South Sudan’s Preventable War: A Portrait of Shame or A Lesson in Human Folly?


OMAHA, NE– LATE one evening in the fall of 2004, three and a half years after we had resettled in the United States, a colleague of mine (his name withheld) with whom we were deliberating on possible initiatives for the Jesh el Amer otherwise known as the Lost Boys of Sudan, caught me unawares few minutes after he had called me. It was not uncommon during those days for many of us who were still navigating new life in the newest society to give each other a courtesy call. The gentleman said to me over the phone, “Joseph, I’m afraid what happened in Rwanda in ’94 will happen in Southern Sudan.” And, my line went into a dead silence for few seconds. Shocked and not knowing what to say, I managed to exhale by asking, “But why would you say stuffs like that, man?”

       It was an uneasy and shocking premonition on two levels, but one that needed no further clarification, especially the part about Genocide, because, first, I was already familiar with the horrors of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide in which over 800,000 ethnic Tutsis were hacked to death in a “state-sponsored violence” in April 1994, a year that has now remained seared into the collective memory of the 20th century Africa, and one that will forever remain a scar on the conscience of humanity. Second, the premonition did not seem fart-fetched and it would be naïve at that time to think that the warning in that very call was just another ordinary slip of the tongue, especially for those of us who grew up in war, and actually familiar with the ethnic tensions in Africa.

       Conversely, it was also the same time we South Sudanese and our fellow marginalized Sudanese were becoming optimistic about the prospects of seeing a lasting peace come to our homeland. So on the one hand, that premonition did not shake me that much because I still had enough confidence in the unshakeable ability of our liberation movement to deliver the suffering masses from decades of oppression. But on the other hand, it did not go away as I kept thinking about its implications, God forbid, something of that nature were to happen among our people. After all, tensions were just beginning to emerge as some politicians as well as some pockets of the society started making no bones about how resentful and envious they were about others.

         From the end of August to September 1, 2004, a huge conference had been organized by the Lost Boys and Lost Girls in Phoenix, AZ. It was their first reunion since coming to America. At that conference, disagreements over the leadership structure almost derailed the otherwise emotionally colorful reunion, although at long last, the Lost Boys and Lost Girl managed to elect their leadership by the skin of their teeth. Still, even weeks following the conference, there was bitter and vitriolic discussion online until the website that was set up by some friends of the Lost Boys and Lost Girls was taken down.

        Then rumors started swirling about the once popular SPLM/A. In December 2004, our mighty liberation movement (the SPLA/M) was frantically preparing, and readying to sign peace with the North. But not everything was out of the woodwork just yet. An urgent meeting was called in Rumbek that was aimed at reconciling the leaders (Garang and Kiir) following what was a near-split within the rank and file of the Movement after what appeared to be a rumor solely engineered or designed to put a wedge between the late Dr. John Garang and his then deputy Salva Kiir. Two major highlights from that infamous 2004 SPLM meeting in Rumbek are that Salva Kiir accused John Garang of dictatorship and corruption, the very things that he (Mr. Kiir) ,ironically, has ended up doing with cause and passion—and, then the fact he only pointed out the suffering of the people of one region.

      Analysts still believe that the near-split in 2004 had the possibility of derailing the entire peace process with the north. But thanks to the quick thinking ability and the steady leadership of John Garang, practical wisdom and restraint were exercised and the Movement held together and, yes, South Sudanese were able to witness the historic signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on January 9, 2005. Seven months later, Dr. John Garang died in a mysterious chopper crash on his way back from Uganda. Again, because of the quick thinking ability of Cdr.,Kuol Manyang Juuk Chaw, a potential disaster was averted and late Garang’s long time deputy Salva Kiir took the helm of the SPLM/A.

       Then, president Kiir, in cahoots with his allies who had ganged up earlier against Garang, took South Sudanese through a rather rockiest 6-year interim period marked by lootings, a botched disarmament exercise and perennial conflicts involving communities, massacres, corruption, scandals, and intimidation against journalists, until July 9, 2011, when South Sudan finally declared independence from the Sudan. Yet, thankfully, my colleague’s premonition did not come to pass, as feared in that 2004 phone call. However, a grand conspiracy was slowly brewing for the people of South Sudan. It was just a matter of time before that conspiracy would blow up in our leaders’ faces.

       SO IT WAS ON THE NIGHT OF DECEMBER 15, 2013, South Sudan peered into darkness, and with reckless abandon, plunged into its first Civil War that is currently in its 15th month. The war started as a mutiny or coup, according to the two narratives that have since been advanced by the warring sides. First, it is reported that the violence targeted ethnic Nuer in the capital city, Juba, before it quickly engulfed the historic Greater Upper Nile region. Key towns such as Bor (the capital of Jonglei State and the historic town where the SPLA revolution started in 1983),Bentiu (the capital of Unity State and home to one of South Sudan’s largest oil reserves), Malakal (the capital of the oil producing Upper Nile State and once the former capital of the historic Upper Nile province) and their immediate surroundings or far flung villages were overrun as those towns exchanged hands several times between the government forces and rebel forces. An estimated 20, 000 people have since died. Regrettably, those deaths could have been prevented.

        And, there is no denying that during these last 15 months of our descent into darkness, the government and the rebels have fought themselves in ways that are redolent of primitive societies. Women, children and the elderly were savagely murdered.Villages and towns were burned to the grounds. The entire greater Upper Nile region has been depopulated as a result, displacing millions or turning some into IDPs or refugees. That such an historic part of the nation has just been allowed to crumble under the weight of ignorance and treachery is the very definition of human folly. There is no other way of putting it. According to the United Nations Humanitarian agencies, 2.5 are at risk of facing imminent threats of famine and starvation. Peace is nowhere near as negotiations have hit a snag. So the question worth asking is: how did we South Sudanese take what would otherwise have been the epic success story of the 21st century and turned it into this tragedy?

       Hint: a brand new country purchased with the precious blood of our fallen heroes and heroines, now falling apart before our very eyes, barely ten years after we began exercising self-rule. Maybe the real answers are with the true leaders of the next 30 years, leaders who might strive to make it a priority to put fellow South Sudanese first, to put the very word ‘people’ back into the SPLM party. But before we even arrive at those answers, will we even have the guts to start by first acknowledging the unpalatable truths about what kind of society we have already become and probably re-imagining an alternative future?

       FIFTEEN MONTHS is quite a long time for us to take an unvarnished picture of who we really are as a society or as a nation for that matter. And it begins with pointing out at the outset that the unpalatable truth about South Sudan is that we are a society and a nation stuck in the jaws of liberation, between two ‘fatally incompetent’ leaders who will do anything to guarantee their tight grip on power, a leadership that for 10 years had no clue about how to govern a diverse country and a citizenry that does not know how to hold the two leaders accountable let alone what kind of political future or destiny it wants. And, nowhere is that unpalatable truth most pronounced than in our ability to self-destruct: a tragic consequence born of many of mistrust and resentment. Perhaps nowhere is that unpalatable truth also pronounced than in the snail-pace search for durable solution to the ongoing senseless war. We are, in effect, a nation that has tested the very limits of ignorance and treachery.

        PERHAPS part of also looking at ourselves critically urges us to admit that while December 15, 2013 was the last straw that broke the camel’s back, the ingredients for this war either were slowing or inadvertently adding up for years. But our leaders ignored warnings –warnings that the country was getting weighed down by perennial conflicts; warning that his very young country, which showed some early promise, has continued to writhe in pain before displaying signs of tearing at the seams. But leaders and even citizens were refusing to heed the warnings until the Greater Upper Nile was plunged into unimaginable depths of destruction. So the senseless war we have been fighting for 15 months is shameful. It is the very definition of human folly.

      There is no other way of putting it. Soon or later, historians will write a comprehensive history of both Civil Wars. But for the sake of this article, let’s just draw an arc of South Sudan’s follies from 2004 to the present. So in a nod to bifocalism—“the ability to see the same situation from multiple perspectives,” as introduced by David Brooks of The New York Times, here are nine reasonable sociopolitical conflict theories that I believe have been driving the conflict in South Sudan.

1. It was the Trojan Horse Déjà vu all over again

South Sudan’s warring parties can talk about whether or not there was a coup until all cows come home, but this much is certain: the seeds for this war were planted overtime and understanding that warrants an extended metaphor or an analogy, meaning what we have witnessed in the past 15 months is not without equal or historical precedent. As I was going back in history looking for analogies or metaphors to describe what happened, I could not help but be awe-struck by relevance I saw between the Greek legend of the Trojan War and South Sudan’s senseless war.

      Though from a different epoch, it is arguable that the legend still has relevance to modern human affairs. In relating it to leadership and governance, one could conclude that having leaders with foresight, who heed sound advice or warnings, helps when it comes to making critical decisions that impact the lives of their peoples and countries. Even more, it says a lot about the leaders as well as the citizens of a given country; and about their adaptability in changing worlds.

      In reacting to policy decisions made by European leaders in 2011, at the height of the highly dramatized ‘bail-out’ involving the nation of Greece and the European Union, one of Europe’s eminent political scholars John Gray wrote a scathing critique, saying: “To err is human. {But} to err in the face of losing all that we care for is human folly.”

       Mr. Gray, using that popular ancient Greek legend known as ‘the myth of Trojan horse,’ didn’t take kindly to European Union’s plan to bail out Greece. “There are several versions of the myth of the Trojan but the heart of the story is clear enough: the folly of the leaders of Troy in allowing an enormous wooden horse into the city when everything pointed to the fact that it was a stratagem devised by their enemies. Seemingly a trophy signifying the end of the war, in which Troy had been deceived for 10 years, the horse was left outside the city by the Greeks. Troy’s leaders had heard, and rejected, many warnings against bringing the horse within city walls. More than anything else they wanted to believe the 10-year siege of the city was over. So they disregarded the warnings and brought the horse within the walls. The soldiers hidden inside stole out at night and opened the city gates to the Greek forces. As we all know, Troy was reduced to ruins,” he wrote.

      He went on to illustrate further that, “Folly is not error, not even error of an extreme kind.” According to him, “Error suggests the possibility of learning from mistakes; whereas folly is the pursuit of policies that are known to be harmful to those who pursue them.”

      Mr. Gray went on to conclude by adding: “We humans will do anything to secure a meaning in our lives. We hold on to the projects that have given our lives shape even at the cost of losing all we care. Confronted with intractable difficulties the most sensible thing to do may be to toss the past aside and improvise. But this involves casting off our beliefs and we’d rather be ruined than face facts. That’s the perverse persistence we call folly. And nothing is more human.”

       Hence, the epic take: “To err is human. [But] to err in the face of losing all that we care for is human folly.”

       Looking at those few lines with respect to the conflict in South Sudan, there could never have been a more apt description or metaphor of what we have been seeing over the last few years or so. John Gray could have been talking about the bail out of Greece at the time he was writing those powerfully lines but if history is ever a guide for human affairs, then taking a leaf or two from his writing and using that to make sense of the conflict in our country or other far flung parts of the globe is not a stretch.

      So what is the Trojan horse for us and its relevance to South Sudan’s conflict? In the interest of full disclosure, South Sudanese leaders defied numerous warnings from their citizens and other influential spiritual leaders who called for restraint and hoped cooler heads would prevail but they allowed the country to be plunged into the abyss anyway. The parliament sat by and watched the country burn. Also, for 8 years, the two leaders (Kiir and Riek) pursued different policies knowing what they were tapping into should their political machinations fail: deep ethnic sentiments reinforced by tribal militias. And, for our Trojan horse, look no further than Gel Beny,White Army, the botched disarmament exercise, and that politically expedient and poorly handled integration policy of militias in 2006, which opened the floodgates for amnesties, and bribing of warlords such as Peter Gatdet Yak and allowing him to oversee strategic military divisions such as the Division 8, which led to the initial fall of Bor Town. What could be more folly?

      Now, with the government’s key argument for the war, the coup theory, having collapsed, leading to the ‘treason charges’ being dropped against the former 4 political detainees, it is not too early to draw the arc of human folly in South Sudan. Soon or later, when the history of South Sudan will be fully recorded, the epigraph on the 2013 war will read: this war was both a portrait of shame and a lesson in human folly—it was president Kiir’s and Dr. Riek’ war.

      This war has shattered some of the illusions South Sudanese had about their country and as well as their leaders. The first of such illusions is the belief, prior to the war, that we had leaders who cared for the people and the political future of the country. After what started as a mutiny among the presidential guards was mishandled and morphed into rebellion, now a full blown war, I think that illusion has been torn asunder. True to form, our leaders did not exercise leadership. They never cared about the country, let alone the common people. The Arusha SPLM reunification agreement speaks to that weakness and utter betrayal.

     The second illusion that people had was that of a political leadership that was reflective of the true nationalism. Again, this illusion has been shattered by this war because as we have seen that ethno-nationalism, and not true nationalism, is paramount in South Sudan. It is a sad state of affairs but people have to admit it.

     For 15 months, Africa and the world have been taking notes about South Sudan as our people fought themselves in ways that are redolent of primitive societies; not even caring about our vulnerable ones. Instead, we are more interested in scoring imaginary victories. We are more interested in creating enemies from without, forgetting that for a nation that accepted to join the community of nations, that such admission in and of itself comes with burden of leadership, of obligation; it comes with moral responsibilities that undergird the international order. The U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said it best when wrote that “Legitimacy is not a presumed right of any government. It is conferred by the people, and it is sustained only by demonstrating leadership to protect and serve all citizens—responsibilities the government has neglected.”

      So, only moral re-imagination has a slim chance of saving this republic. In hindsight, the majority seems to be slowly coming to their senses by admitting that had it not been for the grossly incompetent and foolish decision making on the part of both warring parties, this war could have been prevented. And, as evident in the failure by both warring sides to reach a peace deal after 15 months, there are conflict entrepreneurs in this war who are trying hard to perpetuate this war so that they could continue to profit from it.

2. It was a grand conspiracy rooted in the deep historical resentment and envy

LET’S FACE IT: there are many things that went terribly wrong during the war of liberation. South Sudanese came out of that war with grievances that were left to fester. That caused resentment and sometimes envy. Our leadership utterly failed to inspire confidence in the citizenry. In a piece I wrote in November 2013, I referenced how our leadership’s ‘Failure in Adapting the CPA to Confronting the Painful Legacies of Civil War’ has really contributed to the crises we are facing as a country. In fact it was the leadership that set the tone for the polarization that is now tearing the country apart.

      The leadership started by dividing itself from the get-go, referring to some of their own as Garang boys, forgetting that everyone is a Garang boy. And, then political bickering started. Politicians were set against one another. Stereotypes were created. Diaspora became set against home front, clans against clans, tribes against tribes, regions against regions. And then after we had tested all those possible limits of ignorance and treachery, the grand conspiracy blew up in our faces in December 2013, in the form of a war.

Shockingly, throughout this war, there has also been blatant attempt by some to rewrite history. Those attitudes have manifested themselves in writings as well as utterances by those who took to the Internet or social media. Case in point: the endless pillorying of South Sudan’s famous political family.

3. It is ethno-nationalism

Whenever a country is identified with tribes, it is hard to govern that nation. South Sudan is one such nation. While it is teeming with lots of promise (it is blessed with the abundance of resources, its population is not that big, it has amazing diversity), it also has its own inherent contradictions, making it harder to govern. So, to borrow a quote by the late Lee Kuan Yee, founder and prime minister of Singapore for 31 years, who passed away this month after having turned that Asian country into a global miracle of success, “We don’t have the ingredients of a nation, the elementary factors: a homogenous population, common language, common culture and common destiny.”Yes, South Sudan, like Singapore at its time of founding, faces those same tests. With its 64 tribes who are yet to develop some mutual trust necessary for building a nation, South Sudan hungers for a leader like Lee Kuan Yee who could beat those odds. But instead our politicians are closer to their ethnic constituencies than otherwise, and the result is abject lack of true national identity that suitably describes a South Sudanese; there is no that fuzzy feeling of true citizenship. So we have been lurching from clannish loyalty to tribal loyalty and always falling short of attaining any nationalist bona-fides.

    So we are, in effect, a nation still freelancing in the art of true national identity. The roots of ethno-nationalism were allowed to take hold thanks to the callous indifference and failure of our leaders to steer clear of sectarian politics. As a result, the leaders missed a great opportunity to inspire confidence and leadership among their citizens. For years now, South Sudanese politics has become characterized by political paranoia. So who are we, since we don’t even have any shared identity? What are the values and belief systems that are supposed to undergird our national identity? Are we listening to one another? If not, can we start listening to our collective future instead? Or is it true that our ethnic differences are too insurmountable to overcome?

     After this war, I did some reading and came across an eye opening description of Genocide and what factors lead people to commit such an act. “There is always some kind of fear, be it racial or political or ethnic that leads to ‘othering,’ said Dr. Waitman Beorn, a Blumkin professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “ Some kind of military [conflict]…. If you look at most modern genocides, they occur in the context of a war or civil war.”

     Dr. Beorn added: “We are all capable of doing this. We are all capable of fulfilling every role, if you want to look at it that way, in genocide. Genocide, in a very twisted way, is a very human event. It’s not a bunch of psychopaths.”

      It is why, according to the article I read, Dr. Beorn’s lectures are aimed at teaching and “educating the next generation of leaders about Holocaust and Genocide—so they don’t become bystanders to such atrocities.” Because Dr. Beorn believes that as much as such many atrocities are caused by “perpetrators”, “it is the silent bystanders who have the most responsibility in preventing them.”

     So until we South Sudanese start describing ourselves in very exquisite terms as one people and embrace one true nationalism as opposed to ethno-nationalism, we are doomed to repeat or even live by the saying that, ‘where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise.’

4. Newspeak begets Junubspeak

Since George Orwell penned that famous 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” the use of political language has done more harm than good. Orwell argued that “the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” And, boy was he right, because it is slovenly language that has now become familiar practice, allowing for propaganda and misinformation to be employed during political disagreements or during wars. Those two have been used by South Sudanese government and the rebels to shape their narratives. The same tools got picked up by the supporters of both warring parties and used exponentially thanks to the internet technology and social media.

      While it was not surprising the way Kiir and Machar plunged the nation back to war just few years after the north-south Civil War, one aspect about our people became particularly shocking to me. Ever since those few weeks and months following the unrest that convulsed the capital, I have seen a country, and a people caught in the jaws of liberation, a people refusing to let go of their ‘historical baggage’, where a small sliver of extremists have cleverly tried their thinly-veiled attempt at rewriting history. Surprisingly, I saw a nation not united in grief and anger toward their thoughtless leaders but, instead, one engulfed by hate, where mindless conformity led to ‘mindless chatter,’ whether in personal conversations or on social media, where majority of young people began spewing gibberish, leading to some burning lifetime interpersonal bridges, where some resorted to insulting and cheering for violence instead of stopping a bleeding nation. I have seen a nation where what most people are capable of is the visceral reaction that is devoid of critical thinking or reasoning, a nation where truth is relative or just about everyone tries so hard to manufacture their own facts to justify or defend the indefensible.

      The current war has exposed the unpalatable truths about us South Sudanese, which is our ability to self-destruct. Perhaps it is this capacity for self-destruction that will remain all the more shocking in this self-defeating war.Also, whether we know it not, during the last 10 years or mostly throughout this war, we South Sudanese have invented our own newspeak in terms of Junub Speak—a glossary of terms or phrases that have found their novel interpretations apart from their intended usage, such as ‘coup, rebel, legitimacy, democratically elected president, Garang Boys etc)’, some of which, I think, might be due for retirement or ought right ban once this mayhem stops.

5. It is oil and resource curse

When peace knocked and self-rule began in 2005, our leaders forgot that to build a country, you have to have a grand vision, and an agenda informed by nation’s top priorities. But South Sudanese would soon find out that the country was quickly turning into a nation of haves and haves-not. The political elites and their relatives were busy helping themselves by looting the oil revenues leaving the least connected hanging and dry.

     The results became widening gaps of youth unemployment, the result became lack of physical and institutional infrastructures, and the end result became disillusionment. With ten years now gone and nothing to show for it, you wonder how much of this shocking under-performance has to do with the little knowledge of statecraft or the insatiable greed they came with. But as the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham once said, “A society that too often places great premium on greed and cleverness needs moral integrity.”

6. It is the 51-percent theory

Governing a country, warts and all, requires true statesmanship. But for quite some time now,political leaders from both Dinka and Nuer have acted like South Sudan begins and ends with them. Or, at least that is the impression the rest of the country has gotten about them. And, until the day the Dinka (who are 35.8 percent of the population) and the Nuer (who are 15.6 percent of the population) stop thinking that that is the case, it will be hard to govern a country as ethnically diverse as South Sudan especially if all tribes don’t see themselves as equals, and especially if citizens do not embrace themselves as equals.Even shocking is the way those leaders and their myopic supporters toy around with their tyranny of numbers. If the Dinka and Nuer politicians don’t stop reinforcing such attitudes, they risk giving numerical advantage a bad rap and turning it into a national security threat. Such is the moral quandary of our time. So the only logical thing left is now for few courageous politicians from both sides to apologize to the country as a whole for soiling the good names of Dinka and Nuer.

7. It is Revenge-Killing

Ever since William Shakespeare gave humanity the enduring question, “to be or not to be,” individuals or societies have continued to grapple with finding the answer in more ways than one. In fact that question still eludes societies five centuries later. It is the timeless question at the heart of whether or not individuals should exact revenge-killing. For the last 15 months, the same question may have been asked many times as our people have savagely fought and killed themselves through a series of revenge attacks which started on December 15, 2013, and spiraled into a full blown war before it turned into a war of attrition. And, nowhere has the issue of revenge been more apparent than in the potent debate about 1991. Almost twenty four years ago, Dr. Riek Machar forces targeted the Dinka in the Greater Upper Nile, resulting in some of the worst atrocities and Massacres. This was after he had declared he was splitting from the SPLM/A, and was planning to replace Garang. His rebellion brought a huge setback to Movement but South Sudan managed to hold together until peace was signed in 2005.

      In an article titled“Salvaging Jonglei: The Cry of the True South Sudanese Patriot,”which was published by The New Sudan Visionon November 30th, 2013, following the twin massacres in Maar and Paliau, I talked vividly about missed opportunity in the context of the overall ‘Failure in Adapting the CPA to Confronting the Painful Legacies of Civil War,’ by saying:

Our government missed a real great opportunity to use the CPA as a template for addressing deep seated issues of identity, ethnic reconciliations and insecurity …across South Sudan. For once, the country needed a president who was supposed to treat the CPA not just as a referendum tool but a template for all things self-government. Matter of fact, the country still despairs for that kind of leadership.

        Sadly, the tragic events of 91 have been exploited for political purposes; both by ethnic constituencies who have are capitalizing on it and by a president who has used them as trump card to advance his political interests. What they don’t know is that such callous attitude is insulting to the memory of the victims of that darkest chapter in our nation’s history. There is no denying that Riek is a rebellious man and the events of 91 disqualified him in the eyes of many voters.

      But to continue plunging the country into war with reckless abandon instead of holding him accountable for his past actions is the classic definition of human folly. We should have saved more lives instead of losing them like we have seen during this war.

       From 2005 to 2013, the impression was that however tragic the 91 chapter was and still is, that we as a nation facing a sea of challenges needed to at least move on.

The impression was also that the tragedy of ‘91 was forever seared into our memory and into the sacred pages of our war history, and that they are considered among the 2.5 million fallen souls for whom the independence is the ultimate monument. But as this war has come to reveal, there are those among us who would want every day to be 91. They are those who, throughout this war and well before the war, have been clamoring to ‘fight hate with hate” instead of honoring the memories of the victims by seeking justice and avoiding more deaths. Now, those who were killed by the incitement of violence from 2013 to 2015 included the very widows and orphans of the victims of ’91. Where is the moral outrage? And, do our leaders even have any souls left?

Who knew that the same Salva Kiir who depicted Garang in 2004 as someone who ‘never forgives and forgets’ would somehow import those same traits he allegedly accused his former boss of and applied them with zeal and zest. Isn’t that the saddest irony of this accidental presidency? Let’s not mince words: Where it not for the gross incompetency and the foolishness in the decision making, where it not for the grandstanding, and political malfeasance, and the paralysis of the leadership of the SPLM party, and where it not for the doomsday talk at the meeting of the National Liberation Council, our beloved country would not have been plunged into senseless war on December 15, 2013.

8. It is the visceral reaction or dislike for truth telling

The kind of vulgarity we have witnessed during this war is without equal. Days after the political unrest convulsed the country, political leaders and their armies of fragile minds were falling over each other, competing on who would say the most hurtful words and say them faster. The war quickly turned into an intellectual exercise. Supporters started waxing opportunistic, employing words like ‘coup’ and ‘right side of history.’ Some resorted to what they normally do best: quickly discrediting, insulting those they deemed a political threat and lumping societies together with sanguine images or labels. Things were said as long they confirmed tribal biases, or the twisted logic extrapolated from tribal worldviews. Critical thinking gleaned from years of formal schooling was tossed out and visceral reactions took over and facts were manufactured. Truth became relative.

Some people felt it was necessary to say those hurtful to each other or to other groups, because they knew the grand conspiracy was blowing up and that the whole of South Sudan was beginning to see through the ignorance and treachery.

Fifteen months later, it is particularly instructive to mention that Errol Morris, an Award-winning American documentary film maker whose essay titled ‘There Is Such A Thing As Truth’ is published in the bestselling book This I Believe, wrote: “There is such a thing as truth, but we often have a vested interest in ignoring it or outright denying it. Also it is not just thinking something that makes it true.” He also added: “Truth is not relative. It’s not subjective. It may be elusive or hidden. People may wish to disregard it. But there is such a thing as truth and the pursuit of truth: trying to figure out what has really happened, trying to figure out how things really are.”

9. It is the painful lack of leaders who could heal South Sudan

It is not an exaggeration to say that we have lost our way as South Sudanese and that it will be hard to extricate our beloved country from its deepening crisis. Even though it seems like we have not learned any lesson during these ghastly 15 months, one thing is clear to me: the country is in need of serious healing or some kind of spiritual awakening.

So, finally, a quote worth trading a kidney for comes from the last pages of the best-selling book by an American author Stephen Mansfield called The Faith of Barack Obama. In the last chapter titled ‘A Time to Heal,’ Mr. Mansfield eloquently talked about the important role played by leaders in healing their nations:

“It is the healers who are best remembered those who teach us to live beyond the limitations of our lesser selves. The healers are great hearts and lovers—souls who show us the path to the world we’ve hoped for, who teach us that we can make our high-flying rhetoric into living, earthly reality. They tend to come after bruising, bloody seasons, and yet they seem immune to the rage and vengeance of lesser men. They know how to grasp forgiveness and generosity of heart, having usually mined these traits from the dark of valleys of their own lives. Thankfully, they rise to grace a public stage and then heal their land and their people with the truths hard-won in less-visible days. Nations, then, are unified. Political strife is transformed into statesmanship. Races are ennobled and readied to belong to broader whole. Men and women are freed from the grip of the petty and the small. This is what healers do. Abraham Lincoln comes to mind. From the depths of a life haunted by the deepest emotional depression, he wrung a generosity of soul that resisted the fierce hatreds of his time. He appointed his political rivals as members of his cabinet, pleaded for forgiveness as the Civil War drew to an end, and called his nation to greatness in grand sentences that live on: “With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the light, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” Abraham Lincoln was a healer. Nelson Mandela was too. Though imprisoned for terrorism against a racist state, Mandela emerged decades later to lead in the healing of his land. “If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa,” he once said, “there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.” There is, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr., who might have stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 and vented the rage his people. Instead, he urged a faith that would “transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” He was a healer. And some healers heal by deed if not by word. Only at the funeral of former president Gerald Ford did we come to understand what we should have known long before: that Ford was a man of exceptional goodness who “drew out the poisons released by Vietnam and Watergate.” He did not live in an as epic as Lincoln’s; neither did he possess King’s rhetorical gifts, but he was a healer by character and condition of soul, and at a time when his nation needed him but did not understand the grace that he was. There are others, of course: the Gandhis and the Washingtons, men like Desmond Tutu and William Wilberforce, women like Benazir Bhutto and Golda Meir. They will all be well remembered, for warriors are remembered with awe and statesmen with respect, but it is the healers who are remembered with love.”

Joseph Deng Garang is co-founder and President of The New Sudan Vision news media organization. This article represents his first take on the South Sudanese conflict since the war broke out in mid-December 2013. For questions, comtact him:

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