Opinion South Sudan

Opinion: The lies of Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin always flew like a fertilizer spreader in a wind like wildfire

The lies of Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin always flew like a fertilizer spreader in a wind like wildfire, this is who he was, and ever shall be at the end of his political career.

By Santino Aniek,

Santino Aniek is a South Sudanese living in Upstate New York, U.S.A.(Photo credit: Santino profiles)
Santino Aniek is a South Sudanese living in Upstate New York, U.S.A.(Photo credit: Santino profiles)

 Dec 14, 2020(Nyamilepedia)My elder brother Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin functions well in the turmoil and Chaos environment. Lies, dishonesty, and inanity are the characteristic of Lam Akol. As we all remember, when President Kiir appointed the Governors of Nine (9) States and the Chiefs of the three (3) Administrative Areas, brother Lam didn’t even bother to question President Kiir’s legality to do so, but when it comes to Upper Nile state, Lam is now out with full apparatus. Is that not hypocrisy? If brother Lam undertook to be a leader as he always assumes, he should have written this misleading article during the appointment of the Governors of Nine (9) States and the Chiefs of the three (3) Administrative areas. But however, his usually tribalist mindset made him outraged at this moment in time because his tribe man warlord Johnson Olony was not appointed as the Governor of Upper Nile State. 

There is a temptation to look at what we are seeing now and recoiling in horror in Lam’s response to the Upper Nile Conference, which was initiated by the office of the Presidency, and in many ways beside this, we have seen him putting out lies over the years. Now, the tumult of Lam continues with rapid news cycles reckoning trying to hide behind the constitution in which he took arms against. We see recriminations and outrage, and breathlessness about Padang Jieeng community in the Upper Nile and inciting lies in the existing land conflict. 

What will Lam do if Olony is not appointed as the Governor of Upper Nile? What will Shilluk who are supporting Olony do if their dream is not fulfilled? And what do we make from parsing Lam’s support to his warlord Olony and the statements from the politician who always supports his tribe? But I must confess that seeing Lam up close in Nasir in the 90s none of this rhetoric should not be a surprise. I feel the waves cresting, amplified by a warning, or just the wanderings of my mind. Hearing Lam speak sometimes makes me feel a deep stream of sadness and sometimes sprinklings. Oftentimes it sinks in badly and won’t get out of my mind like when he declared Coup in Nasir on an emotional evening of August on the BBC. There is much to be sad about Lam’s political career, the loss of unity between Padang Jieeng and Shilluk in Upper Nile; a relation that was once used to be normal is now evaporated like water in a thin air. And we have the sense when we do not know when and how or even if this division between Padang Jieeng and Shilluk will end. Over the years, the stories of my brother Lam seem to be swept aside by the shady of wars, he has been swamping the South Sudanese with a flood of craziness, and dishonesty that is further being agitated like hurricane-force destroying the city. 

Again, Lam is a guy who readily lies, peddles in conspiracy theories, doesn’t engage with complexity, is hostile with realty, sees the world in terms of his own narrow personal interests, is reckless and careless with his public statements, spread confusion in the society, and that such a man should be no surprise to South Sudanese. For years, those who watch Lam closely have shared many of his falsehoods at a level that is breathtaking and chilling. Last week, when the office of President Kiir tried to find a solution between Padang Jieeng of Upper Nile and Shilluk, we saw once more the man in his usual dishonesty that always surprisingly and controversially fabricated lies on social media putting out a misleading statement.

However, Lam may be shrouded in South Sudan politics, but he is diminished by historic unpopularity throughout his political career, buffeted by disgrace and struggling in the recent repudiation by his own Party SSOA. Now at this moment in time, much of the rhetoric is expected because there is fear mongering and recurrent waves of divisiveness within the Shilluk community. But how many South Sudanese people think Lam believes what he says? How many even read it? Does it matter? Do we care what Lam said anymore? Previously, Lam faced political headwinds in his own Shilluk community, he is now using this moment to tack, and influence the Shilluk community against Padang Jieeng. My good elder brother Lam, by instinct, necessity or psychology, only knows the high stakes of doubling down no matter the politics of it. We’ve seen how that instinct ended up in the Communist Party, in the SPLM, SPLM-United, SPLM-DC, and NDM, but here we have no choice, but to watch him play his cards of division in the Upper Nile Region, no matter how ruinous. 

More importantly, the power of Lam, as we are seeing, has its boundaries, and Padang Jieeng in Upper Nile is riled and ready. No political calculus of Lam will change the battle lines and the future of Padang Jieeng in Upper Nile. And I have a sense that this misleading article of Lam is already being forgotten, or was never thought about in the first place. As I think more about Lam’s outrageous article on Upper Nile Conference, there are the usual features, distortions, and of course outright lies. If Lam had submitted his misleading article to constitutional law scholars, he/she would have dropped so much red ink marking it up and would have looked like a crime scene. And yes indeed, this article was a crime against the facts, and against the unity of Padang Jieeng in Upper Nile and Shilluk. But I was also struck by something else, which I think we are going to see a lot more of as the campaign for Olony to be appointed as the governor of Upper Nile state heats up, and that is lies and misjudgment by Lam and his cronies. There is no plausible way for a politician falsely who claimed that the Shilluk have historically lived on the riverside but Jieeng do not, who disgracefully clams that Malakal is a Shilluk territory, who dishonestly claimed that the former two counties of Parieng and Biemnhom should not have been put together as one state because, he alleged, they have no common border, and seeks to undercut our sensitive and hard-fought borders, to credibly claim to be a steward of our history. It is so farcical why Lam always even pretends to know it all? Because is otherwise known as dishonest and opportunist and his politics is deeply unpopular in the political world. Lam knows his community is losing the political battle over the governorship of Upper Nile and Malakal, like Olony lost the battle over Malakal and Malut a year ago. With this misleading article, Lam can fire up Shilluk base as sure as they fire up Nasir rebellion in the 90s, but in the end, among a growing number of younger South Sudanese and in the academic world, Lam is on the wrong side of history. Lam and Olony will not win the governorship of Upper Nile, he knows, and he wants to rally his Shilluk base.

Therefore, expect Lam will try to moderate his image, not in the cruelty like he used to, shortsightedness in the Shilluk community, or capriciousness of his political career, but much of his claims is like putting a lipstick of lies on the pig. The question is will South Sudanese hold him accountable for his dishonesty? I predict we will see a lot more of these kinds of tactics of Lam. There is a desire to say, when confronting the divisive statements from a person like Lam and his sycophants, enablers, and like-minded bigots is to tell them that this is not who we are. Except we must be honest with ourselves about the deep division currently that has polluted our nation since its origin. For all the soaring rhetoric of Lam, for all the divisive statements, for all the lies, there has always been the ugly truth that this nation has been far from free if people like Lam were assumed to be the leaders of this nation. I remember in old Sudan when division was allowed to fester as the status quo. Now, we have brighter spotlights of outrage. For too long, too many of us, and mostly those with privilege who served in the movement during the civil war with brother Lam, allowed ourselves to believe we had come further than we had, and still allow people like Lam to have a say in national agenda. Those who were in the movement where I am included, distinguish Lam when he was a Northern Upper Nile commander, members of Nasir group, in the SPLM, SPLM-United, SPLM-DC, NDM, and SSOA. There can be no question now about the size or the starkness of the stakes. I don’t want to minimize the damage Lam has been causing in South Sudan, but this has been a fight that has been taking place over centuries, on battlefields literal, and rhetorical of him.

However, we must recognize the hard-won progress of those who fought for this nation in the past when Lam and his cronies colluded with the Khartoum regime and we were determined to carry that banner forward to a place where our ideals more completely match our reality. And now, a crisis like this one in Upper Nile would test the administration of Kiir Mayardiit. But all South Sudanese including the President need to do now is to look at the rhetoric of Lam, particularly the mobilization of militia by Olony, which is being loaded by only Shilluk tribe men, to understand how reasonable this is for Padang Jieeng in Upper Nile so far. At this point, the number of murders in Malakal by Olony is low, and we have to hope it stays that way, but to make Olony governor of Upper Nile will make it worse. I know few South Sudanese including Lam do not see this president Kiir as legitimate, but whether they like it or not he is in charge of the government, and he will be the one to appoint the governor of Upper Nile. Our public policy is largely in the hand of President Kiir, as well as state and local officials. We have to root for the success of our government, at all levels. But those who kill South Sudanese in the name of government positions must be held accountable, and especially people like Olony. 

Authentic expressions of empathy, the ability to grasp the horror of the death and suffering of the Padang Jieeng, seems beyond the ability of this Conference because President Kiir need to help Padang Jieeng of totally rejecting this Olony’s appointment once and all. This is not a new observation, but it shocks me every time my mind heads in this direction of envision Olony as the governor of Upper Nile of the world. Padang Jieeng is yearning for a public recognition of what they are going through. The public opinion shows that all Padang Jieeng are taking Olony threat in Upper Nile with the seriousness it requires. We know what needs to be done. We know that pain will be endured when Olony is appointed. And Padang Jieeng knows damn well they must pull together. And yet people like Lam show no understanding of this magnitude of concerns among Padang and including few Shilluk who were affected by Olony’s rebellion. To read Lam’s misleading article, it is a failure that is historic in scale. I have never seen such a lack of empathy from a person who once used to be a scholarly. It is jaw dropping, and profoundly sad. But what invariably pulls me forward is the deep belief in the goodness of President Kiir who has been trying to bring the country together, the sacrifices of so many people, and the determination to strengthen ourselves for the challenges ahead. I have seen time and time again that from sadness can also come the seeds of hope and peace. A political operative like Lam leading tribe men undercutting decades of norms by turning the rule of law into a strong-arm tactic for his tribe and his personal self-interest.

How does one even begin to make sense, let alone just keep track of it all when Lam was in the SPLM, when he was Northern Upper Nile commander, SPLM-United, SPLM-DC, and NDM? The simple answer is, one doesn’t because it’s impossible. Many have noted that confusion and chaos serves Lam’s strategic interest. The idea is if there is so much outrage, so much dishonesty, ineffectiveness, divisiveness, and lies that nothing will stick. And you can make a good case that this has happened. But I would add some caution to this narrative that Lam has survived as he has is due as much there is conflict within the cycle he lived in. Lam has bent nearly the SPLM, SPLM-United, SPLM-DC, NDM, and now SSOA to his whim and it is the reason he didn’t make it to the present government because he terminated himself out. It is advisable that this year should not be a year of yelling in disbelief, of nail biting, and gnashing of teeth, but President Kiir should make this moment where Padang Jieeng have been saying they want a very different path going forward. Hence, representation matters, and it’s not just politics, in occupations from the government, in the sport world, in the business world and to all the other places in society, those who honor to be a representative of the people are responsible people not killers. These people are judged on scales and weighed how well they do their jobs. But they are all subjective qualities that are shaped by what our society and history books have taught us how a leader is supposed to sound like differently than we heard always from people like Lam.

It is overwhelming to try to chart all that is dangerous and disturbing in our current times. But if one changes one’s perspective and starts to chart all who are rallying to the better angels of our nature, who are undeterred and fearless, who are full of grit and energy and a ferocity for truth and action, then one starts to see a glimmering horizon of hope. I do not say this to dismiss or dilute the challenges we face. They are formidable and fearsome. But so are the ranks of an army of change marching across this country, who tell people like Lam that they are wrong because he is a member of this club who cause this mess South Sudanese are in, and a far brighter future must have to be discovered. The other thing I hope we can agree on is that our country is broken in ways that need fixing and it is always easier to fix things when you try to work together.

As much as people like Lam might want to build walls of division, as much as they might want to stoke division or foment turmoil for their own political gain, they can’t undermine the fundamental ways of lives of Padang Jieeng and Shilluk in the Upper Nile Region. Padang Jieeng and Shilluk in Upper Nile are far more alike than they are different because they lived side-by-side and always intermarried. That’s why they can make great progress if they work together like the conference that was initiated by President Kiir’s office in order to find a common ground. Hopefully Padang Jieeng and Shilluk can emerge from this current test more resolute and united, as people of Upper Nile, not Jieeng or Shilluk, and into the broader world. I know at this point it might seem to be a faint hope, but I do believe most South Sudanese people would rather live in a country that worked more for the common good. Whoever President appointed to be the governor of Upper Nile is a big deal, the stakes of which almost defy comprehension, and Olony can’t be the one because the kids who have lost their dads in the hand Olony can’t afford him. I know government appointees are often driven by passion, and passion can be rooted in politics, but this can’t be Olony. To be sure there is plenty to be angry with Olony. But I keep coming back to the sadness. It isn’t only the death of innocent Padang Jieeng in Malakal and Malut that always causes me to catch my breath when hearing Olony’s name, and it is the idea that so much of this likely could have been prevented. And the sadness that comes from the gnawing question of how much future pain could be mitigated if Padang Jieeng handed up with Olony who always took a different course. There is sadness at the actions not taken that will defy reason and the lives of Padang Jieeng in the upper Nile. But my sadness goes even deeper. 

This effort must begin with a realization that South Sudan has always been broken in some significant systemic and historic realities. It has been a long and arduous process to try to fix this injustice in Upper Nile. I think we all need a reset in a way, to take a moment to breathe, to think of our unity and our common humanity in Upper Nile. I understand the fear, and the distrust, and the dislike, but we have few leaders in Shilluk who should be appointed governor of the upper Nile, but allowing Olony to become the one will make it worse. Again, we can’t give up on fighting for justice in Upper Nile because we are all in this together, whether we like it or not. But Lam’s misleading article can’t be used to build a bridge between Padang Jieeng and Shilluk in Upper Nile. There are many reasons to be cynical about the appointment of Olony, but Padang Jieeng for one chooses to not succumb because it makes this choice feels like a step backwards healing.

Santino Aniek is a South Sudanese living in Upstate New York, U.S.A. He can be reached at santino.aniek5@gmail.com, find me on Facebook, on Skype, and on twitter @saniek.

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