Why our ‘Intellectual Journey’ doesn’t lead to ‘a Coherent Political Ideology’

BY: Kuir ë Garang, Author, ALBERTA, CANADA, FEB/21/2015, SSN;

Charity begins at home and the originator of that charity most likely ends at home.
I was advised by some colleagues several times to join a certain policy forum. I refused three times citing the fact that the forum is too ‘elitist’ and most of the times the elites are out of touch with the average folks like me. When the reminders to join the forum became really constant, even from people I’ve not met personally but know me from my writings, I finally gave in and joined the forum.

My innocent assumption was that the forum would merely be a discussion or critiquing of policies that’d be beneficial to the country. I expected to see policy suggestions [only] and how they could be modified and perfected into usable policies for the government of South Sudan.

Naïve me! I was disappointed to realize that the debates were no different from those vexatious ones on my Facebook wall: circular, partisan, hypocritical, dishonest with education taken at face-value. Big theories are suggested without context! Partisanship is so much intellectualized that it takes one through rigorous analysis to discern disguised partisanship. My disillusionment became so intense that I had to unsubscribe from the forum in less than two weeks.

Believe me, if leaders argue with ‘take it or leave it’ conditionals then I wonder how the leadership we have (or are building) inside and outside the government of South Sudan can be salvageable. Leadership is about relationship building and bringing the best out of people (Corrales, 2007). The purpose of leadership, Corrales argues, can only be achieved through building of strong relationships. Are our leaders (inside and outside) the government doing that?

Even Dr. Nyaba, who’s done more through writing than anyone in South Sudan to highlight the problems we have in the country, does little to build relationships with ‘the other side’ or even within the Chollo community leadership. It’s always a blame-game (see IGAD’s ‘Peace Talks’ & Arusha Intra-SPLM dialogue).

Perhaps the RISC model (Rapport, Initiative, Structure and Commitment) can help in our leadership purpose; and that is, influencing our people into coalescence of canonical togetherness…or simply, doing good (Corrales, 2007).

If the learned, veteran politicians and the nation’s elites have the same mindset my younger Facebook friends have, then Kiir and Riek aren’t our major problem. It seems our ‘intellectophere’ is either irrelevant in national coexistence, or our national future is being intellectually crippled by intellectuals with holier-than-thou attitudinal ontologies.

We are learned but we don’t know how to give our knowledge context and relevant usability. We seem to have what cognitive psychologists call ‘declarative knowledge’ as opposed the helpful ‘procedural knowledge’ (Van Greenen, 2004).

And this reminds me of a very excellent article written by Dr. Adwok Nyaba (SSN December 30, 2014 http://www.southsudannation.com/our-intellectual-journey-towards-a-coherent-political-ideology) about ‘Our intellectual journey towards a coherent political ideology.’ Anyone who’s not read that article should do so in its entirety. The article pinpoints, with surgical precision, the problems in South Sudan and within SPLM. These problems range from poverty of democratic mentality and ideals, indifference to development of institutional capacities, incoherent sense of nationhood (post-1956 & post-2005), the infamy of militarism mixed with the malady of tribal essentialism, lack of essential development programs, the Siamese-twins problem of the SPLM-SPLA, the primal nature of our tribal relations etc.

We can all agree that Dr. Adwok’s article is very crucial to our structural, functional and governance problems in South Sudan. The question then becomes: are the power holders in South Sudan able to easily apply the content of the article? If not, then the appropriation of what Dr. Adwok wrote needs to be procured in a manner that’d make it beneficial to us through the power holders.

Pointing out the problem is part of the solution but devising how the problem should be tackled shouldn’t be left out. Without intersubjective understanding among the political actors, nothing can be possible. Institutions aren’t ‘brute physical facts’ as Stephen Krasner (1999) has said. They exist because people exist.

Political leaders are audience and consumers of intellectuals’ works. Understanding the general psychology, state of mind and intellectual capacities and consciousness of who is in power helps in devising mechanics and avenues of knowledge provision for purpose of ideological creation and reification.

Intellectuals (whatever that means) in South Sudan needs to remember that leadership is about relationship building and appropriation of knowledge with people-people relationships in mind. We in South Sudan seem to think of knowledge in the abstract or in self-serving appropriation!

Besides, we have the problem of hypocrisy in South Sudan. Most, if not all of us, are mired in what I call ‘stuck-in-the-past syndrome’ in South Sudan Ideologically (2013). And as Adwok highlighted, some South Sudanese leaders don’t want to let go the past and embrace future-relevant ideas and facts to develop the country. We are all stuck in the past in one way or another.

With no doubt, we have ten states in South Sudan. These ten states, midwifed from the previous three regions of Bahr El Ghazal, Upper Nile and Equatoria, are constitutionally recognized. However, most of us (Nyaba included) talk and write as if the previous three regions have constitutional relevance. These regions are stuck in our heads and we simply can’t let them go! Some of us talk of Greater Upper Nile and Greater Equatoria!

However, our intellectual and political integrity depends on saying things that make sense. We tend to ignore this fact; however, it exposes the hypocrisy we exudes on daily basis.

If the learned in South Sudan can’t let go this simple fact, then why do they blame the semi-illiterate generals and politicians, who can’t seem to understand that SPLM is now a political party and that SPLA is the national army.

No one should advise if he/she can’t lead by example! Greater Upper Nile is constitutionally defunct and exists only in our heads. If we have nostalgia for these three regions then let’s wait until we go back to them through the abolition of the current ten states. There and then can we have political and intellectual currency to utter that [Greater X…]! Let’s be consistent to be believable and respectable! What in God’s name is ‘Elders of Bahr El Ghazal?’

What’s the contemporary or constitutional relevance of Bahr El Ghazal to Lakes State and Warrap State? Nothing! The only relevance is a past that’s stuck in our heads!

Yet, we hope to develop ‘a coherent political ideology!’

Another good example of intellectual dishonesty and hypocrisy (in this discourse) comes from my own county (Twic East). Some potential intellectuals, who can help in the development of ‘a coherent political ideology,’ come out here as very hypocritical and untrustworthy, intellectually!

Twi people (or Twi Dinka) were part of Kongor District from the mid-1970s to mid-1990s and prior to that, they were part of ‘Bor District’ (Sammani, 1984). Kongor District is the one that is now divided into Duk County and Twic East County. The ‘Bor District’ housed (until mid-1970s) the Dinka sub-tribes of Hol, Nyarweng, Twi and Bor before being divided into Kongor District (Twi Dinka, Nyarweng Dinka & Hol Dinka) and Bor District (Bor Dinka & Thony Dinka).

These sub-tribes have distinct Ethno-dialectal differences (see Ethnology of Africa, 1930; Beswick, 2004) despite having forged a close existential relationship for centuries. Because they were part of the ‘Bor District’ they were known collectively as Dinka of Bor District (see Raymond Kelly, 1985, Willes & Douglas, 1995).

Sound intellectuals and politicians know that this close relationship, good neighborliness and brotherhood can be maintained without falsification of identities.

However, against the required intellectual integrity, the intellectuals among the four subtribes are mentally stuck with the old, defunct ‘Bor District’, which they left in 1970s. While the District was named after the now inhabitants of ‘Bor County’ (Kelley, 1985) the other three subtribes were erroneously referred to as ‘Dinka Bor’.

The inhabitants of Twic East County and Duk County are not ethnolinguistically ‘Bor.’ The Bor Dinka (now the inhabitants of Bor County) would call me ‘Cuir’ and President Kiir would be president Ciir!

Bor only applied to Twi people because of their administrative inclusion in the ‘Bor District,’ however, Twi intellectuals, while they apply research-based debates or methods in some aspects, refuse to apply the same method in the case just cited. You wonder why! They want to look politically good…but they know what that means in terms of intellectual and scholarly integrity!

There are tons of books to establish what I just cited (in addition to what elders can say). And Dr. Nyaba should probably ask the likes of Dr. Majak D’Agoot and Dr. Lual Achuek Deng (in the spirit of intellectual journey) the essence, intellectual and scholarly soundness of ‘Greater Bor.’ What historical facts (Oral or written) support ‘Greater Bor’ etymology? Is it an administrative area, a geographical area, or a dialectal group?

Consulting historians like Douglas Johnson may help! Here, intellectual soundness and historical-facts are sacrificed for political expediency or prudence. It’s not about scholarly establishment of facts, which is required, but political necessity. Is that the message to our youngsters?

And we wonder why we have incoherent political ideologies and a herd of confused young ‘intellectuals’; and some misled western scholars like Stephanie Beswick in Sudan’s Bloody Memory, who beautifully presents the correct ethno-histories and ethno-dialectal categories of the four subtribes but added that the ‘Eastern Dinka’ are now referred to as ‘Dinka Bor’. Or Deborah Scroggins, who says Kuol Manyang is a ‘Twic Dinka’ in her book Emma’s War (2004).

What does that say about our ‘intellectual journeys’, ‘incoherence’ of ‘our political ideologies’ and how we make political decisions? Is preferring political gentlemanliness over facts a good way to act as role models for the younger ‘intellectuals?

Sadly, this is the very problem we have in Juba! And as Peter Thatcher (2013) argued in Leading by Example, “Behaving with integrity is…about standing up for what is right however uncomfortable that might be.” To create a sense of togetherness through gigantic falsehood (or conscious misleading of uninformed masses) is to create a great disservice to our people, the integrity of our intellectual force and a blemish on our scholarly claims.

Does this tie in coherently with our ‘intellectual journey toward a coherent political ideology?’ Sadly yes!
We need to ‘live what we are thinking’ as Weldon Long said. Some folks in Kiir’s leadership see research-based or knowledge-based decision making as an inconvenience to their political agenda. They understand its value but it’s an ‘inconvenient truth’ as Al Gore said about the facts of climate change.

Democratizing SPLM would chip away on the powers of the president! Strengthening institutional structures for accountability would reduce the chance of the corrupt to embezzle public funds.

For younger learners like me, I’d love to see our leaders and intellectuals appropriate their knowledge in a usable manner, lead and live by example and take it upon themselves to embark on people-people creation of honest understanding.

I’d want to look up to leaders and intellectuals who don’t make decisions because of their convenience but because of certifiable facts future generation can learn from. If intellectuals make decisions because of convenience then why would we blame Kiir Mayardit?

If we are stuck with defunct administrative centers that no longer exist then why would we blame an illiterate commander, who sees the power of the guns as the only solution to his remaining relevant?

Even if SPLM had a sound political ideology, a coherent policy framework and feasible programs to implement, all would mean nothing if inter-tribal relations are still thorny or if they are informed by falsehood or conscious skewing of facts.

Our intellectual journey and coherent political ideology needs intellectual honesty, reduced partisanship and tribal essentialism; and application of reductionist appropriation of knowledge.

Theories can be understood or interpreted differently. And postmodernist theories (while ridiculed as ‘everything goes’) are a cautious reminder that positing something without providing context is to either leave one’s audience with confusion, or to have done nothing helpful at all in a functionalist sense.

If our intellectuals aren’t consistent or functionally honest in their intellectual outputs, then we can’t wonder much as to why our ‘intellectual journey’ doesn’t lead to ‘a coherent political ideology!’ It’s informed by politics rather that facts!

Kuir ë Garang is the author of ‘South Sudan Ideologically.’ For the list of the cited works see the version of the article on www.kuirthiy.info

1. Beswick, Stephanie (2004) Sudan’s Bloody Memory: The Legacy of Slavery, Ethnicity and war in South Sudan, Rochester, University of Rochester
2. Corrales, Roman (2007) The Leadership Relationship, Quenzon City, Katha Publishing Co. Inc.
3. El Sammani, Osman Mohammed (1984) Dynamic of the Planned Change in the Twic Area, Berkshire: Ithaca Press
4. Kelley, Raymond Case (1985) The Nuer Conquest: The Structure and Development of an Expansionists System, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press
5. Krasner, Stephen D. (1999) Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy, Princeton, University Press
6. Nyaba, Adwok (2014) Our intellectual journey towards a coherent political ideology, South Sudan Nation, December 30 < http://www.southsudannation.com/our-intellectual-journey-towards-a-coherent-political-ideology/>
7. Scroggins, Deborah (2004) Emma’s War, New York: Vintage Books
8. Thatcher, Peter. (2013), Leading by Example, Bookboon.com (Kindle)
9. Van Geenen, Erwin w.G. M (2004) Knowledge structures and the usability of knowledge systems, Delft, Eburon
10. Willes, Charles, Armine (1995) Upper Nile Province Hand Book: A Report on People and Government in Southern Sudan, Oxford: University Press

5 Comments

  1. Defender says:

    Kuir,

    I applaud you for your courage, intellectual rigour and ability to incisively analyse the issues associated with political discourse in South Sudan. Politics of convenience as you correctly pointed out seem to permeate every aspect of our lives. Ethics, a grounding force for political life, has limited space in our moral psyche. Leaders lead for the sake of attaining power but do not understand the meaning associated with the concept of leadership. Intellectual journey that happens in a vacuum is meaningless as you have stated. It requires complete break with the past. Leaders and followers of South Sudan politics as stuck in the past, because it convenient for them to do so–this is much to do with war trauma.

  2. Peter Adwok Nyaba says:

    Kuir Garang

    Thanks for this incisive piece. Sadly you did not post this on the DPF for it would have been the surest way of waking us up. I have been rather busy with Arusha that I kind of reduced by contribution on DPF or on this forum. I agree with you there is intellectual poverty embalmed in intellectual dishonesty as you said well alongside ideological poverty among South Sudanese. The way we bask in the past is simply because we are intellectually lazy and therefore contend with easy archaic solutions we just borrow from our past.
    By way of intellectualizing and knowledge generation, ‘our intellectual journey’ was meant to stimulate debate and craft some kind of consensus around certain ideas that we could build up into an ideology for socioeconomic development of South Sudan. My idea was that Keynesian economic model cannot bail South Sudan out of its centuries old condition of underdevelopment. Dr. Lual responded and I wrote a rejioner. But see only one member of the DPF participated with comments. This killed the objective of generating a robust debate about the social, economic and political engineering processes that have landed our country into the abyss.
    In 1963 late Joseph Garang published “The Dilemma of Southern Intelligentsia” I was in first year in Rumbek, when it was really a secondary school. I only managed to grasp the content. in latter years. I guess many of us are still suffering the same dilemma of remaining in the ethnic cocoon or raise up above ethnicity and that cannot be achieved without an ideology that makes one partisan with the looters or with the masses of our people. We missed to evolve a political ideology during the twenty one years of war of national liberation and that is how and why the military elitists emerged to distort the liberation.
    Yes, we need an intellectual forum and Peter Wankama tried his best to produce one unfortunately there are people there who readily vulgarize and render tasteless intellectual discourses. It is difficult discussing with faceless names like defender and the like. I appreciate your reference to my reluctance to build relationship with Chollo community leadership. This stems from political training and ideological orientation. I ceased to be a Chollo intellectual long time ago in my political formative years in the sixties. If you don’t mind I would be happy posting your piece on DPF and let’s have the reaction. Kind regards.
    Peter Adwok Nyaba .

    • info@southsudannation says:

      Dr. Peter Adwok Nyaba,
      Without any doubt you have been and always remain a shinning pillar of South Sudanese intellectuals as your books are being read more and more by the old and the younger intellectuals all around the globe. This popularity of your works goes to vividly prove that South Sudanese intellectuals cannot withdraw and create special ‘cocoons of intellectualism’ at the expense of the majority of those seriously looking forward for the stimulation and the stewardship of these very intellectuals.
      Now the point I wanted to clarify is that immediately after I created this forum and made it accessible world wide to South Sudanese, believe me, the forum has been receiving contributions from across the world by budding as well as confirmed intellectuals. Those anonymous contributors you referred to, e.g. ‘defender’ and others, are an insignificant but tolerable minority.
      In fact, many learned South Sudanese and foreigners interested in South Sudanese affairs also often visit the site and some of these foreign interests have written to me personally commending very highly many of the articles from our ‘intellectuals,’ that includes you and Kuir Garang.
      Personally, I have some reservations about these special-membership intellectual groups mainly due to their limited circulation. And more poignantly, in this current predicament in which our young nation is in, I personally believe that knowledge and information must be made easily and quickly available to all our people.
      My best regards to you and the best success in your current endeavours.
      Peter Wankomo

  3. Francis says:

    Mr. Kuir,

    The article you have written is an eye opening one. Three things stand clear; the intellectuals have hypocritical intentions to tip toe things and carve an area for them. The reason I say this is in regards to our PHDs and Profs, they have led us down in many occasions and have fallen short of being trivially inclined. Most of these learned men and women of our times whether old or young forget that they have a duty to this country and not only to their ethnic group as such. I read some of the writings and heard these people talk over the media and alas;” I am not going to be part of it, then it is not good.” this is the attitude I have glean from their speeches. Kindly give us a break, why should holding power be at the cost of our own skins?
    I suggest that anyone or anybody who professes to take politics as a way of living let it not be at the expense of the lives of the simple people in village. Politicians have mobilized these good people to look at the others as enemies who are preventing our man to hold big office. Is this enough reason to destroy social fabrics and create quarantines around people who must co-exist whether you are in office or not.
    The writings you have sited were written by people who try their best to tell our tale to the best of their knowledge. Some were misinformed but they did all in their ability to bring to light what we fail to admit as our ignorance and dishonesty. Our intellectual journey is going rough with people tied down to the past and trying to create colonies of their own people by refusing any integration of the people. How are we going to be one nation, with politicians greed at all levels. Tribes have been turned into breeding ground to isolate indoctrinate the innocent mind with poison. This poison is perpetrated by the politicians and shamefully by the so called intellectuals, I do not want to call names here but if you are honest enough, you will find these in all walks of live including the church leaders which is unfortunate.
    It is not too late for us to redefine the journey. We need to be honest and not take side whatsoever the case may be. We need to lead by example as Mr. Kuir put it. The article is great.

  4. Defender says:

    Dr. Adwok,

    Those of us who write under different monikers are not afraid, but we do not and have not counted in the current destruction that the leading politicians in our country have committed. When the state recognize the rights of ordinary citizens and establish this rights in spirit and letter, we will then be able to address our politicians face to face. If the government and the rebels can kill and maim as many people and are now sitting and negotiating how to share power instead of the root causes of the problem–failure of leadership, lack of vision, lack of willingness to make decisions that are important to the general public. We have seen what happened Isaiah and other who will remain nameless because they do not count.

    Many of us will like to write to you with our real names but this will have to wait until such time that you (SPLM), who have brought disgrace to our people decide to change and give us our freedom, then and only then we can share in a candid manner our ideas or frustration.

    You might be different in your observation about the decadence affecting our nation. Your writing shows that and your political orientation as you indicated above is less connected to your ethnicity but an ideology that goes beyond petty interest that has swamped our country. The question that will continue to be asked of you and many who have shared the same mantle of power is this: when will you call it quits so that younger generation of leaders spring to clean the mess that has been created by your cohorts? And if not, what will you do to make sure that the disaster that is eating our country alive?

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