July 28, 2020 (Thessherald)–On the 25th of July 2019, when we met the President of the Republic of South Sudan, I had so many unanswered questions. Till this day, these questions make me crazy.
The first toughest encounter was at the office. After greeting him with one Hand (Something he never expected maybe from a Small Guy) which I believe was the right thing to do, Mr. President in his speech/intervention lamented that, South Sudanese youth have adopted bad cultural Practices from the Neighboring countries. Most of these young men and women grew up in East Africa and they come home with all these different cultures. They need to learn our cultures and adjust to it. I still do not know who messed up the “said culture” the young or the old. If he meant the Nilotic culture of respecting the elders, he would have not handed his hands to me. He would have placed it on my face/head as a sign of pouring blessing upon the young ones or perhaps shower my head with some saliva. Let me end this here, as I do not want to go one-on-one with the President of the Republic.
Hours later, when the Presidential Press Unit shared the story on their Facebook page, something striking suffice. The members, I do not know if it was the norms, cropped my damn picture out and share only the then Minster of Youth, Culture and Sports, the AU Youth Envoy’s Picture. When I saw this, I said to myself, the ride for a conducive and welcoming environment in South Sudan is surely rough and still long. I said that because I knew the people behind the page were young people or semi-young people at least (those below 40 years in South Sudan). What they did was not from a big man. They were not paid or instructed to crop that picture I believed. I think thy just had a feeling that I was not part of the people in the room.
With that in mind, I think we should cease from calling the sunset generation in South Sudan as the sole contributors to the mess in our country. They had their part but the biggest shareholders now are we the youth. If we hear of our men or women (Activists) arrested, they are not arrested by a 50 years old or a 70 years old Minister in the sitting government, the young men are behind this. Some are directed, while most generate all these reports to look good in front of their big men. When you want to see a minister, governor or the commissioner of your area, the people who say Bany OR Kuar is making a phone call or meeting someone are your age mates not these old men. How this can be solved will come from all of us I guess.
Interestingly, as the photos were circulating on Social media with different interpretation of the looks from the President, I was receiving phone calls from very many young men in Juba. Most of the callers were congratulating me for meeting the president. I do not know why this had to be treated a success, Why congratulate a fella? Did I just land the managerial role of Nilepet? No!
Just a handshake with the President. Our leaders have become so rare that when you meet one, the others will look at you like someone who made it in life. They have created all these barriers to make themselves look so expensive in the eyes of the public even when we call them Public Servants. How do you serve the Public in offices? My cousin who was the second caller made my day. He said “Mubruk, your problems are now all settled. All your issues are now sorted. When should I come for my share? You should make me your driver after two weeks.” Is this because most people who meet the head of State ask for some support? Is it because of the “yellow Envelope” that is dubbed HANDSHAKE?
In a country of about 11 million people, if we all meet the big man one at a time, and ask for a car, or some money, how much would the country gain in building some public institutions? Our masses should know that for every 10 Dollar that our leaders hand to us in cash, they bill the national account 100,000 US Dollar or more against your name. That mean 10-20 primary schools will be pocketed in the name of Handshake. IS this not a lost to the Nation and the generation to come?
Lastly, around 8pm, when the TV crew, the great men at SSBC aired the story. My head was off the TV screen. I think the team behind the camera were not sure of how to politely tell someone that they are not needed in a press briefing. If they had an idea, they were not going to chop off my head in the interviews. But since they had no idea, they went ahead to do the hustle. When I was asked, why my head was not appearing, I told my guys, maybe I was too tall. Probably taller than “Mr. Long Body” the Presidential guard whose face never missed in all of his interviews. One of the TV News anchor happened to be my former schoolmate. When he saw me coming out from the presidential office, I saw some changes in his face. He asked me, one question (Why are you here and why the visit?) more than 3 times in a space of 5 minutes, meaning he lost concentration and had something disturbing him. Our last group photo with the President is nowhere to be seen till this day. Maybe we will have it one day.
All in all, the take away from this interaction to me were these;
- The President was open and very honest in his response. He admitted a lot of things happening in the country and wanted solutions to the unrest. I do not know if it was the “AU tag” that the Envoy seem to have move with or something else.
- When leaders chose to meet people selectively and make themselves rare in the public eye, they lose touch with the masses/realities. It is them who miss a lot and not the people. Public servants should meet their people regularly. That is why, I am thinking of “After 5 O’clock Stories/Dialogues with the Commissioner” in Mayom County so that people do not have to struggle lining up in the Slim Commissioner’s office with aim of shaking hands. It will be after 5 pm daily so that we do not waste time for service delivery in talks.
- Much as we are saying the young people are the change, we should not stop there. Young people should as well change and adopt moral characters that are in line with the change they seek to see. It is not good to expect the gifts of Abel from our leaders/elders when we are offering Cain’s gifts. You are either Abel or Cain, you can’t be both. We should not be confirming Shakespeare’s observation, “I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done, then be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.”
- The journey to a beautiful South Sudan start with a well-nourished brain. If our minds are not properly fed, we will not
imagine beauty well. We might arrive at the destination we are looking for and not recognize it. As we shall be busy with taking town to the People. Let us support each other and be our “brothers’ / sisters’ keepers” always.
Simon Marot Touloung, is an active Youth Leader and Co-founder of the South Sudan Science Club (SSSC) whose main focus is environmental protection and Climate Change. He was a co-founder and Program Manager for African Youth Action Network –AYAN in Kiryandongo refugee settlement, Uganda.
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