ACCEPT POLITICAL DEFEAT: A Case Against the “Tabaniin”

By Chadi Michael,

Stephen Taban Deng Gai, 'First Vice President'(Photo: File)

Stephen Taban Deng Gai, ‘First Vice President'(Photo: File)

Dec 14th, 2018(Nyamilepedia) —— South Sudan politics consists of elements of surprise and unpredictable turn of events for the politicians who rely on instincts and sabotage to get ahead. It resembles the one in the old country. In early 2000 in Malakal during a visit from the Sudanese Vice President Ali Mohammed Tatha, a crowd welcomed him at the Freedom Square north of town. Some Upper Nile politicians came forward with accusations and savagely humiliated Mr. Dak Duop Bichiok, a finance minister at the time. They verbally and in written speeches cursed his very existence. They politically crucified him in front of the Arab businessmen, political and military elites. I witnessed firsthand what hunger, fear, and lust for power can do to men once revered by their society to undergo reverse of characters and ideals. Men who fell victims to own pathways to success. All the tearing against Mr. Bichiok were meant to subdue the attention of “His Excellency” to grant them favors or helped rescue them from their financial misery. Mr. Bichiok was accused of virtually every crime in the Sudanese law book. I can’t say he was guilty as pronounced or his accusers were right in staging such a dramatic fiasco, but I believe he might have slightly done something that caused the uproar. Maybe he didn’t balance his financial books and tempted to conceal a few bucks. Or, it could be a small matter like leaving fingerprints all over the safe deposit. The indictments against him were severe and could have landed him in jail for a very long time. He was accused of corrupting public moral, subverting the law and order, willful deception, financial thievery, perverting justice and many more.

Of course, I didn’t wait to hear the final verdict against him. I was in such a hurry myself, running away from teenage troubles that started in Khartoum a few months earlier. I didn’t even enjoy the hospitality Malakal offered, include being considered for a position as an English announcer at the Voice of Peace, “Sout el Salaam” ran by the legendary Chigai Atem Chigai. Also, turning down an opportunity to become the youngest English teacher ever at the Bendera Banaat Secondary School in Malakal. What I think happened to Mr. Bichiok to vindicate him was: he either had a divine visit from above that erased his political sins and vices or Vice President Tatha started to develop interest on the most hated politician in Malakal if not the entire Upper Nile state to recommend him to the head of the state. Because within a few months’ time, President Omar El- Bashir decreed Mr. Bichiok as the governor of Upper Nile despite early public mockery. I could only imagine how surprised his enemies might have been upon hearing his name announced over the evening radio.

The similarity between that example and Taban’s shenanigans are striking yet far apart. Mr. Bichiok was accused of all sorts of crimes like Riek Machar in today’s South Sudan. Machar’s number one rival was Salva Kiir a few years ago. But now it turned out, Taban Deng who nearly had him killed at J1 in July 2016 has been his elusive rival all along. The start of such a deadly rivalry couldn’t easily be pinpoint. But I think it has more to do with their competition for delegates within Nuer community where each man desperately needs a great deal of support to remain politically relevant. However, both men have different sets of values and work ethics. One does things from the goodness of his heart, gestures and a bit of self-centric. The other uses deception, betrayal, and wizardry of modern finance to plot deadly plans against the other, in the hope of becoming an indisputable choice for the Nuer to turn to for guidance in their hour of needs.

Like Vice President Tatha who heard so many loaded accusations against state finance secretary, Mr. Kiir seems to have no long-term plan with his short-term allies, the ”Nuer wew.” Despite their lies and fascinating plots against Machar, still, they have not eliminated him or managed to tarnish his reputation. And Kiir knows the different between Taban and Riek. He is completely aware of their capacity and influence among the Nuer. One of them is guided by liberal principles such as diversity, democracy and federal system of government. This personality lives by common creeds and ideals universally embodied in the human spirit. The latter is a very practical man whose ego and id come under constant struggle. He’s nothing but a self-deluding war profiteer.

As John Garang once remarked, “survival itself brings people together.” Currently, the South Sudan economy isn’t doing great. People can’t afford to buy basic things in Juba. And those in the village can’t support the mass with centuries-old subsistence farming methods. The warring parties forcibly recruit fighters from traditional farmers or accuse them of being rebels or government sympathizers in each case makes everyone a suspect. They must then evacuate farmland. The reality now is hitting everyone hard across the political spectrum. Ordinary citizens have had it up to the neck with the never-ending conflicts. They can see hunger walks right into their doorstep and there is nothing one can do to stop it. And because they know the risks of going public to protest against war, corruption, and exploitation, they resort to using coded messages to applaud the recent get-together of Riek and Salva. They have grown tired of war throughout their existence. This moment in their lifetime, they want to pursue something bigger than themselves.

The concept of acceptance among citizens and tolerance of differing viewpoints coincide with the leaders’ change of heart. Kiir and Machar have come to realize the importance of peaceful tranquility, investment in human capital, and ability to disagree without firing a single slingshot at one another. And it does appear now more than ever that public support for the war has declined. This is good as citizens compel their leaders to settle personal vendetta using non-lethal means to obtain end goals. Kiir himself appears to have gone under spiritual transformation and change of militaristic approach last August. His new self isn’t overly obsessed with military solutions he clung on for nearly six years. This is where he parts ways with his “Nuer wew” whom he largely relies on upon wartime. If peace becomes a public necessity, Kiir then no longer needs the Nuer wew as a voting bloc. They simply don’t’ have the votes to help him win an election. And plus, they are the most hated people in South Sudan by their own communities.

There were positive initiatives the peace signatories gestured during the last few weeks. Kiir followed the suit after Machar’s positive caucus meeting in Khartoum. While speaking in the town hall in Lobonok, he addressed pre-selected red-shirt-wearing faithful who quickly clapped at his pronouncement of colorful phrases. Kiir looked a lot like a political party leader. He has embodied President Museveni’s character, persona and casual dressing. Like Museveni who tours Uganda countryside largely unguarded to converse with local farmers, the forgotten commoners to hear from them directly their takes on what his administration can do to improve their lives, Kiir was being honest with the SPLM members. This is a soft dictatorship which easily gains trust by exploiting people’s vulnerability and appealing to their ignorance without being extremely condescending and forceful. But the facts remain immutable that Salva Kiir is a killer who ordered his merciless Mathiang Anyoor to indiscriminately kill women and children in their homes, displace non-Dinka citizens and reduce the nation to the level of Malual Akonville. Despite his crimes of higher degree, he’s increasingly growing humble, non-threatening and more importantly, straightly honesty with himself and his party’s members. That’s a rare kind of honesty that defeats his known demeanor and habits. In Lobonok, he stressed key issues if pursued with total diligent can reduce the immediate return to war.

“Don’t take people for granted”

Kiir warned his fellow SPLMers to not take South Sudanese for granted this time because their party no longer holds a monopoly in the country. His message can be interpreted in different ways. It may mean he sees himself transitioning from military to a political leader. We can assume he wants peace to take its course and runs for re-election which he can easily win given the timing and nature of African democracy where incumbents virtually run unopposed or hand-pick their opponents to blister their legitimacy at the ballot box. It can also mean that he’s finally coming to terms with the reality that his most feasible approach would be to humiliate opponents by winning the popular votes in the election to put rest doubts about him becoming president by chance and then builds a legacy. This would be a rebound from his war mentality and killing. But to do so, he must confront villain trademark by departing with his evil past. He must do the unthinkable such as releasing wrongfully convicted, lifting the state of emergency, granting unhindered movement of citizens, NGOs, and people to lawfully wander without being persecuted. And most importantly, he must put federalism to a public vote, leaving it to the citizens to decide whether they want to insulate themselves from their brethren in Bahr El-Ghazal and other regions.

All these restrictions act as barriers to economic revival, security improvement and hinder the ability of citizens to produce their own food, start a small business, they terrify investors and obstacle South Sudan’s integration into the global market economy. Citizens will be thrilled and bound to pursue big dreams by working extremely hard to meet their individual needs. In the end, this is a huge win for South Sudan to join the community of nations as an independent entity, not as an aid-dependent nation. In his town hall meeting, Kiir spoke like a man who has learned to express his views in non-militaristic tone. He appeared more like a politician than a military junta. He commanded the attention of his audience, carefully selected his words and spoke from his heart. It’s not too late for him to redeem himself, to set a positive and patriotic example to the nation, that even his Jieng Council of Elders is bound to follow. He has stressed the need to engage the public by not taking their votes, faith in the SPLM and contributions to the liberation of South Sudan for granted.

We have political rivals

For Salva Kiir to acknowledge for the first time the existence of other political parties in the country as potential rivals is an encouraging sign. It means he’s comfortable in the SPLM-IG because he no longer has internal opponents who irritate and scrutinize every decision he makes in the party. Over the years he managed to spook away rivals like a male lion faced with competitions from younger males within the pride. As he’s aware his former internal opponents have moved on to form separate SPLMs, he’s maximized his capacity to exercise unscrupulous authority unopposed. His sudden shift from military to party system might suggest he recognizes the importance of political dialogue as an indicator of societal progress and harmony. His acknowledgment of other political parties as competitors which might capitalize on SPLM’s shortcomings is a giant leap toward a gradual process for the country’s leadership to find solutions at the ballot box.

And for him to admittingly warn his caucus about the stronger ‘oppositions’ is undoubtedly a sure sign of political gear-shifting. For the public to know that SPLM is no longer a bully in the block will strategize other parties to properly organize their support base. Dr. Machar already echoed this in his speech during the SPLM-IO’s caucus meeting in Khartoum, stirring his group away from militarism and ensuring the transition from armed to party system is immediate. I believe others might have realized the importance of exercising democracy, canvassing for support among civilians and honoring election results. This was evidenced by the election of Gen. Gatdet Yaka as the chairman of the SSOA organization. One can say with certainty that peace is now more than ever a public agenda. And no southern leader wants to be singled out as a war-monger. Or, what has been taking place in the last few months would be a huge lie.

This brings hope to all South Sudanese worn out by periodic conflicts and natural disasters. As Thomas Hobbes articulately admits, when each man feels no longer safe in his state of nature by fencing off against other men who seek to deprive him of liberty, property and his life, he must surrender his natural liberty to the sovereign who would then guard his interests. And the sovereign as, the confederation of men, would protect him from other men who might take away his life and resources. Lobonok’s meeting brought the best out of Salva Kiir. It gives the public a glimpse of his transformation from the brutal military ruler in the words of Deng Elijah to “civilian tyrant.” During my conversation with one of his fierce critics, Wal Mabor who was himself astonished by the fact that President Kiir no longer indulges in alcohol and usual habits used by his associates to scrutiny his decisions, corrupt his conscience and steer him away from fulfilling his national political agenda.

Elijah referred to Kiir’s transformation as “civilian dictatorship” in his Facebook post last Friday, which generated several comments from both friends and adversaries. I was, however, convinced by Mabor’s assertion a few days ago that President Kiir is finally sober. He has severed ties with alcoholic beverages or anything that might obstruct his judgment. A copy of his Lobonok’s speech confirms these observations. In that piece, Kiir spoke as a statesman and a human being by admitting past wrongs and missed targets. One of the biggest challenges is now the armed militias which are still indifferent with his changing character and tone. These are war instruments used to get rid of political opponents and perpetuate conflict in the last five years. He needs to explain his self-awakening and national approach to people like Taban Deng and his group hurt by the latest switch from arms conflict to political discourse. These groups are dangerous and opportunists that derive benefits directly from war and must be told to lay down their arms as the need to implement peace becomes a public necessity. His call for a peaceful return of displaced persons leaves these groups unsatisfied and confused.

What’s next for Tabaniin?

Kiir’s stoop of honesty shades light on the SPLM-Taban and its standing as peace progresses. Kiir’s Lobonok gives a dissipating hope in the survival of Taban’s camp. He has given the sufferers a cold shoulder by trying to dissociate himself with their violent approach and rampant rape, especially in Unity state. The group struggles to find acceptance and place in recently signed peace because neither of the two principals, Riek or Salva shows interest in them. For Kiir, Tabanists’ usefulness has faded and as for Machar, the group simply reminds him of the political setbacks and terrible ordeal. Right now, a dark cloud hovers above them as they sit in their hotel quarters trying to decode these mixed messages they are getting from both sides. This is finally a moment of truth. A time where everything that has gone up must come down. A time these criminal syndicates must face ultimate fate as public opinion shifts in favor of peace and prominent rivals attempt to mend differences by working toward the good of the country and its people.

But Tabanists’ selfish act and hawkish attitude that cheat their better selves are about to be put to the test. Sigmund Freud believes man’s ego and Id are always in perpetual conflict. As personal ego drives him to engage in disgusted and morally outraged incestuous acts, in pursuance of dangerous habits and stepping out of character by going against societal conventions. These instances can majorly outlaw or undo individual goodness. Person’s Id might attempt to obstruct overzealous egotistical enchanting from devouring conscience and self-control by restraining person’s whole self from drowning in forbidden fantasies.

Political marriage is over?

As one of the Tabanists social media warriors admits, their union with Kiirists is becoming wobbly and in need of rekindling. It wouldn’t survive this period of political transition and revival unless Kiir himself retreats from his national ambitions. Like in any social contract, whoever has the bigger stakes is more likely to decide things in the relationship without consulting his or her conjugal partner. That’s how much it takes for a relationship to hit rock-bottom as the distance between the partners grows wider. However, in this situation except there has never been a marriage contract. The two partners never sat down and discussed the terms of their relationship. Their point of convergence is short and open where each partner is free to court romance elsewhere while occasionally available for a quickie. Theirs was basically a convenient arrangement. The kind that starts spontaneously but ends abruptly when either side feels he or she is no longer needs to be bound by it.

An example would be a story I read on Facebook a few weeks ago which featured a twenty-seven-year-old Ugandan ex-parte referred to in the article as “Paul Zuluka.” A dark-skinned tall man whose search for employment opportunity took him far down to South Africa. Paul has university credentials under his belt which empower him to find paid employment elsewhere than to languish in Museveni’s Uganda. As his prospect of getting a day job becomes invariably slim, Paul like most young people put down by several rejections and resorted to human survival mode. He decided to become a male escort, a professional prostitute or a gigolo in his own right. In this line of profession, the business owner sleeps with adult clients, males or females who are financially well-off but sexually deprived or just overly obsessed with the art of seduction.

As Paul later revealed, he sleeps mostly with female clients who pay him a whopping sum of cash to keep them from being lonely while their rich partners are away on business or work-related trips. Paul’s a self-employed individual who doubles as the client and owner of the business slightly resembles the nature of Kiir-Taliban’s relationship. Kiirists are more like Paul’s married clients who pay him to temporarily handle their sexual urges but dump him as soon as those needs are met, or their partners returned home from their financial prowling. But what Paul doesn’t understand in this sort of business where money is exchanged for sex is that there are heavy risks. These might include contracting a deadly disease, premature death resulting from overstimulation, exhaustion and a loss of white blood cells as he pumps out almost a gallon of sperm in each sexual ejaculation. Tabanists sold out their core constituents for financial rewards and a chance to make make it big in Dinka-controlled government. But like Paul, they are now faced with the consequences of losing the support of their main client, Kiirists as well as being publicly shunned by their abandoned community.

Alternatives to sidelining

 

The group is faced with a dilemma and stigma resulting from their past crimes. It’s too embarrassing for them to return to the SPLM-IO they broke away from due to pride, stubbornness, and anticipation of being ridiculed by their former colleagues. This is because the split was deadly in which Machar’s fate became the ultimate gift for Taban to renew relations with the government. He’s is a terrible prince who would do anything to snatch power away from his older brother, a more naive and slower in responding to imminent threats against his own person and indecisive in assuring political allies to renew their commitment and results in his leadership.

For Taban, things don’t look too pretty. He can’t assume Kiir would read his gestures and intentions by not following the usual protocol as Kiir neatly puts it “proper procedure.” Kiir was right in reminding the public about the procedures, especially the cue-jumpers who are weighing options whether to rejoin the SPLM-IG or SPLM-IO. For those who want to regain lost membership, they must undergo political prospectings like in the criminal underworld where potential outlaws must complete a probationary period of harsh scrutiny and tough challenges that involve the commission of heinous acts on behalf of the organization to prove their worthiness and loyalty to the crime boss. Only with rigorous tests and toughness in making sure tasks are carried out, club status is upheld, and its turf is protected from the encroaching criminal gangs.

But prospects don’t pressure their bosses to let them into the organizations before they can prove themselves as battle-hardened men whose run-ins with the law attest their outlaw characters. Only the syndicate boss and his generals can decide which prospect measures up to the challenge to be inducted into this elusive criminal underworld. The same procedure might apply even to Kiir’s SPLM except SPLM-Taban hasn’t proven itself enough to be admitted into this club of one percenter, well it seems to Kiirists that way. By parting ways with comrades from the SPLM-IO, being a party to J1 massacre and leading military surge into the Nuer heartland which resulted in the fall of Yuai, Maiwut and Pagak and decimating the opposition forces in Unity and Equatoria were more than enough contributions the group brought to the JCE administration. If these aren’t enough to warrant their admission into the SPLM-IG, too bad for the Tabaniin as their quest for acceptance anywhere now seems virtually impossible.

So, they should only regroup and convene to form their own SPLM’s subsidiary which could prove crucial as the power balancer later in the parliament when the south becomes a democratic and federal state. Or, they can choose to join forces with other opposition groups, the South Sudan Organization Alliance to become stronger, vibrant and tough to reckon with in terms of reducing the IO or IG’s dominance and monopoly by keeping each party which forms the next government in check.

The author, Chadi Michael, is a concern South Sudanese. He can be reached for more information at chad8204@gmail.com. 


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