“Lead by example; don’t get coaxed into the hoopla of riding through Konyo Konyo on the back of a pickup truck just to dispel rumors of your demise…that whole debacle with you waving right and King Paul waving left was too cheesy for what you wanted to accomplish.”
By Jok Madut Jok
Lest people thought my rant from the other day about failure of South Sudan’s leadership was just a mere bluster, I would like to do a follow up and go deeper into the anatomy of that failure and perhaps suggest a few ways out of it. Sorry to be so basic in what I posit. I do not mean to insult the intelligence of the readers. But just to ensure that everyone, including the leadership we are addressing, is on the same page.
The starting point of overcoming a problem or a challenge is actually acknowledging that you have a problem. Once you have admitted the existence of a problem, you examine it and study all its attributes and the causes of it, all before you think of solutions. In a sense, you can’t treat a disease you have not properly diagnosed.
This is to say that everyone knows there is war in South Sudan:
Citizens are hacking each other to death all around the country and have been doing so for quite some time; state security forces are badly misbehaving every single day, with devastating consequences; the economy is all but collapsed, and its destroyers get away with it every day due to the culture of impunity our president has failed to reign in.
There have been no infrastructural projects since 2013, the unfinished terminal at Juba International airport remaining as the badge of dishonor since 2006.
We also know 4 million South Sudanese are food insecure and 2 million are displaced from their homes, not to mention anything about health and education that are non-existent.
These are all obvious facts and every citizen knows about them, because they live them every day.
But the most important question is why?
Why are these terrible things happening and no plan seems to be in place to address them? Where is the government’s action plan about these issues? If there is one, why is it not communicated to the public, at least so that we all know the government is trying?
Why do so many South Sudanese flee from their homes to seek refuge in UN camps, hiding from their own country’s security forces?
Why are South Sudanese increasingly building so much hatred against one another? What is the potential role of the political dynamics in Juba in fueling this growing hatred?
Why is there a claim that 65% of fighters have left the SPLA and joined Riek Machar’s rebellion and yet the Ministry of Defense and Veterans Affairs payroll was still the same in 2014 and 2015 as it was before 2013? Surely the new recruitment has not reached 100% level of replacement within a year or two!
Has the commander in-Chief ever asked the Generals to explain this, especially in view of the generals getting so ubiquitously wealthy, as the rest of the population gets poorer and poorer?
Kiir, attempted coup in South Sudan
Why is the army worth up to 60% of the national expenditure and yet the soldiers are not getting paid, no barracks, no schools for the army children, no military hospital, no prosthetic limbs for wounded veterans, no army production projects?
In fact, may I ask, what exactly does the general in charge of SPLA’s corp of production do every day when he goes to office? I have never seen the soldiers working on roads, farms or volunteering in disaster response. So what do they do when they are not fighting their own citizens?
They are not even defending the country’s international borders, as Kenya, Uganda and Sudan grab South Sudan’s land left and right.
Why is South Sudan still the world’s worse place to be a mother, highest maternal and child mortality, lowest literacy rate, the new capital of sexual and gender-based violence?
Why do so many South Sudanese now say they were better off staying under Sudanese dictatorship than this life in South Sudan?
Why are more and more South Sudanese giving allegiance to their ethnic/regional citizenship than to the nation?
These questions and three dozen others that come to mind are the questions President Kiir could/should ask in his attempt to tackle the problem of why the country he runs, a country that was billed a middle income country when he came to power, has become so miserable to live in under his leadership. That is where he should/could start.
If there are readily available answers then he could act on those answers to turn the country around. For example, if he finds that much of the current chaos is rooted in corruption-conflict nexus, or in the weakness of nation-building project, or perhaps in the lackluster rule of law environment, the impunity with which state authority is being misappropriated, then, deal with these issues.
Or maybe the current mess is caused by the ghastly economic disparities that are born of misuse of state resources; or of the bad policies that made the country reliant on oil while neglecting agriculture, the trade of the majority of people and the most sustainable sector; lack of justice for war-time atrocities; absence of reconciliation; or born of whatever he finds. Then he could act accordingly.
President Salva Kiir (File Photo)
But if there are no readily available answers, then that is what his departmental research units are there for. That is why there are universities, think tanks, hired experts etc. Conduct research into why the country is falling apart and see what these entities recommend, choose what seems feasible and reject what is not.
Above all, talk to your people, have monthly radio address to the nation, to assure the people that you are on top of things and that your country is facing some challenges but it will be okay.
Visit communities that are befallen by tragedies and show them your sympathies and solidarity. Nothing makes a citizen bond more with her country better than having her president show her that she counts.
Lead by example; don’t get coaxed into the hoopla of riding through Konyo Konyo on the back of a pickup truck just to dispel rumors of your demise. Instead, make a televised press statement from the state house. Do not delegate to the fumbling inarticulate aides who speak out of script and put you in more trouble.
Believe me, that whole debacle with you waving right and King Paul waving left was too cheesy for what you wanted to accomplish.
Instead, you could have announced that you have become sick and tired of garbage in Juba and that you were going out to clean up and ask people to join you on Saturday for this purpose. Surely, they will know you are alive and well, if you are cleaning the streets with them.
In fact, that could have become the starting point of a general cleaning program, say an order from the President that every family participates in cleaning every first Saturday of the month.
You could pick up all the plastic water and coke bottles that litter entire neighborhoods, water streams and that get washed into River Nile. Can’t you see that even inside the Ministries compound plastic piling up, right across from your office, plastic that will outlive all of us, as it is not bio-degradable, and poison the earth and air for decades?
Dispel rumors by engaging in seamless and meaningful appearances, Mr. President. Do not be paraded by people who want to show you that they have your interest at heart. The Interest they have is their own and they are using you to get it.
Lest I digress, the only way to know the pulse of the street is to have genuinely knowledgeable advisors in every major field of concern. Do not use advisory positions as a way to accommodate job seekers.
If you must accommodate anyone, such as some of your generals who fought in the liberation war, who have undoubtedly done so much for this country to be free, but are no longer fit for the army, put them on the payroll for life and send them home, and for God’s sake let the work of the nation be done by people who are capable.
Furthermore, even when you have capable advisors, our people are poor and desperate for money, so don’t have single advisors come to see you. When they do, some of them will come into the President’s office to gossip and beg rather than advise.
Instead, have councils of advisors in economics, foreign policy, national security, governance, rural development etc. Have each team come to present to you what their knowledge-based says should be done, give you a powerpoint presentation, complete with options, and then leave you to make the decisions. In that way, your relationship with advisors is more professional than it is personal friendship.
That idea of hiring your relatives or your friends to be your advisors, arrrgh, looks terrible.
The guns costing our lives. In the picture are guns collected in a disarmament drive in Juba in 2009 (Photo by Mabior Philip Mach)
Furthermore, use dialogue with your people, foe and friend alike. You’re a conciliatory man, so be a facilitator of dialogue between your people. Yes, this is a diluted term in South Sudan. But all I mean is to allow South Sudanese to speak to one another, air each other’s fears, hurts and grievances to one another, without fear. This does not necessarily promise to solve all the problems facing the country, but it is a starting point.
See all those ethnic fights, highway attacks, those Dinka girls who got their breasts chopped off in Wau by angry Fertit, Lou Nuer attacks against the Murle in 2009 or the Madi-Dinka squabbles in Nimule, the cattle herders versus farmers in Western Equatoria. Most of these, if not all, are driven by a sense of injustice that so many people feel, by a general sense that you run a Dinka government and everyone who feels like protesting your government takes it upon innocent Dinka who equally suffer.
If you facilitate a discussion between all of them, you would have helped them understand each other better and they might together devise ways to share space and resources. They have always done this and they can do it again.
Lastly, tell Jieng Council of Elders to accept their old age and retire. What you run is not a Dinka government, it’s a country called South Sudan and it belongs to all of us. There is plenty they can do in their individual lives: write books, help their local communities find harmony, volunteer as teachers and be peace makers, not sources of mistrust between ethnic groups.
The Dinka cannot afford the anger of the rest of the country. It is not worth it, not feasible and it destroys the country further more.