By Simon Yel Yel, Juba, South Sudan, NOV/13/2016, SSN;
If anybody had told me then, or over any succeeding ten (10) years from the CPA interim period to 15th December crisis in which he was then a Governor of Unity State and later the SPLM-IO chief negotiator, that he was a future First Vice President, I would have summoned those men in white coats. However, his unexpected rise to the country’s second top job is unprecedented political miracle which no one had ever thought of.
Gen. Taban Deng is now 100 days old in the office and it is worth looking into what he has achieved. The 100 days parameter is being used as yardstick by press and public in advanced democracies for gauging presidency take off effectiveness.
This slippery terrain was first introduced into the global leadership framework in 1993 by the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Therefore, I think the South Sudanese should use this yardstick for gauging what Gen. Taban has achieved, if any, in his 100 days in the office.
In this regard, the top priorities vary from a country to a country. In South Sudan, Gen Taban’s top priorities as SPLM-IO chairman and the First Vice President range from improving the security in the country, striking harmonious working relationship with the President to reduce political temperature in Juba, establishing cantonment sites for IO fighters in the Equatoria and Bahr el Ghazal, maintaining the ceasefire between the IO and government troops in the Upper Nile region, integrating the SPLM-IO forces into the national army (SPLA) and organized forces, striving to improve the international image of the country and government, and above all, jointly working with the President to implement the peace agreement in order to achieve peace, unity, reconciliation and stability in the country.
The nomination of Gen. Stephen Taban Deng Gai by the SPLM-IO leaders in Crown Hotel to take over the SPLM-IO leadership as a commander in chief of all SPLM-IO forces and fills in the position of the First Vice President is not only a rare event in South Sudan politics but also his leapfrogging over the SPLM-IO Secretary General and SPLM-IO Deputy Chairman to be the Chairman of the SPLM-IO.
It shows that he is a unifying figure and the SPLM-IO (military and political wing) can coalesce under his leadership than any other leader.
This is a great marque decision ever and it will go down in the history of this great nation as one of the most momentous event. It is a very courageous and surprising decision from SPLM-IO leaders to choose hope over despair; peace and congeniality over a boomerang of war; rebuilding a prosperous country over destruction of the country, to continue implementing the armistice under stewardship of Gen Taban over reverting back to war as Riek Machar has done.
Though he is being branded by enemies of peace as an opprobrium political ninja with posters of Chairman Mao, Machiavelli and Che Guevara on his face who could sacrifice anyone at high altar for a top seat; he will be remembered as a hero who rescued this nation from the war and destruction brought upon it by Riek Machar when the political history of 15th December failed coup attempt and J1 shooting on 8th July is finally recorded by our generation.
Watching Gen. Taban on his inaugural speech on 26th July on SSBC, I felt like watching the total and genuine peace coming to the country. In his inaugural speech, Gen Taban wept and said “you (President) are my commander in chief; this country can’t afford to have two armies.”
Contrast to his former boss, Riek Machar when he was sworn in on 26th April. Riek is a person with amorality and lack of affect; capable of violent acts without guilt feelings.
Unlike most rebel leaders in Africa, Taban acted in opposition of political principle of the SPLM-IO (Kiir Must Go First) inculcated by Riek but in pursuit of genuine peace, restoration of calm, and harmony in the country.
There is no doubt that Taban’s swift move to quash the issue of two armies which he negotiated clearly shows he is for peace and a born again nationalist who would not want their political differences to wreck the country and sweep off its hard won sovereignty.
The appointment of Taban was warmly greeted with mirth rather than derision in Upper Nile region and indeed in the country at large as it was conjectured. Taban has shown the world that he is a unifier and we have witnessed the return of many defection groups to the SPLM-IO like the group of Gen. Gatkuoth Gatkuoth following his appointment as First Vice President.
There was iota of fear that the SPLM-IO will dichotomize into many factions after his nomination, however he proved those doubting Thomases wrong and the SPLM-IO has now united its ranks and files than ever before.
Taban is a decent and team leader. I don’t mean courteous and polite, although he’s, I mean considerate, nationalist and leader. If anyone of his group member is in difficulty or feeling isolated, he surely calls them, to offer support, advice and brief them on day-to-day activities and future plans. In short, he likes teamwork. This is a rare quality in a person, but even rarer in a politician. His cheerful charisma and hospitality has always been able to attract camp-followers.
Below are some of milestone reached by Gen Taban in his 100 days in the office:
1. When Gen. Taban took office as the First Vice President, South Sudan was living in an Ivory tower in terms of foreign relations with the neighboring countries, IGAD, UN, International community, and the West. The foreign relation of South Sudan government with neighboring countries and International Community was at nadir. However, it is improving now, courtesy of Gen. Taban.
2. Immediately after he was sworn in, Gen Taban embarked on his first foreign trips to Kenya, South Africa, Sudan, Ethiopia, UAE and the U.S. By these trips, the First Vice President had assured all these nations about their commitments and plans to implement the Compromised Peace Agreement. And now, there is no single country that doubts the velocity of which the Peace is being implemented in South Sudan, courtesy of Gen. Taban.
3. His visit to Kenya has been greeted with the proposal of the motion by Kenyan MPs to sanction and deport SPLM-IO members in Kenya who are spreading war propaganda. And the speaking witness is the deportation of James Gatdek Dak to Juba by Kenyan government for inciting violence; courtesy of Gen. Taban.
4. While his visit to Ethiopia has led to the historical visit of Ethiopian Prime minister and signing of the historical cooperation agreements with South Sudan government that include the joint military force to patrol at the borders to jettison the rebels, banishing the rebel leaders from taking refuge in Ethiopia, and support the Transitional Government under President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Stephen Taban; courtesy of Gen. Taban.
5. Successful maintenance of ceasefire in Upper Nile region and specifically in Fangak, Nasir and Akobo. It shows that the SPLM-IO military chain of command is more united under Gen. Taban than it was under Riek.
In conclusion, Gen. Taban sings a song of peace that the South Sudanese people – who currently despise almost every other SPLM politician in the pack—will crowd and listen to it seriously with their hearts and ears wide open raising a glimpse of hope that the peace and tranquility is on the door-step. They see Taban as the fat white hope, Francis of Assisi, El Gid, Joan of Arc, Indiana Jones, who is salvaging the nation from annihilation, reclaiming the lacerated political glory of the SPLM, and bringing this crisis to an end.
He is the unheralded Prince of Peace who appears at helm at the toughest time when the country is in a deep search of its lost patriotism and peaceful co-existence among the communities.
Can anyone imagine what would the state of affairs, nationhood, political and military sanity in South Sudan be like today if Gen. Taban and his current team had decided to follow Riek to DRC’s forest? Gen Taban and his team deserved to be given courage and support to continue implementing the Compromised Peace Agreement without any about-turn.
Simon Yel Yel, is the co-editor (with Paanluel Wel) of the book of the President Salva Kiir’ speeches and essential writings published as “Salva Kiir Mayardit: The Joshua of South Sudan” he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or +211955246235