Assessing Candidates’ Records to Ascertain the Validity of their Campaigns Platforms
BY: Santino Ayuel Longar (aka Santino M. Dau Deng Agieu Kur), JUBA, JUL/23/2013, SSN;
Everyone knew it was just a matter of time. But it is now official. The long simmering political rift between President Kiir Mayardit and his Vice President, Riek Machar, has ultimately bubbled up to the surface and brought to an end the ostensible cordiality that initially characterised the working relationship between the nation’s two principals. The reason: power struggle within the party. This momentous twist of political events in respect of the relationship between the two leading chiefs in the land has set the stage for the first and, certainly, the most contentious political showdown yet in the two year-old nation’s independence history, since July 9, 2011.
All this came to light in a meeting— held by the notorious; undemocratic, communist-styled body, known as Political Bureau—chaired by President Kiir himself. It was in that meeting that Mr. Riek is reported to have gone public when, though not unexpectedly but for the timing, he took every attendee by surprise by announcing his intention to vie for the position of the ruling SPLM party’s chairmanship, a position which Kiir has hitherto occupied following the untimely demise of the South Sudan’s Founder, Chairman John Garang de Mabior— a man of enormous talents and remarkable charisma. In eyeing for this highly prized and coveted political position, Mr. Riek prepares to position himself to be the Second President of the sovereign Republic of South Sudan, giving him an easy ride into the Presidency and making the battle for the succession of the current Man On The Throne, President Kiir Miyardit, virtually a non-contest formality.
Mr. Riek, a Mechanical engineer by training, has cited numerous (seemingly valid) reasons and motivations for his long nurtured, if not nursed, desire to oust Mr. Kiir rather now than later. Among a host of others, Riek cites Kiir’s ‘utter failure’ to curb systemic tribalism and corruption in the country; failure to devise effective national political and economic plans and miserably failing to design policy programs for cementing the new nation’s national identity as well as sharing the fruits of independence among all communities as envisioned a priori.
In contradistinction, Mr. Kiir, a career military general, who has portrayed himself as a genuine steward and guardian of South Sudan’s peoples’ aspirations for sovereign statehood, appears more determined than ever before to hold onto “his” throne, quite contrary to his earlier utterances that he would quit once the country became independent. Instead, Kiir now maintains that his priority during the turbulent Interim Period had been to singly ensure that South Sudan became independent, but now that South Sudan has robustly secured its (perhaps political) independence, he ought to be given another four-year-term to enable him focus on more fundamental aspects of national economic and political development.
But how realistic are these men’s claims? To answer this question, let’s briefly look at their past and present records in order to enable us to reasonably gauge the validity of their respective claims and what we can expect should one of them be the South Sudan’s CEO, comes 2015 or any time thereafter. The author forewarns the subject individuals, their supporters and readers alike that some comments herein are quite unflattering. They may or may not excite your raw emotions. Reader’s discretion is thus advised.
2. Part I: Salva Kiir Mayardit Kuethpiny
(i) As a Career Army General
For the prime of his existence, Mr. Kiir has lived a life of commanding and being commanded. His obvious militant demeanour and inability to easily create rapports with the masses and colleagues alike can reasonably be explained by his background as a career military general from an early age.
Kiir joined the first southern guerrilla movement as a teenager in the late 1960s and was subsequently absorbed into the regular Sudanese army after the 1972 Peace Accord between Anya Nya I and the then junta government of Jafar Mohamed Nimeiri who took power in a military coup in 1969. From the Sudanese army, Kiir rose through the ranks to become a military intelligence officer. By the time the second insurrection was birthed in 1983 under the banner of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its military wing, the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA), Kiir was a captain. He became the fourth ranking member of the SPLM/A after Chief Garang, Kerubino Kuanyin Bol and William Nyuon Bany respectively, following the structural arrangements of the Movement at Bilpam, western Ethiopia that year. But the rest of his colleagues have since perished, leaving him not only the ‘sole’ surviving Founding Member but also an automatic heir to the throne by reason of his seniority— after the demise of Chairman Garang, following the latter’s ill-fated helicopter crash on July 30, 2005, enroute from Entebe, Uganda, to his base at New Site, South Sudan.
(ii) As an SPLA General
After the death of Chairman Garang, Kiir was suddenly thrust into assuming the former’s shoes. While opposition to Kiir’s assumption of Chief Garang’s position sprang out from the outset, some, including the author however, were of the opinion that while Kiir should not be handled with kid-gloves, he ought to have been treated with the benefit of the doubt.
But those who were opposed to Kiir from the outset contended that if Kiir’s past records are any indication, it is that he might not be able to provide the kind of leadership needed at such a critical time. Indeed those who are privy to the inner circles of the SPLM clique; the military history and modus operandi of the SPLA during the struggle opine that Kiir’s military abilities remained quite wanting, arguing that Kiir had never been known for scoring major military victories against the Enemy whenever he led SPLA forces as the chief of military campaigns. Contentiously, ‘irrefutable accounts” are often told that when in charge of a large scale military operation, the SPLA had often, if not always, suffered heavy casualties both in men and equipment. One good example frequently cited in this regard is in respect of Operation Kon Anok campaign between 1989 and 1990 when Kiir led well equipped forcers of Intifadha brigades in the today’s Lakes State. As feared, the SPLA suffered significant losses, including the death of his Deputy in command at the time, Commander Bol Agaany Dau Dhongkuat. Kiir was thus NOT known to be a great military strategist. Rightly or wrongly, the major concern for these dissenting voices was that South Sudan under Kiir would lose out miserably vis-a-vis the Sudan. Whether that has been the case, the reader is the best judge.
Commentators are however, unanimous in observing that Kiir’s personal commitment to the cause of the people of South Sudan— chiefly, to secure with and for them, a dignified existence— remains unassailable. Analysts also concur that, despite his erstwhile colleagues’ knacks for squabbling over seniority, leadership and fame, Kiir has never wavered from the common cause of the peoples of South Sudan, Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains nor used his broad based support to build for himself an aimless political bastion. This point is readily conceded even by his adversaries who are bent on seeing him failed at any cost.
(iii) Kiir’s Leadership Records Post-2005
But as a de facto leader of the SPLM party and Commander-in Chief of South Sudan’s armed forces, following the unexpected passing of Chairman Garang in 2005, Kiir’s leadership qualities have been significantly tested time and time again. For instance, the SPLM’s sustained political battles with the National Congress Party or National Islamic Party (NCP/NIF)—every single one of which Kiir has to al-Bashir—over the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) provisions and sharing of important ministerial portfolios were the first manifestations that Kiir was not, arguably, up to the challenge. More importantly, commentators tend to generally agree that some of the outstanding indicators of Kiir’s failing leadership, at least internally, include but are not limited to the generalities of the following:
(a) Commissioning the Drafting of a Defective Transitional Constitution
The current Transitional Constitution of South Sudan is substantially deficient both in its context and content. For one, most, if not all, the provisions of the Constitution were simply copied and pasted from the text of the fundamentalist Mohamedist Constitution of the military junta in Khartoum. Very few leaders who have ferociously fought for a just cause over a long period of time, as Kiir did, would set up a constitution drafting committee only to write a Constitution whose substantive provisions are to be merely borrowed from a text inspired by sharia law and Hadith, or teachings of the Prophet of Mohammedism, which texts were written more than 1400 years ago and for the followers of that religion, for that matter. Yet President Kiir had the audacity to set up a constitution drafting commission whose members appeared to have been either coerced to copy and paste provisions directly from the Jihadist Constitutional text or were entirely incompetent as to be incapable of envisioning a better legal system than the one copied from. The Transitional Constitution does not only fail to delineate matters that come within the jurisdictions of the federal and state sovereignties. It also appears to have been aimed at entrenching the political and economic interests of the Leviathan, consisting of the current Man On The Throne, the cabinet ministers as well as members of Parliament who are practically, or appear to be, immune from criminal prosecution during their time in office unless, where the situation so warrants as a result of exigent circumstances, their immunities are lifted either by the Parliament or the President, not by courts of competent jurisdiction. Such a constitution clearly makes it difficult for law enforcement agents and agencies to carry out their constitutional mandates. It significantly paralyses the entire legal system, since the Constitution virtually places active politicians, and needless to say the Man On The Throne, above the supreme law of the land.
While the concept of political and diplomatic immunities—their functions and origins—will be an issue of a separate, albeit academic, treatment by the author later, it is important to remember that the concept of the rule of law does not, generally speaking, exempt any individuals or groups from the reach of the force of law save only in very specific but very important circumstances which are beyond the purview of this discussion.
Sources close to those then involved in drafting of the Transitional Constitution reveal that the Constitution was drafted under a very intensive pressure and that every single line of every provision had to be inserted with the approval of Mr. Kiir himself. The validity of such a contention can be discerned from the fact that soon after the Constitution was signed by President Kiir to become the supreme law of the land, concerns surrounding one or two provisions, which may be referred to as “Governor Removal Clause” (discussed herein) began to swell. On its surface, the Clause appeared to, and in fact still does, subject a governor’s stay in office to the whims of the President. No sooner had this controversy began to grip the nation than President Kiir came to the media, in an attempt, to quell such concerns by assuring the public in general and governors in particular, that he [not just any president] was not going to remove any governor arbitrarily but that he would follow the procedural process prescribed by law in that very document and other enabling legislations.
Other sources yet reveal that a strong conflict of political interests among the Drafters led to the creation of such a warped—supposedly sacred— legal document. Whether or not the former or the latter version was the case, the truth probably lies in between.
Nevertheless, if President Kiir’s remarks respecting the Governor Removal Clause are anything to go by, the President’s intervention in this respect plainly serves to demonstrate that the Constitution was written for the incumbent, rather than as a legal document to regulate the relationship between the state (read as the executive, legislators and judiciary) and individual citizens as well as other juridical persons. Such as a constitution, if that be the case unfortunately, is clearly defective ab initio because, for all intents and purposes, its object and purposes appear to promote or protect the interests of the ruling class and to insulate them against the reach of the law or from legal accountability. These allegations, if they are truly a reflection of what went on behind the scenes at the time of drafting, undoubtedly demonstrate that the drafting process precisely contravened the fundamental premise of having a constitution, to begin with. Generally constitutions are intended to curb the encroaching iron curtain of the state (read as state plus state actors) by circumscribing, inter alia, the limits of the actions of public officials, entrenching the protection of fundamental civil liberties, life, and security of the person, subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
These allegations also show that the Constitution was written for short-termed goals, and mainly to benefit the Chieftain (the Man On The Throne) and the fiefdom or the Leviathan. A constitution that is not written with an eye to the future is clearly defective in its entirety.
Deplorably, the same mistakes might yet be repeated this time around because of the composition of the new commission, the so-called “Constitutional Review Commission (CRC),” which was established nearly two years ago to come up with the text of South Sudan’s final constitution. The composition of the CRC should be a major concern for every fair minded citizen for a variety of reasons. First, The Man On The Throne and his entrouge appear to believe that the patch-work of the document, currently called ‘Transitional Constitution,’ is good enough a document that is worth “reviewing.” The author begs to humbly and respectfully disagree for the reason that, besides the deficiencies mentioned earlier respecting its sources, the Transitional Constitution was not written with the robust involvement of a cross-section of the society, encompassing people from all walks of life: farmers, chiefs, herdsmen, military, police, Churches and representative from other civil societies, youths, SPLA veterans, doctors, engineers, “disabled,” among others. It was written by lawyers and a few others who were solely handpicked by the President. Sadly, an overwhelming majority of those who are currently ‘reviewing’ the Transitional Constitution, again handpicked by the President, are lawyers.
While lawyers, by virtue of opportunity, experience and training, are generally familiar with the language, drafting techniques, strengths and weaknesses of legal and legislative documents as well as the workings of legal institutions, lawyers themselves are not necessarily good constitution writers. Instead, their orientation, as officers of the courts, is to interpret and apply the provisions of the written texts of the law. But lawyers per se are not the most benevolent and far-sighted group of people there are. If that was the case, then lawyers would be the only eligible people to represent their respective constituencies in the legislative assemblies as lawmakers. But lawmakers should not, cannot and must not be lawyers only.
It is thus the author’s view that the framers of this important and sacred text should come from all walks of life of the society and be given ample time, institutional independence and the necessary individual freedom to enable them to thoroughly conduct research, access and study texts of constitutions and experiences of other countries (including South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Germany, America etc) so as to be able to produce a text that is well refined and that well envisions or reflects the aspirations and dreams of everyone (natural persons) and every individuals (natural persons and organisations) as entities and groups entitled to full protection both under and before the eyes of the laws they are to be subject to. Ample time also ensures that spurious legal concepts (some of which we have in the current Transitional Constitution) that are either utterly barren of valid reasons for constitutional entrenchment or are deemed to be properly provided for in their relevant enabling legislations, are not imported into the constitution.
In short, unless President Kiir embarks on the much needed political and legal amendments now, including decentralisation of political centres of power, voters should be prepared to swallow their expectations following electors’ approval or extension of his presidency in the 2015 elections. This is because if these failings and abuse of political power are anything to learn from, they are premonitions of both political bankruptcy and kleptocracy.
(b)Botched Interpretation of the Constitution: The Case of “Governor Removal Clause”
One of the most glaring breaches of legal procedures under the watch of the current Man On The Throne has been his unwavering determination to finesse the Constitution (expanding or pigeonholing its scope) for the purpose of tailoring its interpretation to conciliate his personal whims.
A typical example of such a botched interpretation and application of constitutional provisions is in respect of the President’s recent invocation of Article 101 (r) (called it “the Governor Removal Clause, “for lack of better words) of the Transitional Constitution to remove a democratically elected Governor of Lakes State from office. While the Constitution expressly bestows upon the President an imperative to remove an elected governor from the office on the account of the circumstances specified by Article 101 (r), the author hastens to add that this move, having regard to the circumstances under which the President invoked and applied the Clause, was both illegal and unconstitutional because only in very clear and self-evident circumstances is the Clause reasonably invocable by a sitting president.
The Governor Removal Clause provides that “[t]he President shall…remove a state Governor and/or dissolve a state legislative assembly in the event of a crisis in the state that threatens national security and territorial integrity.”
A close reading of the Clause reveals that its meaning will be found to be inconsistent with the manner with which the President removed the former Lakes State Governor, Chol Tong Mayai. The legal test for invoking the Governor Removal Clause is one of a very high threshold, a threshold which, when considered in the larger context of the theme and scheme of the Constitution, having regard to the essential principles of constitutionalism and the rule of law, can only be met in circumstances involving very serious social or political peril AND widespread national security threat within a particular state due to an impugned action, negligence or omission of a governor.
Furthermore, the Clause is written in a clear and ordinary language and does not contain highly technical terms—call them legalese, if you will. It only requires basic statutory interpretation principles, set at the level of a competent reader of the text of the Constitution. Precisely, the elements of the two-part test, under the Governor Removal Clause, are:
1. “…a crisis in the state that threatens national security” AND
2. a threat to “territorial integrity” of the nation.
The reader should note that in order for the two-pronged legal test to be met— that is, for the Governor Removal Clause to be triggered and invoked by the President— the two elements must be met synchronously. Otherwise, the President will have no authority to act, lest he chooses, as he did in this case, to act unconstitutionally. The result would however, be different if the two elements of the test were joined by an “OR” as opposed to an “AND.” If OR, which is not an option here, then meeting one element would be sufficient to trigger the invocation of the Clause.
In the case at issue (the Chol Tong Mayai scenario), the President would not be considered to have breached the Constitution if the two elements were otherwise met. Analytically, the first element can easily be met, because violence is so rampant in South Sudan that very few states will escape from the snare of the fowler, assuming that an impugned governor’s act or omission is directly attributable to that governor at the state level.
Many South Sudanese appear resigned to the fact that the President has an unfettered constitutional authority to remove an elected governor. This explains why many were not bothered when Governor Mayai was removed from his elected office without due process or procedural fairness. But the natural question that flows from this situation is, did Governor Chol’s pertinent action, inaction or negligence thereof, meet the requirements of the test? If the President was acting on the basis of the first leg (part (a) above), then one will naturally be obliged to ask whether it can reasonably be concluded that Lakes State is/was uniquely infested with violence, violence which threatens or appears to threaten national security overall. If this question is answered in the affirmative, the corollary to that question would again be: what elements of violence were considered to conclude that what happened or was happening in Lakes states was sufficient to warrant the removal of the said Governor? If the cited elements answer this question affirmatively, then the next question would be, were the important considerations based on a particular or more numerical occurrence of violence in the Lakes region or were they based on the magnitude of casualties resulting from such violence or both (keeping in mind that Jonglei has the largest number of deaths resulting from violence and yet the Governor is still in office)? Once again, if the first leg of the test in the above question is entirely answered in the affirmative, the second element of the test (part (b)) will be triggered. Was the territorial integrity of South Sudan violated by the subject Governor’s action or omission?
The elements of the test are inherently objective in nature, implying that the President’s impugned interpretation does not and cannot stand in the face of an objective application of the facts to the legal test. There must be something a governor must be accused of, something that is capable of shocking the conscience of the public, something which, in the interest of justice and fairness, would favour the removal of the Governor as a matter of public interest in conformity with the law.
Generally, the legislative intent envisioned by the Drafters of the Governor Removal Clause, it appears, was one that was aimed at regulating the conduct of a governor in connection with the exercise of authority at the state level, such as abuse of power by a governor, or a situation where a governor exercises or appears to exercise powers that ultra vires the scope of his/her constitutional authority. In fact in some cases, governors have deliberately or ignorantly assailed the core of federal powers that are conventionally immune from incursion by state authority. Conceding a territory of a state to another foreign state as Governor Taban did with the Sudan’s Governor Haruun of South Kordofan in 2008, for example, is an act that should have attracted the President’s wrath for the reason that the verisimilitude of such an act, under a proper functional legal system, is tantamount to treason on the part of such a public official. But President Kiir and his team of legal advisors chose to read the law the way they are wont to.
Even if the conditional power vested in the President was subjective in nature (which is not), a discretionary authority bestowed upon a constitutional officeholder generally cannot be exercised in a manner that is cavalierly capricious. But it is very clear from the wording of the Clause that this provision is not discretionary in nature. It is an authority that must be exercised at once. This is clear from the fact that the provision employs the term “shall” (imperative) as opposed to “may” (permission/discretion). Under statutory interpretation principles, this Clause would be found to import non-discretionary authority on the officeholder. The author is of the view that for such a Clause to be invoked, the President has to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the elements of the test have been met since there is an element of criminality imported into this Clause. Otherwise the President is constitutionally barred from removing a duly elected governor from office.
In invoking this Clause, the President also ought to recognise that a governor elected by the people is exercising powers bestowed upon that governor by the voters, and not by the President. To override the will of the people in such a manner can mean only one thing: that the President has little or practically no regard and respect for not only the Constitution or public interest but also for the democratic process as a whole, a deliberate subversion of the sacred principles of the rule of law and constitutionalism. The entire statecraft, in such circumstances, becomes a one man’s show or simply the rule of the Man On The Throne as opposed to the rule of law and constitutionalism. Such a mode of governance can only breed paternalism.
In summary, this power: the President’s authority to remove an elected governor, should be exercised in the clearest and rarest (very compelling) circumstances, a situation in which facts speak for themselves as to public interest and the need for the President to act expeditiously in order to save a nation in peril . In this respect, the President clearly committed both palpable and overriding errors of law and fact, thus, in all likelihood; acted illegally, possibly to achieve an objective that may hardly be seen as bona fide in nature, a consequence of which he destroyed the subject individual’s career for no just but, arguably, questionable motive. No one should be deprived of their rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution save in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice. In a free and democratic society, rights and freedoms of individuals are generally guaranteed subject to such reasonable limits as are prescribed and demonstrably justified by law. It is the author’s opinion that the President’s decree is not one of the reasonable limits prescribed by law and hence cannot be salvaged or defensible in law and on facts, since in this context, no legal authority, written words of the constitutional text, rule of common law or political convention appears to permit, authorise or empower the President to remove a governor from an elected office.
While the above remarks may leave an impression that the author has issues with the Governor Removal Clause, it is the author’s opinion that the Clause is an appropriate postulate of our Constitutional structure and should be preserved and implemented in accordance with the overall scheme of the Constitution and constitutional principles such as constitutionalism and the rule of law. Questions as to the meaning of a constitutional clause should always be referred to courts, not the President, because only courts have the competent jurisdiction to declare the law as it is. That is why it is not unreasonable to conclude that the President got it backward, having regard to the fact that he has no jurisdiction to interpret the Constitution. It is a decree that should have been a subject of judicial review by a court of competent jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the ejected Governor did not seek any judicial remedy nor did he endeavour to determine the constitutionality of the said decree from the Supreme Court, under Article 128 (2) of the Transitional Constitution. The context and content of the decree was so cavalierly gross and deficient in logic as to attract reasonable condemnation from the public, especially the Law Society of South Sudan. Such a botched interpretation of the Constitution constitutes a gross deviation from the fundamental ideals for which millions of South Sudanese heroes and sheroes, sung or unsung, invested heavily in blood and treasure. What is more, the Caretaker Governor that was immediately appointed by the President in lieu of an elected governor has continued to occupy the office in a manner that is not in keeping with the provision of Article 101 (s). This again is another evidence of fanciful or selective application of the Constitution, a blatant breach of the principle of the rule of law, on the part of the President.
(c)Arbitrary Application of Public Policy: The Case of Exempting Aweil from National Disarmament Policy But Silent on the Fate of Communities Similarly Situated
President Kiir’s long military career appears to have permanently conditioned him into believing that leadership is all about commanding and being commanded. Yet as a civilian President, our Man On The Throne should learn to abide by the guidelines and protocols respecting his new status and its accompanying responsibilities as enshrined in the Constitution and governed by the relevant ordinary statutes, political conventions or regulated by rules of common law. Sadly, the President still feels that being a President, like the guerrilla commander he was, entitles him to make laws, policies and exemptions as he wishes without proper legal procedure or regard for the rule of law, constitutionalism and public interest.
A case in point is made with respect to the President’s unilateral order to declare Aweil State exempt from the application of the Government of South Sudan’s public policy concerning disarmament of civilians across the country in 2012. It should be carefully noted that the author is in no way opposed to the exemption granted to Aweil, given that state’s geographical location and proximity to a hostile neighbour, north of the border. Thus while the author would entirely agree with President Kiir that Aweil’s exemption was well deserved, the questionable aspect of this exemption was the scope and legality of the exemption itself, especially when there are communities and regions that are similarly situated but did not benefit from the presidential order regarding the exemption.
The disarmament process itself was and still is something that serves the interests of both the government and citizens alike since unnecessary loss of lives arising primarily from cattle rustling, intercommunal raids and ethnic based rebellions have arguably dashed the hopes of building a viable state of South Sudan, living in peace and security with itself and its neighbours. And because such an initiative was a public interest issue, the policy should not have been passed by means of Council of Ministers’ resolution. Rather, it should have been authorised by means of a federal legislation, which legislation would have had to define the scope and geographical limits of disarmament, enumerate key players (such as creating the office of the Commissioner or Director, commissioners and their terms of office as well as security and military forces necessary to achieved the intended legislative objective). This would have closed the loopholes that are so far being exploited by political shenanigans who have frequently used the pretext of disarmament to settle political scores with those they deem adversarial to their autocratic leadership, notably, certain governors.
The legislation could have also made it clear that governors, commissioners and police authorities have no role to play in the disarmament exercise unless they are duly called upon to help. In fact this group should not be permitted, as they now do, to arbitrarily decide when and where they are going to carry out disarmament because such a public authority is vulnerable to misuse, and has, in fact, frequently been misused. To permit such an unqualified political decision in the hands of untested authorities would be a classical symptom of ‘state failure’ in a country where well ordered chains of command and responsibility barely exist. In South Sudan, every chief is the sovereign of his or her own ‘village.’
A federal legislation in this regard should have been enacted in such a way as to be sunset in nature. A sunset legislation is a statute for which the life-span of its provisions is made to last for a certain period of time, the expiration of which would call for the legislative renewal of that statute if the objective for which it was made has not been achieved within a defined time-frame. More importantly, it is in the legislation itself that the exemption should have been provided and compelling reasons given for such an exemption. The duty to give reasons is grounded in individuals’ or groups’ interest in knowing exactly why profoundly important decisions affecting them directly or indirectly (whether or not they are subjects of exemption) were made. Such reasons must be based on proper and rational foundation, be intelligible and adequate. A relevant legislation in this regard could have also provided for unforeseeable events and emphasised who would have the legal authority to act in such eventualities.
But for the President, especially after an important public policy such as this has been passed or declared, to turn around and incongruously decide that a certain section of the society is exempted from the application of a core public policy without giving reasons why communities and regions that are similarly situated are not included in that exemption, is to invariably invite floods of reasonable apprehension of bias.
The disarmament process was a public policy of such singleness, distinctiveness and indivisibility that deviation from its scope and application would defeat the very purpose for which it was conceived in the first place, especially where some people would be left entirely vulnerable to internal or external aggression. The necessity for maintaining a neutral posture in this regard was even more compelling particularly in an environment, such as ours, where communities do not trust one another. The President failed to show that he cared for all the citizens equally. For instance, while valid reasons existed, though the President did not labour, to explain why Aweil deserved to have been exempted, no corresponding reasons were given to explain why border communities such as, inter alia, those at northern Raja (Raga) at the border with Kafia Kingi, Jau, Pariang, Kuek and the Gong area of Renk, for example, were disarmed.
Concerns also abound that if the President is permitted to do what President Kiir just did, he or another President can similarly act in the future in an entirely different context. That is why such as act stands for a dangerous precedent because it opens the floodgates for an unchecked authority in the system. The President’s pronouncement should have thus been taken very seriously.
(d) Insensitivity to Popular Demands
Adverse inference with respect to Kiir’s leadership style during the last 8 years has also been made in the context of his odious apathy and indifference towards ordinary people’s needs and demands, a consequence of which commentators have been unison in describing his government as virtually being out of touch with the people it governs. Not only does Kiir not attend funerals of fallen SPLA heroes in the battles as a sign of solidarity with bereaved family members and the nation at large, he does not even make efforts to visit and counsel people devastated by natural disasters or conflicts such as, for instance, failing to show up at the scene of the massacre of nearly 700 Lou Nuer people of Akoba by Murle bandits in 2010 or Murle massacre by Nuer in Pibor in 2011. Similarly, Kiir has come across as a leader who does not own up to the mistakes committed by the government or state actors against civilian communities and individual citizens, especially where the government has been implicated in inflicting suffering or making suffering to be caused. He never makes any attempts to offer an apology on behalf of his subordinates nor vow to take action against the culprits. Instead, the Man On The Throne is well known for evading responsibility, thereby giving the verisimilitude of cover up in the eye of a prudent and reasonable citizen. One of such typical examples is the Wau Massacre of 2012, an incident which ultimately pitted the Fertit conglomerate of tribes against the Marialbaai Rek Dinka of Jur River County, but one in which the SPLA or government security forces were ultimately reported to have killed more than 10 people for no reason other than expressing their disagreement with the government’s decision to relocate the county headquarters from inside Wau City to a location a few miles outside that city.
The Fertit community was of the view that such a relocation was unnecessary and thus chose to peacefully express their disagreement with the government by means of a peaceful protest which was met with unnecessary and disproportionate state violence, when government forces chose to indiscriminately fire live bullets at the protesters, killing at least10 people at the scene, said the reports. The government was said to be of the view that the relocation was part of the SPLM philosophy of “taking towns to the people.” What was more, Kiir himself was later quoted as saying that the position taken by the government was final and that he himself would have fought those protesters. He was directing these statements to a community that was overwhelmed by an outpouring of grief and whose trust in the government they thought was theirs was irreparably betrayed. To make such utterances to grieving citizens is both insensitive and alienating.
It seems our party (the SPLM) has borrowed a leaf from the pages of medieval and Machiavellian history. Machiavelli, a notorious Roman philosopher once advised his Prince that it was better to be feared than respected by the ruled class. But the author counsels against such a style of governance. Such a Machiavellian style of leadership—of enforcing authority by terror, oppression, intimidation and even death—would, according to the legendary John Locke, confer the right of rebellion on the governed. The relationship between citizens and those they choose to lead them must be based on the concept of social contract between the people and their government. The government must hence respect and defer to public opinion, since it is the general will of the very people whom it persecutes that confers legitimacy on itself.
Our government must know or ought to know that the only way by which it can effectively enforce its policies and govern well is by convincing the citizens as to why the policy options it intends to undertake are more appropriate or preferable. It needs not enforce its policy by means of violence. Such an amoral and illegal implementation of a government policy flies in the face of democratic principles; and is, indeed, a clear denunciation of the very ideals for which South Sudanese had had to wage an unwavering armed struggle for independence for decades. Such ideals, needless to mention, include the desire to live in a state that respects their right to life, liberty and security of the person. The SPLM government is supposed to canvass with the people, assess their views and input, persuade and impress upon them why they should agree with its policy programs. But intimidating or even killing people because they simply happen to disagree with the position taken by their government just goes to show that the SPLM believes that the masses are only passive subjects of development; that their views are not required, or that where they resist, force must be used to implement government decisions.
Fundamentally, coercion and violence as an instrument of implementing state policies cannot be excused in any society and especially in a free and democratic society. In fact, by and large, citizens disagree with government policies only when the government does not act or factor in their common interests. Dr Garang, even while a guerrilla leader, once warned that any government can only claim legitimacy if it complies with the will and meets the demand or needs of the people. If not the people will find a way to drive them (SPLM) “into the sea.” Such an immortal advice should serve as a guiding moral compass to the reigning Leviathan in South Sudan.
Another evidentiary conundrum, which riddles President Kiir’s style of leadership with self-contradiction—and which, again, may point to his government’s apathetic and indifferent approach to popular demands— can be gleaned from the President’s 2008 reply to Panaruu Community concerning the cession of Aliiny area to Kordofan. After a series of skirmishes in the Aliiny region (of Ruweng County) that includes Panthou, Bamboo (Roorlou), Gong-Yak, Teshwin and Panakuach, Governor Taban and Governor Haruun of South Kordofan signed a clandestine agreement in which Mr. Taban, without an express approval of the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) or consultation with the community, unilaterally ceded the region to Kordofan.
Not only does the Constitution not empower or authorise governors to deal with border issues, the manner with which the agreement was done actually caused such indignation to members of the community that the community felt utterly betrayed by the government it thought would defend its interests or in the least confer with them on matters of fundamental interest such as land. Such a contemptible, obviously disdainful, act on the part of Mr. Taban prompted some community members in Juba to write a letter to the President to ascertain his views respecting the matter. Out of agony, the signatories of the letter warned the government that the community would be compelled to act unilaterally if the government took no initiative to reverse the decision. To the rude shock of everyone, the President’s scathing reply (a copy of which is in possession of the author) was so divisive and alienating that one would have thought it was written during the Machiavellian era by The “Prince.”
The reply was written on behalf of President Kiir by one Majut Yaak, though it was signed by the President himself. Mr. Majut Yaak (one of a few relatives of the President who relocated from North America to South Sudan soon after Kiir became the President of Southern Sudan) is no longer working in the Office of the President but he is currently one of the wealthiest men in South Sudan(no one begrudges his rise from rags to riches. After all government officers have squandered billions upon billions of taxpayers’ dollars). While it is arguable whether the President had a settled intention to frustrate and disenfranchise the Ruweng Ngok Dinka of Panaruu, a possible conclusion as to the intent of such ‘unpresidential’ remarks can only be adversarial. The President may not successful mount a non est factum defence in this respect for the simple reason that his appended signature shows that he very well understood the context and content of such a rancorous reply. And even if the President did not append his signature to the reply, the concept of respondeat superior applies because Mr. Majut was acting in the ordinary course of government business.
(e) Government’s Failure to Protect Civilians: The Case of Murle Massacre by Lou Nuer
President Kiir’s leadership during the last 8 years also stands questionable on the grounds of having failed to provide protection to vulnerable civilians and minorities. In classical terms, the most important role of a state is the provision of security—physical and economic—to its citizens. A government that deliberately fails to provide adequate protection, from internal or external violence, to civilians in situations where it is capable of so doing is guilty of dereliction of a constitutional duty and thus violates the legal imperatives of social contract impliedly provided for in the Constitution.
Generally, the state is assumed to have the monopoly over the use of violence (although this classical understanding has substantially been waned in what may be called the “Age of Al-Qaeda). This means that where non-state actors, individuals or a groups, usurp such state powers, the state must swiftly move to bring them under control, by means of criminal outlawry, use of force by police, security forces or military, if necessary, in order to restore constitutional rule and order.
Whereas a series of covert elements of violent occurrences have been ongoing in South Sudan since the establishment of GoSS in 2005, most of those violent confrontations have not, in most part, been happening within the earshot of the GoSS. But there can be no denying on the part of the GoSS that what happened in 2011 (when armed Lou Nuer youths, planned, mobilised and marched onto Murle land with the purpose of exterminating the Murle minority in Jonglei state) was something both shocking and unconscionable. It was “shocking” because the government was quite aware of the plan since the state intelligence community (Agumuut) was acutely seized of every detail of it. The international community, under the auspices of UNMISS, also brought the matter to the attention of the GoSS. Regrettably, the government took no steps to prevent such a catastrophic expedition or to thwart such a potential genocide of innocent men, women and children in and around the Pibor area.
The government’s failure to intervene was also “unconscionable” because such a failure could be perceived as amounting to discrimination of a minority. According to media reports (no official figures were provided since the figures provided by the then Pibor County Commissioner were denied by the government), at least 3,000 civilians, most of them women and children, were butchered in the course of ensuing, but entirely preventable, violence.
The pertinent question is, would the government have thwarted such a deadly plan if the target group was for instance, a section of the Dinka community? Your guess is as good as the author’s.
While the author is not oblivious of the history of violence perpetuated by the Murlei community on its neighbours, an argument can be made that it was still unreasonable, negligent, improper and indeed illegal, on the part of the government to sit back this time around and allow the reign of anarchy become the norm. The government cannot use the lens of past inequities as a wedge to impair its constitutional duty to provide protection to all its citizens alike. While the author may be accused for not voicing similar concerns against the government when Murle bandits repeatedly waged attacks on their neighbours, it is here contended that it is not inordinate to assign less moral blameworthiness on the government in relation to violent incidents that took place without the government being aware as to such plans, most of which were about cattle rustling (and only became known after the fact). But the specific Lou Nuer attack in question was quite different not just because the government was in possession of the knowledge as to its timing but also it destructive magnitude. It was an open declaration of war on the Murle Community by another community. It took the Lou community weeks to plan, mobilise and arm itself. This was well known, even to those outside the country. Yet the government’s negligence to protect the said civilians, leading to unnecessary loss of lives and destruction of property, including a county hospital, is as bothersome as is the government’s subsequent failure to hold to account the perpetrators of such heinous violence, particularly the principal culprits.
A government that sits back only to watch a section of its population being exterminated by another section and subsequently fails to follow up on bringing to book those responsible simply forfeits its right to claim sovereignty over the territory and the people it fails to protect. No wonder why South Sudan was recently placed in 4th place in the world rankings of Failed States. Dr. Luka Biong Deng’s recent article on “Two Years of Independence…” provides a neat summary of an independent assessment of South Sudan’s performance using various indicators. According to Deng, “South Sudan was ranked number four (4) of the failed states, ranked number 143 in terms of Global Peace Index out of 162 countries, classified as not free country in terms of Freedom in the World Index, ranked number 124 out of 179 countries in terms of Freedom of Press Index, got six (6) scores in terms of Status of Political Rights compared with the least free score of seven (7) and got five (5) scores in terms of status of Civil Liberties compared with the least free score of seven (7).” This is the basic performance of our country, on a global scale, under the watch of His Excellency, Salva Kiir Miyardit.
Unless President Kiir swiftly moves to make urgent reforms in these and other respects, not only are his opponents likely to capitalise these absolute failings, they are well placed to make a cogent case against Kiir’s failure to harness the energies of South Sudan’s vibrant citizens for productive use. For these more other reasons, it can also be safely argued that the balkanisation of South Sudan is well nigh (Nhialic forbids) for the reason that socially excluded communities will find a reason to a distinctive treatment.
(f) ‘Nyan e Beny’ Saga and its Nexus to Suppression of Expressive Freedom in South Sudan
The primacy of freedom of expression as a fundamental tenet of democratic commitment is that it does not only permit the best of policies to be chosen from among a wider ranging array of proffered options but also ensures that citizens have an opportunity to participate efficaciously in the democratic process. As such, freedom of expression provides a robust environment for the discovery of “truth” and the medium for a meaningful dialogue which in turn creates a market of ideas from among which the society has the opportunity to make optimal choices. One may hasten to add that expressive freedom is not absolute in the sense that a balancing act in relation to other rights may be necessary in some circumstances, if not always. It may as well be displaced entirely by yet another more pressing right in specific circumstances. An instance of this situation is where regulation is necessary to control the impact of invectiveness arising from hate propaganda which tends to repudiate the very essence of democratic values promoted by expressive freedom. In particular, regulation of expressive freedom is necessary when the right to one’s opinion pushes against the boundaries of responsible citizenship (especially when it manifests itself in the form of physical violence), at which point, freedom of expression ceases to serve its core purpose. Nevertheless, the ideals for which millions of South Sudanese gave up their lives include the right of free speech.
Unfortunately, since South Sudan became a self-governing body politic after the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), its government has strived to restrict free speech in ways that have left many scratching their heads. For instance, many journalists and civil society activists have arbitrarily been detained, jailed, kidnapped, tortured, or even killed (including the assassination, in 2012, of a political commentator (Isaiah Abraham) who, till his death, was the most celebrated political journalist of our time). News papers have also been confiscated or entirely banned. Worse still, police authorities normally take orders directly from politicians who under the law have no authority to order or arrest anyone. As a result, ordinary citizens have practically been frightened to speak out against political and economic neglect or ills perpetuated by the Establishment. They are, ironically, scared to speak up for the rights they gallantly fought to defend, protect and promote. It is established that in a dictatorship, when citizens’ right to life, liberty and security of the person are threatened, they tend to willingly acquiesce in incursions of their civil liberties by the state in order to gain some sense of personal safety. This appears to be the case in our country. South Sudan under Kiir, may well be, in all things dictatorial but name.
Recent reports by Amnesty International, United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), UN Human Rights Council and Human Rights Watchdogs have painted a grim picture of brutalities in South Sudan including torture, arbitrary arrests and detentions, summary killings, rapes by our own men in uniform, security and police forces, etc, leading to the conclusion that there is a reign of terror and human rights breaches in South Sudan, much to the chagrin of many of our sympathisers. Of course President Kiir has been quick to rebut such allegations labelled against his government. That, of course, is understandable.
Yet all and sundry are aware of what transpired after intimate revelations respecting the infamous “Nyan e Beny” Saga. It was reported (and was not denied) that President Kiir was personally involved in ordering the arrest and torture of the two journalists namely; Ngor Garang (Editor) and Dengdit Ayok (Columnist), who wrote the story for their newspaper, The Destiny, in 2011. The Destiny has since ceased to exist. In his own charge, Kiir accused the subject journalists of defamation. The author opines that such a charge did not disclose any reasonable cause of action for a number of reasons.
First the story was not merely fabricated. To constitute defamation, the impugned material must have, as its sole intent, no purpose other than ill-will, spite, injuring or lowering the reputation of the victim in the eyes of reasonable members of the society. But where an impugned publication is based on an air of reality or fairly objective facts, and Nyan e Bany story was, a case for defamation can hardly be made out.
It is also worth noting that while everyone is legally entitled to privacy, including the right to private family matters, the President should know that when you are the president of a republic; when you live in a publicly funded housing (paid for by taxpayers’ money, whether from oil revenues or direct taxes or even grants in aid), your family becomes a public family in more subtle ways than one. By default then, matters that affect your family, indirectly affect the public in a network of circumstances. As a consequence, the President’s family has a diminished reasonable expectation of privacy. This explains why the First Daughter’s case became a national, not just the Kiir family, affair.
Second, even if a case for defamation was made out in this specific allegation, the legal route it would generally follow is civil rather than criminal. This is so because defamation is essentially a civil matter which can only be handled in accordance with the rules of civil, not criminal, procedures. Yet the said journalists were subject to such cruel and unusual punishment for a matter that does not in anyway, attract prison punishment under any law. In the unlikely event that the authors of Nyan e Bany story were found to be on the wrong side of the law by a competent tribunal, the possible remedy in this respect would have been to order them to pay compensation to the President—or such order as the court may have considered appropriate in the circumstances— as a token of acknowledgment of the injury to the Claimant and assignment of moral blameworthiness on the part of the alleged Defendants.
Instead of following the law however, some say Kiir actually chose to ironically defame it. He was the Plaintiff, the Judge and the law Enforcer. It is in situations such as this that John Locke in the 17th century made a plausible case for separation of powers between the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. No one can truly be an objective judge in his/her own case. The move by the President just underscores the fact that he was determined to apply a different standard of law unto himself and his family while everyone else (save perhaps members of the oligarch) would be subject to the rule of law.
The proclivity for politicians to tailor principles of trite practice to conform to their interests has been rampant in South Sudan. This includes subverting the rules of procedures, including rules of selection and election, for example. This may explain why President Kiir is currently rumoured to be working hard to twist the rules of party’s basic documents such as the party’s Manifesto and Code of Conduct. It is time the President plays the game well and shows that he is an invincible player in his own right. He should not portray himself as a political desperado who cannot survive if he plays by the rules, for he otherwise will be playing right into the hands of his political adversaries. Nor should he appear to be so desperate as to be incapable of surviving without the support of the old guards in the party. It is always good to be a nice guy. But playing nice does not extend to matters of significant public interests. The more he plays nice to them especially in matters of fundamental national interests such as his arcane approach to corruption, incompetence in public service and sanguinary, the more he alienates the public. Conversely, bold decisions such as the one he made recently, though described by some as ‘too little too late,’ against self-indulging politicians to ensure that public officials who misappropriate public resources are held to account, will endear him to the public. Such an action is truly a step in the right direction. The nation is also looking forward to the day when the beneficiaries of the $4+ billion will be called to account for their unjust material enrichment. This was an economic plunder, a daylight robbery in every sense of the word.
In a nutshell, the President truly has an enormous amount of work to do (emphasis added). He has to show that he will do things differently. Besides corruption and nepotism, there are monumental issues such as appalling education standards; lack of control of basic food prices (Juba is the 4th most expensive city in the world yet South Sudan is the world’s poorest); the staggeringly inefficient taxation system; leaving too much power in the hands of a few who often abuse it, especially at state level (such as land grabbing by governors); reluctance to invest adequately in road networks (yet billions of dollars are being misappropriated by a few); and failure to listen to the voice of the people, among many countless others, are among the most pressing needs that ought to be given the urgency they deserve. These are some of the priorities that Kiir should deal with and capitalise on if he wants to survive the 2015 political battle.
In so far as loyalty to one’s ethnic affiliation still hovers mightily above national interest in South Sudan, it is the author’s contention that democracy is not yet mature for South Sudan. But that itself should not discourage South Sudan from aiming higher to ensure that the Rule of the Many is accorded its rightful place. With time, class interests, ideological inclinations and more importantly common interests such as security, employment among others will begin to sink in. Indeed it is no-brainer that with proper change in priorities, people will soon start to make choices not on their tribal affiliations but on the package of deliverables that a politician aspires and pledges to avail to the citizens. So far, the euphoria of independence has been replaced by frustration, mostly due to misgovernance. Many have in fact realised that the President has not done enough or has deliberately put his personal interests (and some say his Gogrial community) above that of the nation, human rights and liberal democratic values for which many South Sudanese have dearly paid in blood and limbs.
For these and more other reasons, his critics and opponents alike are likely to argue that the President’s democratic credentials, commitment to the rule of law and sustained intolerance to freedom of expression remain glaringly to be desired. For such critics, a regime that is not ready to stand any public scrutiny, including close inspection of the Presidential family by the media and commentators, is truly not a government of the people, for the people, by the people or run in the interest of the people (hopefully, that is not what GoSS is).
The SPLM should not sit on its laurels and pat its shoulders in self-congratulations for bringing about independence. Independence itself is not sufficient to guarantee security, justice, liberty, equality and above all, prosperity. Without taking steps to ensure fair and equal representation and allowing citizens to fully participate in shaping the destiny of a post-war South Sudan, we can only be proud of a perforated independence that guarantees nothing other than an opportunity for the ruling class to satisfy its whimsical dreams of creating a kleptocratic state in South Sudan.
The following premise is fundamental: we have to get it right, right from the start. Case studies such as Botswana’s and Tanzania’s show that the first steps in founding a nation are very significant because they determine whether or not a country will quickly establish a political culture that will ultimately translate into a stable democracy. Conversely, starting on wrong footing such as DR Congo or even Kenya did, for instance, will imply that such a country is in for a long ride, notwithstanding its many other blessings such as abundance of natural resources. In order to establish a stable environment for good governance and effective citizenry participation, the government must respect, accept and accommodate the views and contributions from its citizens. This includes placing an indelible premium on liberal democratic process, strict respect for the rule of law and observance of human rights and fundamental civil liberties as well as creating a space for cultural pluralism.
Furthermore, studies after studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between democracy and economic prosperity as its relates to direct foreign investments as well as domestic investments because citizens are likely to invest in long term economic structures when they have faith in their own political system.
A president must strictly adhere to the established legal order and rules of practice. The principles of the rule of law and constitutionalism are fundamental postulates of such an order. The concept of constitutionalism implies that all laws and actions of public officials must be consistent with the Constitution. Any laws or actions that are inconsistent, in whole or in part, with the Constitution will be deemed invalid and have no force or effect to the extent of that inconsistency. The rule of law on the other hand postulates that the law is supreme over both public officials (including the President) and private citizens alike, hence preclusive of any arbitrary exercise of public authority. It requires maintenance of an actual order of positive norms, a sense of orderliness and subjection to established rules. Public officials therefore must comply with laws.
President Kiir should swallow his ambition and choose to do the right thing now. Even if he loses the election in 2015 (and he will not lose if he chooses to do what is right) for doing the right thing, he should be very proud about it. Former British Prime Minister once said, “sometimes it is better to do the right thing and lose than to win doing the wrong thing.” Indeed right minded people normally feel good when they lose “doing the right thing” especially for the greater good “than to win doing the wrong thing” for oneself. Kiir, more than anyone else now, has the opportunity to make the right choices and get it right.
3. Part II: Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon.
(A) From Academic to a Senior Guerrilla Leader
Dr. Riek Machar, an engineer by training from University of Khartoum, obtained a PhD in Strategic Planning at the University of Bradford (United Kingdom) in 1984, subsequent to which he joined the SPLM/A in Ethiopia where he was, according to Professor Adwok Nyaba, warmly received and immediately promoted to a very senior military position (without training whatsoever). He shortly thereafter rose to become the 7th highest ranking member of the SPLA Military Command and an Alternate Member of the High Command Council.
Such an accelerated promotion—blamed for all the ills that would later befall the Movement as a result— to a position of enormous authority and influence in the Movement was all the while quite baffling, given that Mr. Riek had no prior military, or even an equivalent administrative, experience. It also raised questions as to what might have been lingering on Chief Garang’s mind at the time. Was Chairman Garang possibly concerned that another PhD holder , like Riek (and Lam, who was similarly treated), would rock the boat from within if not enticed with a glamorous position of authority and influence? Was Beny Garang truly moved by the necessity for diversity within the highest level of military command or was this seemingly suspect promotion entirely based on merits? If so or otherwise, could this explain the fates of those of Dr. Juac Kerjok (who was killed by firing squad, in Bunga in 1984), Dr. Madut (who was allegedly tortured and killed by own forces) and Dr. Bol Akok (who mysteriously disappeared on his trip upon leaving Addis Ababa) and many others with similar or equivalent qualifications? We may never know some or possibly all the answers to these questions.
The principal question, in relation to Mr. Riek’s extraordinary rise in a sea of highly qualified and experienced personnel, is what, if any, could have been avoided but for Mr. Riek’s undeserved promotion. This inquiry is particularly pertinent since it is out of this slip in history that what would later ensue, in 1991 and thereafter, may substantially be explained. Indeed, it is this sheer historical misstep or antecedent that explains why Mr. Riek currently occupies the second most senior position in the country, thereby giving him the platform for portraying himself as the ‘messianic’ leader that South Sudan has eagerly been waiting for.
(B) What Should the 2015 Voters Know About Mr. Riek Machar?
(1) Past Records: Why Riek’s Ongoing Campaigns should Spur Inspection of His Records
In citing Kiir’s reluctance or inability to stump out rampant tribalism, nepotism, corruption in public service or failing to provide a clear and intelligible direction for the party as his chief reasons for wanting to unseat the President through a democratic process (which is highly commendable), Mr. Riek, by all accounts, portrays his candidacy as a more preferable option for 2015.
But the cardinal principle of natural justice dictates that where a party puts another party’s credibility on the line, as Riek has done, there is an obligation to provide the party whose creditability is being questioned with a corresponding opportunity to disabuse himself or herself or to similarly inspect the questioning party, or both. Thus by questioning Mr. Kiir’s competence and presenting himself as a transcendent; political redeemer with ‘clean hands,’ the Vice President, by default, places his own character in issue. But in lieu of the party who would otherwise be in a position to inspect his political adversary, voters have the right to know, by assessing Mr. Riek’s records to ascertain the validity of his assertion by examining (a) Mr. Riek’s leadership scores as an SPLA commander (after joining the SPLM/A in 1984); (b) Mr. Riek’s performance with respect to the events and the aftermath of the 1991 Coup; as well as (d) Mr. Riek’s record as Vice President of the Republic of South Sudan since 2005.
(a) Riek’s Leadership Record as an SPLA Zonal Commander of Western Upper Nile (1986-1989) in Perspective: A Substandard Achiever?
It is interesting how, of late, Mr. Riek Machar has been criss-crossing the country making a case against various impediments to nation building, with special focus on tribal segregation and nepotism under a government in which he, ironically serves as vice president. While a move against such social evils is truly commendable and praiseworthy, many observers wonder not so much about whether Mr. Riek has the will and ability to live by principles and the ideals he claims to uphold but whether he has the moral authority to even wag a finger against such evils given his long shady leadership records, beginning from his home turf in Western Upper Nile State. It is instructive to learn that when Mr. Riek’s records, as the Zonal Commander of Western Upper Nile, including Ruweng County and as a long time political player in the country, are properly scrutinised, there is found to be a consistent pattern of ethnic extremism, incompetence as well as intolerance to the views of others on his part, a pattern which reasonably affords evidence as to the existence of leadership deficit well played out throughout his political and military careers.
(i) Riek’s Abysmal Performance on the Frontlines During the Struggle: A Military Fiasco?
It would apparently be an understatement to maintain that, due to his poor organisational and impaired strategic planning ability, Mr. Riek’s military performance during his six and a half years (1984-1991) as an SPLA commander was, in pith and substance, dismally suboptimal. This was self-evident from his first days on the job as a frontline commander when his military planning abilities were put to the test immediately in the first battle of his assignment as the Zonal Commander of Western Upper Nile and Ruweng County in 1986.
On his arrival in Ruweng County with Gol (Wolf) Battalion in the early part of 1986, Riek and his forces encountered incoming Enemy forces from Pariang Town after the Enemy had intercepted the movement of his troops. Despite the superiority, in terms of numerical weight, of the Muormuor forces under his command, Riek was disastrously defeated at the Battle of Bom Adol in the southeastern part of the county. Not too long after that first defeat, Riek and his forces fought the next battle at Biem Alony in the northeastern part of the county. That, too, went down as one of the failed battles marking the beginning of Riek’ history of endless military debacles in the region. As if that was embarrassing enough, he was once again miserably dealt a blow by the Enemy at the Battle of Panthur Diaar, just a few miles, north of Biem Alony. On separate operations, several attempts to attack the military garrisons in Pariang Town ended in utter failure.
To keep the morale of his forces high enough, Riek later led his forces into the Nuba Mountains region, hoping to make successful retaliatory attacks against the Enemy. As expected, Riek never achieved any significant military victory in the Battle of Yoi. Sadly, on his way back to Ruweng County from Nuba Mountain, his forces fell into an Enemy ambush and were badly battered, losing heavily to the Enemy in both men and equipment. To save face and break the chain of embarrassment, Riek eventually relocated most of his forces southwards after crossing River Bhar el Ghazel to set up his headquarters at Bielbar which remained his base till1989. From Bielbar, he would occasionally order a few raids here and there against various military garrisons in the region but never scored any single remarkable military success, contrary to the resounding victories that Late George Athor Deng made in Ruweng County in a very short period, from 2000-2001, notwithstanding the significant lack of military equipment relative to the Enemy’s.
Nevertheless, Riek may claim the credit for the capture and occupation of Mayom Town in 1987 where the current ICC indictee, the Sudanese military junta leader, Omar el-Bashir was wounded. But that brief occupation too was a result of joint operations between his forces and those of the then Bhar el Ghazel Overall Commander, Daniel Awet Akot. Had it not been for Awet’s strategy, it is possible that even Mayom would have not been captured. That brief occupation, nevertheless, lasted for less than 72 hours, as the town was retaken by the Enemy, just and 24 hours after Awet forces had left.
From outside Western Upper Nile region, the only credit that Riek could reasonably claim is the capture of Melut Town, in 1989, in the today’s Upper Nile State, by forces under his command after he was transferred from Western Upper Nile to northern Upper Nile region. But analysts contend that many variables, which are beyond the realm of this discussion, explain why such a victory came to pass.
That is what can briefly be said about Riek’s military performance as an SPLA commander. As such, no term can better describe Riek’s military record, than a “military fiasco,” much to the detriment of our own gallant forces under his control.
(ii) The Failed Nasir ‘Revolution’ and the Sham Peace Agreement with Khartoum
Perhaps the most material example pertaining to Riek’s disastrous military performance, due to his consistent patterns of weak organisational ability and lack of proper strategic planning, can be explained by his disconsolate leadership, following his aborted coup against the SPLM/A from his base in Nasir in 1991. Not only was Mr. Riek incapable of controlling the forces loyal to him, he also miserably failed to competently organise his new movement, nor translate his blind grassroots support, into as a formidable political or military organisation capable of challenging the Enemy in Khartoum. Instead, in the first 24 hours of the so-called Nasir Declaration, Riek’s forces went on killing spree, virtually butchering every “suspicious” SPLA soldier, officer and civilian (including minors) who happened to be in the zone under his control. Thus most soldiers, army officers and even civilians, who were deemed to hail from Chief Garang’s ethnic background, were rounded up and summarily killed, execution style. Some were savagely tortured before being slaughtered. A good example is that of Kuol Deng Kuol, who was a brother of the current Inspector General of Police of South Sudan, Pieng Deng Kuol. Kuol, an SPLA officer then was allegedly tortured, and then tied up before being immersed into a drum of boiling water. But Mr. Kuol’s unusual and cruel punishment was not an isolated incident.
Shortly after such a wild carnage, Mr. Riek cleverly made up yet another elusive reason to justify his attacks on civilian areas under the control of the SPLM/A. This resulted in what may be described, in Riek’s own words, as ‘Corridor War.’ The lame argument in support of this trifling farce was that forces loyal to Riek were justified to fight those loyal to Chief Garang in order to open up the Kenya-South Sudan corridor (an idea which Garang vehemently rejected) for the delivery of military lifeline to the Nasir forces. But the corridor argument was essentially a euphemism for invading civilian settlements in Southwestern part of Jongeli State, especially in the triple counties of Bor, Twic East and Duk. Journeyman reporters tell of a savage, barbarous and most wanton destruction of human life, livestock and pillaging of homes and all forms of economic structures in these areas, exposing both livestock and humans to the most cruel and unforgiving form of hunger, exposure to mosquito and attacks by wild animals. No single writer can claim to comprehensively, meticulously and exhaustively capture and meaningfully detail the magnitude of human sufferings and miseries brought about (in these areas and beyond) by Riek’s inhumane and frivolous enterprise for power that totally disregarded the very essence for which those who yearn to lead must show their personal commitment to its preservation before they can legitimately claim the privilege to lead. To wantonly destroy the society for any reason, including the vexatious aspiration for political leadership, as it was in the case of Riek’s, is the ultimate expression of human folly of immeasurable magnitude. By doing this, Riek had, as Collin Roberts puts it, then and forever thereafter, joined the ranks of the Sudan’s many failed leaders who have shown no respect for the sanctity of human life.
Having failed himself and failed to give life to his own ideas, Riek’s movement was destined for doom. In different words, the general assessment as to the long term survival of the ‘Nasir Revolution’ was that, it was not a matter of ‘if,’ but ‘when,’ its leaders and their unruly supporters would begin to turn their own hatchets upon themselves. This was evidenced by the fact that the “Nasir Revolution” had plainly started on a wrong footing, and as such, inherently bound to fail. Rarely was anyone surprised then that shortly thereafter, fractious spite; backstabbing; infighting for influence and control in the SPLM-Nasir (Later renamed SPLM-United Movement), disorganisation, lack of direction and above all, Riek’s inability to translate his theories into practical policy programs, among other acts of indiscretion, led to the disintegration of Riek’s forces and fragmentation of the party into largely insignificant splinter groups. This consequently led to his falling out with his close comrades, culminating in the dismissal of his deputy and the party’s Secretary General, Mr. Lam Akol, who later moved his forces to settle at Fashoda in the Shilluk Kingdom. Riek also fell out with his Deputy Chief of Staff, Kerubino Kuanyin Bol whom he also eventually dismissed because it was impossible for them to reconcile their mega differences. Indeed Riek became so weak and vulnerable that he quickly metamorphosed himself into a political desperado who eventually resorted to taking refuge in the wings of the Enemy he once avowed to destroy.
The net result was that, Riek was ultimately forced to partner up with Khartoum against his own brothers and sisters in the SPLM/A, despite his prior rhetoric that he was fighting for an independent state in southern Sudan. When pressed to explain how logical and fathomable his claim of achieving an independent state in southern Sudan (having regard to the fact that he had joined forces with the Enemy from whom he was seeking independence) was, his answer was modeled after the famous Mazzini’s memorable dictum for self-defence, arguing that his collaboration with Khartoum against the SPLA was compelled by the resolve of the SPLM/A to eliminate him physically. Verbatim, Riek maintained that “if your brother is determined to eliminate you physically, you are entitled to ensure your survival even with the help of the devil.” Surely, Riek might have been thinking that a drowning man has all the reasons to cling onto a serpent to save his life even for an hair’s breadth at the moment of a terminal peril. Anyone would surely agree that at such a moment, uniting with a devil would be justified. Unfortunately, there were no probable or reasonable grounds to believe that his life was in danger. He was under the illusion that he was. A reasonable man in his shoes would have not acted the way he did. It is regrettable. Such a compulsive and erratic behaviour is a reliable indicator that such a person cannot be trusted with the esteemed office of presidency.
But as Chief Garang had predicted prior to Riek’s joining forces with al-Bashir, Riek had to later storm out from the Republican Palace in Khartoum, having been treated like a doormat by, and some say he might have well deserved such a treatment because he apparently surrendered to, the Enemy. Riek knew that Khartoum, afterall, does not compromise its interests when dealing with the weak-hearted. From that moment, the so-called Nasir democratic revolution simply crushed like a house of cards, and Riek, had he not wisely chosen to come back to the SPLM/A, would have simply be a quantity relegated to the footnotes of the history of the peoples’ mighty struggle.
(iii) Accusation of Incompetence, Mismanagement and Intolerance
Those who have known Riek as colleagues or support staff tell stories of how conflicting a personality Riek is. They often comment of a Riek who is highly warm, humble and friendly. Dr. Adwok Nyaba in one of his books talks of a Riek who can be exceedingly informal, particularly with foreigners. Nyaba might have added that such an informality sometimes goes against the protocols of a person of his stature, and portrays him in a light that is less flattering in character. Riek is also said to be so down to earth that he can mix and associate with anyone irrespective of age or status. Mr. Riek is also reputed to be generally a likeable guy because, in contrast to his lack of persuasive skills (discussed herein), Riek is undoubtedly a nice guy as a human being. He comes across as a less assuming and an understanding man, a guy that everyone would want to socialise with because he can be quite down to earth and truly caring, some observe.
Conversely, Mr. Riek visibly exhibits a restlessly wild spirit; a spirit of extreme intolerance to those who question his leadership style. As mentioned earlier, his quick fall out with Mr. Lam Akol, his then close confidante and co-schemer in the so-called Nasir Declaration; his irreparable relationship with Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, Arok Thon Arok and all those who stormed out of the Movement for being at variance with Chief Garang, tells something of a different Riek, probably the one who currently sits at the rooftop, chastising the Man On The Throne. In fact his fallout with these men arose from the fact that Riek preferred to listen to himself rather than to dialogue. He wanted to be the kuor and the only kuor because after all, in Nasir, he had the superiority of numbers on his side, a position that gave him the feel that he was entitled to call the shots or that he could make do with the situation on his own. In addition, Riek is known for being a good listener during the day, but the views that he takes into account in making his ultimate decisions are those that he receives behind the scenes, further suggesting that Riek is not a leader that can reasonably foster a sense of transparency and collective decision making. He is not a consensus builder. Yet, collegiality is a quintessential tenet of good leadership, the kind of leadership that South Sudan needs for 2015.
The most telling of Riek’s high intolerance to other people’s opinion is perhaps his relationship with his erstwhile Deputy in Command in Western Upper Nile in 1986. In his first military mission as the Overall Zonal Commander of Western Upper Nile and Ruweng County, Riek was deployed with Commander Bol Agaany Dau as his Deputy Zonal Commander. But upon his arrival, and following the chains of military defeats that riddled his military campaigns due to his poor military strategy, Bol Agaany was reported to have approached Riek with the intention of brainstorming on the way forward respecting military, administrative and management matters. Unfortunately, Riek did not take lightly the positive suggestions that Bol was making, accusing his Deputy, instead, of insubordination. In the end, Riek ended up disagreeing with Bol within months of their arrival in the region. He reportedly asked Chairman Garang to recall Mr. Bol to the Headquarters in Bilpam, a request which Chairman Garang respectfully obliged. Bol was later reassigned to serve as the Deputy in Command to Salva Kiir Mayardit in the Operation Kon Anok campaigns till he was martyred in Rumbek in 1989.
Put two and two together and the most inevitable conclusion is a Riek whose military skills are as disastrous as are his management skills. In fact his political skills are just as worse. Yet all these skills go to the very core of competency in leadership. Choose Riek for 2015 and that is who and what you get.
(iv) The 1997 Riek-Bashir Agreement: A Short Cut to Freedom or a Surrender Ploy?
To most lettered and reasonable people, taking up arms as a way of obtaining political redress is, and should be, a means of last resort. This is because war, arguably, is the cruelest and most brutal existential threat to humanity, irrespective of the type of weapons used. It destroys the society from within and from without, physically, socially and psychologically and, needless to say economically. In fact economists often believe that a period of economic growth that would have been attained but for the war, can never be recovered, no matter what. The litany of factors as to why war should be a means of last resort is not exhaustive.
However, when your very survival is threatened; when someone or a group treats you with such disdain and arrogance that he/she sees you as good for nothing or even a curse to humanity (just as Francis Deng says in the ‘War of Visions’ that the Arabs in the Sudan see Africans as a cursed race), and then acts on such a subjective or ill-informed perception of you to deny you your very basic rights of self-preservation, it is plausible to argue that natural law entitles you to claim your right by any means necessary, including the use of force.
The intermittent armed struggles, such as the Anya Nya I War (1955-1972), Any Nya II War (1975-1983) and SPLM /A Struggle (1983-2005), which South Sudanese of all stripes, ethnicities and regions have waged for decades since Sudan’s independence from Great Britain in 1955, were premised on the natural principle of self-preservation. When you have reached a point of no return upon attaining a just cause threshold, an armed struggled can be and is indeed justified.
There is one more other thing though: once you have taken up arms to liberate your people from political and economic bondage, however long, hard and arduous the struggle may be, taking short cuts to freedom, Chairman Garang once warned, is not an option. In saying this, Chairman Garang was acutely aware that when the road to freedom appears to be uncompromising and hopeless, fainthearted participants are tempted to capitulate and resort to taking steps that fall short of full freedom. But there are no short-cuts, nor is there an easy walk, to freedom, Chief Garang concluded. This was Bany Garang’s answer when pressured by the international community and civil societies to accept peace with Khartoum because, they argued, too many people had died and the magnitude of sufferings especially of South Sudanese was utterly unbearable. Chief Garang retorted that when the SPLM/A started in 1983, the Movement did not set out to determine how many people would have to die or what threshold of sufferings would have to be reached before agreeing to sign a peace deal with Khartoum. “What we want,” Chief Garang said, “is a just peace.”
Unfortunately, there is no gainsaying (having regard to Riek’s chains of failed political experiments) that Dr. Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon, is a man well known for his propensity to taking short-cuts. For instance, after spending just six and half years in the Movement, he had had just enough. The walk to freedom, he thought, was too illusive. He believed it was time to fight for an independent state in southern Sudan. That belief precipitated his ultimate decision to declare that he had ousted Beny Garang and that he was now the new Chief in town. But he also confused his supporters and sympathisers as to what his principal goal was. At one time, it was about changing gears to fight for an independent country in southern Sudan, and then at another, it was a question of democratic deficit in the Movement, since he also claimed that the atmosphere was too undemocratic for a collective struggle. But all these excuses were symptoms of a man who had never set out to achieve a particular objective. In fact Riek might have misconstrued the objectives of the SPLM/A. But the objectives of the Movement were self-evident from the start and he joined the struggle knowing full well what those objectives were. Furthermore, guerrilla movements are rarely democratic. A guerrilla movement is an irregular military fighting against a state. Militaries, whether regular or irregular, whether conventional or otherwise, are rarely democratic. The SPLA was a guerrilla army of volunteers whose goal was to establish a secular democratic state in the Sudan. It was thus a tool for democratisation. “A [military] tool,” Chairman Garang rightly argued, “cannot be democratic.”
When put together, Mr. Riek’s political skills boil down to one thing: Riek is a man who lacks consistency and persistence. He is a politician who is contented with suboptimal objectives. In fact his 1997 sham Peace Agreement with al-Bashir clearly shows the depth with which he appreciated the magnitude of the cause of war in the Sudan and the underlying philosophical values..
While some call the 1997 Bashir-Riek pact a peace agreement, many observers think that the pact was actually a disguised; tactical, ploy for surrender. These observers contend that Riek was basically at his final straw since his movement was on its own self-inflicted death row. He had to think long and hard and save face. Surrendering to Chief Garang at that moment was too embarrassing. It was unthinkable. It was thus better, he thought, to “make it out” with Bashir before storming out of Khartoum back to the SPLM/A. He saw this move as reasonable enough to later justify that he had a legitimate reason for rejoining his own brothers and sisters in the Peoples’ parent Movement. But Riek’s violent move to call for liberation of South Sudan under the banner of a ‘Nasir Revolution’ was not just a matter of taking a short-cut to freedom. It was a also complete act of double betrayal: betrayal against his comrades in the SPLM/A and against the cause of our brothers and sisters in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile, who had been standing firm with our people, shoulder to shoulder, during the struggle. It also showed his superficial understanding of global politics at the time. Knowing full well the position taken by the defunct Organisation of African Unity (OAU, now African Union) since its founding in early 1960s, the position held by the Government of Ethiopia regarding self-determination and the fact that most supporters of the SPLM/A preferred a united Sudan, it was preposterous for anyone to think that calling for a separate state in southern Sudan was feasible. In fact calling for a democratic secular Sudan was the best strategy for obtaining a separate state in southern Sudan as a fallback position. When you want half of a cake, you ask for the whole cake, so goes the maxim.
It follows that when Mr. Riek lashes out at President Kiir respecting the loss of vision and direction of the party, Riek has to justify, based on his records, that there are well reasoned expositions to believe his claims. Unfortunately, his hands are not as clean. It is so obvious.
As a legal and equitable principle, the ‘clean hands doctrine’ states that a party must be free from unfair conduct in respect of the matter at issue, otherwise that party would be misleading a neutral arbiter, which in our case are the voters. Riek has failed South Sudanese people for far too long. It is about time that someone makes him understand that South Sudanese are not laboratory specimens for political experiments or practice tools for second chances. But even more deplorable is his latest call for more bloodshed. Right-minded South Sudanese will not allow Mr. Riek to shoot his way into the presidency this time around nor allow themselves to be used as a doormat of the grand entrance into a political empire, whether real or apprehended. No they should not and they must not.
(b) How Riek’s Recent Campaigns Against the President and His Disingenuous Apology for the 1991 ‘Bor Massacre’ Puts his Own Character on the Line.
Abhorrent as tribalism and corruption may be, it is here opined that Mr. Riek’s recent rhetoric in respect of tribalism, corruption or President Kiir’s poor leadership is, ironically, lacking in both substance and seriousness. As mentioned earlier, Mr. Riek does not have the moral authority to speak out against such practices when much more than mere ethnic extremism and corruption have consistently reigned supreme in his own backyard in Western Upper Nile State; a state in which the state government, then under one notorious Taban till last week, is shockingly dominated by one ethnic group. One ethnic group, conscionably or subconsciously, occupies all areas of leadership at all levels, from Governor to Deputy Governor to Speaker, from state staff in the ministries to state directors of commissions, from police to wild life and virtually every single state agency. While minorities have been given 3 out of 15 ministries, these three ministries have simply been used as symbolic visuals for big picture purposes and to give a false sense of diversity at the level of state government. But from top to bottom, we see more of the same.
There have also been numerous reports that in order for work applicants at the state level to be hired as government employees, one has to speak the Nuer language. While the overt persistence on meeting such a requirement appears to have insignificantly subsided after quite a considerable amount of non-legal challenge mounted against public employers by job applicants themselves, such a requirement continues to be an unspoken reality; indeed an unwritten consideration. The strategy is not simply to employ speakers of a particular language but to ensure that those who have access to job are people of one ethnic group. This is in addition to the blatant constitutional breach where Dinka language has been intermittently banned over the state radio, for no reason other than sheer malevolence.
As regards corruption, report after report has consistently ranked Western Upper Nile State as one of the poorest regions in the country. Despite that state’s beneficiary status as a recipient of extra 2% of oil revenues to which an oil producing state is entitled, amounting to millions of petrodollars every month, both during the Interim Period and after independence, there is not a single shred of evidence that the standard of living of its citizens has improved relative to what it was prior to 2005. What happened to that money?
Public resources have been diverted into private projects, ranging from business ventures in Main (United States) to huge investments in Arab banks and business ventures in Khartoum and the Middle East, real estate business in America and Australia, where most of these are registered either in spouses’ or children’s names.
Notwithstanding this pattern of domination and adverse treatment of, and intolerance towards, certain ethnic groups at the state level, Riek has never made any reasonable efforts towards eradicating such insidious harm on the target groups in his home turf. As such, Riek cannot in any way prove with preponderance of evidence that he has the will and ability to fight corruption better than his Boss. In fact, in 2010, both men appeared on the Transparency International Report respecting South Sudanese government officials who were found to have stashed millions of dollars in European banks. Whether one chooses to believe or refute the credibility of the report is a different thing altogether. Most informed readers will have no reason to doubt the bona fide reporting of such a well established institution. Thus in order to wage a meaningful and believable campaigns; and to make credible promises, Riek has to show that he has tried within and outside the system to change things and that he possesses both the will and ability to deliver on them. To the author’s recollection, no record appears to show that Riek has exerted such efforts to back up his overwrought claims. Ergo, the claim that he will do business differently is not supported by established facts, whether past or current.
On the contrary, Riek’s image as a tribal chieftain has firmly been established in Western Upper Nile and beyond. An example to afford such evidence is the discriminatory pattern with which he distributed the kalaazar medical services in the region when he was the overall Zonal Commander. The deadly kalaazar broke out in the region between 1987and 1997. The relief medical services that were able to reach the region were confined to three areas, all located in one ethnic region, on the southern part of River Bhar el Ghazel ( Kong Kiir), namely at Duar, Bielbar and Leer. Patients in the far northern-most part of the state were to be carried on shoulders by their relatives for treatment to such clinics, through hundreds of kilometers. In most cases, those who carried their sick relatives themselves became ill along the way. Most of them, including patients, died before reaching their destinations. To make matters worse, a few lucky ones who managed to reach the clinics spent weeks, and sometimes months, before being seen by any doctor. In fact patients from that part of the region were given a second tier order of priority and were asked to line up separately. Consequently, at least 90% of those who managed to reach any of those clinics died before they could be seen by the doctor. Worse still, after Riek declared his failed coup in Nasir in 1991, all the patients from this part of the region who were hospitalised in those clinics were slaughtered on their hospital beds just because of their different ethnicity.
In general, the deliberate failure to locate at least one clinic or even provide mobile clinic services in Dinkaland appeared to be an insidious plan on the part of Mr. Riek to ensure that one ethnic group was left to fend for itself. Locally compiled statistics and reports on Sudan by Sudan experts such as Eric Reeves show that the population of Ruweng County was reduced by the order of 50% of the population that resided in the area at the time. While Riek will be quick to deny being responsible, such a denial or defence will not get him off the hook. There are probable and reasonable grounds to believe, not just to suspect, that Riek had the culpable intent to engage in ethnic cleansing, by doing indirectly what natural or positive law would not allow him to do directly.
Observations have also been made of a Riek who is inherently less honest in character. A case in point is made regarding his recent move to apologise to the “Bor Community.” While it is less disputable in the eye of the public that Bor (Athooc and Gok), Twi (Lith, Nywak and Pakeer) and Duk ku Duk (Hol and Nyarweng) truly bore the brunt of his 1991 aberration, Riek’s decision to confine a well deserved apology to these communities in southwestern Jonglei State is and should be seen as a mere tactical strategy to score political points. It does not appear to show an act of true repentance from the senseless act of high moral turpitude that followed his 1991 delusion. This is because other communities even within Jonglei State (such as Paweny, Rut, Thoi and Luach) were more or less affected and deserved to have been apologised to. In fact the entire family of Late George Athor Deng Dut was wiped out by Riek’s incorrigible forces. This explains why George Athor (a man considered by many as a hero) was so bitter that he ended up committing exactly the same atrocities against innocent people in the Lou area in 1992, on his way from Khorflus-Atar area (Pigi) to Bor and back. While it is un-African to talk ill of the dead, such an act was unacceptable and should be condemned in the strongest of terms. As a decorated war veteran, Athor should have known very well who was responsible for the killing of his family and should have gone after legitimate military combatants, not innocent people.
Nevertheless, Riek should have apologised to Athor’s family and other families around the country who suffered as a result of Riek’s reckless yearn for political power.
But an apology made in the manner it was made cannot be said to be genuine. Such a selective; disingenuous apology, is only a political posturing and does not express any element of sincerity. Put differently, an apology that appeared to confine itself to some and not other communities who were similarly fell victims of such genocidal acts cannot be said to have been intended to be a serious expression of remorsefulness but a calculated political objective. Analysts have observed that Riek is well aware that the powerful influence of the ‘Bor Group’ within the SPLM cannot be snubbed. The only way by which he thought he could get some political support within the party and pull them to his side, and away from his main challenger, is to give a timely and selective apology well ahead of the ‘D-Day.’
Because it was not bona fide in character, questions abound regarding the effectiveness of such an apology. A remedial act that is intended to serve a different purpose (secondary purpose) other than the very purpose or relief (primary purpose) it is sought for is good only for the secondary purpose it intends to achieve. In this regard, Riek’s apology is good for its political end (secondary purpose) and nothing more. The victims of his 1991 ‘Bor Massacre’ and others who deserve being apologised to, it follows, should live as if an apology has never been made in the first place. It is an act of disingenuity of the first order and should be rejected as such.
Even more absurd about Riek’s ‘Bor Apology’ is in relation to his latest utterance that since he had given his apology in respect of his 1991 atrocities, someone from the ‘other side’ (understood as implying the ‘Dinka side’) should apologise to Gajaak Nuer for the 1987 SPLA inequities carried out on the community. It is true that the SPLA committed heinous and horrendous atrocities against our people in the Gajaak area, especially around Ulang and Nasir strips. Such atrocities are contemptible and someone should seriously take responsibility for them. These are some of the issues the Reconciliation Commission must deal with and make sure that every suspect makes affordable reparations (including owning up and apologising directly) to the victims as part of the healing process to enable our nation to move forward as a strong and united country.
Yet who does Riek really expect to apologise to Gajaak? Riek himself was part of the SPLM/A in 1987 and given that he was one of the high ranking leaders at the time, he is well positioned to give that apology in his own behalf and on behalf of the Movement because he was part of a system that was responsible for decimating its own people. Pointing a finger at the “other side” sends a clear signal that Riek is inappropriately and perversely using an ethnic card. But no one should be surprised. His entire political career has been about exploiting ethnic cleavages in South Sudan. His recent reaction to the Presidential decree removing Mr. Taban Deang Gai (his life-time colleague in a long-term stealthy collusion for an insatiable yearn for power), from his gubernatorial position strongly affirms the validity of this assertion.
Another element pointing to doubtfulness, as to Riek’s sincerity, relates to his critical approach to Mr. Kiir’s handling of national affairs. It is not arguable that Kiir’s leadership has equally failed South Sudanese in more than one way. But Riek is part of the government. In fact he is the Vice President. Under the principle of responsible government, members of the cabinet are collectively responsible to the electorates and to the House. Where a government loses a vote of confidence, the cabinet members must resign en mass and a new government, through elections, is instituted. Related to the principle of responsible government is the principle of individual responsibility. Under this principle, a member of a cabinet in whom the House loses confidence or who feels the government no longer represents the people satisfactorily should resign.
In the specific reference to Riek then, it is disingenuous for him to go around criticising Kiir’s performance while he remains part of the system. If he truly meant his words, Riek would have first resigned from the government and criticise Kiir from the outside. Sadly, he is criticising a system that has made each of his own sons and wives a millionaire. To be a beneficiary of a dysfunctional system and yet be critical about it, indeed reflects poorly both on the sincerity and the validity of his claim.
(d) Riek’s Questionable Democratic Credentials and Negotiation Skills
Riek’s democratic credentials are also in serious doubt. This is clear from his records, starting from his days in Nasir as leader of the failed Nasir ‘Revolution.’ Dismissing all his colleagues from a ‘revolutionary party’ that idealised democratisation of public institutions and structures constitutes an antithesis, and showed his defective understanding, of the democratic values he claims to cherish. Moreover, Riek’s lack of democratic ideals was once again reinforced in 2011 when he threatened Members of the State Assembly (MSA) of Warrap State from impeaching Governor Nyandeng Malek, especially in the wake of the death of more than 300 returnees (from the Sudan) of hunger, something that could have easily been prevented. When the MSA moved to impeach the Governor for failing to show leadership on many occasions, Riek vehemently rejected the idea and allegedly threatened those who dared to carry out their parliamentary responsibility, as mandated by the people, with consequences. Riek’s move to blackmail MSA flew in the face of the principle of separation of powers, especially the idea that the executive cannot dictate what MSA should or should not do. The blackmail, in whole, was unconstitutional, hence null and void ab initio.
Mr. Riek has also shown an exceptional deficit in his negotiation skills. For instance, since becoming the Vice President, he has been vested with an exclusive authority to negotiate different deals on behalf of the people of South Sudan. But as it turned out, Riek was not the shrewd; skillful leader he was thought of or he claims to be. This has had the effect of changing the perspective of how South Sudanese now view their Vice President. One South Sudanese eloquently stated that “Riek’s decision after decision in his capacity as Vice President of this Republic has miserably failed our martyrs.” Yet what is ironic about Riek’s claims is that, some of the very decisions he denounces or attributes to Kiir are decisions made by him on behalf of the President. Furthermore, he is part of the Presidency as mentioned earlier; hence any decisions made by the government in which he is the Vice President are directly attributable to him as they are to the President. Even when viewed in isolation from the President, no single decision can be identified as representing Riek’s most important; most distinguished achievement not only as a Vice President but during his entire political career. The same Riek who has been given an abundance of opportunity to right wrong cannot surely be expected to give different results at any other time when he has squandered such opportunities time and time again.
(e) Riek’s Malevolent Yearn for Power as an Ultimate End in Itself: The Search for and Fulfilment of the Ngundeang Prophecy
Much has been written about Dr. Riek’s infamous 1991 Coup and its aftermath. It is thus pointless to pedantically elaborate the sequential occurrence of the events of such a painstaking moment in our history. The episodes following that coup can safely be described as res ipsa loquitur, a Latin expression for “let the things speak for themselves.” Worth mentioning about Mr. Riek’s leadership qualities though, in respect of these tragic events are two things.
The first is that Mr. Riek’s one and the only dream is and has always been the goal to become a President, not the desire to serve the people of South Sudan. In fact Mr. Riek scrupulously believes that the presidency is his entitlement; a heritage which, by some oracular and apocalyptic accounts, is believed to have been prophesied in the 20th century by some wild Ngundeang spirit that a son of Teny-Dhurgon, conjectured widely in some circles to be Riek himself, would be a president of an independent South Sudan, who would ultimately establish an ethnic Empire. As such, the only thing Riek has to do now is to grab it at all cost. This prophecy, according to Dr. Adwok Nyaba, is what drives Riek’s relentless ambition for leadership. Does that sound like a spirit of someone who wants to serve or is this self-evident of a person trying to chase the wind of a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Another variant supporting the contention that Mr. Riek is a power hungry man can be inferred from his famous phrase “over my dead body,” a phrase which came to light in an apparent reference to his insatiable yearn to lead and never to be a follower of Chief Garang. To put it in perspective, Mr. Riek, after his ambitious move to oust Chief Garang in 1991, was asked whether he would reconcile with Chairman Garang and transitorily subordinate his leadership dream to Bany Garang’s. Riek acknowledges having responded that he would only do so over his ‘dead body,’ implying that under no circumstances would he accept to be part of a system in which he is not in charge. This clearly shows that despite his rhetoric that the reason he defected from the SPLM was lack of democratic space in the Movement, the truth about his defection was actually that he wanted to be the one in charge. Any argument to the contrary is not defensible in respect of the pertinent facts at issue.
Critics of this proposition may be quick to point out how this argument could hold water, given that Riek later went on to accept to be absorbed back into the fold under Chief Garang in 2002. The simple answer is that Mr. Riek, at that time, was at the trough of his political fate. He was in distress call after the unravelling of the so-called 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement— a sham agreement which was written on a few hundred pages worth of ink and without adequate guarantees for its fulfilment— fell apart. Clearly, at this point, Riek had nowhere else to run to, save where he truly belonged: the South.
But to his credit and for the first time in the public eye, Riek had shown an immaculate amount of wisdom. Whether his return to the SPLM/A came from him or some spiritual revelation, we may never know. Nevertheless, one has to hand it to him that his coming back to the fold in 2002 was and will always be his singularly most enlightened and perspicacious decision. He continued to show this wisdom during the Interim Period. Had it not been for this wisdom, one would wonder if, not when, South Sudan would have achieved independence. This is an exception to the general contention that no single decision can be considered to be Riek’s most important decision in his entire political career.
It is uncontroversial that Riek has a democratic right to seek the presidency. That is his constitutional right and no one should and nor must take it away from him. Only voters have the right to. But Riek must show civility in his quest for the presidency. Indeed, and unfortunately, once possessed by a wild and absolute yearn for power, always possessed. In this vein, there are those who have observed of Riek that he is in fact possessed in this manner. If true, then it is certainly worrisome that his old past may be creeping back into South Sudanese politics. Appearing to affirm the validity of this contention is his recent bellicose rhetoric which is full of warning and potential for bloodshed, for instance. Put another way, his remarks respecting the possibility of violence unless Taban is reinstated, appears to boost the validity of the argument that Riek will never go for nothing short than his tempestuous dream of ascending into the presidency at all cost, including spilling of blood, if necessary. This is reminiscent of the precursors of the 1991 Nasir Coup. Let those who have ears listen and let those who have eyes read the signs of time.
Another important lesson to learn about Riek from the 1991 Nasir Coup is that Riek is a very superstitious man. Riek strongly believes not in the power of knowledge and reason but in the blind faith in the powers of the magical world. Evidence of this can be found in his unfounded reliance on the spiritual fantasies of one magician in 1991. After the coup, all Riek’s military campaigns against the SPLM/A were undertaken, not on the basis of sound military calculations, but on the advice of one self-professed ‘prophet’ (actually a magician) called Wutnyang. Wutnyang was the driving force behind every single one of Riek’s military decision. Wutnyang fraudulently claimed to have divine powers that gave him the ability to predict the outcome of any battle. He also falsified that every single one of Riek’s then ‘White Army’ soldiers would die in the battle and rise again. In modern terms, Wutnyang would pass for a psychic. The difference between a psychic and Wutnyang is that while a psychic works for material gains, Wutnyang feasted on human blood. He used his powers to encourage violence and lawlessness.
Yet Wutnyang was the right hand man of Mr. Riek, the potential commander in chief of our armed forces. Here against is where Riek’s belief in his entitlement to the presidency and superstition converge. In this regard, it argued that the Nasir Declaration was commenced on the basis of the Ngundeang prophecy which foretold that a heir of Teny-Dhurgon was destined to become the President of South Sudan, a divine will or sacred ordination that can only be withdrawn by Kuoth (God) alone, and as long as Kuoth was at peace with a scion of Teny-Dhurgon, this predetermination would come to pass through that heir apparent, generally believed to be none other than Riek Machar. It was this magical charade that was ultimately responsible for the risk that Riek took in Nasir in the hope of becoming the overall Chief of SPLM/A and ultimately the President of South Sudan someday. Unfortunately, that day, it must be shown, has certainly passed.
Those who are well acquainted or thoroughly conversant with Riek, his mindset and records are of the opinion that if anything; Riek’s actions continue to be informed by the delusional dream of creating an ethnic Empire. In fact when he became the leader of SSIM/A (an offshoot of his SPLM/A-United), he is said to have embarked onto building that Empire. He even gave most state ethnic names such as Latjor for Upper Nile, Liech State for Western Upper Nile etc. It is also said that when he became the Assistant to the President of the Sudan and President of the High Executive Coordination Council for southern affairs, all those who were employed in his office; starting from those who prepared tea to office managers, among others, were all from the same ethnic group. If there is any difference he has shown at the moment, it is argued, it is just only a prelude for propelling himself into the office before embarking on establishing the Ngundeang Apocalyptic State. But for what good to the nation is a man who puts spiritual fantasies above and beyond the rational understanding of the objectives for which he chose to join the peoples’ struggle, in the first place?
A nation founded on the basis of superstition will only buckle under the weight of ignorance, and ultimately subject itself to an outright eternal damnation. To import such a psychotic mischief into national affairs would be too embarrassing for South Sudan, both for its moral and intellectual deficit. It is the author’s hope that the 2015 presidential election is not going to usher South Sudan into the mythic contemplation of the Ngundeang’s ominous and apocalyptic divination.
(e) Failure to Mediate LRA-Ugandan Peace Talks and to Convince Lou Nuer Against Pibor Attacks—A Confirmation of Riek’s Lack of Persuasive Skills and Command Authority?
Riek’s desperate move to surrender to the Enemy in Khartoum under the so-called Internal Peace Agreement in 1997 was a litmus test for his political and leadership skills. Coupled with the fact that Mr. Riek has consistently shown considerable deficiency in respect of persuasive skills and proper articulation of ideas, a Riek Presidency is bound to be fraught with a lot of challenges for the country, owing, but not limited, to the factors aforementioned. He cannot competently represent the people and the interests of the people of South Sudan.
A related reasoning, in support of Riek’s inability to competently represent the people of South Sudan, can be seen in his inadequate capacity to properly negotiate on behalf of the country not just in respect of the sham deal he negotiated in 1997 but also respecting other subsequent negotiations. For instance, after the CPA was signed and the Government of National Unity (GNU) came into existence, Riek was tapped by the President to be the top negotiator on behalf of the SPLM with the NIF respecting the outstanding issues that were relegated by the CPA to be discussed at a later date. Very few South Sudanese would be doubtful that every deal that Riek negotiated on behalf of South Sudan simply ended being suboptimal, a result of which Pagan Amum was later tapped for that task.
Besides his defective1997 Peace Agreement with Khartoum, the other most remarkable evidence of Mr. Riek’s lack of persuasive skills is perceived to be his failed mediation efforts between the Ugandan Government and the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) of Joseph Kony between 2006 and 2007. While framing Riek’s persuasive power in this context may appear superficial because supporters and sympathisers may argue that there is nothing Riek could have done to persuade the parties to reach a negotiated settlement, a general analysis as to the philosophical differences between these parties appear to be one that is apparently bridgeable, unlike the differences that existed or continue to exist between the SPLM/A and the NIF, for example. But the talks ended the way they did because Riek did not provide an environment where parties could rise above their deep misgivings in order to negotiate a deal in a manner that would reflect the strong desire for peace in northern Uganda. Riek’s handling of these talks can also be adjudged negatively for the reason that his partisan approach to the parties, a result of which he was often accused of being biased towards the Ugandan Government, did not reflect good mediation skills.
A mediator is generally expected to be fully aware of the parties’ positions, their underlying interests and priorities. Yet Riek’s failure to provide a meaningful dialogue by acting as an honest broker, coupled with his inability to enlighten the parties or to contain external pressure from influencing the talks subsequently led to the breakdown of those crucial talks.
More importantly, the most powerful argument yet in respect of Riek’s impaired persuasive skills is believed to be his failed attempt to convince the Lou Nuer Youths not to attack the Murle community in and around the Pibor area in 2011. This argument is compelling given that Riek was even speaking to the audience in the language that the audience understood best, and more especially that this audience hailed from the area that had been his ardent support base during his Nasir Coup attempt in 1991. The fundamental inference to be made in this specific circumstance is that Riek is substantially lacking in terms of his command ability. The fact that he was unable to command respect even among his fanatic supporters could be seen as an indication of what one might believably expect under a Riek presidency. A leader who attracts such a weak sense of command authority even from his most reliable base cannot be expected to reconcile a wide ranging array of diverse political and economic opinions at the national level, leave alone being a commander in chief of wayward armed forces like the ones we have in South Sudan. Worse still, Riek is generally believed to be a “softie” who cannot make tough choices and, as such, cannot be expected to make bold decisions, especially in time of serious national crises.
A society as highly fragmented as South Sudan is right now, is a society that hungers for a strong leadership; a leadership that provides its citizens with a well grounded philosophy to believe that every citizen’s future is wrapped up in the future of every other citizen and that the fate of every single one of its citizens ultimately determines the societal fate. This leadership must provide the substance for believing in the fundamental tenets and ideals of nationhood, not ethnic chauvinism.
(f) 1991 Coup as an Ultimate Betrayal of South Sudanese Aspiration—a Breach of Trust
Upon joining the SPLM/A in 1984, Riek was virtually an unknown quantity. But Chief Garang took the unusually move to polish his image such that within a short period of time, Riek was riding on a soaring and an unprecedented wave of popularity, taking the Movement like a mighty storm. In fact until 1991, Riek was not just a rising star. He was actually a risen star in the party and in the military. His academic package was classic, a whole kit and caboodle, especially in a country where a PhD holder is the alpha and omega. He was thus treated with such a tender care. Sadly, he took such a treatment for granted, probably in the belief that he was entitled to anything and everything. More to his advantage, Riek was, shortly after his joining the SPLM/A in 1984, whisked away to Western Upper Nile, a move which saved him from the close scrutiny of the party’s inner circles. While in Western Upper Nile, and briefly in Upper Nile, Riek continued to keep a low profile in a manner that was seen as an expression of humility. Back at the Headquarters, his reputation remained steadily high, in fact till 1991. But this was generally the view of those who never had insights into his questionable tricks in his home backyards.
His destructive rage, following the 1991 Coup however, reveals the real toxic side of Mr. Riek’s enigmatic personality. The violence with which he sought to install himself as the leader of SPLM/A was quite unprecedented. Indeed, Riek is seen today boasting in a youtube video saying “we wiped out the SPLA in Bor.” While having killed on a massive scale is not disputable here, what is far from the truth in his statement is the identity of his victims. For the record, what he actually “wiped out in Bor” when he unleashed his gargantuan reign of terror on the today’s Bor, Twi and Duk ku Duk areas of Jonglei were actually civilians, not the SPLA as he claimed. Yet quite frankly, there is nothing heroic about the killing of civilians, since they were not legitimate military combatants. The horrific stories told by survivors and victims of his genocidal acts in both eastern and western banks of the Nile cannot be exaggerated.
In the wake of his risky decisions in 1991, the very trust that was bestowed upon him from the moment of his joining the Movement in 1984 was now shattered. He perniciously betrayed the SPLM and fought with tooth and nail to crush it before deciding to join it again in 2002. Even though he has come back to the fold, he is still an outsider not a full blown member of the party. To allow him, thus, to be the leader of the party he once swore to destroy by shedding innocent blood would be too much a compromise to make.
For our nation to meaningfully find a way forward by promoting peace, economic and political development, forgiveness is indispensable however grave the crimes committed may be. But South Sudanese cannot purchase peace and development by rewarding genocidaires with presidency. It would be an indelible stain on the soul of our nation, and an ultimate transgression against the victims of such unimaginable crimes. Those of Madam Rebecca Nyandeng Chol Atem, Benjamin Mijak Dau Bol, John Luke Joke, James Wani Igga, etc, who are rumoured to be politically flirting with Riek should not expect their supporters to approve their political marriage. An insider turned deadly on colleagues cannot fully regain his/her trust. Hence the fact that Riek has been forgiven is not absolute in the sense of being granted the ticket to freely ride into the highest office in the land. Denying him presidency should therefore be seen as an ultimate expression of the society’s strong disapproval of his egregious conduct in 1991. Indeed, it would be unreasonable to hand over the banner of the party to a person who once wished them nothing less than total destruction. Mr. Riek gravely betrayed the trust bestowed upon him by the party and the people of South Sudan. Such a fundamental breach of trust should seal his fate and no amount of even spiritual contrite can repair the scars left by his wilful decision to destroy South Sudan “with the help of the devil.” Instead, Riek and his co-conspirators should be known, as Chief Garang once said, “in history as people who stabbed us in the back…at the moment when we were at the verge of victory.”
(g) Lacking in philosophical Sophistication
Good leadership is generally a function of a myriad of factors including, among others, persuasive skills, steadfastness, assertiveness and strong articulation of the philosophical ideals underlying one’s values, which values and ideals can be translated into practical public policy programs.
Such leadership skills are even more compelling when one is fighting for a just cause. The ability to articulate one’s views in a succinct and precise manner in such circumstances is an indispensable; fundamental aspect of strong leadership for the reason that establishing a plausible premise for one’s argument for that cause is just as fundamental as the cause itself, since these premises are two sides of the same coin. One has to articulate the case in a way that meaningfully “wows” a third party or an independent observer.
During the liberation struggle, for instance, the SPLM/A leadership articulated the objectives and ideals of the struggle in a way that attracted an immense sympathy for our cause worldwide. Chairman Garang’s proficiency in effectively and unambiguously formulating the ideals of the New Sudan, by precisely but comprehensively, premising their validity within a universal framework, having regard especially to the nature of the global politics at the time, is credited with the success of the CPA. No sane observer would object to the creation of a Sudan that belongs to all irrespective of race, religion, gender or ethnicity. Without this firm anchor within the context of what may reasonably be referred to as universal set of values, our struggle would have long been swept away by the floods of the ideological war between the East and the West, particularly after the fall of the Soviet Union, since the SPLM/A at that time was a communist leaning Movement. Yet Chairman Garang did not find it difficult to later switch gears and argue that the relationship between the SPLM/A and the East “was a marriage of convenience.”
Chairman’s Garang power of persuasion and skilful articulation of big ideas are not new. A highly venerated African literary giant, the one and the only Chenua Achebe, once said “a chick that will grow into a cock [rooster] is known from its early age.” Chief Garang’s ability to powerfully articulate the views of the Movement in this manner, similarly, was not at all surprising. In fact his philosophical sophistication came to light when he was just a 27 year old Anya Nya I captain, precisely at the time when he was strongly opposed to the then ongoing peace negotiation between the Nimeiri Government and the Anya Nya I Movement of Joseph Lagu, in Addis Ababa, likening any settlement arising therefrom to a virtual surrender to the Enemy. In a strongly worded letter (a copy of which is in possession of the author), addressed to the Anya Nya Delegation to the talks in Addis Ababa in 1972, Captain Garang (as he then was) argued that material conditions were not ripe yet for such a settlement. Captain Garang went on to suggest conditions which ought to have been met before any settlement was reached. One of such conditions, he thought, was the maintenance of a separate Anya Nya army during the interim period. He also suggested adoption of a diverse and multicultural Sudan instead of a Sudan whose identity was premised on Arab nationalism and chauvinism. He similarly suggested that any peaceful settlement arising from such talks had to be concluded on a fair and equitable basis for both regions of the country; a just peace that is. If such conditions were not met, Captain Garang suggested the creation of two separate states.
A close examination of these conditions leads one to discern that these very suggestions actually became the most important structures adopted during the CPA negotiations in Naivasha. All this goes to show Chief Garang’s farsightedness, competent leadership and above all, consistency.
But Mr. Riek is not Chairman Garang. He is a different kettle of fish altogether. A close inspection of Dr. Riek’s intrinsic leadership qualities lays bare an image of a politician who not only lacks sophistication but a politician who, as already mentioned, largely survives through short-cuts (often at a gross cost) to reach his goals and for short-term objectives.
Anyone who has had an opportunity to scrutinise the Declaration of the 1991 Nasir Coup will be shocked to discover that the outlined substantive objectives were merely a reflection of personal grievances. An attempt by Dr. Riek to write a position paper to expand these objectives ended up being a narration of historical injustice against South Sudanese since 1821 without delineating the problem and its possible solutions. Because of the narrowness with which the objectives were defined and articulated, any settlement deal based on such objectives would be expected to reflect exactly that. In this regard, one needs not look further than the deal that Riek got for South Sudan in his 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement. He basically got a raw deal that never even came to fruition because apart from lacking in substantive aspects of solving the real problem he was supposed to solve in the first place, there were never adequate guarantees to enforce it.
The kind of leadership that South Sudan needs from Riek for 2015 can only come from a Riek that we have not seen. But that Riek does not exist, it seems. This is clear from the records.
(h) How Riek and Taban Duped Kiir and the Nation in the Name of Political Rivalry: The Case Against An Alliance of Uncontrite Tribal Zealots
For quite sometime now, the public has been made to believe that Dr. Riek and Mr. Taban are eternal political arch-rivals; competing over the control of a large section of Western Upper Nile State. Very few critical observers however, will buy this narrative lock, stock and barrel. In fact such a contention is largely an illusion. Instead, Taban has been in cahoots with Riek for as long as history can recall. This is a fact. It is unarguable.
No one will dispute that they both conspired against the SPLM/A in their phantom Nasir plan to overthrow Chief Garang in 1991. No one will dispute that after surrendering to al-Bashir in 1997, they openly collaborated with the said Bashir against South Sudan till they came back to SPLM in 2001 and 2002. This too should be very clear. No one will dispute that they similarly conspired with al-Bashir in their grand plan for displacing civilian populations in the oil areas in northern Western Upper Nile after the Khartoum Peace Agreement, subsequent to which they became the Governor of Western Upper Nile and President of Southern Sudan Executive Coordinating Council in that order. Even after both were welcomed back to the SPLM/A just shortly before the CPA negotiations were launched, they were still making clandestine plans for their political future both as individuals as well as a team. Both men also consider themselves vested with a sacred mission to fulfil a ‘prophetic mission.’
After the formation of the southern Sudan Government in 2005, the two were shrewdly able to orchestrate a show, giving the verisimilitude of a political rivalry between them. So many people have long bought into this clever orchestration and honestly believed it as presented. Even the President was duped into believing that Taban was his true ally in the fight against his ambitious Vice President even though well wishers persistently cautioned the President against such a naive assumption. So let no one be hoodwinked by their tactical and strategic games, for these are part and parcel of the political caricatures they are wont to. It is firmly established that the two have long been scheming together against their common adversaries but in different milieus.
There is little room for doubt, if any, that Taban was scheming from the inside as a member of Kiir’s inner circles. His strategic manoeuvres gave a semblance of an image of a trustworthy partner, earning him a prominent position in the innermost part of Kiir’s political coterie (an exclusive group that determines who is who in the GOSS) and becoming privy to virtually anything and everything that was said and done. This privilege gave him an unprecedented access to the centre of power; to study the mindset of Kiir, his philosophy and weaknesses, all of which were slated to be used later against him. That too should be very clear.
Riek on the other hand was working from the outside where he initially gave an image of a loyal Vice President. But it soon dawned on the President that appearance is one thing and intention is yet another. After the President realised that Riek also has a PhD in this art, things turned sour and the President first moved to ‘clip the powers’ that were delegated to Riek by a presidential decree, not by any statute. Their dream to work together as a team has apparently come to a grinding halt. With all the gloves off for both chiefs now, one wonders how the Leviathan can effectively deliver the badly needed services.
It is also clear that the President has lately realised that he has been duped into believing that Taban was his perpetual supporter. He was wrong and he got that. As a result, he also moved to dismiss Taban from the position of Governor.
But in all honesty, Mr. Taban deserves more than dismissal from his position. He should be held to account for all the inequities he has committed against SPLM/A and the people. This is a man who should, never once again, be allowed access to public authority. Despite the fact that he received the minimum penalty of termination, it is amazing that Taban still has the audacity to question the President’s authority to dismiss him. President Kiir might have done the right thing at the wrong time, but his move to dismiss Taban was overdue. It is not improper
But Taban has rushed to use ethnic card and termed his removal “tribally motivated.” He was not the first governor to be removed though. This makes his argument cheap. He should have tried ‘political motivation.’ But that too is a cliché now. Sorry Mr. Governor. But the mess he has created, including land grabbing and redrawing of county boundaries and encouraging of settlement of his supporters (this could ultimately lead to bloodshed between Guit and Ruweng County and has occasionally done so), getting involved in foreign affairs including his unilateral decision to surrender Aliiny to Kordofan, etc, are too grave to be overlooked. The International Crisis Group was correct in its 2011 observation that Taban was a “ticking time bomb.” Besides, Taban, as a governor, had always changed commissioners like pants. One wonders why he now thinks he should treated differently and stay in power indefinitely. The Governor Removal Clause was truly meant for abusers of public authority like Taban.
The cardinal point in respect of the political machinations long hatched by Riek and Taban is that, South Sudanese have the right to know those who have long manipulated their thoughts and emotions for mere political gains. Mr. Taban, for instance, is an extremely controversial man (more so than Mr. Riek), owing to his divisive approach to all things political and tribal. He is a man who strongly believes that in order to control people, you have to divide them. This is a strategy he has consistently utilized and very well to his political advantage, not only against his political rivals but also against various communities he has led as a governor. It is for this reason that Taban, even in his own state, has remained incongruously discordant. Yet he has, till just a week ago, managed to remain an important political player because he knows how to effectively manipulate any Man On The Throne, the current one being not an exception. Such tactics have conveniently worked for him, for example in the 1980s in Itang under Chief John Garang, in the 1990s under Bashir, and then under Kiir Mayardit, before choosing to switch gears for Riek. This is why he had remained the governor of Western Upper Nile since 2005 until a week ago.
Yet despite monopolising everything, from owning every hotel in the oilfields; misusing public resources to keeping himself in power; to ignoring public outcries against his iron first rule, from grabbing and annexing land to owning his own militias, any attempt by various groups in Western Upper Nile to remove him from power had often fallen on deaf ears. This is because so long as the Big Man’s consistent requests to Taban to help the former’s for medical fees for sick relatives, pay tuition fees for his countless nephews and nieces, etc Taban was considered a loyal and trustworthy ally. In fact Taban’s strategy of using charming gifts for false loyalty had perfect results for him: he deserved to remain a governor and to use his enormous influence, paved by direct money supply and lucrative contracts to those at the echelon of power. That is really who Taban is. Even Riek knows how dubious in character the man is.
But as divisive and tribal minded as Taban is, Riek Machar, the master beneficiary of the grand plan for power, has whole heartedly embraced him, and has reportedly made him his campaign manager. As such, the most controversial element of Riek’s campaign is not just his past record as a stabber of the Peoples’ Movement, or his lack of the power of persuasion or absence of ability to command respect and loyalty but his unqualified embrace of arguably the most ethnic extremist there is in South Sudan.
Taban Abdallah, now known as Taban Deang Gai, then Governor of Western Upper Nile from 1997-2001 under Bashir, is a man whose heart, mind and soul have utterly been consumed by his insatiable lust for power, domination and wealth, all of which he is determined to acquire by any means necessary and at any cost, including material inducement, deceit, threat and fabrication of any situations that would entice the government to believe him and support his cause, including fabricating a non-extant security situation. For Taban, the end justifies the means.
In some cases, fingers have been pointed at Taban for cold elimination of opponents who hail from certain ethnic groups in his region. Indeed some have argued that Taban remains to be investigated for the deaths of Choch Kiir Juaach during his time in office as Governor under Bashir in 2000 and the death of Zachariah Bol Deng in 2010, during his time in office as governor of Western Upper Nile under President Kiir.
What may be surprising to some is the fact that Taban’s political manoeuvrings have seemingly been used against his own master: Riek Machar, particularly between 2005 and 2010. This substantially waned after the 2010 general elections. Reliable sources maintain that the man would, during this period of time, say anything to the President just to make sure that Riek and Kiir did not have cordiality of relations. He allegedly told Kiir how ambitious and desirous of Kiir’s position Riek was, and told him how anti-Dinka Riek’s plans are and that if it had not been for him, the Dinka in Western Upper Nile State would have long been badly oppressed. This is contrary to his earlier statements (when asked why his government had marginalised minorities in the state) to The Citizen’s Editor that he should not be nagged about having oppressed the Dinka in his state since Kiir himself has marginalised them in federal government.
All this goes to show that Taban should have been removed a long time ago. Doing the right thing at the wrong time is more likely to invite more conspiracy theories as to the purpose of his termination.
Kiir’s response to such allegations— in an honest belief that they were told by a confidante in good faith—had been the urge to act on them, a response that gradually exacerbated his relationship with Riek, not knowing, unfortunately that he has been, just as the nation was, terribly duped.
Not surprisingly, the same Taban would give a different version of his story to Riek, singing him lullaby as the greatest kuor there is and will ever be, while bragging how easily he can pull strings with respect to Kiir. But in all honesty, and as alluded to earlier, both Riek and Taban have long been working together. It is at such times that Taban and Riek would scheme together and feed their supporters with versions that would easily spark fire in their belly. This truly explains why Riek has never come out to openly oppose Taban especially when his own wife, Angelina Teny, competed against Taban for the gubernatorial position during the 2010 elections, a clear confirmation yet again that their political game has been one and the same, even at the expense of certain communities including Bul, Jegai, and needless to say, the Dinka, in the state. The Bull Nuer community for example is quite bitter with Taban because they have partly been used as the lightning rod for the political games played by these men, and are often in fact branded as Kiir’s supporters.
The political solidarity between Taban and Riek that was for the first time made manifest following Taban’s removal by the President is not really an “unholy alliance” as asserted by some elsewhere. Most Riek’s fervent supporters, including the newly appointed Caretaker Governor, Dr. Joseph Monytuil, have not largely been kept in the loop about this long term political plan. And when they discovered that Riek and Taban have long hatched underground political machinations and crafty schemes, they decided to desert Riek.
What is unfortunate, about the 2013 Riek-Taban Alliance is that they two are calling for more bloodshed. This is clear from Riek’s recent reactionary outburst following Taban’s ouster in which he threatened that more blood would be shed unless the President reversed the decision. What is also interesting about the Vice President is why he is reacting so strongly now against the ouster of Mr. Taban, especially in light of the fact that he never uttered even a single word when the former Lakes Governor, Chol Tong Mayay, was summarily dismissed under similarly obscure circumstances. It all goes to show how ethnic minded the two are. The two have never have had enough of bloodshed since 1991 and have never felt a sense of remorse for what they did during their time as sworn zealots against the aspirations of the people of South Sudan. They are not contrite about their past record of violence against civilians in South Sudan. In essence, Riek and Taban are once again exploiting tribal sentiments for their political gains.
The consolation in respect of this alliance is that, the two men’s claim to represent and speak on behalf of a particular section of our population is buckling. One Gordon Buay observed that “Riek Machar cannot fool the Nuer ….We the Nuer know that he is a greedy person who should be taken to ICC [International Criminal Court] for crimes against humanity he committed in the past.” Moreover, a letter written and signed this week by a group that called itself ‘Nuer Leaders and Intellectuals’ did not only reject Riek’s self-appointment as their spokesman and representative but also asked the President to remove Riek from the position of Vice President. This shows that it is possible that Riek’s call for more bloodshed to defend his political interest will not go unchallenged. Our people are awake. They are no longer to be used as stepping stones or bargaining chips for self-aggrandisement. Those times, it appears, are gone.
Dr. Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon is a decent man as a person. He has, in his capacity as an individual and a politician, also made reasonable contributions to the freedom of South Sudan. His decision to come back to the SPLM/A in 2002, for instance, is a laudable one. But there is a long list of reasons why he may not be the most suitable candidate for president in 2015.
From his failed coup against the SPLM/A leadership in 1991 to his sham 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement, to many failed negotiations on behalf of people of South Sudan to the failed LRA-Ugandan Government peace mediation, one can boldly proclaim that Riek is not just a failed leader. He has been in fact the cause of failure for yet others. His role as Vice President of South Sudan has failed both his Boss and the country as a whole.
In terms of other leadership qualities, Riek’s political skills are highly deficient. He lacks the power of persuasion which is an essential condiment for managing a diverse array of political opinions. Furthermore, Riek has consistently shown that he lacks philosophical sophistication. Without this ability, one wonders how Riek will be able to steer the country effectively in a more integrated global economy.
It has also been observed that Riek is highly intolerant to other people’s views. The fact that he was not able to get along with some of his colleagues in the SPLM/A-United in Nasir and ended up dismissing them from the party means that Riek cannot provide the necessary collegial leadership for which South Sudan is hungry. In addition, Riek is not known for being bold enough. Boldness is especially necessary when it comes to decision making. Without it, Riek will likely not be able to take on the oligarchs’ or his own, sacred cows. South Sudan needs a leader who will be able to take on those who are wont to unjustly enrich themselves at the expense of the nation. Mr. Pagan Amuom’s recent thoughtless and capricious statement that the suspension of Deng Aloor and Kosti Manibe was political motivated and may lead to violence is a clear indication yet that the kleptocrats are determined to defend their loots with more of our people’s blood. South Sudanese should never allow themselves to be used for such cheap ends.
In totality, Riek’s political feebleness, including his short sightedness and lack of organisational ability that ultimately leads him into settling for suboptimal choices including taking short cuts can be very disastrous for South Sudan under a Riek Presidency.
It is therefore ironic that Mr. Riek who has perpetually perfected the art of ethnic extremism can portray himself as someone with the audacity and moral authority to fight tribalism and corruption. All this rhetoric is simply an attempt to dupe South Sudanese into believing that he can deliver. No, he cannot. That is why he is ratcheting up his rhetoric with the threat of the use of the sword he is accustomed to. Voters have the final verdict to determine who leads them in 2015 not someone who wants to shoot his way into presidency.
Part III: If not Kiir or Riek, Who the Possible Viable Third Option? (Not coming soon)