6 Apr 2020


Time For Reality Check On South Sudan

"In 2019, South Sudanese must unite and speak unequivocally, in the clearest and unmistakeable voice that rejects the usual palace intrigues of J1. It's time to raise the bar on leadership and start electing servant leaders who will put people first..."

By Joseph D Garang

Recent remarks by President Kiir may have reflected a moment of reckoning---a fleeting dose of realism, or a telltale sign that perhaps 2019 is already shaping up to be a turning point---the year of decisive action in South Sudan. Who knows, this could really be the year South Sudanese might begin to finally wake up and seize the opportunity to right the rudderless ship of state, and save the very soul of the republic?

For context, though, just a couple of days ago, the country's president made a trip to the military headquarters at Bilpam and awarded medals to deserving veterans of the South Sudan People Defence Force (SPDF) for their heroic contributions during the liberation and post-war eras.

But it was his stern warning to the top brass of the military, which caught people by surprise. In his speech, the president threw down the gauntlet and pulled no punches in the way he gave the military leadership an earful, railing against corrupt practices, and citing how current soldiers and the disabled war veterans have been neglected.

To astute observers of history and politics, the questions begin: has the president finally sparked a national conversation that has been sorely lacking? And, will this rare public rebuke be followed by a sustained effort to help re-energize, educate, and inspire what seems like an exhausted leadershipteam? Or, was this denunciation a mere attempt to save face?

After all, the very neglect along with all manner of political malfeasance the president spoke about has been happening for the last 15 years. Was he not aware all this time? And what does that say about him as the leader? Doesn't that smack of the classic phrase that "No good deed goes unpunished?"

And, how could our government officials be so ungrateful, and so callous as to neglect the people who liberated the country? In short, could the president's speech at the medals award ceremony offer the country and J1 a reality check? Will we as a country and the political leadership finally wake up and look at the big picture and honestly confront the kleptocratic system with its many intractable political issues we have been in denial of for far too long? This loaded question remains to be unpacked. But for now I will say this.

For years, I have seen the most inspiring minds of my generation share brilliant ideas that if implemented would have positioned South Sudan on the global map of countries doing extraordinary work for their people. These greatest minds and their voices emerged at a time when the state formation in South Sudan was coinciding with the rise of the Internet as well as the advent of social media and networking platforms.

Since 2004, young South Sudanese of good conscience have been raising and debating issues that are germane to the country, or nation building, for that matter. But I have always wondered that when young people keep discussing policy issues/ideas we mostly agree on here on social media, doesn't this patriotic duty amount to preaching to the choir?

If that's the case, how do we come up with a better way of persuading the elites who are ever reluctant, skeptical and don't know about our mutual exchange of ideas through online discourse? Let's face it, people in countries with no vibrant media turn to social media. And for our people, equally powerless in the face of a regime that's opposed to press and self-expression, social media logically has become the preferred outlet for the politically active.

But relying on social media alone also comes with disadvantage for a country like ours, which needs more nuanced perspectives on issues of national importance. Of course, we can only have those in professional settings such as in print or online publications.

Thus, my challenge would be for all the young professionals of South Sudan to change course in the way we have been talking or going about activism, first, by agreeing on a strategy, an organizing principle. Why not re-evaluate, refocus and then figure out creative and innovative ways to organize, educate, and inspire the populace with the mission to get all voices heard by politicians and the ruling elites in Juba?

Why not find ways other than Facebook and Twitter to get our message across? Because, at the risk of sounding repetitive, I feel like we have been using those platforms in ways that hardly nudge the political leadership to act.

And, like the great Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "The time is always right to do what is right." As instructive as that quote is, why not start strategizing in earnest and, perhaps, have those living in South Sudan and East Africa embark anew on a grass-roots activism aimed at directly engaging our Members of Parliament, with a message that holds them accountable?

And, also, given the huge number of South Sudanese abroad, why not lobby the MPs and the presidency to create a new cabinet level Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, which would work in concert with the Bureau of Diaspora Affairs charged with representing and coordinating the diaspora and making sure there remains strong bonds and connection between the diaspora population, and the homeland, recognizing our important contributions toward infrastructural development projects, healthcare, education, arts and culture?

So just to reiterate: this year and next, in the national interest of R-ARCSS peace accord, would all the young people of South Sudan please stand up and express in no uncertain terms that all the divisions and political paralysis tearing at the seams of our national social fabric must end?

The country belongs to all of us and, yes, diversity is our connective tissue, our destiny. We deserve leaders who are trustworthy and courageous -- leaders who will confront and solve the issue of instability so the vulnerable people can go back to the safety of their homes, rebuild their lives and create hope and opportunity for themselves.

In 2019, South Sudanese must unite and speak unequivocally, in the clearest and unmistakeable voice that rejects the usual palace intrigues of J1. It's time to raise the bar on leadership and start electing servant leaders who will put people first and craft an enduring political system without which the country will continue down the rabbit hole of tribal politics, kleptocracy, and gross mismanagement. Or, as Thomas Jefferson once famously said, "All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent."


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