February 4, 2014 (SSNA) — South Sudan is a tribalized and politicized society; something we should always see with critical ambivalence. Many people are politically aware and that makes it easy for the wrongs leaders do to be pointed out with ease. In other words, political awareness is a positive development. However, when uncritical minds combine cheap politics with unexamined tribal and mythical sense of reality, then we should all be worried.
Since the incident of December 15, 2013, which led to senseless massacres of innocent civilians in South Sudan, many causal theories, accusations and counter-accusations have been floated around. Some of these theories are mindlessly ridiculous, others merely questionable and others purely extra-terrestrial and unimaginable.
However, this tragedy has also brought out the best and the worst out of some politicians and leaders in South Sudan. Among the leaders slammed by many analysts, bloggers and social media bashers are South Sudan’s minister of information, Michael Makuei Lueth and the wife of South Sudan’s former president, Rebecca Nyandeeng Chol.
Nyandeeng has been severally criticized, libelled and even threatened with death and arrest. A certain ridiculous Kenya writer, Mbijiwe Mwenda, called for Nyandeeng to emulate Mama Ngina, the wife of Kenya’s first president. This ridiculous and naïve writer doesn’t know that behavioural disposition should be considered when it comes to how one perceives political involvements and the stakes within a nation. Every Kamau and Onyango; John and Becky, have become star analysts in regard to South Sudanese politics.
The question one has to ask oneself is why so much hate for Madam Rebecca Nyandeeng Chol? Is Nyandeeng a rebel supporter, a jealous former power-player or a misunderstood political reformist? Let’s analyse this.
Frustrated and Jealous?
There’s no doubt Dr. John Garang de Mabior was a giant of Sudanese and South Sudanese politics. He’d been actively and prominently involved from the late 1970s until his death in 2005. For all we know, the family of Garang has been the centre of South Sudanese politics for over twenty years. They were untouchable and their name commanded both respect and fear.
However, after the death of Dr. John, the power changed hands. It’s not clear to us what Garang’s family thought would happen after Garang’s death, however, the centre of decision-making and the power-base, naturally speaking, became a different reality.
The family found itself distant or even distanced from the decision-making. President Salva Kiir, who was very close to Garang’s family during the years of struggle, became a man of his own. He chartered a course different from Garang’s, his predecessor. Nyandeeng and the family realized that the importance they enjoyed in the past was fading or has faded. They were respected as the family of a great liberation hero and that was it. The power centre had shifted; a reality anyone in their place would find difficult to deal with.
But one has to ask one self. With the current events and the way Garang’s family has been very critical of Kiir’s administration, one has to ask whether this is just a question of jealousy or national duty. As we’ve heard from a number of Nyandeeng’s interviews, there’s an element of frustration with Kiir and his admiration. But what does Garang’s family want Kiir to do for them to be happy with his administration? Is it good jobs in the government or political influence? Or is it, as Mabior Garang loves to say, something to do with Garang’s Vision? But who put Mabior and Nyandeeng as the custodians of Garang’s vision? Has Garang’s Vision been reduced from a national ideology to a family affair? The Garangs need to come clear of this!
It’s natural for Garang’s family to feel a tint of jealousy given the fact that they’ve gone from absolute importance to slightly important or somehow irrelevant. However, the family has to be very clear on what they want or they’d just be seen as simply jealous given the fact that they now have no political influence in South Sudan except something for the history books.
National ideologies change all the time. If Kiir wants to change his political legacy through a different ideological ground, then that’s nobody’s business. And if the Garangs want to challenge Kiir as political opponents, something generally acceptable in any democratic set-up, then they have to be very conscientious in pursuit of that goal.
We’ve heard the interviews Nyandeeng has done. You’ll agree with me that the interviews are damaging to the government whether or not what she says is true. Without doubt, she’d put the government on spot and the government has a lot to answer for in terms of the current tragedy in South Sudan.
What many people need to know from Nyandeeng is her position when it comes to the current rebellion. She’s been very much critical of the government so much so that her position regarding the current rebellion has been lost in the there-was-a-coup-there-was-no-coup claim.
We’ve never heard Nyandeeng coming out publicly to condemn the rebellion that has led to the deaths of many innocent civilians. We can all applaud her for voicing out the slaughter of innocent Nuer civilians in Juba, however, Nyandeeng hasn’t actually played the ‘joker’ role she said she’d play. She turned down the request by Riek Machar to represent the ‘SPLM/A in opposition’ but is that enough a dissociation with the rebels?
However, one wonders how Nyandeeng can play a joker role when she’s very critical of the government? A joker would have pointed out the mistakes and atrocities committed by both sides. How do you call yourself a ‘joker’ when the only person you’re critical of is Kiir? There’s no doubt Riek Machar was intentionally forced to flee, however, that doesn’t mean he had to form a rebellion. Kiir has, with no doubt, lost any iota of credibility in the public eye; not even mentioning the international community. Like it or not, Riek Machar was on the right path until he announced that he was leading a rebellion. Nyandeeng therefore needs to separate her solidarity with Riek when it comes to political reforms prior to December 15, and her solidarity in the face of the current rebellion!
Any conscientious or mindless South Sudanese would assume anything but we need to hear it explicitly from Nyandeeng.
Does Nyandeeng support the rebellion? If not, then what’s her position regarding the rebellion? Nyandeeng, as the joker she says she is, has not called a press conference in Juba or anywhere in East Africa, to express condolences to all the bereft, condemn violence on both sides and spearhead an independent path to peace in South Sudan. Why can’t Nyandeeng show the way to peace by inspiring young women, girls and women leaders in South Sudan to inculcate the culture of peace in the young ones?
I know Nyandeeng’s heart is in the right place; however, the methods she’s adopted are very counter-productive. Yes, standing up for people not from one’s own tribe is not only risky but rare in South Sudan. This is a credit to Nyandeeng! However, giving interviews in foreign media and talking without first taking a pause to see what is worth saying and what’s not worth saying isn’t wise. These interviews are only raising her political profile. They are doing absolutely nothing to help the suffering South Sudanese and the volatile political atmosphere in South Sudan.
I’d assume Nyandeeng doesn’t support the rebellion. Like her victimized colleagues, she only needed political reforms within the SPLM. However, in politics, one has to be very clear or else any interpretation of one’s words can be detrimental to one’s political ambition and aspirations of the people.
A Misunderstood Political Reformist?
Uncle Elijah Malok Aleng wrote in his book , The Southern Sudan: Struggle for liberty, that he had to support Abel Alier instead of Joseph Lagu purely because they were not only Jieeng, but also from the same District, the then Bor District.
Lagu was Aleng’s colleague in Anyanya I liberation struggle and it would have made a lot of sense, in nontribalized societies, had he supported Joseph Lagu instead of Abel Alier. Aleng’s argument was that had he supported Lagu instead of Alier, he’d have had no political future in the then Bor District (which by then housed the tribes of Bor, Twi, Nyarweng and Hol).
Such tribe-inspired political affiliation is the culture in South Sudan and it’s the same lens used to judge politicians. For the Jieeng people, Nyandeeng should have acted like Uncle Aleng; to disavow any association with Riek Machar whatsoever.
Many people, except for the myopic, tribal linear thinkers, supported calls for political reforms within the SPLM. However, a number of people turned away from this line of thought when the December 15, 2013 mutiny ended up being a rebellion that’s now led to the senseless death of innocent civilians.
Like many politicians in South Sudan, Nyandeeng has a knack for speaking without first thinking about how any political utterance would be perceived. Nyandeeng is accused; especially by some Jieeng people in Jongeli that her interview, immediately the shootout started in Juba, caused the destruction we’ve seen in Unity, Upper Nile and Jongeli states. That’s a mindless claim! She spoke out about the slaughter of innocent Nuer civilians; something we now know is true.
While I agree Nyandeeng should have been very careful regarding how she passes her messages, it’s mindless to think that she’s a rebel supporter or that she brought about the death that befell the residence of Jonglei state capital and especially the residents of Bor Country.
At the end of January, Rebecca Nyandeeng Chol had an interview with a Kenyan news site, Kenya Today, and many people were quick to misconstrue what she said. When she talked of the dichotomy between Ugandan troops and South Sudanese troops (which included both the government forces and rebel forces) by using the phrase ‘our forces,’ it was assumed by a good number of people that she meant rebel forces as ‘our forces.’
Anything Nyandeeng utters is assumed to be aimed at supporting Riek Machar in his rebellion. However, people seem not to see any difference between what happened prior and on December 15, 2013 and the current rebellion led by Riek Machar.
The saddest thing in South Sudan is that truth is only important if it benefits ‘us’ whoever the ‘us’ are. And you’re only a hero/heroine if you say what benefits ‘us’. As much as some of the things Nyandeeng utters need to be checked and analysed to verify the truth and facts in them, we need to acknowledge that too much focus on ‘truth only by our standard’ is our main problem.
I criticize President Kiir and Kiir’s tribal supporters are up in arms. I criticize Telar Ring Deng and some people from Lakes state are up in arms. I criticize Riek Machar and some Nuer are up in arms saying ‘here is anything Jaang.’ I criticize Kuol Manyang and Makuei Lueth and some Bor people are up in arms. I criticise Rebecca Nyandeeng and her son, Mabior Garang, but Twi people can’t do anything because I’m Twi myself. This is our reality and we are all guilty of it so let’s remember that when we criticize Madam Nyandeeng.
How many people in South Sudan would write to criticize people from their own tribes? The number is close to none. The Us-vs-Them divide prevents South Sudanese from being objective.
Nyandeeng has been, like Makuei Lueth and President Kiir, very careless in what she says and how she says it. This is with no doubt the culture of our uncultured politicians. They all talk anyhow without first thinking about the would-be consequences of their utterances. In essence, Nyandeeng has achieved what she wanted to do: present president Kiir as corrupt, hard-headed and incompetent. However, she’s done poorly in terms of what her political position and utterances mean to the dead, the suffering civilians and the future of South Sudan.
Nyandeeng has allowed herself to be misunderstood. It’s now up to her to position herself as the mother of all and comfort the suffering masses in South Sudan; Nuer and Jieeng alike.
She should come and lead an independent humanitarian effort in South Sudan. She’s demonizing President Kiir and his government for good or bad. This is also the same thing Riek and the rebels are saying. It’s therefore difficult not to be misunderstood in such instances. Nyandeeng needs to play the role of a mother as she claims!
Kuir ë Garang is an author of seven books including “South Sudan Ideologically” and “Is ‘Black’ Really Beautiful?” For contacts see Twitter: @kuirthiy or his blog, www.kuirthiy.info.