By Duop Chak Wuol
March 13, 2020 (SSNA) — The recent appointments of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) national ministers and deputy ministers have been widely welcome in South Sudan and around the world. However, there are some people who believe that the nomination of Angelina Nyajany Teny as a minister of defense sent a wrong signal and that the armed opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar has transformed the SPLM-IO into a family business. In this article, I will argue that the decision to select Angelina Teny to become South Sudan’s first female defense minister is reasonable and that those who accuse her husband, Machar, of nepotism failed to think critically.
I would like to first publicly admit that I wish Dr. Machar acted differently. However, his decision to appoint his wife as the minister of defense should not make some people think in a limited way.
On March 12, the SPLM-IO leadership revealed the names of its nine ministers and three deputy ministers. Those who were chosen for cabinet positions are Puot Kang Chol as Minister of Petroleum, Angelina Nyajany Teny – Defense and Veteran Affairs Minister, Henry Odwar – Minister of Mining, Peter Marcello – Energy and Dams Minister, Elizabeth Achuei Yol – Minister of Health, Stephen Par Kuol – Peacebuilding Minister, Lasuba Wango – Minister of Federal Affairs, Manawa Peter Gatkuoth – Irrigation and Water Resources Minister, and Ayak Benjamin Wariali – Minister of Gender, Child and Social Welfare. The armed opposition also appointed Mabior Garang de Mabior as Deputy Minister of Interior, Deng Akon – Cabinet Affairs Deputy Minister, and Agok Makur Kur – Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Planning.
It is worth mentioning that the overall allocation of ministerial and deputy ministerial positions has been done reasonably given the diversity of the SPLM-IO. But the appointments seem to disappoint some hardliners who strongly believe—in their seemingly twisted minds that one ethnic group, the Nuer, should have been given most of the SPLM-IO ministerial and deputy ministerial portfolios. Based on these selections, it can be Mathematically translated that the Nuer tribe controls 33.3% (four ministers), leaving the other 66.6% (67% to be exact)—five ministers and three deputy ministers for other tribes. It must be made clear to those who only see through ethnic lenses that the SPLM-IO is not a Nuer political party; it is a South Sudanese. Those who think in such a way should consult their consciences.
Coming back to the main topic, history and publicly available research data show that most constitutionally mandated appointments are done by political leaders who have legal authorities (be it a party or national constitution) to appoint people. This is not a fabricated fact; it is a known fact worldwide. In most cases, any leader can employ any person he or he wants, and the appointment of Angelina Teny is not immune from this practice. There is no doubt that the SPLM-IO’s military wing, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), has capable military Generals who have the qualifications needed to run the defense ministry. There is no question that people like the SPLA-IO Chief of Staff 1St Lt. General Simon Gatwech Dual, SPLA-IO Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations James Koang Chuol Ranley, and many others are well positioned to head this ministry. But I would like to caution the people of South Sudan that having the necessary experience does not always translate to leadership success. I want to make it clear that the practice of nepotism deserves to be scrutinized since it can easily open a door for anyone in a position of power to give his or her relative, family member, or friend a job without a proper assessment. This habit can also wear down people’s confidence in any established institution. Nevertheless, the nomination of Angelina as the head of the defense should not be treated as an automatic practice of nepotism. In fact, her appointment does not need a shouting match; what it requires is a critical analysis of Machar’s decision to give his wife such a vital portfolio and why he believes Angelina is a good candidate for the post.
There are questions that deserve logical explanations before one accuses Dr. Machar of nepotism.
Is SPLM-IO a family corporation? Does Angelina Teny qualify to head the ministry of defense? Does nepotism prevent people from executing their constitutional duties? Is it logical to appoint a relative or family member? Is nepotism moral? What is the rationale behind Dr. Machar’s decision to appoint his wife? Will Machar impede Angelina’s leadership at the ministry of defense?
There is no need to exercise irrationality here. The above questions are for you to draw your own conclusions. I suggest that you put your emotions aside and thoughtfully study the questions before arriving at your conclusion.
It is clear that Machar’s decision to give the defense minister position to his wife raises ethical questions and creates doubts in the minds of many people. I am calling on the SPLM-IO leader to thoroughly address these misgivings triggered by his decision. In addition, Dr. Machar should lay out his reasoning on why he believes Angelina is the right person for the job and explain to the people of South Sudan why he picked his wife instead of an experienced military General from the SPLA-IO. However, people need to understand that being a defense minister does not require military knowledge. It should also be clear to anyone who questions Angelina’s experience that the defense minister position is theoretically a civilian post. Consequently, it is logically irrelevant to claim that the defense ministry should always be headed by someone who has military experience. I urge South Sudanese, especially the supporters of the SPLM-IO to judge Angelina Teny based on her own experience, not from the notion that she cannot run the defense department simply because her husband is the country’s First Vice President and chairman of the SPLM-IO.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition is not a family-run enterprise as critics of Angelina’s appointment would like people to believe. The SPLM-IO was not formed by Machar as his own political entity—this seemingly fallacious argument just does not hold water. The party was formed by a diverse group of South Sudanese who felt after the civil war broke out in December 2013 that there was a need for political, economic, and military reforms in the country and that establishment of a different political party to challenge the existing dictatorial system was necessary. If reforming South Sudan’s political system is still the main focus as it was the case when the SPLM-IO was formed, then people should not exaggerate the situation merely because Dr. Machar gives his wife the defense minister position. Angelina Teny is capable of running any ministry in the country and her nomination as the head of the defense has nothing to do with nepotism. Her leadership capability and experience justify her appointment. Angelina’s rise to the ministry of defense deserves criticism but these criticisms should be constructive, not based on wild assumptions that her being the wife of Riek Machar automatically disqualifies her to be a defense minister. Please try to think rationally. Petty political squabbles over one position should not be allowed to change SPLM-IO’s most important goal, political reform. People should not waste their time on trivial political pursuits. Let us embrace peace and work to make sure it is fully implemented. Enough of groundless accusations!
Duop Chak Wuol is an analyst and editor-in-chief of the independent South Sudan News Agency (https://ssnanews.com/. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: The views expressed in this article are his and should not be attributed to the South Sudan News Agency.