 1991 split had a vision that could have turned South Sudan into “a peaceful, prosperous place,” in Kuir’s words.  In spite of these clear admissions and despite Dr. Riek’s own admission and apology, Kuir Aguer numbly repeat and peddle myths about the 1991 split. It is obvious, therefore, from the argumentative nature of his presentation that he and his colleagues already have definitive goals, conclusions and baseless assumptions that which they want Dr. Lam to endorse, seal and deliver to them as truths that would validate their preordained political blackmail. Well, judging by the dearth of facts and logic to support outlandish claims about the 1991 split and also gleaning from answers provided by Dr. Lam on the subject, it appears that the Kuirs and the clan will have to reconcile themselves to living with their own contradictions and shenanigans for a very long while.  

Having said the above, I totally agree with Mr. Aguer that our nation deserves better than ‘a trivial debate on which between the two SPLA/M was right or wrong.” While I say ‘amen to that’, I strongly suggest that this wise rejoinder should be directed to Mr. Kuir e Gaang who raised the issues of the 1991. Nonetheless, and in fairness, Mr. Aguer and the clan cannot want to vociferously discuss only one aspect of the 1991 split, namely the killing of innocent civilians during a fight between the two factions of the SPLM and the White Army in Bor in 1991, while at the same time they seem to exhibit high aversion and allergy toward the mere mention of the vision of Nasir faction which boldly and unequivocally championed the cause of self-determination for the people of South Sudan when the concept of self-determination was not popular in the corridors of power both in Washington and at the OAU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is either we all agree to bury the hatchet and allow the beasts of the dark nights to rest or we should be willing to tolerate the lingering pungent odor that will surely continue to pollute the atmosphere whenever this top is discussed in an irrationally nonsensical manner. 

Mr. Aguer stated that “..what is important now is the recognition that the 1991 split aggravated existing tribal hostilities among our communities..leaders and citizens need to abandon denial by recognizing that the 1991 genocide is a symbol of a divided nation.”  This is an exaggeration and generalization of staggering magnitude and a political blackmail of shameful proportions. First, who are these leaders and citizens who are supposed to recognize this grand exaggeration? Secondly, which specific communities whose relations with their neighbors were supposedly aggravated by the 1991 split? Can you argue with a straight face that the currently shattered relations between some Dinka and some people of Central Equatoria, for instance, have been aggravated by the 1991 split? Was the Murle ethnic group part of the 1991 split, and if not-as is the case-then why in heaven’s name are the relations so lethal between this group on one hand and the main protagonists (a section of the Nuer and Bor Dinka) in the Bor killings of 1991 on the other hand?

Everyone including the most illiterate among us,  knows very well today that land grabbing is at the center of the deteriorating relations between some ethnic groups of Greater Equatoria and some Dinkas; and that the once cordial relations between the Shilluk people of Greater Upper Nile on one hand and the Dinka and Nuer on the other has deteriorated precipitously in the last two or three years precisely because of the forceful grabbing of Shilluk land by members of these two groups with the complicity of the SPLM-controlled government in Juba. Shilluk land has been usurped and turned over to Junglei State under the gaze of the Juba government. Shilluk women are currently being routinely raped while youth are killed extra-judicially by SPLA soldiers. Some Nuer groups from Unity State have killed innocent citizens and stolen cattle with impunity in Warrap State. Consequently, some civilians have been left with no choice other than to take up arms in order to protect their communities and their land. After all, was it not for our land, our dignity and peace that we fought northern Sudanese for more than half a century? It is obvious that some politicians, communities and individuals want to exploit past incidents to aggravate tension among ethnic groups.

The 1991 split, like many other incidents, is a sad chapter of our history, but it is not a symbol of a ‘divided nation’ unless some people intend to use it as a rallying cry in order to achieve narrow political goals. That this country is divided along ethnic lines is neither symbolic nor does it need symbols. The symptoms and manifestations of a country fractured by tribal divisions are there for all to see, feel and smell. This country sits precariously on extremely dangerous ethnic fault lines, and one cannot help but feel the heartbreak of seeing her grinning nervously as some of our leaders and opinion writers pretentiously dress her up in a shabby, oversized ‘national’ attire adorned with pretentious symbols of a ‘united nation’.  It is a cruel reality of a nightmarish nature.

Mr. Aguer volunteered one of those presumptuous opinions that have become too familiar when he said that “in allowing Dr. Riek Machar and other leaders of the 1991 genocide to play leading roles in the ongoing national reconstruction, South Sudan has demonstrated the kind of compromises that go into the foundations of a truly united nation.” This kind of reasoning betrays fallacious assumptions about ‘who’ and ‘what’ South Sudan is. Is South Sudan, which has allowed Dr. Machar and others to play leading roles, synonymous with the living relatives of those victims who were killed in Bor in 1991? Who owns the sole right to allow or deny any South Sudanese citizen his/her constitutionally granted right to play a leading role in the reconstruction of this land for whose independence all ethnicities of South Sudan spilled blood? Are the leaders who are in power now in South Sudan including Salva Kiir and Kuol Manyang playing leading roles because they have not butchered innocent South Sudanese? Who killed Honorable Justice Martin Majier? Who assassinated Mr. James Bol Akok? Who butchered Dr. Hugo Luigi Adwok in a gruesome style that would make brutal LRA killings look like child-play? Who murdered Dr. Madut and countless other sons and daughters of South Sudan in cold blood?

Consequently, the kind of shabby statement Mr. Aguer volunteered makes nonsense of the sugar-coated rhetoric about a united nation and national unity. 

South Sudan is not and cannot be reduced to be synonymous with a single entity nor will her history be defined by one single incident regardless of its nature or magnitude.

to be continued

The writer works for an international non-governmental organization in the USA and is currently on leave in Malakal, Upper Nile. He can be reached at [email protected]

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The Missing Point in Kuir Aguer’s ‘Dr. Lam Akol Misses the Point’ – Part Two

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