Time to wake up from group hubris and build South Sudan for all

'Wherever the UN are in South Sudan, they are doing nothing. They are furthering themselves,' said Kiir, pictured (AFP)

Of late, some South Sudanese politicians and anonymous military personnel seem to have woken up from their deep slumber in their realisation, definition, and characterisation of the country’s complex political and governance ailment. It is as if the population is being treated to re-living the story of Rip Van Winkle, a story in which a Dutch American villager meets mysterious Dutchmen, imbibes their liquor, and falls asleep in the Catskill Mountains only to wake up 20 years later in a changing world.

Indeed, the moral apathy by those who have the means and tools to do the right, speak the truth and confront the evil is simply appalling for South Sudan’s politicians and senior security personnel, who for ages, have taken to politics and/or security services to secure employment and not to serve but reroute to public reserves.

Let us take a tour and examine some political utterances and reflect on what appears to reveal some sort of wake-up calls about the country’s crying from some Jieng and others lately.

Voices are growing louder about Kiir’s succession and his leadership failures and, which has recently picked up momentum. The letter penned down and addressed to the South Sudanese leader dated March 17, 2021, from an anonymous group of organised forces warned of an imminent ‘chaotic transition’ if President Salva does not manage his political exit from power. The group notes:

“Your Excellency, we have critically read the situation, and the citizens of this country are ready for a popular democratic political transition. Our advice is that you should pre-empt this impending uprising with the [limited available] window of opportunity to manage your political exit from power; [otherwise,] a chaotic transition is imminent, and we are afraid this may be harmful to your person and the country .”

Then followed in no order was an attack on President’s Kirr leadership failure from Kuol Manyang Juuk, a senior presidential advisor. The Advisor this time around played the role akin to an ‘Advisor in Opposition.’ He charged the country’s ruling party, the SPLM, for failing to deliver services to the country’s citizens. This is coming at the heel of a personality who served in gubernatorial, ministerial, and now advisor capacities in the same system and capped it up by dipping his hands deeper into public reserves to scoop what he could and became complicit in the country’s corruption scam. One is not sure if Kuol Manyang Juuk himself can boast of speaking for the oppressed population apart from seeking attention, looking at the story of his complicity in the corruption scam and land grabbing cases.

In a flow of events, chastising President Salva Kiir and his leadership failure was Gen. Daniel Awet Akot, the ex-presidential Advisor on military affairs in a more traditional cattle-camp leadership fashion. Reportedly during a meeting of the Jieng Council of elders in the capital, Juba Gen. Awet claims that Kiir is mentally incapacitated and cannot serve citizens of the young nation and, therefore, step down and hand over leadership to the minister of the presidency, Nhial Deng Nhial. This one, in particular, is eye-catching for the sheer insensitivity and arrogance expressed in advancing the name of Hon Nhial as Kiir’s replacement, as if South Sudan is simply the Jieng Kingdom and not a country that should aspire for constitutional democracy in which the rights of individuals and minorities are respected.

Then came again in no particular order on March 10, 2021, was Dr Peter Biar, a South Sudanese civil society leader (probably also holding US Citizenship) who testified during the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) hearing, “The State of Democracy Around the World.” His testimony focused more on the failure of President Kiir’s leadership, noting, “Kiir’s failed leadership of South Sudan has been costly to our people”… invoking the resolutions of the South Sudan National Dialogue and “demanding that Kiir and Machar urgently find an exit route from the political scene.”

The testimony to the US Senate may probably be an arranged one. We have critical South Sudanese dual citizens who have also penetrated the US system enough to advise the country in their favour or sustain the continuity of their community in the ill-informed governance arrangement in the country.

A reaction to the flow of deservedly negative publicity on President Kiir’s leadership failure was the impromptu sacking of critical persons from governmental positions. South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir sacked the army Chief of General Staff, General Johnson Juma Okot, hardly a year at his work and replaced him with Gen. Santino Deng Wol. Kiir also removed the Minister for the Presidency, Nhial Deng Nhial and replaced him with Hon. Barnaba Marial Benjamin. One is not sure if this is related to the succession shuttling in which Nhial Deng’s name has been proposed as a replacement. Dr Biar has been scheming and shuttling up and about with his ‘Generational Exit Plan ’, which again is being promoted at the backdrop of the unusual claims about the role in the liberation struggle – a disguised form of entitlement.
What defeats constitutional logic among all the attention-seeking antics is the preposterous proposal proffered by Gen. Awet to submit the name of Hon. Nhial Deng as a presidential material to succeed President Salva Kiir. This presents a bone of contention and a new awakening. To give it a reflection, one is left to wonder if the concept of ‘hubris’ has deeply permeated a ‘group psyche’ in the no longer so young and fledging country called the Republic of South Sudan. For Gen. Daniel Awet Akot to indulge that President Salva Kiir should step down and hand over leadership to the minister of the presidency, Nhial Deng Nhial smacks an aspect of ‘group hubris’ that threatens to fly into the face of any progress towards constitutional democracy. Hubris is a moral concept drawn from the Ancient Greek to describe a personality quality of extreme foolish pride or dangerous overconfidence often combined with arrogance, a Latin word, describing an attitude that one has a right to demand certain attitudes and behaviours from other people. This is truly a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one’s competence characterised by an overwhelming presumption.

By extension, Jieng’s group hubris exhibited by some of their senior personalities appears to overestimate the competence of their group. Have some members from the Jieng community continued to go so low and insensitive as to think and entertain that the only people to govern the country should come from their community members? Is this the most authentic expression of the so-called ‘Born to Rule’ misplaced mantra? For Gen. Daniel Awet Akot, who had previously served as an Advisor, without any slightest reservation, to table the name of Nhial Deng in the succession debate reflects a “Group Hubris” gone wild.

It is common knowledge that this group posturing is quite alive and expressive in the ethnicised politics of South Sudan under the current regime, but this must be checked and confronted. The recent complaints about Kiir’s leadership to Peter Biar’s testimony to the US Senate, and lately Kiir’s realignment of his ethnic kin through the recent impromptu deployment of personnel in key government positions are just reflective of this ‘group hubris’ and has nothing to do with finding a durable solution to South Sudan’s political imbroglio. This seems to reflect entitlement born out of a false edifice of the liberation history. So many lives lost under the influence of the group hubris that has aided shutting of ‘pure reason, mobilised and amassed ‘Mathianghor on the basis of ‘pure emotion’ to wretch havoc and abused human rights only to protect the political interest of the few with no much success except to amplify identity politics and conflict and undermine social cohesion for the unforeseeable future. Currently, we hear the extrajudicial enforcement instrument, the ‘Twek Twek” (woodpecker) re-creating itself in Warap State. How is it that we have failed to learn and embrace the value of social cohesion for building a progressive society and peaceful living in South Sudan?

Aware of the weight of a growing South Sudanese consciousness, some Jieng members appear to be positioning themselves. They are on some strategy spree to use backdoor processes to present themselves as alternatives to the outside world. This is pure, dishonest and thuggery. People must learn from the ongoing disaster created by the regime. Some of these not-so honourable personalities served the administration unreservedly until pushed out from critical positions of resource access. In their hands, the country knew wars from 2013 to date with a massive cost to human lives and a failed economy that has degenerated into a black market economy with no way out.

It should be abundantly clear to all that South Sudan indeed requires a new political dispensation that must come from an honest conversation towards addressing the root causes of the conflict identified and outlined by various political and armed actors in the country. Please check “Juba deal ignored root causes of conflict, rewarded political elite” The ongoing crisis is a great lesson learnt. South Sudanese cannot afford to allow such self-styled group posturing and a complete disregard of the 63 nationalities to continue to stand in the way of building a durable peace accommodative of South Sudan’s larger polity and ultimately frustrate all efforts at creating an admissible social contract.

It is not by choice, but a design that every individual and community must have a stake in the citizenry’s share of this country, and this includes playing a critical role in the country’s governance at the presidency level or otherwise.

Suppose Kiir and their cohorts of betrayers of South Sudanese people must exit the political scene: In that case, this conversation must follow the proper constitutional making procedures in which anybody from any community can emerge as a choice of the people and not otherwise.

We can all acknowledged that a dilemma abounds about what the actual political course for the country is, and many are speaking out even if some of the proposals may not fully reflect the country’s complex political and sociocultural dynamics. For example, talking to the US and UK envoys, the President of Uganda Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, posited last year in December 2020 that “the proper medicine to the South Sudan problem is elections. He says that elections will force political players in South Sudan to form alliances like it was in Kenya and that this will, in turn, create unity and peace in South Sudan”. `But, South Sudanese masses are aware that the political space and institutional arrangements are not in place for any credible electoral process that would stand to be honoured amidst a division that runs deep; it will take years for that to get established.

Instead, parties must acknowledge that the Revitalised Peace Agreement on the Resolution of the conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS), which has served to reward the elites with government sinecure positions, is currently dead and buried. Still, the Rome peace process is in the offing, providing a platform for parties to sit down and discuss in all honesty the root causes of the country’s crisis and address the failures of the revitalised peace agreement and move the country to a new level.

Gen Awet and his cohorts should avoid insinuating final solutions such as who should be the next Jieng president after Kiir or what not – `they should rather wake up from this intoxicating group hubris and know that South Sudan’s political consciousness has grown and now yearning for an honest collective conversation.

Jonathan Pwopwo, a concerned citizen of South Sudan who can be reached on pwopwoj@gmail.com


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