Does Morality Count in the Real World of South Sudanese Politics?

By John Juac, Windsor, Canada, JAN/04/2015, SSN;

Strolling downtown Juba, the capital of the newly independent South Sudan, can be intimidating. After dinner, you take a stroll round the city and settle down to relax. Then you see people cross the street when they see a police officer or soldier coming in their way- not from a sense of guilt but from a reasonable fear of being assaulted or robbed in broad daylight.

During the night hours, streets are virtually empty, and “it is too risk to get out of your apartment room or house because you could be gunned down by an unidentified intruders,” said an insider in a recent telephone conversation.

With a population of almost a 10 million, South Sudan has been in a political turmoil after independence, and its citizens have not enjoyed political freedom and economic progress.

The simplest way to explain South Sudan’s problems is that it has never known good government for five years of its existence as a sovereign state. The former rebels-turned rulers in the new state have spent a long-time in power enriching themselves, intimidating their political opponents and actively frustrating a transition
to constitutional democratic rule.

They behave like old African chiefs and draw no distinction between their own property and that of the state. But let none of their citizens protest. Even now, in putative democracies in the neighboring states, it is a crime to criticize their governments’ wrong policies that hurt people and tarnish the images of the country abroad, the insider complained.

Some South Sudanese journalists have spent time in prisons while others have been murdered by the government security apparatus for criticizing the “thin-skinned” head of the state.

Human rights activists and NGOs- both the local and international- have been harassed, and life has been made more fragile by the depredations and abuses of the powerful.

Continued rule for a generation must turn a man into an autocrat and must result in certain disastrous situations too. So Arthur Conan Doyle has warned any political ruler to avoid that. “When one gets a good ox to lead the team it is pity to change him,” said Doyle. “If a good ox, however, is left to choose his own direction without guidance, he may draw his wagon into trouble.”

Doyle, author of The Great Boer War (1901), was referring to Paul Kruger, the first president of Transvaal which later became part of the Republic of South Africa. Kruger held office for 18 years and drew a tiny Island into a deadly war.

An observer has argued that later African presidents like Salva Kiir could be described so indulgently. Kiir has overstayed his welcome and chosen his own direction without guidance, and thereby drawn his nation into the never ending-internal crisis.

He came to power through the barrel of the gun in 2005, succeeding long-time guerrilla leader John Garang, who died in a helicopter crash.

He was re-elected as president in multiparty polls in April 2010, when the region was still part of Muslim Arab Sudan.

In July 2011, when South Sudan became independent, he became president of the new state. But the political independence has not brought peace and prosperity. Two years after decolonization, the president became so “greedy and egotistical” that tongues started wagging within his own party, the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM).

There was a growing dissension within the ruling party over the way the country was being governed and a decision by Riek Machar to challenge Kiir for the leadership of the ruling party and then the presidency in 2015.

Some leading members of the ruling party in particular felt that Kiir ignored the party in filling positions, ignored in fact the cabinet, and made decisions based on the advice of a narrow group of advisors from Great Bar El Ghazal, his home region.

Thus, the growing unhappiness within the national government about the way the president was managing affairs later degenerated into a power struggle between him and his vice president, and the new country went downhill. At the end of December 2013, the country exploded in an orgy of violence and a sense of shock and anxiety set in.

The civil war broke out and was quickly manipulated into a tribal slaughter, which first started in the national capital and then spread with an extraordinary speed and intensity countrywide.

Today, the international community is overwhelmed by the horrible crimes committed by both parties to Sudan Sudan’s internal war and continued humanitarian crisis.

It has killed thousands of people, maimed many more and displaced a million from their homes in countryside littered with landmines.

The warring parties signed a peace agreement in August, 2015, to end a 21 month-old conflict, but the implementation of the truce is not flourishing in the country governed by an intoxicated despot.

“With both government and opposition allegedly stockpiling weapons, many of the ingredients remain in place for a protracted conflict,” warned an international human rights body quoted in Sudan Tribune, December 20, 2015.

So the violence may not end very soon in South Sudan, where two rival tribes had been massacring each other for as long as anyone could remember.

Like other African leaders, Kiir has trouble giving up power; he can’t charm anyone into believing him. The fiercest critic within the opposition group asserted that “Kiir is more a man of rhetoric and calculation than a man of principles.”

He and his personal entourage have divided the central government, the party, the army and the entire country along ethnic and regional lines, hoping to keep their hold on power.

They are certainly not putting themselves at the disposal of their political rivals. Before the end of December 2015, Kiir announced the selection of governors-both for the new and the old states- switching off the lights on the peace agreement he signed with domestic rebels.

Indeed, the move has confirmed the continued allegations in social media that South Sudanese peace agreement is being kept on a life support.

Here are some questions that keep coming up in one’s mind: Where are the trained personnel to administer these subunits and provide better services to the people in the country’s various communities?

How would such 28 states function in the absence of peace and stability? Where would the money come from to finance them?

Since South Sudan is an oil exporter, no any question concerning cash flow problems for the president. But being heavily dependent upon the oil products, whose prices are shrinking in global markets these days, is more danger and a domestic threat.

Furthermore, patronage and corruption have a complex stranglehold on national life. For the international watchdog agency like Transparency International, South Sudan is a shabby place that has betrayed the hopes of its people and now lies hooked on corruption.

Corruption is taking off, even though Kiir and his finance minister seem to have kept the disease in check. Corruption is no doubt spreading and is ruining the economy.

With the dysfunctional economic system that has suffered the added burden of the dysfunctional political system, Kiir’s announcement is wrongheaded policy and no less, no more. He is fighting a losing struggle.

His reputation and that of the ruling SPLM have severely been tarnished by ten years of misrule, and so what general conclusions can be drawn from this sorry tale of the South Sudanese president?

Certainly, some southerners are tempted to think that the country will be better off under Machar than under Kiir. Of course, one does think so too. However, Machar is extremely controversial within the SPLM.

He split from the SPLM in 1991 and fought against it for years during north-south conflict. He united back with SPLM in 2001 and Kiir subsequently invited him to be vice president, but theirs was a difficult relationship.

Kiir assigned Machar only limited authority or responsibilities. According to the observer, Machar’s ambition thus poses a major challenge for the SPLM.

Denying him a path to the presidency, Machar could be a threat, either by leaving the SPLM and forming an opposition party, or worse, by drawing on his Nuer force from within the national army, and posing a military threat.

On the other hand, providing him a path to presidency would surely arouse strong opposition within the SPLM.

To imagine that morality counts in the real world of politics is to succumb to wishful thinking. The politician is wise to the power game. He knows that people are all in it for themselves. Machiavelli put it best, when he observed that, “in general, people are ungrateful, fickle, pretenders, evaders of danger and eager for gain.”

When push comes to shove, these unflattering assumptions concerning human motivations are about the only things that make Machar’s work account as a political rebel.

Machar and Deng Gai often speak out against Kiir’s undemocratic government, and in the process reveal a scandalous lack of democratic literacy. Scanning through their statements with benefit of hindsight, it is safe to say that they do not have democratic credentials at all, and it is a useful measure of intellectual honesty they admit that.

In fact, Machar and Gai are only motivated by power craziness and not by democratic politics. Practical judgments are now more important than moral ones, and there is little pressure for a democratic change. They believe that they are likely to lose than gain from political upheaval.

Even the existing opposition groups do not want to change a harshly repressive system very much, as they await for their turn to exploit it themselves.

Machar presided over the repressive regime when he was the vice president of Kiir, a man his supporters called a benevolent dictator. He supported Kiir’s suppression of political debate through the first nine years of their rule. Journalists were arrested over reports that criticized their government and their ruling SPLM. There were reported seizures of the national newspapers, or distributions, by the authorities.

Machar and Gai have agreed to enter a proposed government of national unity and they have done admirable job, even though the chances of success are domed. Hugs in power are not the people of principles and therefore would not honor the terms of the agreement concerning a government of national unity.

The absence of checks and balances, including free press and an independent judiciary, have allowed personal ambitions to weaken the foundations of the nation.

The rebel leaders know very well that the corruption political system would not give them a second chance. So what would they do? Throw up their hands at the lack of real cooperation and leave a government of national unity to return to their northern strongholds and the country suffers through a government of national division.

Good policies and leadership are essential. Leaders must set a good example to the rest of the people in their lives and in their activities. But Kiir and Machar have not tried to demonstrate these during their years in the public life.

They want to achieve their egotistical goals by mass killings and mass displacements. So they must now leave South Sudanese people alone to establish an open political system, stable government and good economic policies in spite of daunting conditions.

John Juac

1 Comment

  1. Gatdarwich says:


    Gatdarwich totally concur with your assertion that killer NyanKiir is “fighting a losing war”, but completely demure with your argument that both the indisputable patriots, Dr. Riek and Gen. Taban “are only motivated by power craziness”.
    Juac, this later claims is short-sighted and doesn’t take into account the countless sacrifices Dr. Riek did and is unreservedly doing to redintegrates or revives South Sudan from imminent disintegrations.

    Juac, I suppose you know or should have known that Dr. Riek is South Sudan and South Sudan is Dr. Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon period.

    He is a patriotic thinker who evidently puts South Sudan’s very existence first than anything else.

    Happy new year, 2016, bro!

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