Did the President’s Recent State of the Nation Address Meet the Threshold of an Ideal State of the Nation/Union Address?

BY: Juma Mabor Marial, Advocate, SEPT/21/2015, SSN;

Sometimes, one gives up on public affairs when the nation has ended up on a road to nowhere. This is the conclusion I made when I stopped writing and concentrated on my private businesses. I deliberately stopped writing to avoid putting myself into loggerhead with those who thought I might have been infringing on their authority.

But even as I was busy with my private businesses, I didn’t neglect my civic duties of sharing with colleagues and other like-minded intellectuals the challenges and wrong path our nascent country was taking.

I didn’t however share a lot on the on-going conflict and its dynamics or the peace negotiations basically on the assessment I had made and against the experiences and the difficulties those who contributed faced as most of them were easily branded as rebels sympathizers or government mouth-pieces.

It was and it is still a risky venture to undertake and that is why I decided to remain neutral at least until the objectivity and rationalism is restored.

This may not be the topic of discussion but I thought about this disclaimer because I wish to once again share with the public my reaction to the recent State of the Nation/Union Address by the President of South Sudan, General Salva Kiir.

For some of us who may not be familiar with the meaning and objectives of the State of the Nation/Union Address, I want to share a little bit on the theory before we could move on to the content and analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the recent State of the Nation/Union Address by the President.

A State of the Nation/Union Address (SoN/UA/) is a political model in which the President reports on the status of the nation. The address not only reports on the condition of the nation but also allows the President to outline his or her national agenda and national priorities.

It is here that the President can recommend any measures that he or she believes are necessary and expedient.

The SoN/UA is often broadcast to inform the nation about its present economic, political, and social conditions. It is also a vehicle for the President to summarize the accomplishments and plans of his/her program of government both for a particular year and until the end of his/her term of office.

In the United States of America, the President addresses a joint session of the United States Congress, typically delivered annually.

The address not only report on the condition of the nation but also allows the President to outline his or her legislative agenda (for which they need the cooperation of Congress) and national priorities.

One Senator, Miriam Defensor Santiago, blasted the organizers and called the event a “thoughtless extravagance” where “peacocks spread their tails and turn around and around, as coached by media in a feeding frenzy.”

This criticism is too heavy to be replicated in South Sudan or one risked other consequences, but let us now move back to the situation and critically look at the state of the union address of our President.

Unlike in the United States of America and many other countries of the world, the State of the Nation/Union Address of the President of the Republic of South Sudan is not delivered through the legislature or given on a specified calendar date. This may be by design or default.

It is unfortunate that, the few technocrats that control the timetable of the President sit and decide any weekend that the President should address the nation on this date and rush the announcement to the media thus obliging everyone to anxiously wait for what the surprise state of the nation address would deliver.

This can of course not be blamed on these secretaries in the office of the President but it should be blamed entirely on the framers of the Transitional Constitution and the legislators for not having thought it important to incorporate a specific calendar date for the state of the nation address as an integral provision of the supreme law and other enabling legislation.

Their attempt to cater for this event is vaguely articulated under article 78 of the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, 2011 which states that ‘the President may personally or by a message, address the national legislature or either of its houses.

The national legislature or either of its two houses shall accord priority to such request over any other business. The President may also request the opinion of the national legislature or either of its two houses on any subject matter’.

This is the highest ambiguity that any constitution would allow because the letter and spirit of this provision is to the extent that, it gives the President the privilege and the freedom to call on parliament any time he deems fit and appropriate to address the nation, i.e. If the state of the nation address is to be given through the parliament.

Again, if one looks at article 101 (t) of the Transitional Constitution on the functions of the President, this is where you would find the proviso on the annual state of the nation address but whether this one is being implemented is another glaring question because for instance, how many state of nation address did the President made since South Sudan gained independence, one would likely suggest four on approximate but whether they were four or more is another area that need research.

But that is not the issue of contention here; the question is the substance of what the context of the State of the Nation/Union Address that the President has been giving and is yet to be giving entails.

Having said this, one would not be surprised by the substance of what the content of the address entails as it is prima facie a rush and unplanned event where some note takers think it is just but a bullet point exercise that is not worth wasting time to prepare.

Throughout his state of the nation address, the President has continued to keep the nation (citizens) glued to the televisions and their ears fixed on the radios waiting for something that never come at the end of the day.

In his recent state of the nation address, the President was expected to inform the nation (citizens) about the relationship with the foreign and diplomatic community and affirm whether the gaps that were apparent have been bridged after he signed the peace agreement.

People were also eagerly waiting to hear the security status of the country and what are the developmental and infrastructural plans for the country, the commitment to peace agreement and the challenges and achievements that the government is able to report.

He was also expected to talk about the economy.

The President didn’t do much in all the above areas except that he spent his entire time talking about the Compromised Peace Agreement that he had signed and reiterated his insistency on a number of reservations that he made when he signed the pact.

This is not a bad elaboration to have been made by H.E. because, as the head of state, he must share his commitment on the peace by enlightening the citizens on the deal and asking them to support him in the implementation in order to have a sustainable peace in the country.

The President scored highly on this item and he was applauded across the country and around the world for this statesmanship. Those who assisted him from his office on the literature and philosophy in giving the world and the people the assurances of his commitment to peace were equally appreciated.

However, it was unfortunate to realize that the state of the nation address was only organized to talk about the signed peace agreement and left out other crucial issues like the state of our foreign relation as a country, our development master plan, the achievements that the President and his government might have made despite the strife in the country, the infrastructural plans, the economic status and the challenges that the nation faced as a result of the conflict and other external factors.

Precisely, the President was expected to assure the citizens that his decision to append his signature on the Compromised Peace Agreement (CPA) has improved the foreign relations of South Sudan and her international friends.

He was also expected to give a rough summary of what his government has achieved despite the on-going conflict, talk about the northern corridor project, the EAC engagement, the cooperation agreement with Sudan, the implementation by his government of the GPAA peace agreement, the improvement on the healthcare, education and infrastructural development.

The President should have also taken it as his government achievement the declaration of cease-fire even if it is being sabotaged by the enemies of peace.

He should have informed the nation of his government short and long-terms plans. The recently pasted vision 2040, what it entails in terms of development, infrastructure, education, healthcare systems, democracy, security and other well-fare issues.

After that the President should have talked about the challenges that his government is facing in its attempt to deliver services to the nation and this is where it would have been convenient for him to justify his calls for the nation to support him in the implementation process so that the country can return to stability and redefine its destiny.

Again because the organizers of this event thought it was just a breakfast activity, they made the President, someone I have always considered a Wise man and hold with highest respect repeat himself over and over again on one item called the implementation of the peace agreement.

My ultimate discontentment came about when the President came to the end of his address with regard to the state of our economy and informed the nation that and I quote; ‘I know some of you wanted me to talk about economy, but I decided not to talk about it purposely because I know, even if I talk about it [economy], we will just be discussing it here, but there is nothing that can be done about it’.

This is where he scored NIL, as a President, you are like a doctor, a teacher, a father in the house and everything.

You may be aware of the difficulties and the challenges just like all of us knows that the economy of the country has nearly collapsed but the last person to declare that is the President because like a doctor, you cannot tell the patient that the disease is incurable lest you risk them taking their lives before you leave that room.

As a father, you cannot tell your children that, I know you are hungry but there is no food and therefore, you have to live with it.

I know the President was giving this statement from the position of honesty but what he should have known is that there is more to his office than just being honest, he didn’t have to express himself in the negative but rather, he should have turned it positive by informing the nation that, he is aware of the economic difficulties the country is facing as a consequence of the conflict and the only way out would be for all the citizens to join him in implementing the agreement that he has signed with the rebels as this will enhance improvements in the economic sector.

This statement would not mean doing something about it but rather, it will help in restoring hopes among the citizens and that is why the Presidents are called the fathers of the nations because they are the symbols of hope for the nation even in situations where the people are in despair.

The President should have realized what his actions and his statements could do when he signed the peace agreement on 26th August, 2015, the market reacted positively to this development and the dollar that was exchanging at 17 SSP in the black market lowered to 11 SSP just in a matter of hours, this is doing something about fragile economic situation because economy usually reacts to political developments.

His statement that there was nothing that could be done about the worsening economic situation opened flood gates for unscrupulous business practitioners to abuse the market and after that day, the dollar that was trading at 14 SSP shot up to 16 SSP while the local shopkeepers increased their prices by 40% and when asked about why they are doing that, they would simply reply, ‘there is nothing we can do about it’.

It is not surprising though that our President is not known for motivating the citizens in the situation of despair, for instance, when the first graduation ceremony was made in the University of Juba early this year, the President told the graduants that they should not hope for being absorbed into the government since there are very few positions in the government.

This was not to encourage them to be job creators because he felt short in declaring that aspect, instead, he was telling them that there was nothing his government could do about the high rate of unemployment even as most of them graduate into the job market.

Summed up together, it is unfortunate to conclude that the recent State of the Nation/Union Address by the President just like many other statements that he gives in public occasions failed to meet the threshold required by an ideal state of the union practice.

Most importantly, the President and those who organize these functions with him must also understand that the hopes and expectations of the people of South Sudan are usually anchored upon their office and anytime they come out to say something in form of the state of the nation address, people eagerly anticipate a solution to a number of challenges that are facing them.

But for the President to declare that there is nothing that can be done about something like economy is suicidal and to some larger extent an absolute declaration of despair.

Finally, I can’t blame the President so much because he cannot do all by himself but my disappointment goes to those who are in his office, they should be the ones to read the minds of the public and advice the President to tailor his state of the nation address in such a comprehensive manner as to cover all the aspects regarding the country’s political and socio-economic situation.

They should also advice the president to usually gives assurances and guarantees where the citizens are about to give up. These are the tasks for which they are being paid and maintained.

Otherwise, if they allow the President to speak the way he did in the recent state of the nation address, then, they could be deliberately sabotaging his relationship with the citizens or altogether showing ineptitude. I don’t know which one of these is relevant but a serious investigation must be made on those two scenarios.

Juma Mabor Marial is an advocate
Reachable at jummabor@gmail.com

10 Comments

  1. Elijah Samuel says:

    Juma,
    Your president is illiterate, what do you expect?

  2. Guet Athina Guet says:

    Mr. Marial,

    I would like to nominate you for a speech writer for President Kiir, since you know so much of what is and what is not !. So what if he called state of union/country ones every 5 years, what different does make. President Kiir is doing his best to keep the country from being ruin by imbeciles like Machar likes. For your information we’re at war in case you missed. President Kiir need all our support to build the country, and you need to stop criticizing him during the war time, that was brought upon him by serial killer Machar. Why would you not call out the butcher of south Sudan Machar for the killing of 30000 Dinkas women, children and the old in 1991, on his first coup attempt against Dr. Garang. You need to have back bone to take a stand either you’re with the president Kiir, or you’re with the butcher of south Sudan Machar. Any Nuer will hold the highest office in south Sudan and I will vote for him/her, however, the butcher of south Sudn Machar will never be president of south Sudan.
    May god bless president Kiir and keep him safe, and may god bless south Sudan.

  3. BILL KUCH says:

    Juma Mabor Marial,
    You are right on your points, but you cannot compare South Sudan to first world countries for we are way far off. But it doesn’t matter in whatever way he did it for the most of South Sudanese don’t have peace in their hearts and I am one them. This peace is only in the paper and it will be hard to implement because it was imposed. And as you can see rebels are busy recruiting to boost their force and I hope the fighting would resume right after so that everyone can taste fighting for they are recruiting for ranks money.

  4. Charles says:

    Marial. You are spot on. But the blame must be with the President for surrounding himself with such poor quality of subordinates. This is largely due to the employment of people based on nepotism, and tribal loyalties. Meritocracy is thrown out of the window, and what you get is poor performance. This situation resonates right across our civil service. When Ms. Awut Deng tried to do something about it some years back, she received threats to her life, leading to her resignation as Minister of Public Service. She must be the only person who has ever resigned from a ministerial position in South Sudan. Anyway, she is also now back because of her loyalty to the president. Appointing of people to leadership position based on loyalty alone is the very curse of our system. Unless and until we discard this method and we employ civil servants based on merits and solid qualification, we shall continue to be embarrassed by speeches of our top public figures, lack of service delivery, corruption, and incompetence. Not that we do not have competent, and qualified cadre out there. It is just that either they are from the wrong tribe/region, or are not loyal enough.
    Charles

  5. False Millionaire says:

    Mr Juma,
    That’s excellent performance sir.
    I talked to my friends who are also advocats like u about your great article and we were all inclined to hope to invite u for a coffee.
    But that being impossible,we only felt obliged to wish u best luck.
    The case of the blind leading the sighted is a norm in Africa.
    Dr Garang could have been an exception.Thanks for the fate that befell him so hastly.
    We know so much about our beloved Africa under it’s blind leaders.
    But It’s good to have the impression of your good independant professional position.
    U would be a happiest king in peace if u kept your distance from the blind elites.

    If there couldn’t be any unexpected surprise,the situation is bound to change with,”the compromised peace agreement”.
    Ofcourse there are reservations as it appears to be an ordonnance for chaos and confusion giving so many interpretations including the implication that the yankees are on board for good.
    The major concern is the security of the citizens and their means of living.
    For such weak states as RSS,any changes masterminded by the CIA never stand the chance of failure.
    But who knows,such eventuality may provoke conducive realities that may facilitate new beginings for the best!!!

  6. Francis Mangok Angeir says:

    Juma Mabor Marial,

    You are right, but you know where we come from and if we put too much blame on our president it would be unfortunate. We have been in the busy for more than 45 years learning how to fight to defeat the enemy. Can we please stop blaming him and begin to encourage him to become better? I truly appreciate your finally word saying that ” I can’t blame the President so much because he cannot do all by himself but my disappointment goes to those who are in his office.” It is true and I agree with you because our country collapsed because of those who are in his office. Many South Sudanese are working hard to fail him instead of supporting him and encouraging him to improve himself. God always helps a lonely person thanks.

  7. Southdan says:

    Mr. Juma, you article is hundred percent correct when i go through. i found out you really aware about what is wrong and right. i also understand you had to point out the weakness of Mr. salava Kiir’s as every body understood. So in this case, nothing we could do to change Mr. Kiir government weakness, a government that belongs to the Dinka Elders who guarding the legacy of Elder Dr. John Garang-Demabiour who shoot the first bullet to the Nuer separatist . To me, Dinka Elders are a cancer cell in south Sudan which need to be eradicated by Dinka youngsters reformist. So i advice Dinka youngster to take leadership from their Elders and come up with new one which spoke peace language in south Sudan. Here i urged the Dinka youngsters to realize they been misled by theirs elders who started a war they never win at. I will never agree with such a Dinka youngster such as Kueir D-Garang, who insult Dr. Riek Machar Teny and calls for a president Kiir’s regime to last for {100} hundred. instate i would call upon him or other Dinka youngster to write an article of contains 100 pages calling for 100 years living in pea e an development.

  8. Rajab says:

    A President is suppose to have competent advisers and speech writers for that matter.
    But in this case our President is surrounded by wrong elements which is very unfortunate.Please God help Mr.President.

  9. Eli says:

    Juma
    Your attempts to try and justify the “President’s” actions doesn’t cut a cord. Kirr has failed the nation, hence, Kirr must relinquish his position before it’s too late, at least that might save his ludicrous legacy.

  10. Empty vessel make more noise
    ,the best way is that bark and succed but if you fail in every attempt how do you term yourself ?

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