TELLS ITS SIDE OF THE STORY
The government of South Sudan, in this response to Diplomat East Africa’s reporting on the crisis facing it, exercises its Automatic Right of Reply. It accuses the media of writing ‘Un-researched Reporting and Personal Biases that Can Complicate a Country
In an article titled “Things Fall Apart”, carried in your February 2014 issue (Diplomat East Africa, Volume No-043), the Editor confirms a disturbing ignorance of the political history of South Sudan; including its liberation struggles that culminated in independence in 2011.
But one has also noted the trend of equally disturbing reporting of the twists and turns of South Sudan during the last very sensitive nine months; some of which have again filtered in the September issue (specifically, the leader headlined, ‘ End the Charade: Save South Sudan’).
To knowledgeable students of South Sudan’s politics and history, these are examples of typically unresearched and biased articles that routinely appear in sections of the regional Media and betraying a sorrowful combination of intellectually manufactured half-truths as well as blatant lies. It is for such reasons that one feels some facts ought to be properly clarified.
To begin with, it is most con- descending to declare as in the February article, that, “Kiir was politically wounded, perhaps fatally, as his country heads for general elections next year. Indeed, his decision to force his way into a second term was at the heart of his dramatic fallout with his erstwhile deputy.” This statement, along with the one soon after; viz: (‘Just three years into his term, south Sudan imploded into a bitter and divisive ethnic rebellion pitting his majority Dinka tribe against the Nuer community of his former deputy, the charismatic Machar’), all confirm the little knowledge about the complexities and nuances currently prevailing in South Sudan.
An Ethnic Rebellion?
First, I would wish to dispose of the rather simplistic and convenient narrative (preferred a lot in the Western Media), that routinely claims that what is going on in South Sudan is an all ethnic rebellion supposedly pitting the Dinka against the Nuer. As you may wish to ascertain, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, even the quickest look into the history of the interaction between these two communities would reveal some indisputable truths that many in the Media just gloss over. For instance, the Dinka-Nuer political affiliations are age-old and, in fact, goes back to as early as the 1924 armed conflict against the British colonial power. It was Ali Abdalatif and Abdalfadheel El Maz (Dinka and Nuer respectively) who organised a rebellion against the British. The same collaboration existed between Kerubino Kuanyin, (a Dinka) and William Nyuon (a Nuer) in the 1983 mutiny in Bor and Ayod which, in fact, is what inspired the formation of the SPLM/A.
It should be pointed out further, that in 2005, Dr John Garang (a Dinka) and Dr Riek Machar ( a Nuer), reunited to sign the now – famous CPA which provided leadership for the transitional Government of the semi-autonomous territory until the abrupt demise of Garang later that year. Instructively, even after the death of Garang, both the Nuer and Dinka have worked closely together, with Salva Kiir (a Dinka) as President and Machar (Nuer) as Vice until the end of the transitional government’s tenure in 2010. Thereafter, it was Kiir who chose Machar as his running mate and together, they won the elections and led the country into voting for the secession in 2011.
To be fair, history also tells us that the two communities may have teamed up together even for what some future researchers may well read as, “the wrong reasons.” For instance, after “the gang of two Doctors” (Machar and Lam Akol), attempted, but failed, to overthrow Garang from the leadership of SPLM/A in 1991, they were, joined by Kerubino Kuanyin and Faustino Atem Gualdit, who were both Dinka in 1993. The team then turned against Garang and the
SPLM/A. In this analysis, it is this trend that may have tried to replay itself in 2013, when a section of leaders rebelled against President Kiir. The group led by Pagan Amun and Rebecca Garang (mostly Dinka) have for now joined the Machar led rebel group who are predominantly Nuer! In short: these examples would confirm to anyone who cared to dig deeper that these types of interactions are anything else; but certainly, not ethnically driven.
Or maybe we should elucidate it further: How can it be possible that a “Dinka-dominated” government can be conducting state sponsored extermination campaign against the Nuer when -as a matter of fact- the Nuer occupy some of the most critical and key government positions in the current Salva Kiir administration? The facts are as follows: Governors John K. Nyuon ( Jonglei State), Simon Kun Puoch (Upper Nile State) and Dr. Joseph Nguen Monytuil (Unity state), James Hoth Mai, (Chief of the General Staff) and Magok Rundial (Speaker of National Assembly) are all Nuer; and mark you, they are in full support of the Government. The same is evidently true of several academics and Army officers from the Nuer ethnic group. Accordingly, a reckless reporter would be suggesting that these respectable leaders have thus conspired with the Government to kill their own people! But would this make any sense?
Invectives and Personal Judgementals
The other matter that concerns me is the Editor’s inclination to pass absolute value judgments based purely on personal projections. Whereas it is a fact that South Sudan’s general elections are due in May 2015, would it make any analytical sense to preempt the outcome without tabling any serious evidence? Why claim the possibility of a forceful retention of power by the incumbent? Quite clearly, such assertions are not only inflammatory but they do border on incitement that can trigger unnecessary squabbles and conflict.
But we are as concerned about the sustained mockery and vilification of the sitting President. The statement that “Garang held the SPLA together by his sheer personality and charisma; Kiir suffers a sharp deficit of both” as well as “… Kiir was never a leader in the mold of Garang or even Machar, he will therefore, avers Colonel Abdi Farah, have to adopt a more inclusive and balanced leadership...” are not only misleading, but a complete expression of a most partisan intellectual approach. Any interested party would thus pause here and ask how the over-misrepresented idiosyncratic values of President Kiir, can be used to create reasons and excuses for rebellion; suspend the Constitution of South Sudan which protects the institution of the Presidency and outlines very clearly, the procedure for acceding to the office of President.
But lest one digresses and begins to wade through the same mud of emotional expression, let’s just restrict ourselves to clarify the facts as they truly are. On the ridiculous argument about charisma, we assert authoritatively that only an uninformed person can claim that a President, who campaigned and won elections in a democratic process, is deficient of charisma. Lexically, the term charisma is used to describe the ability to influence and inspire people by one’s own personal qualities. Now, which other way would show a charismatic person better than winning a spiritedly contested presidential election with a landslide victory of 93 per cent of the total votes cast?
Equally, one cannot stop sneering at the comparison being made between the President and the rebel leader. It is a fact that the latter (Machar) has neither contested nor won any elections. Rather, the record of rebellion and betrayal seems to speak volumes. For instance, almost every South Sudanese knows about the 1991 betrayals and even the attempted dethronement we have already referred to. Or need we remind the world to find out exactly who perpetrated “the Bor Massacre” in 1991 in which 2000 Dinkas were killed? Who dismissed Dr. Lam Akol from SPLA-United? In 2001, who walked out of Bashir after a “peace agreement” had supposedly been signed in 1997? Why- if one may ask-would it come as a surprise that in 2013 such a streak of rebellion and betrayal repeats itself?
In Conclusion, we can only state that President Kiir might not be the darling of everyone in South Sudan, but a sense of responsibility and fairness is required in the way we report the current situation, lest we inflame passions further through biased, simplistic and clearly, an un-researched understanding of an already very delicate situation