Is South Sudan ready for a Muslim vice-president?
Opinion, By Dak Buoth Riek-Gaak
(Thessherald)–After the speedy appointment and subsequent swearing-in of the five Vice Presidents namely Dr Riek Machar, Dr James Wani, Rebecca Nyadeng, Taban Deng Gai and Hussein Abdel Bagi on 21st February, South Sudanese from all walks of life are now waiting for another appointment of 10 States governors and the formation of the cabinet of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU). Once more, South Sudan had entered her name in the history book for doing what has never been done before in the African continent and the world over.
I think we had created a bad precedent, and we can now predict that it won’t bear good fruits. In other words, this decision will give us bad than good. Hence, no other country will use this example in future to resolve any crisis at hand. No country has ever had five vice Presidents at once except South Sudan. It is laughable for this to happen in a country with an impoverished population of about 12 million people. President Kiir was right when he asked journalists: where am I going to get offices for these five vice Presidents? The problem was that he was not willing to get answers and solutions to the crisis at hand. He is now a worried man who created a conflict that he cannot stop alone. As at now about half of our vulnerable population resides in the internally displaced camps. These IDPs largely depend on the mercies of Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) for basic needs such as water, food and shelter.
Several research documents revealed that only 2% of our populations can read and write. The rest of us are illiterate. This high illiteracy rate is due to years of war and systematic marginalization that we went through under the hands of various Khartoum based regimes, particularly National Congress party government led by fugitive President, Omer al Bashir. Bashir and company denied us our fundamental Right to education provided for in the United Nations Human Rights charter. And by denying us the right to education, they were simply inserting and infecting us with the disease of poverty and ignorance which are the main causes of the current civil war in South Sudan. Al-Bashir owes us an answer to the International criminal court (ICC).
Most Islamic regimes in Khartoum discriminated us based on our African religions, race and region. They despised our cultures, religions and race, believing that we are backward black community and non-believers who should be Islamized by forced of armed, little did they know that we are the real African warriors.
In the late 1970s, the Islamic regime of late President, Jafar Nemeiri imposed sharia law in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious Sudan prompting the fierce war of self-determination by the Anyanya Two and later the Sudan Peoples’ liberation (SPLM/SPLA). The former led by Samuel Gai Tut, Bol Nyawan, Kuot Atem, Gabriel Tangiye and Tito Biel Chuor and the likes wanted nothing but Self-determination.
The latter led by John Garang, Kuanyin Bol, Nyuon Bany, James Wani and the likes wanted democratic and secular Sudan. Finally, these wars ended in 2005 following the signing of the peace accord dubbed comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) by late SPLM leader Dr John Garang and NCP leader Omer al-Bashir.
MUSLIM VICE PRESIDENT
The other day when President Kiir appointed Hussein Abdel Bagi Akol as one of the five vice presidents, many got surprised legitimately. I then asked myself: Is South Sudan Ready for a Muslim Vice President? I think President Salva Kiir erred by appointing Hussein Abdel Bagi as fifth vice president of the Republic of South Sudan. I welcome his appointment half-heartedly. It was an appointment at the wrong time and the wrong place. But because we are implementing a compromised peace agreement, let him stay there for a while.
In my view, it was too soon to appoint a Muslim in this senior position in the land. I must say his appointment surprised much South Sudanese populace. Other than his faith, he did not even qualify to hold that position at this critical time. If you compare him and his colleagues in the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), he has less a contribution in the post-South Sudanese independence struggle.
However, I blamed Changson Lew Chang for this unfortunate and untimely rise of Hussein. If Changson did not cause a problem in SSOA by refusing to concede democratic defeat, this could not happen. In 2018, Changson was defeated by late General Peter Gatdet in SSOA Election held in Khartoum. He then clung on power as Interim Leader of SSOA to cause this trouble. You can’t believe, the day Peter Gatdet was buried in Unity State, Changson and Hussein Abdel Bagi convened a meeting in Nairobi along Ngong road, and to my surprise, they never tell the audience to stand for a minutes to honour the late Peter Gatdet who was the pioneer of this armed struggle for peace and democracy. Even in their speeches, Changson and Hussein never uttered a word for the hero that many people praised.
On that day, it becomes clear to me that they were still fighting Gatdet in his grave and his deep slumber. If the duo is against the man deemed as hero and liberator than they are the enemies of the people, to say the least.
Now Changson and Hussein wanted to reap where they did sow. We might forgive them but Gatdet will keep haunting them because they wish him dead for no good reason.
Many believe that out of the five nominees that were forwarded to President Salva Kiir, Dr Lam Akol Ajawin was the favourite by his reform credentials, seniority and competence. The Vice President Hussein Abdel Bagi was an underdog, if South Sudanese were allowed to select one of them, he would be beaten hands down for obvious reasons. More often than not President Kiir appeared like someone who had forgotten the painful past that we came from as a nation. The day he picked Hussein’s name out of the five nominees, I said he either appointed him on a tribal basis or he was persuaded by Sudan President, Abdel Fattah al Burhan who was with him at the time.
It is public knowledge that President Kiir is ardent tribalist who can only appoint his tribesman whenever allowed to pick someone among other people. Relatively, President El Fattah would prefer someone he shares religion with if Kiir sought his opinion.
It is common knowledge that the Arab world fought against us for years due to greed for oil found in South Sudan. Most Muslim nations except Libya teamed up with Bashir’s National Congress party in their effort to loot our resources.
Since July, 9th 2011, Muslim communities in Sudan and the Middle East have not yet apologized for the atrocities committed against South Sudanese and the people of Darfur. I think they deserve to apologize for acting as an accomplice in the brutal war. I remember no Muslim organization has ever come out to condemn what Khartoum regimes did to us, thus their pin-drop silence in the face of these atrocities indicated that they sided with the oppressors in Khartoum.
Of late, some European oil companies that benefited from war have now decided to give back since they know we cannot get justice on our own. I was told that some oil companies notably Chevron which controlled oil fields in Unity State are now taking some victims and victims’ children to Europe for further education and treatment.
I know a few colleagues of mine who left for Europe through that initiative. Even though this does not match the damage they caused but it will make a difference in the end. Having said that, nobody should be discriminated based on his tribe, race, region and faith.
I believe the Muslim community in South Sudan is an integral part of our society. We love them but they need to extend hands of reconciliation by apologizing for the ills done by successive Islamic regimes in Khartoum. If they don’t know that apology is important than I have reminded them now.
The critical South Sudanese like me wants the Presidency to move with speed in appointing ten State Governors and the cabinet. Equally, we want the governors and the cabinet members to be appointed based on merit and not on patronage, nepotism and tribalism.
Usually, patronage caused runaway corruption, nepotism brings marginalization and disunity, and tribalism breeds civil war all the times. At times, people appointed based on merit ended up developing the areas within their jurisdiction. By so doing, the residents become happy and peaceful leading to the expansion of inter counties trade and development of various sectors of the economy.
The presidency has a chance to redeem itself and restore public confidence. Unfortunately, the Presidency does not reflect the face of South Sudan.
The Presidency is dominated by Dinka and Nuer tribes. President Salva Kiir, Rebecca Nyandeng and Hussein Abdel Bagi are from the Dinka ethnic group. The First Vice President, Riek Machar and Taban Deng are from Nuer ethnic group in Unity State. Only James Wani is from Equatoria. How can the position of five vice presidents be given to two tribes in a country with 64 tribes? It is one case but now, we want the cabinet to have a national outlook that will foster the spirit of nationalism and patriotism.
One reggae and Rastafarian artist have a song entitled ‘‘nothing but prayer.’’ Prayer is said to be the key to life. In South Sudan, we will pray and sing songs of peace day and night but peace will never come until we resort to these ways and means such as rule of law and respect for human rights. Prayers alone are not medicine to cure civil war. Integrity, accountability and equal representation of all members in governance are some of the good medicines that can resuscitate our country from its current state. We shall be wasting our pastors’ time to pray if we don’t observe and promotes democracy and good governance in South Sudan.
TEN STATE GOVERNORS SHOULD BE SWORN IN AT THE STATE CAPITALS
If I was President, Kiir and his five Vice Presidents, I would appoint the governors before forming the cabinet, reasons being, the governors and the presidency can later constitute their governments concurrently. The day of appointing governours, I would ask them to consult far and wide before naming their state ministers and county commissioners.
The next ten states governors should be sworn in at their respective state capitals. The old idea of swearing-in governors in Juba at once is not good for the federal or devolved systems of governance that we are advocating for. This time, we want the governors to be sworn in by judicial officers in public and not before the appointing authority in Juba. It is not a must that they are sworn in before President Kiir though he is appointing authority. Even though we don’t mean what we say, we should pretend that the power belongs to the people by enabling them to have a glimpse of the swearing-in of their governors. The governors can speak before people and outline their objectives within these three years.
In my view, this will brings the governors closer to their respective constituents. Days after the governors are appointed, they should form a committee comprised of representatives from each county within the state, and it is these committees that can invite chief and various stakeholders to the swearing-in. Their swearing-in can be televised for purposes of record and public viewing.
To me, it doesn’t make sense to appoint governors and immediately swear them in and later transport them to their respective states. Rare occasions such as swearing-ins allow people to congregate, talk and make promises from their hearts because they can see and hear what people want. We are tired of seeing every governor and all state officials taking the oath of offices in a board room at State House. Those office backgrounds at J-1 are not too smart. We want the new governors to take oath in an open space and broad daylight this time round. I have spoken before in an article entitled ‘Unity State needs a Female Governor’, that we in Unity State need a female governor in the person of Margaret Mathiang Deang, Daystar University Alumni. And should this be ignored then it will be very unfortunate for us because things will not change and people will not get the peace dividends that they deserve.
The Writer is the Chairman of Liech Community Association in Kenya. The views expressed here are his own, and he can be reached for comments via firstname.lastname@example.org