January 1, 2015 (SSNA) — Leaders the world over think about two paramount things: the PRIMACY of the citizens’ needs and the LEGACY they leave behind long after they have gone. It seems, Mr. President, you think less about the two mentioned above and more about staying in power. There is one thing you have to remember as you stay on: time will come when you’ll be gone either by political necessity or by biological and physiological necessity.
Power ends, but your legacy will not end regardless of what it is. You might go down in history as the first and the worst president South Sudan will ever have; or you can change course and be the best leader South Sudanese will remember for generations to come. The onus is on you!
Here are some things to consider as we begin the New Year.
You are the President
The only person who has the ultimate say in what happens in South Sudan is you. Sometimes your speeches and interviews don’t reflect that. When asked once by a journalist when peace would be realized in South Sudan, you asked the journalist to ‘go and ask Riek Machar.’ That was both ‘unpresidential’ and irresponsible. You were mandated with confidence by South Sudanese in order to do things for them and in order to show optimistic way forward. Riek Machar is a man who’s shown time and again that he wants to lead South Sudan. That we understand very well. However, he’s not the president of South Sudan. You claim legitimacy but you fall short of portraying that. It’s time you remembered that you are the president of South Sudan so act like it. Professing being the president is not what presidency is about; you have to act in the interest of the people.
Stop talking and acting as if there’s someone else; someone who’s actually the decision maker in South Sudan! As the president, you need to account for the atrocities committed by people under your command. Riek Machar will account for his own atrocities. As president of South Sudan, who still has Nuer leaders in your government, what would you tell millions of Nuer, who lost their loved ones in December of 2013? You are the president so answer them like a president!
The Peace Talks
Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was made possible because there was a will to bring peace and the understanding that Sudanese had had enough of war. Taha and Garang, in the interest of Sudanese people, took charge of the talks, showed courageous leadership and made very painful concessions.
You are very much aware that Seyoum Mesfin and IGAD have failed miserably. Unless you take initiative or take charge of these talks, the very people who gave you the mandate will continue to die of diseases, hunger and war. Dr. John Garang has left his legacy in a very beautiful manner. It’s high time you make peace your legacy because developing South Sudan will NEVER be part of your legacy.
Stop the PRIDE and POWER game you and Riek Machar are playing and humble yourself in order to bring PEACE to your people.
Listen to the Citizens
It’s very easy for leaders to be out of touch with people and their needs. And being an African leader, people around you usually lie to you to win favors and be seen as the most loyal. Make an effort to be in touch with South Sudanese citizens without any mediators. This could be in form of well-organized town hall meetings or a monthly radio show in which citizens can call in from rural areas and express their concerns directly to you. In this way, you’ll have a chance to gauge what your aides tell you and what the average citizen’s experiences are.
Media Freedom and Political Opposition
South Sudan is doing exactly what Sudan was/is doing. Your administration is doing the same thing you took up arms to fight. I don’t know whether you don’t see it or you just don’t care. Newspapers are censored if they criticize your administration, political opponents are intimidated, arrested or killed and you rule through a decree like dictators do. These are not part of democracy you seem to sing on regular basis. You’re doing exactly what the likes of Nimeiri, Abboud and Beshir did. It’s high time you make South Sudan different from Sudan.
Political opposition and the Media are a mirror through which you can evaluate your performance. Allow people to criticize your administration and then answer them with facts about what you’ve done for South Sudanese. Intimidating journalists and opposition figures gives an impression you’ve failed to deliver.
Let different political parties debate openly on South Sudan Television. Get your best political brains to tell South Sudanese your side of the story in open televised debates. This will garner you more respect than the way opposition figures are intimidated now.
What you have to request through relevant ministries is journalistic integrity. Journalists who violate their codes of ethics shouldn’t be arrested by security personnel. They should have charges filed by government lawyers and it’s up to the judge to decide.
The word decree appears only once in the South Sudanese Transitional Constitution. And it’s only something to do with failure by parliament to pass the budget bill within 45 days: 88 (7). So where does ruling by decrees get constitutional legitimacy? Dictatorial leaders rule by decrees because they override their constitutions or don’t care about it. Whoever advised you to rule by these unconstitutional decrees is contributing towards your unpalatable legacy. It would have been better if these decrees where constitutionally mandated.
Building a nonpartisan Civil Service
No country that hopes to prosper can walk even a mile without a functioning civil service. There has to be nonpartisan civil service that should remain in place regardless of what party is in power. Civil Servants shouldn’t be loyal to any political party. The main purpose is to make a given ministry streamlined and functional. In South Sudan now, the minister is everything. And when the minister is removed, there’s hardly anything that remains to tell the next minister what to do. If you hope to do anything in South Sudan without a nonpartisan civil service then you are living in a delusional limitless dimension.
Ask seasoned experts in neighboring countries, or even in the ‘west’, on how to build and strengthen a civil service sector in South Sudan. Records in any ministry should remain for future records even when the minister is gone. How do you expect to develop a country when the minister goes with records of that given ministry?
President Museveni and Uganda People’s Defense Force
No right-minded South Sudanese would dismiss the role Uganda played during the liberation struggle. Museveni and UPDF have helped us a great deal. However, Museveni is a political and diplomatic brother and everything he does for us is primarily in the best interest of Uganda and Museveni’s political ambition. Museveni’s help to South Sudanese wasn’t and isn’t offered pro bono.
And we also know that without UPDF, the ‘White Army’ would have probably gone to Juba and this could have caused a bloodbath. But as you are well aware, Museveni’s help to us during the liberation struggle was a function of Beshir’s backing of Lord Resistance Army (LRA). And his current help is an attempt to keep Sudanese president Omar el Beshir away from South Sudan and to project himself as Eastern African ‘strong man.’
The gravest part of UPDF presence in South Sudan is that it portrays you as an impotent president whose army can’t protect the capital and the government. Museveni tells the world that he’ll only withdraw from South Sudan if Juba is secure. This tells South Sudanese and the world one thing: you are incapable of protecting your capital city and that you are president only because UPDF is protecting you. That doesn’t sound like a situation of a strong president. It doesn’t matter what you say about your military strength, UPDF presence and actions have portrayed you as weak, incompetent and someone whose presidency they have protected. That undermines South Sudan as a nation!
So wake up Mr. President and listen to your people, allow free media and free political opposition, build real civil service, bring peace to South Sudan and create respectable South Sudan’s army instead of the current medley of tribal militias that make up the SPLA.
Kuir ë Garang is the author of “South Sudan Ideologically.” For contact, visit www.kuirthiy.info