By Atem Yaak Atem
For more than three years now readers of the electronic media have become familiar with the writings by “Isaiah Abraham” and his views on the two most senior members of the SPLM and the
Atem Yaak Atem in Juba
Government of Southern Sudan, GoSS, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar. More often than not these opinion pieces portray the SPLM leader in a very poor light while his deputy is presented as the best man that the people of Southern Sudan have ever had but being denied the top leadership position.
Before I get into the heart of the matter, I will have to make some points clear. These clarifications, however, are not exhaustive but have to be made to avoid some of the readers making unwarranted conclusions.
First, I am writing in my personal capacity as a member of the SPLM and that I do not speak for anybody or institution. Second, I believe in the freedom of expression by individuals or groups of individuals. “Isaiah Abraham”, like the rest of us has that right. The right includes his freedom to choose to like or disapprove of leaders and their styles. But that right, in my view, has to be exercised responsibly.
Third, I bear no personal grudge against “Isaiah Abraham”. Fourth, I believe that the manner “Isaiah Abraham” compares the two leaders is harmful to the cohesion and team spirit within the SPLM and to a large extent to the common good of the people of Southern Sudan.
Finally, I use here the name of the author of such opinions in quotation marks because Isaiah Abraham is not strictly speaking the name he uses in his official documents or by which he is known to many of his relatives and friends. I know the man and his home of birth. But revealing his true identity to the public is none of my business.
Understanding of roles and functions of public institutions’ office bearers:
In an article that recently appeared in the Sudan Tribune website and under the title of “Is Kiir riding on Machar’s back?” the writer has written this “… Kiir campaign managers want to portray that one is nobody [sic] and therefore should be left to play routine second fiddle at the campaign [sic]”.
Riek Machar at both the party and governmental level is deputy to Salva Kiir. Whether it is election time, the running of party or government business, the role of the vice, deputy, second in command or whatever nomenclature is used to designate job description or constitutional share of power, playing second fiddle, a very unfortunate choice of value-overloaded phrase, becomes unavoidable otherwise the situation the writer appears to advocate would be that of “co-president”. In theory, that anomalous and rare scenario is possible for constitutional lawyers to create but under such a system the function of government, party or corporate body, would be severely crippled and paralysed.
Southern Sudan has too many serious and urgent problems to tackle to the extent that if its leaders were to adopt such a structure that would certainly be an invitation to more difficulties that will serve nobody but the cause of anarchy.
The office of a vice president:
There is no universally satisfactory formula in respect to the definition and role of a vice president that suits all countries of the world and at all times. In some nations a vice president can hold a cabinet post in addition to that of being deputy to the president. For example, in Kenya from the time of President Kenyatta to the present the vice president has always held a ministerial job.
In many countries including the United States of America that some Sudanese believe is a model of democratic rule, the vice president has very few assignments; his or her job is mostly to act in the absence of the president or when the chief executive is unable to perform his or her duties either due to illness or other reasons.
Nearer home, during the early years of the CPA Vice President of the GoSS, Riek Machar was minister of land and public utilities. Currently he is in charge of the supervision of the powerful parastatal commissions which are a parallel government minus name. Vice President Machar mostly represents the President in discharge of weighty duties such as chairing the peace talks between the Government of Uganda and the armed opposition of the Lord’s Resistance Army during the past two years.
On many occasions, Mr Riek Machar travels to Khartoum to discuss important matters with senior members of the Government of National Unity, mostly with Vice President of the Republic, Ali Osman Taha. Publicly or in private I have never heard Vice President Machar complaining of being made redundant; my guess is that the deputy of the GoSS has little time to spare. I know this from several visits I made to his office (to arrange an interview for the media consumption); there are many queues of citizens waiting to see him. I suspect such meetings are part of the role a person with power to exercise otherwise why should someone waste their time to meet an impotent nonentity?
“Isaiah Abraham’s” views on the President- Vice President relations
In the same article “Isaiah Abraham” has written this sentence that is rather difficult to decipher: “Yet the man who run [sic] the system… and allow [sic] us to breath [sic] pride for our dignity no single poster anywhere, saved [sic] for one in which the same cow boy closes his eyes in pretension.”
Although what the writer is trying to express is difficult to understand, there is no mistake that the mangled message is abusive to the SPLM presidential candidate. He adds his vitriol with “it puzzles why Dr Machar be strait-jacketed by small group against the will of the people of Southern Sudan. Does the writer mean that the people at any one time elected Riek Machar and then Salva Kiir usurped his position?
The writing is replete with comparison of the two men, one a recipient of poor image while the other is showered with superlatives of exaltation. This is one of these. “He (Machar) managed to be patient, serving his weak boss for five good years. He is a man of faith, so industrious that the South will use [sic] after independence. From the depth of my heart I know that this is the man with whom the South shall find rest from petty and chronic [sic] politics of stomach and backwardness…”
Without telling the reader the yard stick he uses for measuring success or failure by leaders the writer claims that “Dr Machar is 10 times superior to Kiir.”
The crown of praise takes religious overtone when the author writes “I’m seeing a benevolent man being maligned for no reason at all. Oh Jesus, pave the way for your servant Machar to liberate us from us!
Mixed bag of contradictions:
The writer drives himself into a glaring trap of contradiction when he writes “Despite every negative perception we might conclude about his [Kiir’s], our hero (Comrade Mayardit) will be remembered as a leader who first hoist [sic] the Southern flag and established the government of the people of Southern Sudan from nowhere (scratch?” question mine).
He adds “Kiir as an individual espoused for [sic] his people’s cause most of his life, besides being a great listener and a principled man”.
At least Kiir’s positive side is mentioned. The reader will say this is a balanced judgement. But wait a minute. Kiir owes these laudable attributes to Riek Machar because in the words of “Isaiah Abraham” “All the above came about because Dr Machar was closely behind Kiir.” I find it difficult to comment about this type of reasoning.
Personality cult at work:
Those who are familiar with the propaganda from North Korea will be appalled to see our own Riek Machar being addressed as if he were a member of the Kim Jong Il dynasty. Here is a sample “Well, I have seen poor show where a soldier runs out of imaginations, creativity and fresh ideas to audiences. The gap should have been filled by non [sic] other than the tomorrow beloved leader Dr Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon…”
Riek is being embarrassed:
As I have stated earlier on in this piece, I have no quarrel with the writer to praise or curse whoever he chooses and for whatever reasons. Any aggrieved person can settle the matter in a court of law if they so choose. However, I believe this kind of portrayal of one of the leaders of Southern Sudan would make the recipient of adoration feel very uncomfortable with this liberal and unabashed shower of praise which seems to aim at belittling his boss.
In the mind of some people, the admirer must be doing the promotion at the bidding of Riek Machar. I do not speak for Riek Machar, a man I can claim to know better than “Isaiah Abraham” thinks he does. (I have a fact only a person allergic to the truth could have the guts to challenge. This is:
I first met Riek Machar in 1963, more than three years before the writer who questions others about the same had come to this world. For years we were students and friends with Riek Machar throughout our schooling in Sudan and Britain and later in the office of the Chairman of the SPLM when the Major as he was, was the director while I was a member of his staff in charge of media. (I here use the verb “was” in relations to our friendship with Riek because by the nature of my career and philosophy of life I keep distance from the high and mighty of this world.)
For sure the man is hard working and a reasonably good human being with his own strengths and weaknesses like the rest of us. One of his strengths is that he could take offence at this blatant flattery which is in bad taste and serves to be divisive and harmful to a healthy teamwork among colleagues in government and the SPLM.
Enough is enough Mr “Isaiah Abraham”. Your writing is not healthy for the SPLM if you are loyal to this political organisation that has championed the cause of the oppressed Sudanese people. The two men need each other as they need your and my vote for them to lead the people of Southern Sudan.