Kiir and Garang (File Image)
Kiir and Late Garang (File Image)

In the last three months there have been a plethora of reports ranging from Sentry reports to other organisations and individuals publishing damming reports about theft of state resources in South Sudan. This abuse of resources has been going on since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005.

Prior to the signing of the peace agreement, Sudan People Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) was about to implode due to massive corruption and personal differences in the movement. As a result, a meeting was held in Rumbek. One of the principle complainants was none other than the current President Salva Kiir himself. Highlighting the endemic corruption in the movement, he said, “I would also like to say something about rampant corruption in the Movement. At the moment some members of the Movement have formed private companies, bought houses and have huge bank accounts in foreign countries. I wonder what kind of system are we going to establish in South Sudan considering ourselves indulged in this respect.” Please see, ‘Minutes of Historical SPLM Meeting in Rumbek 2004’ (https://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article26320) With hind sight it appears that President Kiir was not honest in his protest against corruption but rather he was jealous of those prospering from the malfeasance.

Eight months down the line Salva Kiir unexpectedly replaced Dr John Garang who passed away in a helicopter accident on 30/07/2005 as President of Southern Sudan autonomous region and Vice President of the Sudan. On ascending to power, President Kiir not only whole heartedly embraced corruption but he institutionalised it alongside tribalism. The problem has now grown deep roots and it has become systemic. State resources are taken to be tribal riches with tribesmen allowed to plunder and pillage at will. There is no need for me to provide evidence of this looting spree as reports are awash in social media and print documents. The unimaginable corruption going on in South Sudan is down to tribal culture. How the ruling group views the state is the core problem of this malady. Although South Sudan is a state, the rulers think of it as something that is not collectively owned for the welfare of all its citizen. This emanates from the beliefs and values that the rulers hold – the cattle rustler mentality where people think that to attack other groups and rob them of their property is accepted as a fair game. People with such beliefs do not respect the concept of state and so when they are in power what they do is completely contrary to how a state should function.

To understand this point, Professor Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan articulates it with reference to Somali culture in a lecture at the University of London. It is very interesting to draw the parallel with South Sudan. Professor Bulhan argues that, quote This one is very important. Looting other clans is acceptable, it displays bravery. That is why we have been looting Camels from each other historically and you know if you look at that history of Camel looting, a group of people, young men, middle aged men go loot the other clans’ Camels and once they take the Camels, Ah! We are Muslims. So, we have to find a sheikh who can sanctify it, who can now give us, you know, read Quran on it and that way you know it be clean and fair. The man who reads the Quran, the sheikh gets the first share. The leader of the group gets the second and then it is distributed, but if any member of the clan happens to be there at that spot when these Camels are being divided, he also automatically has a share because he is member of the clan and tomorrow he will have to defend it.

OK, this comes later because some of the big problems you know Somalis have been singing a lot in pre independence about a She Camel, vacant, rich, nice, it was called Mandeq. Mandeq is the one that satisfies the soul. The She Camel that satisfies. This is the definition we had of freedom, of prosperity is that She Camel is finally in grasp. Well! People who have been looting from each other Camels, a Camel that is owned by none, by all which means by none, anyone who can loot it is a freak game. So, ever since then we were looting the state. Whoever holds it we loot it, OK and it is a fair game. Those outside of it of-course will resent it, will not like it but they do not think it is their Camel, national Camel. There is nothing nationality, it is about clan and whoever loots it is a fair game. What is owned collectively is owned by none. Therefore, appropriate all you can. Immediately gratify needs for you may die sooner than you think. Work hard of necessity but enjoy leisure every chance you get it. Delay of gratification, enjoy the moment, loot the Camel, you know use your clan as the protection. Unquote

Professor Bulhan goes on after talking about ‘we’ and ‘them’ and then continues by saying “Our definition of self and of the group is bound up by putting somebody down rather than finding a frame work of reciprocity. It is the kind of Hegelian master slave dialectics. I get rid of you if you do not acknowledge me. But if you acknowledge me and you keep on living, I need you to acknowledge but I put you down. These are some issues that continuously assail Somalis and much of the history of the last 30 to 40 years is one clan usurping power over another. All the efforts for democratic governance that we are struggling with, we are making some headway certainly in parts of Somali society where at least people have said OK let us continue this clan struggle, contest of memories and histories but at least let us put the guns down. Let us just put down the guns. That has been a very important step.” Please view the entire video which is in this link, ‘Debate Somali Identity by Pr Bulhan and Pro Eno’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRfIUpJGUn8. If you wish to zoom into the quoted section, please pull the cursor to 19.00 minutes and from here it goes on.

Now this is Somali culture, but it is also a nomadic culture and all nomads share similar beliefs and values in their cultures with minor variance. I have spoken to a number of Jieng and from my conversations I find a lot of similarity, especially in the act of violent robbery of cattle followed by shameless assertion of ownership. So, what goes on in South Sudan more or less is same with what goes on in Somalia. The rulers are looting the state because they are running the state like a cattle camp – “Luak”. Every tribesman of the ruling group has to get something. Hence, the packing up of every office of government with tribesmen for them to loot and enjoy. While everyone looks at South Sudan as a state, and it is recognised by the United Nations and the countries of the world, in reality, it is not run like a state in any shape or form.

The concept of state as we all know is a European construct originating from the ‘city state’. It is built on ideology centring on taxes, protection of citizens with provision of services. These main tenets are accompanied by beliefs and values drawn from the Holy Bible which emphasise care, justice and fairness to all regardless of ethnic origins. This view of state is totally alien to most African thought. Colonialism exacerbated this problem as it did not allow Africans to develop their own governance system organically. The Europeans came in 1884 after the Berlin Conference and sliced up Africa into a number of artificial states dividing tribes into these artificial states for their convenience thinking it would work fine. Unfortunately, the Africans do not look at states in the way the Europeans look at them.

In the case of South Sudan, the rulers have no respect for instruments of governance and institutions. These are seen as inconvenience and non-binding on the executive. They only refer to them when it suits them in the process of oppressing others, or in their dealings with the international community. The behaviour of the rulers in mismanaging the country without seeing the ills of their actions in the name of the state springs from beliefs and values that Professor Bulhan articulated above. This comes deep from inside the psyche of the rulers. This is something inculcated in them from childhood. It is hard wired in them. Any member of this ruling group who comes to power is obliged to obey their tribal obligations which is the source of security in their social group. Such social groups are regressive in that individuals remain unactualized and unliberated to see the good that is beyond them and the ills that their own social group immure them in.

The other non-nomadic ethnic groups judge the current rulers from their perspective erroneously thinking that the rulers think like them and so should understand them. This is where they make a big mistake. The rulers look at the world from their own perspective influenced by their cultural beliefs. They do not believe in the instruments of the state because they do not mirror anything in their culture. If the other ethnicities in South Sudan are to understand the rulers, they need to wear the rulers’ shoes and see things from their perspective. What the rulers see is looting, plunder, murder, killing, corruption and lawlessness is good. Nothing wrong with it because they do not share in values of care, equality, justice, liberty and fraternity. Their values are incompatible with management of modern state and in that sense the rulers actually constitute a threat to the state of South Sudan. As argued elsewhere, they are the main root cause of South Sudan’s problem.

This cultural mind set is wreaking havoc on South Sudan internally and externally. Internally it is the Jieng who are advancing it through tribalistic hegemonic policies such as the unimaginable mega economic abuses and open out right theft of state resources without any remorse or fear of repercussion from the state. Externally, it can be deduced from the behaviour of the officials of regional bodies like Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). The fact that IGAD fails persistently to accept that the root cause of South Sudan problem arises from the rulers’ behaviour, and not the issue of power and wealth sharing speaks for itself. South Sudanese delegates to all the peace talks held so far in Addis Ababa and Khartoum have not focused on understanding the mind set of people like Mahboob Maalim and Dr Ismail Wais. These representatives of IGAD have come to IGAD with a baggage of their own culture which influences the process according to their held values.

Both Mr Maalim and Dr Wais are Somali even though they are from two different countries and their culture is what Professor Bulhan has examined in relation to the wars going on among Somali clans. This cultural mind set as you see above is similar to what the Jieng are practising in the state of South Sudan. Is it any wonder why Dr Wais is so biased against the opposition in South Sudan although he is supposed to be a neutral mediator? Clearly in Dr Wais’ mind President Kiir is doing nothing wrong. The state is “owned by none” and anybody who is in power can “loot it” to satisfy their wishes.

By the same breath, do not forget, the president of Uganda and few others in the region also have nomadic origins who also behave as if they own the states they rule. In the case of Uganda, the president has staffed the government with his tribesmen as President Kiir has done in South Sudan and they both loot freely from their respective states. So, at the heads of states level of IGAD the cultural mind set Professor Bulhan articulates has indirectly taken hold influencing the region negatively.

Thus, as stated already this is not what a state should be. These people just turned their countries into kraals. With people like Dr Wais in critical position of influence without the ability to listen and understand the position of the ‘other’ and without responsibility to account to South Sudanese, they end up willingly to support chaos and death in South Sudan. So, in a sense IGAD is taken over and run through a destructive cultural mind set. Otherwise, how can a regional body in the face of the grave crimes President Kiir commits stick through thin and thick to support him with the international community in tow.

It is vital to remember also that IGAD itself is part of neoliberal global structure whose function is to promote its ideals of market, profits and deregulation. In neoliberalism, everything on this earth is commodified. Politics and its arenas are seen as a market places with conflicts as commodity where abusive governments are tolerated so long as profits can be made from them by powerful governments. It all boils down to interest with human life not given any value. The hard fact is that the hundreds of thousands of people President Kiir killed mean nothing. Deeper understanding of this point may enable the reader to grasp why Dr Riek Machar has been a none declared prisoner of IGAD since 2016 to date as well as why the Revitalised Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCISS) was shoved down the throats of South Sudanese in Khartoum in 2018. The regional and the international community obviously is making massive profits from the regime in Juba and this is why the regime’s grave crimes are ignored. Please visit this link to see the depiction of South Sudan peace talks under Dr Ismail Wais and IGAD, (https://africanarguments.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/SOUTH-SUDAN-TWO-page-five-page-001-e1454667994227.jpg). The full story is presented by African Arguments under the title, ‘South Sudan: The price of war, the price of peace – a graphic story’ (https://africanarguments.org/2016/02/05/south-sudan-the-price-of-war-the-price-of-peace-a-graphic-story/)

This cultural mind set which has infected the political atmosphere in the region found a natural ally in the global neoliberal order where states prey on themselves for profits without any moral values. This combination plays a big role in the current unhealthy governance in South Sudan. For example, the international community sheds crocodile tears with deceptive statements such as “we care about the people of South Sudan” and when such statements are put under the microscope, they completely fall apart as it contradicts their actions during peace talks. They violently impose biased agreements that favour the rogue regime and keeps the people abused which suggests those who make such statements are in bed with the rulers in Juba.

Therefore, the economic abuse in South Sudan is not corruption per se according to the ruling group. It is a cultural mind set which does not acknowledge the state as a territory in which all the citizens have equal stake with full rights to their lands and the right to life. The state from the rulers’ perspective is “owned by none” and so anybody who controls power should just loot it to the bone. This is an issue of blatant refusal to see the state for what it is. The none nomadic tribes are shocked and paralysed by the rulers’ behaviour of economic destruction, but they have not yet worked it out that these people do not think like them and this is where the real problem lies. In order to address it, the people will have to force change on Juba so that South Sudan as a state is operated according to the concept of state where constitution and institutions are respected with law and order being the order of things.

Without such change which is a necessity, Hilary Clinton’s indispensable advice offered at the International Engagement Conference at Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, DC on 14th December 2011 will come to pass and here it is, “And nowhere will the transparency and accountability that President Kiir has promised be more important than in managing South Sudan’s abundant natural resources. We know that it will either help your country finance its own path out of poverty, or you will fall prey to the natural resource curse, which will enrich a small elite, outside interests, corporations, and countries, and leave your people hardly better off then [than] when you started.” (https://2009-2017.state.gov/secretary/20092013clinton/rm/2011/12/178833.htm)

[Truth hurts but it is liberating]

Elhag Paul

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