South Sudanese Political Elites Are Too Reactive To Even Mild Criticisms

BY: John Adoor Deng, Australia, JUN/20/2014, SSN;

I am surprised by the disproportional reaction from South Sudanese political elites to simple matters of criticism. One wonders how democracy and freedom of expression can grow in this country. Little things make big headlines especially coated in threats and bullying languages.

Comparatively, leaders all over the world— unless South Sudan is a country on a different planet and operates with distinctive values and customs– are inundated with criticisms both during their reign even after they had left offices.

In most parts of the world, leadership is understood as a significant responsibility. It comes with great rewards – people trust you, follow you, admire you, and are inspired by you.

Equally, however, leadership comes with a fair amount of disrespect, fear and the desire to lop the tall poppy. Coping with criticism in a leadership context is not a case of reacting defensively to justify your actions. Instead, it requires much more expansive comprehension of how your actions are perceived by others and how you perceive their actions.

While it’s not easy taking the analytical road over the critical, doing so brings the best outcomes for both the short and long terms. In the words of the wise man, Aristotle, “Anyone can become angry. That is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way — that is not easy.”

He also said that Criticism is something you can avoid easily—by saying nothing, doing nothing and being nothing.

Although not many leaders can comprehend Mr Aristotle position on criticism, it is necessary that leaders in high positions abide at least to some of this comprehension.

In the real sense, do South Sudanese political elites know that the price of leadership is criticism? If they know, why do they bother to lead while they hardly cope with criticisms?

Naturally, no one pays much attention to the last-place finishers. But when you’re in front, everything gets noticed. So it is important to learn to handle criticism constructively.

Jonas Salk, who discovered the polio vaccine, had many critics in spite of his grand accomplishments. He once made this interesting observation: “People will tell you that you are wrong. Then they will tell you that you are right, but what you’re doing is really not important. Finally, they will admit that you are right and what you are doing is very important. But after all, they knew it all the time.”

I appeal to South Sudanese political elites to avoid being reactive to small issues and criticism. As the country is severely divided on tribal lines, it is a high time that our leaders show smiley faces, respond to queries cautiously and calmly.

The reaction toward recent statement from the public servant of IGAD was responded disproportionally. The peace talk cannot be postponed simply because a certain layman has referred to President Kiir and Dr Machar as stupids.

It does not correlate at all, because of these things: Firstly, Mr Maalim Mahboub is a mere worker for IGAD and, therefore, whatever he says should be treated as misconduct against public service codes and regulations within the organisation.

Also, president Kiir is the employer of Mr Maalim Mahboub because IGAD countries fund IGAD. How can a boss complained publicly about a mistake committed by his subordinate?

Secondly, Maalim Mahboub is neither a mediator nor a head of state of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia which is chairing and hosting IGAD peace talks. What then is the connection between Maalim Mahboub with postponing the talks mediated by those Hon. mediators with no body called Maalim Mahboub among them?

Thirdly, is it worth it to pull out of peace talks simply because of a mere statement from a mere person?

Many of us thought that our leaders went to Addis-Ababa to bring back peace to the country. We thought that they went to Ethiopia with an open mind to compromise their interests so that the interest of the innocent public could be realised.

I appeal to all of especially the delegates on both sides to Ethiopia, to stop putting unnecessary hindrances to the noble quest for peace in the country.

Sincerely, your withdraw from the peace talks simply because of a mere statement says many things in the eyes of the international community than such words of Mahboub Maalim.

For the rule of law and freedom of expression to flourish in our country, our political elites should lessen their disproportional reaction to criticisms.

The Author is John Adoor Deng, BA, BTH, MPRL, MPPP-current and Director of South Sudan Support Foundation (SSSF). He can be reached at


  1. Isaac Deng says:

    John Adoor Deng,

    Interesting article that captures the present state of minds of the elites in South Sudan. Good leaders listen to critics and learn from them. Aristotle was right, criticism makes us sharp and it is part of our daily life. I consider president Kiir to be a public figure who is subject to a constant public criticism, he can be respected in good times but also vilified in bad times. The government delegation should not have boycotted the peace talks in Addis Ababa because IGAD employee called president Kiir and Dr. Riek stupid. It is more than stupid for president Kiir to lose his temper publicly and make noises in the parliament over stupid comment made by a mere IGAD junior employee. Finally, democracy is in danger when president Kiir and elites surrounding him becoming insensitive to criticism and uncomfortable with the stupid word.

  2. Choromke Jas says:

    Simply brilliant!

  3. Martin L. says:

    Brother John, I concur that, due to their big egos, our government officials seem to take every criticism personally. I wonder if it is a cover for a lack of self-confidence or something bigger!

  4. cos says:

    Mr Deng,
    Do you think these South Sudanese political elites have wisdom?
    These are old men and women who pass through widows to achieve their academic papers.They are under qualified,half bagged and academic dwarf who have knowledge with out wisdom.
    How dire a whole presidential combinate came to violet a peace talks because their president was abused to be “STUPID”.

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