Opinion: When elites relegate the people to insignificance
When elites relegate the people to insignificance people worldwide love the phrase “Government of the people, by the people, and for the people." It was coined by the US President Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address on 19/11/1863 in the aftermath of the American Civil War. In just a few words, Lincoln articulated the ideal relationship between the rulers and those to be ruled correctly.
It's what is expected in a democratic government. But what I have just narrated seems to come from a different planet in the case of South Sudan. A 19th-century political doctrine appears far-fetched for the 21st century South Sudan. It seems what we got there is a "Government of the elites, by the elites, and for the elites."
Following the ceremony for the initialling of the Agreement on the Outstanding Issues of Governance, the Information Minister, Michael Makuei Lueth remarked that those who didn't initial the document are insignificant. Well, it's the usual unsubstantiated claims Michael Makuei Lueth never failed the audience to hear from him. However, there's no way to know for sure who is insignificant and who is not. The fact of the matter is that the people of South Sudan never elected anyone since independence on 09/07/2011.
Salva Kiir was elected as President of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) in October 2010 while serving as First Vice President to President Omar Al - Bashir of the Republic of Sudan. Trickery and the fact that the South Sudanese people were occupied with jubilations and the joy of independence, gave Salva Kiir the chance to "smuggle" himself through the back door to the seat of the presidency without elections. And as the world has seen, he extended his illegal term in office twice so far without any constitutional or legal basis.
In essence, what we got here is a de facto government presided upon by an unelected President. Elitism is not confined to the clique at the helm of the government of South Sudan. The phenomenon is commonplace within the opposition groups. They are living in a bubble of their own facilitated and maintained by the ongoing plundering of the country's resources. They are out of touch with what the common man endures on a daily basis in South Sudan.
For Michael Makuei Lueth and his boss, the most critical thing is to secure the signatures of the elites of the opposition parties who are their long-term colleagues. Some of the elites in the opposition share the responsibility of what has become of the country. Some even do not want accountability as it would jeopardise their political future.
The fact that they have been in power for almost a decade without elections, and the polarisation within the South Sudanese society arguably on ethnic lines, made them believe that the people and those who stand for their cause are insignificant. But in politics, the opposition cannot be regarded as irrelevant without substantiating the claim.
Usually, the straightforward test is the ballot box. But the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) Party fears any process that carries the smallest ingredient of democracy. We have seen it in the rigging of the Governorship elections in Juba, Malakal, Bor, Aweil, and Bentiu in 2010. But three fundamental issues make a government popular. The first is the provision of security for all the citizens. Has the government done that? The truth is evident to everyone. Tens of thousands of our folks left their villages fleeing to the neighbouring countries while some urban residents abandoned their homes to enter the United Nations Mission (UNMISS) Protection Of Civilians (POC) sites.
But why would a citizen live for years in such places in his own country?! It's an indictment of the government for failing to protect and provide security for its citizens. The irony is that General Paul Malong, the former Chief of Staff of the SPLA, whose actions forced many to seek refuge in UNMISS POC sites, did the same when the government forces threatened his life. He was lucky that the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) intervened before he could escape to UNMISS or get liquidated by the government forces. In our towns and cities, the two words"unknown gunmen" which have become very familiar with numerous victims across the country, seem to raise no concerns from the President.
It looked to many that a policy of cover-up is being adhered to. Suspicions were rife regarding the identity of the unknown gunmen. It would have taken us a great deal of time to decode the puzzle. The old Arab proverb that translates as "When two thieves differ, stolen goods appear" seems befitting to this particular situation. Indeed, General Paul Malong in an act of tit-for-tat exposed the secret by letting the world know that the unknown gunmen are members of the National Security Service (NSS) led by the Chief of Intelligence, General Akol Koor.The second issue is employment and job creation for the masses. It would include support and assistance for the farmers, the small businesses, and the young entrepreneurs. The government did nothing of the sort during its tenure of over a decade.
The militia affiliated to it (Mathiang Anyoor) made things worse by driving farmers out of their homes and farms. It resulted in a poor harvest contributing to the famine caused by the war. The third issue which is services delivery is usually the quickest way to garner support from the masses. However, the government continued to keep the country in a sorry state regarding essential services. There's no clean running water nor primary sanitary system in the capital Juba.
The hospitals are awful leaving the majority of the citizens at the mercy of bogus doctors and health professionals. Also, South Sudan has become a dumping ground for counterfeit foods and medicines. There are no regulatory bodies, and even if they do exist, they remain dysfunctional. The educational system is broken to a very significant degree. And to attest to that, the elites and the war tycoons send their children to study abroad.
Those who previously believed that the independence of South Sudan would open the doors for educating their kids and give them the opportunity to part with poverty; had the shock of their lives. They realised that they were better off before than after the independence of South Sudan. Despite the vast oil revenues, the total length of tarmac roads in the whole of South Sudan is under 300 km. The longest tarmac road (Juba-Nimule road) which is 192 km long, was constructed by the Americans.
We still have vast swathes of countryside devoid of roads. For example, the Bor-Bipor road is impassable during the rainy season. Kiir's government performance concerning linking the country together is quite appalling. The above account will never endear any government to its people. Michael Makuei Lueth is very delusional regarding the popularity of his government. While teachers, university lecturers, medical doctors, nurses, soldiers, and the other government employees go for 6 to 8 months without salaries, many South Sudanese were dismayed by the recent pay out of 40,000 USD to each member of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) without any official explanation. Many reports cited that it was a reward for the members of the NLA for extending the term of office for the President. It's the embodiment of what a kleptocratic government of elites could do to cling to power.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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