It is tormenting that sights of corpses of massacred civilians in South Sudan have become ‘a normal thing’, if words of the country’s Minister of Information, Mr. Michael Makuei Lueth, recently expressed in a radio interview, are anything to go by. Of course, his despicable slight has angered many with human hearts; let alone relatives of the more than 15 dead, as a result of a recent attack by cattle keepers on members of a farming community in Kuajina area near the second largest town of Wau.
This is not to suggest that the heartless affront by the honourable minister raises eyebrows; at least not mine. It has become common knowledge in South Sudanese circles that ever since the December 2013 mayhem, followed by the July 2016 J1 (Presidential Palace) image-tarnishing dogfight, the Juba elite has earned itself the image of vicious sadists. Nothing bothers this cabal anymore! Not even the eye witness narratives contained in Professor Mahmood Mamdani’s “Separate Opinion: A Contribution to the AUCISS Report”, which would grip you!
Perpetuation of killings is already running in their blood vessels. Hardly a month has gone by in the last five years without images of fresh, decomposing or charred bodies of victims of war crimes making rounds in South Sudanese social media groups! Reports of torture using ghastly methods, killings, disappearances and rape of civilians, are rampant on the internet. This includes authoritative sources like the UN, leading Human Rights Watch groups and survivor testimonies.
Yet, the Juba elite is unperturbed! And now they have just verbalized what we have known all along. Makuei Lueth’s latest slur is only good as another entry in the evidence database, of course. Well, probably he doesn’t care since they have managed to thwart the implementation of the provisions under “Transitional Justice, Accountability, Reconciliation and Healing” of the August 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan, and since the arbiters seem to be only good at ‘verbal action’.
As if not bothered by a United States sanctions under restraining Order 13664 (“person who threatened peace, security or stability of South Sudan”, Mr. Makuei Lueth continues with what he does best – carelessly uttering words without second thoughts! In an interview by VOA’s South Sudan in Focus on December 27, 2017, Mr. Makuei Lueth said he is doing his job and “will continue to speak publicly” regardless! You can tell that he exudes a sense of impunity. Where could it have come from? Is he one of the untouchables and most privileged in the dynasty? Well, his longevity in the cabinet (14 years and counting holding three different ministerial portfolios) is a good indicator of his intimacy with the throne.
But the one nagging question is, is Mr. Makuei Lueth really the man fit for his current position, especially if the peace agreement is to be implemented in letter and spirit? Is rather not a potential spoiler given his overly bombastic and petulant temper? Let’s find this out from the litany of his achievements when holding the microphone, then the answer to the question might come handy. Due to limited space, only a few of his excesses over public trust are highlighted in this article. All quoted statements are verifiable using archived video, audio recordings or online news media pages..
In January 2014 (a few weeks after the June 16-18 massacres in Juba), Mr. Makuei Lueth made a daring attempt to storm into a United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) Protection of Civilians camp, but was effectively denied entry by guards of the peace keeping force. Venting his contempt, he accused the ‘so-called UNMISS’ of harbouring ‘ill-intentions’ against his government. This sentiments were subsequently echoed by President Salva Kiir, who charged that the UN is ‘trying to be a parallel government’.
Obviously unbeknown to him, Mr. Makuei assumed the job of Minister of Interior or Internal Security. Assuming his intentions was to appeal to the citizens seeking asylum in the UN compound to return to their house, he was simply not the right person for that task. But, his belligerent temperament go the better of him. After all, he has elsewhere accused UNMISS of ‘harbouring criminals’, which makes his evil intentions even clear. In retrospect, the IDPs bitterly refused to be lured and get massacred.
In March 2014, Mr. Makuei Lueth warned reporters in Juba not to interview ‘rebels’, else they face possible arrest or expulsion from the country. Isn’t it in the public interest – in this age of transparency – to hear the version of the other side? Does Makuei Lueth not know that it is a fundamental duty of the media to do their job without restraint? Has South Sudan become a pariah state owned by Mr. Makuei Lueth and company? By doing so, is Mr. Makuei not inadvertently admitting weakness on his side, and giving an impression that the opposition has what it takes to convince the public? This outrageous warning was simply out of cue.
In February 2018 Makue said, “There are agitators sending negative messages to the social media, to the international community, that Juba is insecure…” Apart from the ill-tempered rancor against journalists, Mr. Makuei Lueth knows well that Juba is not only tagged “insecure”, but also labelled “dangerous” according to repeated alerts issued by the US Embassy in Juba to its employees. These alerts have gone on since 2016. If he were a man on top of his job, Mr. Makuei Lueth could seek data from the reliable sources of crime records, where he would have learned about the freaky ‘Unknown Gunmen’, ‘Toronto’ (motorbike robbers) and others.
In a charge sheet by the UN Security Council which came to effect in May 2018, and in Which Mr. Makuei Lueth and six others have incurred renewed sanctions, he is adjudged guilty thus: “As Minister for Information, Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Postal Services he has overseen attempts to repress the freedom of expression of civilians through the suppression of publications”. He is also blamed for “planning and coordinating a 2014 attack on the UN compound sheltering internally displaced persons in Bor”. Clearly, this man is not only for giving public information but a man on perilous mission too!
On June 22, 2018 Mr. Makuei Lueth, with straight face stated, “However, one outstanding that needs to be clarified to the people of South Sudan is that President Salva Kiir is not ready, is not ready in anyway, to work again with Riek Machar in the next transitional period. This is simply because we have had enough of him, since , and 2013, and 2016…” But, really? Then why not just declare that the peace process was null and void and just take the next flight back to Juba. Well, as it has now turned out, Mr. Makuei Lueth had to swallow his pride and with it the bitter pill, as his side signed the peace agreement in the following month!
As a man in charge of public information, it is a pity that Mr. Makuei Lueth couldn’t learn from similar situations where two bitter foes had to unite leading to two former arch enemies embracing and even work together. The archives of peace negotiations are full of such narratives, take for example, the Nelson Mandela versus FW de Klerk; the Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga handshake, and the list goes on.
Mr. Makuei Lueth, as a public information officer, doesn’t seem to appreciate that the media is the means to use to get across what the government wants to be known. The media also provides the source of information for the public to know how their government is performing. But, Mr. Makuei Lueth instead chooses to confront and intimidate the media! His bellicose rants against media in press conferences or media interviews are on record.
In the light of the foregoing accounts, it can be concluded that Mr. Makuei Lueth is not the right civil servants in his job. He has both demonstrated incompetence and unsuitability for the job of serving the interest of the over ten million South Sudanese. He probably misunderstands his job to be that of appeasing the one who appointed him and that’s at all costs, including throwing his reputation on the line.
However, I am convinced that the militant minister is doing his government a serious disservice! Exhibiting defensiveness, intimidation and confrontational demeanor can be rightly interpreted to mean that you have something to hide in your closet. It simply sends the wrong signal! Therefore, in my humble opinion Mr. Michael Makuei Lueth is the wrong man for the job. He is the wrong man for peace time South Sudan; indeed the potential ‘spoiler’ of the peace.
Dr. Laila Lokosang (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Concerned Citizen of South Sudan