Breaking the silence
By Zechariah Manyok Biar
April 22, 2013 – I have been out of writing for sometimes now, if some of you might have observed this. I wanted to see if flattery praising of leaders or tribes was going to make things better. This is because I was falsely accused of being tribalist earlier this year when I wrote an article addressing Ateny Wek’s concerns. Not being tribalist, according to some people, is when one does not point out vices from any tribe. I do not buy that. I have been criticizing all tribes, including my own when it killed Kuku children while fighting against armed Mundari youth in October, 2009.
I believe in the importance of any tribe and its people. Misusing power against any citizen or a community is something I have never supported and will never support. It does not matter whether the tribe misusing power is mine or not.
I criticize leaders as individuals too. Fairness is what I believe as true means to meaningful unity among our people. Some kind of looking back could be the starting point of my resumption of writing.
Those who claimed to love unity of our people more than I do have not lived up to that claim over the last few months. Now I am coming back to writing because I have observed that what forced me into writing in the year 2008 is being revived.
Before 2008, comments under articles were mainly tribal based comments. The writers who were leading by then included the Late Isaiah Abraham who hated tribalism, Dr. Justin Ambago, and the then PhD candidate James Okuk Solomon. These writers were supporters of different ideologies or politicians. Dr. Justin Ambago was a supporter of the separation of South Sudan from North Sudan, Dr. Okuk was the supporter of the SPLM when Dr. Lam Akol was still the Minister of Foreign Affairs on SPLM ticket, and Isaiah Abraham was a supporter of Vice President Dr. Riek Machar. Those who used to comment under the articles of the above mentioned writers were supporters of their respective tribes.
I came on to the writing stage and became the advocate for objectivity. In my writing, I started criticizing politicians who were not performing well and giving credits to leaders who were performing well. I also started the writing in which a writer criticizes a policy but provides suggestions for potential solutions.
In 2009, the tribal based politics increased and Dr. Okuk changed from supporting the SPLM to supporting Dr. Lam Akol when Lam got into problem with the SPLM party.
I decided to go against Dr. Okuk and Isaiah Abraham because of what I regarded as their lack of objective writing. I disagreed with Isaiah for singling Dr. Machar out of Presidency and praising him as the best. I argued that nothing showed that Machar was better than Kiir. I used the same argument against Okuk’s claims about Dr. Lam.
Isaiah Abraham agreed with me towards the end of 2010 and started criticizing President Kiir and Dr. Machar together. He became even more objective than me towards the end of his life in 2012.
Dr. Machar immediately responded by taking up the responsibilities that became his crime this year when he was seen as taking powers not belonging to him. He started filling the gap where President Kiir was silent. He started even to respond to invitations from any group of civil society. For example, we as the Red Army organized our first celebration in July, 2011 after the independence of South Sudan and invited President Kiir. He never responded. Dr. Machar was to close training of another civil society group. When the President could not show up as the guest of honor for the major Red Army group, we hijacked Dr. Machar and he accepted, letting Hon. Gier Chuang replace him for the original group which was smaller than the Red Army group.
Issues like the above started changing some people’s views about the President and his commitment to people he is leading. If he could ignore the Red Army which its history is tied to the SPLM, which group could he respond to?
Not only this, whenever there was a heavy loss of citizens’ lives President Kiir would not issue any public statement and Dr. Machar would jump into the issue by both issuing the statement and visiting the scene of the killing. He would gather different civil society groups and urging them to play their part. He would preside over any important strategic plan for the improvement of service delivery. He even apologized to Bor community for what happened in 1991.
Dr. Machar was doing all these because we in the media had been criticizing him of being incompetent together with the President. Dr. Machar’s changes showed some of us that he could respond to people’s concerns.
Unfortunately, the President and his advisors took things for granted. They took people’s loyalty to SPLM as a party as loyalty to the President as a person. They also thought silence of the President on many issues was a good thing.
Flattery praises for the President became the main focus to the point the public was often forced to go and line up by the road whenever the President was returning from abroad. Focus on service delivery became secondary to personal glorification.
Those of us who were diehard supporters of the President became disappointed when the competency gap between the President and his Vice President became clear. A person like me who understood clearly that Dr. Machar became better because of public criticism started criticizing the system and the President in an attempt to let him revise his administrative focus. Nothing changed.
Isaiah Abraham at this point had moved from supporting Dr. Machar to criticizing the system, especially the diplomatic weaknesses of the country. My writing became rare because of my busy schedules at my work place. But whenever I wrote something, I found myself being critical of the system because I felt guilty to pretend that things were going well when I knew they were not.
Other writers like Ateny Wek Ateny and Dr. Luka Biong had come on board. Nhial Bol who had been writing for awhile never gave up his one-sided criticism of the system in his newspaper. The situation became tense, especially when corruption scandals surfaced.
Those who were closer to President Kiir started intimidating critics of the government. They went as far as trying to silent churches from preaching against vices in the government. I was not impressed by this approach. My criticism for the government stepped up. The killing of Isaiah Abraham made things worst. Those who were blind supporters of the President kept on diverting messages from what they meant to what they thought they should mean. They thought media could be silenced.
See what happened since the killing of Isaiah Abraham. Many hardliners who had ceased writing because they hoped our writing was going to correct the government have now resumed writing. Right now, South Sudanese have gone back to the way they used to comment between 2006 and 2009. Their comments are now tribally based and they do not give any credit to any government official. They have started using violent language. What is the cause of all this? It is the lack of understanding of what it means to lead.
In my writing, I believe I had been giving credit where it due, even though I was falsely accused of tribalism. I have now decided to break my silence to try again to bring back objectivity to writing, though it could be difficult this time.
Zechariah Manyok Biar can be reached at [email protected]