Corruption, Nepotism, and Tribalism: South Sudan’s Three Related Problems

By “Papa” Maury Clark

June 21, 2013 (SSNA) — Tuesdays action by president Salva Kiir suspending two of his ministers, and calling for investigation into corruption allegations against Finance Minister Kosti Manibe Ngai, and his cabinet affairs associate Deng Alor Kuol is a welcome move against an endemic problem in the government. The perception of corruption, if not the absolute reality, has weakened the people’s faith and confidence in their leaders.

Call it what you want, but this set of problems has brought down many a government in emerging African Nations. The triad of corruption, nepotism and tribalism is a quagmire that stems from an immediate need to put a person in high office who, for whatever reason, has demonstrated either leadership skills, or at least a minimal interest in the designated responsibilities of the office. When you are just getting started, and deadlines loom, at some point you might simply cross your fingers, close your eyes and go for it, sometimes based solely on known, personal past history, and reputation.

The problem, simply put, is that at the earliest formation of a government in a new country like South Sudan, known past experience is almost certainly based on war and combat skills. These military skills do not necessarily translate to civilian offices. Except when the admirable ability of a bush commander who can scrounge needed weapons, men, or supplies plays out in peacetime applications as criminal ways to scrounge the most money for himself, or place people in their debt for a job appointment. Corruption can then be a result of the very field skills that prompted the appointment in the first place.

One of the problems is that the corrupt civilian official may not really see himself as corrupt at all. He may see his actions as justified, or even necessary, to protect himself, his authority, and the loyalty of his appointed subordinates by sharing the spoils. The spoils of war are a lot different than stealing public funds, but the difference is blurred by the absolute authority often granted to the newly created civilian office holder. However, no matter how a person justifies it, greed is still the motivator.

Nepotism is the appointment of family to positions of responsibility, and tribalism is simply an extension of that. Both go back to the same points already described: give the job to somebody you know (family or tribe) and their loyalty to you is assured. AND they will also see “Sharing the wealth” as a normal, acceptable practice because, after all, don’t you expect gifts on special occasions, from family?

The end result is distrust of government in general, and anger at the injustice of it all, as seen by outsiders, who are excluded from the spoils. Enough time has now passed to throw the bums out of office, and appoint successors based on their merits. If you also hold the thief accountable, and prosecute when appropriate, problem solved.

Good decision Mr. President!

The author is a former advisor to the government of South Sudan, retired investment banker/broker, as well as a Called and Commissioned Deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Northwest Washington Synod. He served under Bishops Appointment as pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Maple Valley, Washington in 1990 and 1991, and also served four years on the Synod Council and he has been deeply involved with the people of South Sudan since 1996.

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