Who are they – The Two Men Who Failed South Sudan

South Sudan’s Collective Cause Betrayed: An Objective Outlook into the Ministerial Portfolios

By Matai Muon,

The president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, right, and Dr. Riek Machar, left, greet each other after swearing in ceremony in Juba, South Sudan Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020. South Sudan opened a new chapter in its fragile emergence from civil war Saturday as rival leaders formed a coalition government that many observers prayed would last this time around. (AP Photo)

Mar 31, 2020(Nyamilepedia)— “Only in Africa will thieves be regrouping to loot again and the youths whose future is being stolen will be celebrating it…” Prof. Soyinka, Nobel Prize Laurate.

Riek Machar

In the early 80’s, Machar started off a journey of politico-military expedition. He would form a movement then dissolve it. Made a declaration here and broke it thereafter. Machar’s leadership abilities and his strategic makings still evade scholars and political analysts alike. While he is regarded as a visionary on one hand, he is described as a villain on the other. Hilde Johnson, one of the closest foreign friends to Machar describes him in her book as a politician with a lot of “blunders and miscalculations.” Dr. John Garang, an ardent political rival said these words about him: “history will not forgive them. They will be known in history as the people who stabbed the movement in Southern Sudan in the back.”

Indeed Riek made it very hard for the current SPLA-SPLM to achieve its strategic objectives. He and his colleagues put the southern factions, particularly, the SPLA into a trial only to come back later to join in the bandwagon. It is not clear up to now why they suddenly decided to join the movement against which they fought so vehemently for years. The Nasir Declaration of the early 90’s and the Khartoum Peace Accord of 1997 being the most memorable ones of the 20th century. Riek has neither been consistent in his political dealings nor faithful to his supporters and ardent aides. He comes up with a great vision only to renege on it a year or so later. He is a poor visionary leader, and very horrible in strategic leadership despite his alleged doctorate in strategic planning. His political tribe; the Nuer suffers more than it gains. Interestingly, most of them can still die for him, a man who has caused them too much suffering and localized internal marginalization.

Kiir Mayardit

Salva Kiir, president of South Sudan, speaks during the 66th annual United Nations General Assembly at the UN in New York, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. Kiir said that his nation, the world's newest, will use its oil reserves to create an "agro-industrial powerhouse" in Africa. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Salva Kiir, president of South Sudan, speaks during the 66th annual United Nations General Assembly at the UN in New York, U.S., on Friday, Sept. 23, 2011. Kiir said that his nation, the world’s newest, will use its oil reserves to create an “agro-industrial powerhouse” in Africa. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Born and raised in Southern Sudan’s Bhar el Ghazel, President Kiir makes the records in Africa as the only military junior turned politician without clear basic academic credentials. He is grounded in military intelligence and was instrumental during the old days for killing on fire squad big -headed officers; Machar being a lucky survivor. Kiir unlike his colleague has had no history of defections within the SPLA-SPLM. One attempt during the Rumbek crisis of 2004 did not turn around because the intelligent John Garang killed the thing before it could burst. He is an interesting tribal leader just like Machar, and rules through an elite tribal elder – the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE). Unlike Machar, President Kiir is a pragmatic leader. He implements anything he sets his mind on despite his clear lack of vision. President Bush once asked him about his vision for South Sudan, a country he would wish the US to help in its liberation from the North. His answer was a brutal silence and US diplomats present in the meeting at the time described the moment as the most awkward confrontations in US’ high level diplomatic talks. 

Kiir leads through others unlike Machar and values consultations, and expert inputs. His limited education made him so humble that he outsmarts his PHD educated rival Machar by a ratio of 4:2. Kiir’s political tribe is Greater Bhar el Ghazel. This played out a lot during the December 2013 political crisis when the famous Dut ku Beny took over Juba’s military establishment in a week’s time. Unlike Machar, Kiir seems to take note of his political tribe. Sometimes last year, he ordered truckloads of food items from Sudan to go to Bhar el Ghazel to feed the hungry there. Right now, there is an ongoing road construction project into the Bhar el ghazel region and more than 70% of that region is in school according to UNESCO. The JCE also forms a bigger percentage of Kiir’s strategic national planning. The future for sure looks brilliant. For Machar’s Upper Nile, the opposite is true.

Allocation in the Presidency, the Ministries and the Death of Reforms

In December 2013, the world’s youngest nation slid into a brutal civil war, killing more than half a million, two million displaced with about seven million food hungry, which is more than a half of the population. In short, the war has left South Sudan more fragile, weak and socially disoriented. The cause was a power wrangle between those men above. Riek Machar was not happy when his boss made it clear that nobody would challenge him to run in the planned election of 2015. The country took the path of arms and as usual, South Sudanese’ major tribes; Dinka and the Nuer got involved. Machar ran to the direction of central and eastern Nuer for a rescue. He did the same in the early 90s when he was a young man trying to make political end meets through violence.

President Kiir on the other hand capitalized on his region where he had trained a private killing army code named “Dut ku Beny.” South Sudan was back to the dustbin, and fighting occurred across the countryside. Riek’s argument has been that there is a need for reforms in South Sudan. Analysts do not quite understand this calling. Perhaps by “reforms” Riek refers to his position of power. Most of the Nuer, blinded by tribal loyalty, and their lack of critical evaluation of politics said yes, there indeed a need for reforms. Whose reforms and at whose cost has been the question. Nobody had the gut to ask what the hell prevented Riek from reforming South Sudan while he was the second highest person for almost a decade. Six years into the war, South Sudan finally formed a Re-vitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGONU) on February 22 and March 12 2020 respectively. 

The Presidency

The South Sudan’s initial peace deal signed in August 2015 failed to work out because the two men could not agree on its flesh. Riek Machar’s political naiveté and his miscalculations in politics coupled with President Kiir’s nonsensical reservations on the peace text led to its demise in August 2016 when Taban Deng refused to abide by the conventional Nuer politics of “wait for your turn.” He revolted and got into a political marriage with President Kiir who was desperate enough to tie a knot with anybody but Machar. The result of three years of war would be the Revitalized Agreement of the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) negotiated by IGAD.

Unlike the initial peace deal, this one included a draft clause in the presidential and ministerial compositions. South Sudan’s Presidency would change from the previous three to five, the first of its kind in Africa. The only country with more than these presidential posts in the world is none other than the famous Iran. Again it is hard to understand who suggested this and under what circumstances was this suggested.

In February, the President formed his presidential cabinet. The composition did not surprise anybody but it did disappoint; South Sudan’s reforms song was dead. The return of Taban Deng, an internationally sanctioned politician with poor human rights records for example, says a lot about this government’s ability to reform. President Kiir with the aid of his partners decided to influence the selection of the other incoming Vice Presidents from other opposition parties such as the South Sudan Opposition Alliance and the so-called Former Detainees (FDs). The appointment of Mama Rebecca Garang as the Vice President was expected but certainly not celebrated particularly in reforms terms. Nobody listens to a woman’s voice in South Sudan. The gender rule of 25% now 35% is just but a number.

What shocked everyone was the appointment of a young man by name Hussein Abdelbagi, a controversial Dinka politician from Northern Bhar el Ghazel. After a couple of disagreements among the SSOA politicians over who to appoint as the Vice President, the list goes to President Kiir who was quick to confirm the obvious. The victims have since been Dr. Lam Akol, and Changson Lew Chang. The former has opposed Kiir on many grounds while the later proved to be Machar’s biggest political rival in mainstream Nuer politics. Their death was as clear as the Nile water. The composition of the Presidency is adequate to conclude that there will be no reforms in the next 36 months. There is no miracle here. The ground has been prepared for a large scale looting, primitive political campaigns, and God forbids, insecurity.

The Ministerial Portfolios

Riek Machar borrowing a line from one of the local political elites “committed a political suicide” following the announcement of the cabinet ministers. For more than three decades, Machar has been described as a poor strategic leader, a horrible manager with the worst team leadership ever witnessed in the Sudan’s political history. If the March 12 ministerial appointments are anything to go by, the critics have their voices affirmed. In the rebel faction of the SPLAM/IO expectations were extremely high. For IO has been synonymous with reforms. Those hopes would not be. As one of my colleagues describes it on his Facebook post, the “revolution has been betrayed.”

South Sudan President, Salva Kiir, in cowboy hat, meets Machar’s wife Angelina Teny, in Blue (File/Supplied/Nyamilepedia)

Angelina Teny – Defense Ministry

Machar decided to turn the tides of the conventional South Sudan politics and had his Angelina Teny as the country’s first female minister of defense. It is important to note on the outset that Angelina Teny, keeping other factors constant, is the most qualified minister in almost any ministry in the Republic of South Sudan. However, some factors cannot be kept constant because they occur naturally. In economics, the law of demand and supply suggests that certain factors such as the price and income of the consumers would always remain essential despite the changes in other factors. The same applies to politics.

As David Easton argues in his political theory, politics is the authoritative allocation of values (this includes resources such as power and money). What these values are interfered with, it is the game time. The nomination of Angelina Teny by her husband and the subsequent approval and appointment by the President says a lot about where we are heading as a country. Riek proved what the English proverb says, “Once bitten twice shy” but he did not calculate his gains very well. The Nuer’s political family has long revolved around the Machar Empire. This has been widely noted and the Nuer’s local politics in the last decade or so has shown signs of exhaustion. To appoint his wife in such a strategic and precarious position, Machar has shot himself in the foot. The intentions could be well meaning but the political realities are very different.

Angelina Teny just like her husband pursues a controversial politics. Some have described her as a smart dictator, a power woman who makes the rules and implements them by hooks or crooks. In the famous Pangak II Party Convention, she rid the Movement of its feared generals. Nobody crosses Angelina’s path. In July 2016, she messed with Taban’s ministerial position which took South Sudan back to the ground zero. In March 2020, Angelina is tired. This time, she speaks for herself. The Machar family needs to really pursue the Lord in the next 36 months. Any failure would mark the end of their empire and very few would be willing to offer their heads again.

The Lou-Nuer for example, Machar’s fighting machines have conspicuously been left out in the IO’s ministerial portfolio. The Water Ministry awarded to Peter Gatkuoth is nothing to a constituency that is so much awashed by arms and ammunitions. These are not my words, they are the words borrowed from a letter authored by the Lou-Nuer community association based in Nairobi, Kenya. They even threatened the minister not to take oath of office until the community sit down and decides for good. In their own words, the Lou-Nuer community will not be used again by Machar. If you are new to Nuer politics 201, enjoy the beat! 

For the people of Greater Fangak, the Peace Ministry occupied by Amb. Hon. Stephen Par suffices, not because they do not deserve more but because they pride themselves as the Nuer’s heartland, and to a certain extent, its legal and customary custodians. In short, Fangak has a traditional obligation to keep the Nuerland abreast. They therefore, never want to be held responsible for its imminent collapse.

It is very clear that something went terribly wrong the day Angelina Teny was announced. The Machar family empire however, does not give this any attention. As one Facebook post believes: “if they’re (generals) to be appointed as ministers, who will be in front lines? Where will we get brave men like then to fight for us? “This is the mindset in the Machar Empire. By “us” they mean the Machar Empire, not the Nuer nation or South Sudan for matter. It is a disturbing affirmation that the Machar are born to eat while the rest are made to fight and die for them.

Puot Kang – Petroleum Ministry

The most controversial appointment Machar made yet is that of Puot Kang, a young, inexperienced, academically challenged and arrogant fellow. Puot has been the Machar’s sweetheart for the last four years, rising in the ranks and files of the SPLM-IO like a royal prince. He has been built and spoilt by the Machar to the largest extent imaginable, making him the best of the best when in actual sense; he is the worst of the worst. Puot now occupies one of the most technical ministries in the land; the petroleum Ministry. The sinking boat of the Machar Empire says that a minister is not a technical person. He is a supervisor! But they fail short to tell us where Puot Kang ever successfully supervised.

Despite his clear lack of academic credentials, he nevertheless was appointed. Puot was educated at Cavendish University in Uganda, an academic institution famous for producing half-baked graduates. Basic research about the institution confirms that there has not been a serious figure of political, business or scientific alumni ever produced since its inception in 2008. In summary, Cavendish is an institution of the lesser gods, the poor students who lack academic credence to survive in other tough academic places where knowledge is valued over material inputs. Worse still, credible evidence suggests that the man did not even finish from this poor academic institution.

Put that aside for a minute. Puot was entrusted by the Machar Empire to lead the SPLM-IO Youth League as the Chair. He failed quite miserably in the role for half a decade. The IO Youth League offices suffered major defections as a consequence across the world, with some having had to close indefinitely including that of Nairobi, a strategic IO liaison office in Africa. When Puot is invited in local community events, he makes noise than a constructive input by a person of his like. This writer remembers one community event where Puot went head to head with one of the senior politicians in South Sudan, claiming he must be treated with respect and dignity because he was “Riek Machar.” This level of arrogance cannot be transported to the Petroleum Ministry where the country’s economic lifeline entirely depends.

It is a huge disaster. Puot’s appointment is another dirty strategy by the Machar Empire to divide the Jikany Kiir community. He is now the senior most political figure of the eastern Nuer, crushing the like of Dak Duop, Kun Puoch and other senior political figures in that part of the land. Puot is the Machar’s aide, a messenger and now he will be used by the Empire to send them monthly reports on the oil performance, and this would seal the Empire’s private contracts that they sustained during the six years civil war. This goes against the spirit and the letter of the peace deal which requires the Ministry of Petroleum to be led by a highly competent, technical officer with the highest code of conduct. With Puot on board, and with the remote control held by Angelina Teny, South Sudan can be assured of corruption and bad deals in the petroleum sector. Worse still, Puot will not have the kind of engagement that the previous ministers had. The guy simply does not have what it takes to do so. In human resources language, he is incompetent to the core and thus, lacks the necessary requirements for professional hiring. Puot’s appointment is an economic crime and the Machar Empire is individually culpable. 

Kiir’s Side

President Kiir plays the same game just like his friend. The government has retained almost 96% of the old guys with just few changes here and there. In some cases, more notorious old thieves are back occupying very significant posts in the government. The reforms have been buried six feet in the ground. Martin Elia Lomuro, a controversial and nonsensical Bari politician is back at the Cabinet Affairs Ministry along with the notorious Michael Makuei as the Information and Broadcasting Minister. The two men are internationally sanctioned. They, like Vice President Taban Deng, are unwanted persons in the US. Their bank accounts overseas are invalid and will only survive in the region. In an interconnected world where each ministry needs the support and cooperation of their counterparts, this was not a great idea from President Kiir. There are other competent South Sudanese, fresh and ready to work in these ministries. There was no need for criminals and thieves to be back in government.

Another notorious name is that of the National Security, Obote Mamur. He has occupied the space for more than a decade and yet the national security is the worst sector in the entire South Sudan. It defeats conventional wisdom why the President has returned the guy once more when South Sudan is bracing for a “new dawn” as the President rightly put it during his recent address to the nation.

The other suspicious name is that of the Labor Minister – Hoth Mai who has since been implicated in an international corruption scandal. He is currently undergoing an investigation by the Australian Investigative Agency for possessing a multi-million dollars house located in the gated community of Narre Warren, in Australia’s Melbourne neighborhood. It is interesting to find out what unique experience would a person of his caliber bring to the Labor Ministry. 

Women Ministers – 35% Rule Murdered

South Sudan Minister of Health, Elizabeth Acuei Yol, speaking to SSBC about Corona Virus (Photo credit: SSNN)

South Sudan Minister of Health, Elizabeth Acuei Yol, speaking to SSBC about Corona Virus (Photo credit: SSNN)

Let us begin with a tweet from a chauvinist who supports the current cabinet structure. He writes on twitter: “The agreement was 35% women representation in the national government. It’s not mathematically practical and also not economically viable to have 35% representation of women and 65% of men in government positions.” Woo, what a man! One of my best feminists of all times could not wait to teach this little, lost sheep with some basic upper primary school fraction. She replies: “65% of 35 is 22.75 and 35% of 35 is 12.25. This implies that you can either have 22 or 23 males and 12 or 13 females Ministers, i.e. if you have 22 males then 13 should be females and compensate the same in other posts. So, it’s mathematically possible.”

There are eight female ministers overall out of the 35 cabinet ministers. Mathematically, that is a loss of four or five more seats to the male ministers – the same bad guys who have been looting our economy, killing our people and of course, depleting our environment of a future productive force. The allocation of foreign affairs, agriculture, defense, health, General Education, Environment and Forestry, Gender, Culture, Museums and National Heritage is certainly a great development for a country like South Sudan. However, it is clearly not enough and does not make sense at all. South Sudan has not delivered quite well in developmental terms during its entire history both as an autonomous state since 2005 and after it has gained a full independence in 2011. This can be attributed to a ruthless rule of the male who loot first before they think of the economic and socio-political and security consequences of those actions. Also it goes against the spirit and letter of the peace agreement. This government has done more injustice in this docket as well.

Youth Representation

Under the General Provision of the Revitalized peace deal, paragraph 1.4.5 reads: 

“Having in mind that more than 70 percent of the population in the Republic of South Sudan is under the age of thirty and that youth are the most affected by the war and represent high percentage of refugees and IDPs, the Parties shall strive to include people of young age in their quotas at different levels. In particular, the Parties shall strive to ensure that the Minister of Youth and Sports in the RTGoNU shall be less than forty (40) years old.”

For the IO, A political stooge with absolutely no work experience and who has joined and dropped out from one of the continent’s mediocre academic institutions got the job – the argument; youth empowerment. There are a countless, most experienced youth in the rebel faction, but the Machar Empire for a reason known to them decided to select an incompetent one.

On the side of the government, it is more fatal. The Youth Ministry that the agreement explicitly mentions to be occupied by a young person truly gets a young person. But just like the ploy by the IO Camp, the person is the controversial Albino Bol Dhieu, a regime loyalist with a medical degree from the University of Juba. Nobody understands what mixes medicine with politics in a country that has an acute shortage of health professionals. No wonder the performance has been abysmal. In 2015, he was arrested allegedly for having stolen 1.5 million South Sudanese Pound from the youth funds. A prominent youth rights activist writes on his Facebook, urging the members of the public to petition Bol’s appointment:

Dear Youth of South Sudan,

It’s time for us to block the swearing-in ceremony of Dr. Albino Dhieu Bol as Minister of Youth and Sports. He is not the right person to represent us in the ministry

We can’t have a mafia who fought us leading us…”

What does this say about our leaders? Youth despite them occupying the biggest percentage of the country’s demography are not important; nobody gives them a piece of attention. Is it the leaders’ mistake? No, it is the youth who don’t understand their spaces. For any genuine engagement to happen, the youth must understand who they are so that they know what they want. As of current, there is a great sense of ignorance that occupies the youthful space in South Sudan. And as Shakespeare believed, “I say there is no darkness but ignorance.”

Implications for International Relations and the Expectations into the Future

The US government and the European Union through their diplomats recently shared that they were not confident in the current government. Their frustration was informed by the fact that both Kiir and Machar are engaged in pleasing the old friends, political tribe, and appeasing the family members rather than creating conducive environment for peace and stability in the country. The presidential structure and the ministerial portfolios confirm their comments.

Without strong and coherent institutions in place, and the right people for the job, the western governments will be very reluctant to aid the transitional government. Much of South Sudan’s humanitarian assistance comes from the west, particularly the United States. It is difficult to imagine South Sudan doing without this international cooperation and support. China will continue to take advantage of South Sudan’s oil industry. With Puot Kang as the minister, it is a confirmed deal that the oil ministry will continue to fund Chinese’s economy than our very own. South Sudan should also forget about any transitional justice taking place. It is the same old dogs leading the ministry of justice and constitutional affairs. Thus, the issue of the Hybrid Court should be postponed altogether.

The appointment of Amb. Hon. Beatrice Kamisa Wani, the first career minister in the Republic of South Sudan is indeed a welcome move. Kamisa certainly will bring long track records of diplomatic skills and experiences into the ministry. However, there are no miracles in Kiir-Riek government. She will be deeply compromised and her skills downplayed. The government has done everything it could to ensure that no development or reforms succeeding, at least not in the next 36 months.

In summary, the government of the day is the worst we ever had since the declaration of South Sudan as an independent state almost a decade ago. My friend Deng Elijah made a good statistical summary when he writes: 

“Trending on my social media was the appointment of the cabinet ministers of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity. The new cabinet is dominated by the top four elite families – the family of Dr. John Garang, Salva Kiir, Dr. Riek Machar and James Wanni Igga – and the two major tribes, Dinka and Nuer. The top four families alone are taking the top 9 seats in the country or 20% of the power that will eventually dictate over 80% of the power in the country. The Dinka tribe takes 18 out of 44 positions or 51% of the ministries and 50% of the presidency. The Nuer comes second with 9 ministries or 20% of the ministerial power and occupy two 17% or 34% of the presidency. The remaining 62 plus tribes gets 17 ministries or 38% of ministerial power and a weak 17% of the presidency. Women get 29% and youth forms an insignificant competition. Clearly, South Sudan crisis is a tribal power struggle. If anyone thinks it is a mere coincidence that all the five governments of Salva Kiir have produced the same numbers and the same results for the past 15 years, then that person needs to wake up and live a life.”

Matai Muon is a student of International Studies, University of Nairobi. He can be reached at mataimuon@yahoo.com


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