November 22, 2013 (SSNA) — This piece is a mild response to “South Sudan Needs Intensive Care,” written by the prolific South Sudanese author Brother Elhag Paul, and posted on South Sudan Nation website on November 19th, 2013. As much as there is often some truth in what Mr. Paul writes including in this last article, on this occasion I am convinced that he got it wrong. This is particularly related to Mr. Paul’s rallying cry for Dr. Riek, Momma Nyandeng and Pagan to urgently react and wrestle power from president Kiir in light of his introduction of Koc Beny (help, protect or serve the president) policies epitomized in the illegal building of a battalion of militia from his region dubbed “Republican Guards.” Kiir seems poised to go down kicking and screaming, which is why Dr. Riek, Momma Nyandeng and Pagan are reasonable to remain calm. The same applies to all South Sudanese. Else we risk contributing to a premature unmaking of our beloved South Sudan if we go down the path of violence as a means to resolve political differences.
Before delving into the substance of Mr. Paul’s latest article, let me register that I have been one of those who admired most of Mr. Paul’s literary masterpieces. The eloquence with which he presents his cases can persuade even the devil! His command of the foreign language is second-to-non.
Even with those pieces that at face value come across as highly ethnically charged and hence a disservice to our nation-building and peace-building aspirations in South Sudan, I have often found myself motionless and unable to make up my mind. This is true even for someone who is academically trained as a theologian (an Islamic expert) and a peace scholar (policy expert) and would like to think of himself as a peace-practitioner such as myself.
Moreover, as a writer and a blogger I realize the daunting task and the time consuming nature but also the will and dedication committed to piecing ideas together into a coherent literary narrative, never mind as persuasive as most of Paul’s articles are and not least written in second or third language. In that sense I would expect appreciation of my own time spent in composing an op-ed first and foremost, disagreement with the substance of the presented argument notwithstanding. For that Mr. Paul’s intellectual contribution to promote lasting peace with justice in South Sudan is much appreciated. It is in these kinds of intellectual engagement that we enrich each other on the way forward in the difficult task of nation-building, a task made even more daunting in an ethnically charged and tribally committed society of the like of South Sudanese society.
However, it is here that I fundamentally disagree with Mr. Paul’s last persuasion on how political change can be expedited to foster positive social change in South Sudan. Obviously one would have to gauge the underlying assumption of Paul’s last piece in order to provide an adequate and fair response. There are several assumptions that can be read.
First, it is clear as is the case with most of Paul’s writings that the piece is borne out of frustration with president Kiir’s leadership failure, and what Paul rightly sees as Kiir’s possible “wish to cling to power at all cost to protect his personal gains and to advance Jienganization.” Paul is particularly nervous about what he has repeatedly aired as Jieng’s expansionist and domination agenda in South Sudan. In this last article alone the phrase “Jienganization,” which Paul has coined to capture the substance of his fears occurs not less than three times and its variable “Jieng” dominates the piece.
I do believe there is some legitimacy in Paul’s grave concern with some Jieng’s behavior. I have in the past voiced similar concerns in an article entitled “the Dinka Problem in South Sudan (I)” that predicted some of the current happenings, such as the commitment of president Kiir’s community to see to it that Kiir remains in power until “2020 and beyond” come rain or shine. However, following public uproar, threats and what not, I quickly rejected the idea of continuing with that debate and decided to change the title in the subsequent piece. I realized that though some Jieng members appreciated the effort and saw the good intention of the article for what it was as a constructive criticism, most were consumed with emotion and saw that the community was under attack. This meant that the moment was not ripe to write about tribalism in South Sudan. I will revisit the topic soon though. But let us come back to where thence my disagreement with Mr. Paul lies when it comes to the whole debate about the Jieng of South Sudan momentarily.
Second, another of Mr. Paul’s underlying assumption in most of his writings is the evidently deep love and passion to see peaceful co-existence and mutual recognition between the varied and many tribes of South Sudan reign, in order for development, prosperity and the delivery of the much coveted social and economic services to the people of South Sudan can commence in earnest.
And third, as reflected in most of his writings too, Mr. Paul dislikes the ruling party Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) to the core, and would like to see the demise of this party yesterday rather than today. This is clearly reflected in his statement urging the triad of Dr. Riek, Momma Nyandeng and Amum to act now before it is too little too late, even as Mr. Paul is convinced the three are as corrupt as Kiir. It seems for Mr. Paul it is more a case of trading off a greater evil for a lesser one, and if with it comes the collapse of the SPLM party it will be much welcomed as akin to striking two birds with one stone.
To this end Brother Paul writes: “Time is of the essence here. This seems to be the only opening left for any of them or all of them combined to challenge for the leadership. Failure will mean – as stated already – a one way march to the garbage bin of politics. It will be next to impossible for any of them to make a political come back in South Sudan for the simple fact the SPLM (their beloved organisation) is already waning with its unforgettable history of massive corruption, crime, Jienganisation, and killings. If they choose to be binned, perhaps that may even help them to retire to enjoy the millions of dollars they looted from the state coffers. However there is no guarantee that the next government will not call on them to account with possible confiscation of the illegally gotten gains.” I cracked when I was reading this section of Mr. Paul’s article.
However, here is the gist of my reservation with Mr. Paul’s logic in this piece. As I mentioned above I have had and still do have my share of concerns with the manner by which Kiir and his tribes-mates have carried themselves since the CPA came. It particularly irritates me when they falsely lay claim to all credits for the delivery of South Sudan’s independence, which in turn has served as a pretext to legitimize their sense of entitlement to dominate public offices, privatize national resources, disregard academic merits for employment opportunities and occupy other communities’ ancestral land. It is equally painful to regard a fellow human being never mind a compatriot as coward, slaves and what not. Together these policies and sentiments are pushing South Sudan to the brink of violent mayhem across everything—ethnicities, clans, political interests groups, you name it.
However, it is worth emphasizing that what South Sudan is presently going through is no longer Jieng versus Nuer, or the Nilots versus Equatorians. To his credit president Kiir has problematized the issue to the extent it has trickled down to strictly power politics. The “Jienganisation” contribution to it is that Kiir’s Jieng’s section has thrown their weight behind their boy. But this is also true of many pockets in different sections of South Sudanese ethnic groups who benefit from the status quo to have equally pledged their allegiance to Kiir’s government and political aspiration to remain in power to the year 2020 and beyond.
Another “Jienganization” of the problem would be that some members of the Jieng communities stand to benefit from illegal land occupation in Juba, Nimule and elsewhere with state backing, as the much public uproar in recent months in the case of Nimule suggests. But while this is true land conflicts are much more complex than at face value. Even Nuer clans are reported to have clashed over land ownership issues in Unity State just yesterday. Moreover, a quick glance at court cases in Juba pertaining to land ownership suggests the problem permeates and has even divided not just tribes and clans but even family members. In short reframing the manner by which we approach some of these challenges is refreshing and moves the debate to where it belongs, namely the absence of clear land distribution legislation and away from the redundancy of this tribe versus that.
My favorable line of “Jienganization” of politics in South Sudan is one that I have previously held and still stand by it, namely the moral dilemma confronting the Jieng society, and their continued silence to publically as a community take Kiir to task. As I argued in the “Dinka Problem in South Sudan (I)” (see my blog: http://tloloyuong.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/the-dinka-problem-in-south-sudan-part-i/), though some sections of Jieng have also been on the receiving end of Kiir’s policy misgivings, if only by virtue of the distortion of the Jieng tribal image as a result of some of Kiir’s policies, no Jieng community has come out to publically condemn or question Kiir. The man is not only above the law, but also seem to be literally above the tribe! And the only section of the Jieng community that has influenced the issuing of a public statement is Kiir’s own section and possibly other sections from the Greater Bahr El-Ghazal State. But as we all know the communiqué that came out of that conference endorsed Kiir’s aspiration to remain at the helm to 2020 and beyond.
But even the line of thinking that Kiir has distorted the image of the Jieng’s tribe and therefore should invoke the wrath of the Jieng’s communities is simplistic. As Mr. Paul himself acknowledges in the opening line of his article, other unfortunate Jieng’s clans have not been spared from the negative impact of some of Kiir’s policies. He notes, “The current leadership of SPLM has steered the organisation to serve the interest of Warrap further creating divisions within the greater Jieng group.” One would probably even find disgruntled Jiengs with Kiir even in the president’s home State of Warrap.
Simply phrased current South Sudanese political conundrum seems more complex than the generalized argument of “Jienganization” or tribal politics would allow. The same applies if we use Barization as a term to describe South Sudan’s political discourse. Safe for some pockets of Wani Igga’s supporters within the various Bari clans there is little support for the man, and most of us remain out here in the cold unable to find jobs despite of racked up graduate degrees held by some of us. If it is prudent then to conclude as a result that Igga has distorted the image of the Bari tribe by way of being the second powerful symbol of the unjust system in Juba, the same may be concluded about Dr. Riek for Nuer, Dr. Lam and Amum for Shilluk and so on and so on, which does not hold.
The point here is that no one is clean from these individuals and if their tribes must be taken to task as a result then we are doomed! These are politicians and because of this they are literally above their tribes as noted above in relation to Kiir. Therefore they must be treated accordingly. In fact Paul’s argument disintegrates at first time of asking when he calls for an urgent halt of "Jienganization" symbolized in the removal of Kiir from power, only to appeal to Momma Nyandeng as one of the saviors. Is not Momma Nyandeng another Jieng? Who is to guarantee if she assumes power that she won’t embark on another aggressive "Jienganization" policy, perhaps even more aggressive than Kiir? What about Shiilukization that may result from Amum’s ascension into the first office, or alternatively potential Nuerization when Dr. Riek assumes power? Again if Paul’s latest logic is correct then we are doomed.
The truth of the matter is that though perhaps unintended, this categorization of South Sudan’s political discourse is deconstructive to nation-building and peace-building aspirations in the land. And another truth of the matter is that Kiir has challenged all of us; he looked us in the eye and told us I am staying put in the first office. And I have a Koc Beny militia now to go with it. He has not blinked and therefore we must concede and give the man a second chance in the office, if it was up to me.
It will be idiotic to challenge Kiir by the use of force and drag this country back to all out war, with yet another humanitarian disaster that may result, and for what, for political power struggle for presidency? South Sudan is more important than the office of the president. Enough with violence already. The only viable way Kiir can be ousted is the non-violent way of the ballot box and not the flying bullets as some of us are often quick to encourage. For this reason I believe Dr. Riek, Momma Nyandeng, and Mr. Amum are reasonable to remain calm and bid their time even with the latest spate of political provocations, including the overhaul of SPLM’s party structures.
In fact one would argue that one of the intentions of the dissolution of the party structures is probably to provoke knee-jerk reaction and incite the recourse to violence by Kiir’s political opponents. Think about it, if I was Kiir and I want another term in the first office at all cost. My party seems poised to withdraw confidence in my candidature to remain the party’s flag bearer come next elections. The legacy of my regime is tainted with corruption, nepotism, failure of delivering services, gross human rights violations, absence of rule of law, all sorts of growing pressure against my regime from left, right and center, and my term is running out in just over a year. But I believe I could correct all these wrongs given an extension in my tenure for a second term, or whatever my motives are for being desperate to remain in power, my best shot is probably to provoke my political opponents into resorting to violence against the state.
In so doing I will draw the legitimacy of declaring a nation-wide state of emergency, suspend the constitution indefinitely and with it goes all chances of the conduct of national democratic elections in 2015. That way I will remain in power legitimately until peace and stability is restored as I determine it, upon which the state of emergency will be lifted, the constitution will be restored and general elections will be held. Such a political move should give me enough time to wreck some policy changes and correct the wrongs if that was my intention for seeking to remain in the office for a second term.
Alternatively, I will still have enough time to pursue my objectives whatever they are if I could lure my opponents into violence. If this is true then it goes to show that the man will stop at nothing, and is ready to throw the baby state out with the bathwater. Therefore, let the man be. We live to fight another day in the civility of the ballot box come 2015 and assuming the elections are held as Kiir himself has pledged last Week. My two cents!
Tongun Lo Loyuong is reachable at [email protected]; and can be followed on twitter @TongunLoLoyuong. Numerous other food for thought and intellectual exercise on South Sudan’s issues can be found at: http://tloloyuong.wordpress.com/