South Sudan: Political Patronage, Tribalism, Lost of National identity, and Diminishing of Nuer Power and Values

By James T. Mathiang

April 30, 2013 (SSNA) — Since the South Sudan signed the comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the government of  Sudan, it has had a very interesting history, marked by many years of patronage and partisan politics, imbued with nepotism, massive corruption and economic mismanagement, at the expense of public service politics. The political corruption and favourism associated with political appointments, manifested through  nepotism and appointment of associates on the unmerited basis in South Sudan, have badly affected the economic development as well as transformational changes in the new nation. Those who had been lucky to be allies with the ruling elites and political leadership are the ones who are often rewarded, disregarding merit-based system. In so doing the leadership failed to unite the grassroots based on principle of inclusivity and sense of nationalism. Therefore this article is intended to discuss the negative features of patronage politics, tribalism, lost of National Identity and diminishing of Nuer values and power in South Sudan.

Firstly, it may be argued that patronage politics are an observable fact present in every political system, whether developed, or developing countries. In fact in the South Sudan political system, some oppositions give their full support to patronage as a tolerable occurrence at the highest levels of government, where the heads of the ruling Party, especially the president is entitled to select his cabinet and the heads of departments (usually based on who he knows or who is close to him). However, evidence shows that patronage politics in South Sudan are dangerously destroying the country, because it has been practiced even at the county level, as well as in the military. The situation in South Sudan is equally true, patronage politics have continued to affect every part of government functionaries, that is leading to unpleasant insufficiency in service delivery (health care, education e.t.c..), and increase corruption. Some officials hire their office staff base on blood relationship or through their close friend’s recommendation.. Therefore, most heads of departments or even some ministers in South Sudan government are holding those posts not based on their academic experience or qualifications, but because of their loyalty to the highest ranked people including the president himself. However, this nation has been entangled in its own bewildered web of favourism politics, and intense corruption, which have adversely affected the poor and makes poverty mitigation far away from actuality. The education and health care systems in South Sudan have been left lame ducked, because all the families of  the South Sudan elites live in neighboring countries and the western world. So, the poor and ill managed  schools and hospitals across the country are left for the poor. As a result of nepotism and patronage policies, the most qualified South Sudanese including PhD holders, Engineers, Medical doctors, and their families are facing an unpredictable future in the country.

Lost of National Identity

Secondly, does the national identity matter anymore in the Republic of South Sudan? Believe it or not some South Sudanese people have lost it all. The promotion of tribal identity in the new country is one of the most important causes of misunderstanding among politicians, as well as among the grassroots. The pressed issues I have observed among South Sudanese are greed and power struggles between tribes. Therefore, even the well educated South Sudanese, sometimes forget to mention the Republic of South Sudan, when they are asked where they from. Instead, they would say something like I am from “Dinka” or “Nuer” or “Shilluk,”and so forth. However, the question is what is ahead of us from now on? Well, the thinkers would argue that South Sudan is one inch away from slipping into Deep Ocean. That means that the tribal war in South Sudan is an inevitable, since the tribal wrestlings and bribery have moved to the forefront in South Sudan politics.

Tribalism in South Sudan

Thirdly, what causes the political struggles within the SPLM Party? The ill advice that the president receives in the daily basis does not only belittle the president, but it will lead the country to “chaotic evil”, which no one wanted to see.  The laws and order, and good deeds in South Sudan are disdained, as the presidential advisors are promoting chaos and evil. These people hope to bring themselves to positions of power, glory and prestige in a system ruled by individual quirk, and their own fancy. The presidential advisors without fear of destruction are now adopting what so called “Chaotic Evil Code”.

1. You shall lie whenever convenient.
2. You shall harm the innocent whenever convenient.
3. You shall kill for pleasure.
4. You shall not aid the weak.
5. You shall not honor any other before yourself.
6. You shall break the law whenever convenient.
7. You shall betray friends, family, community, and nation whenever convenient.
8. You shall harm those who protect the weak or honor laws.
9. You shall pursue all forms of pleasure.
10. You shall seek unlimited power over others and unlimited freedom for yourself.

These people seem to forget that the art of speaking is a valuable character trait of a leader. A good leader is one who is able to express himself and inspire others through his/her verbal expression, but not through bribery or political intimidation. Nevertheless, materials need is another important factor, that cannot be underestimated. As the scarcity of resources, and food shortage continued to rise in the new nation, the patronage politics and nepotism are elevated in a scary fashion. For example, the elites from the president’s side are increasingly defying the law, and violate all norms of political civility of the country. The latest instance is the political intimidations including the assassinations and bribery tactics.. The presidential decree has become a driving force intended to relieve officials including the military officers who are not loyal to the president. This strategy is the most dangerous tactic that could create unnecessary genocide in South Sudan. Why the political inspiration to run for the top job in the democratic government has been politicized and seen as a threat to the country and to the president? The tribal hegemony is the only explanation of such a question. One is wondering what kind of law these future candidates violate? None. These people who show their interest in the presidency did not violate any law, as the meaning of a “democratic country” is concerned, but the tribal domination is an obstacle for the development of Southern Sudan. As a result of this tribal hegemony and ideology, the country’s wealth has been concentrated in the hands of a few.

Diminishing of Nuer Power in South Sudan

Fourth, why the Nuer power is fading? Well, there are many reasons why the Nuer power and values are diminishing. Since the signing of the CPA, the Nuer people have been victims of “divide and rule strategy”. This strategy is intended to break the Nuer “Mighty” into smaller, more manageable pieces, and then take control of those small pieces one by one. In order to maintain power, and influence, the Nuer adversaries will often work to keep the Nuer politicians and intellectuals from uniting. Back then, Nuer were so organized and powerful society in Sudan. According to encyclopedia of world cultures supplemented in 2002, the Nuer became part of the Sudan politics in the 1820s, when the nation-state was taking shape, beginning with the Ottoman invasion from Egypt in 1821. Like the other South Sudanese groups, the Nuer have resisted incorporation into the Sudanese political structure. This resistance has led to the development of two distinct parts of the country: the north and the south”. In addition, Nuer people were egalitarian society in Sudan, and they were known for their bravery and unselfishness. Despite all these positive traits the Nuer people had in the past, Nuer at the present day are become followers and selfish. Prior to 1983, Nuer were the one leading the rebellions but because of their low self-esteem, they gave up all the power, but not only that they end up killing their fellow Nuer who objected the idea of surrender. In 1991, Nuer were the one who came up with the idea of “Self-Determinations” which led to South Sudan independent and yet the history of the SPLM has been hijacked from them in the broad daylight. The economic meltdown or higher inflation rate in South Sudan, has forced weak hearted Nuer to increasingly become submissive to the Dinka elites, and become aggressive to their fellow Nuer. However, the bad news is that even some of the high ranked Nuer in the South Sudanese army ( SPLA.), are living in fear of being dismissed from the army and so they too become submissive.

New norms and community sell out

Fifth, why the Nuer people want to be second class citizens in the country they helped create? There are many driving forces that compel some Nuer politicians to be submissive. Materialism has consumed many Nuer’s lives to such extent that it affected our cultural values and integrity. Our integrity as Nuer has decayed with the rise of bribery culture in South Sudan. The “divide and rule strategy” in the new nation has affected the norms and moral values the Nuer people used to have. For example, in the past, it was very hard to bribe a Nuer man or woman, but now it is quite common to bribe a Nuer man to kill even his own brother if you promise him a position in the government. As stated earlier, Nuer are become selfish and opportunists. The current move by the vice president Dr. Riek Machar, was condemned by some Nuer politicians who earn their living by betraying other Nuer fellows. The fight for what they need to survive forced those Nuer politicians to confront Dr. Machar’s bet for the presidency in the 2015 elections.  Some politicians naively, and falsely, claimed to be representing their particular clans, in order to fool the small minded creatures like Gordon Buay. Hence, the greed has greatly led to the moral and value decline in the Nuer society. Therefore, the current crises in Juba between the vice president and the president of the Republic of South Sudan, can be seen as evidence of cultural change in the Nuer society. In Juba now, some Nuer politicians are campaigning to dislodge Dr, Machar and his supporters so that they could be given ministerial posts and governorships as rewards.

In conclusion, this article concludes, by suggesting the following actions that must be taken in the long term to save the country from chaos. One of these is a creation of the merit-based system in every sector of the public service if effective public service delivery is to be achieved. This would mean strengthening the civil service agency to distance its operations from due political influence. Second, the country should focus more on systems and institutions building process, to eradicate, patronage, bribery and nepotism. Third, there should be legislation that guide individual behaviors toward other tribes. Individuals from a particular tribe should be expected to follow the rules and norms established which hypothetically should create a region that morally blameless and free from tribal violences. Fourth, there must be term limits for the presidency, so that others would have a chance to lead the country. Last, the patronage and nepotism must be made illegal, so that the well qualified individuals would get opportunity to service the people. With all these in place, our country would be well-off, in the whole continent.

The author is a concerned citizen of South Sudan living in Canada. He can be reached at [email protected].   

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