By Lotole Lo Luri

Those among the South Sudanese citizenry who had hoped the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGONU) would usher in a new dawn of inclusivity and equitable representation in all the institutions of power, saw their hopes quickly vanishing before their eyes.

The political circus that was in full display in Juba before the naming of the Cabinet was appalling to some and quite amusing to others. Here the masks fell off the faces; the elaborate slogans were thrown into the dustbin, and political jockeying became the order of the day. The “battle” for the ministerial positions was not all smooth and civilized as at least in one camp, blows were exchanged, and a fistfight ensued.

What is intriguing is that our usual political foxes appear to have been outmanoeuvred by modest elements and newcomers into the political jungle of South Sudan.

As the dust settled, it became clear that being selected to the Cabinet is not about ability, qualifications or experience. It’s all about possessing one or more of the three hidden criteria. Loyalty comes in the first position, followed by ethnicity and family relations.

The drama first started in the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA) camp. Hunger for power, self-interest, and gaining a foothold in the political arena of South Sudan; were so intense that they blinded some within the alliance to the extent of abandoning their collective positions. It’s perhaps the first time in history that a political party or coalition relinquishes its right to choose its members to the Cabinet; to its opponent. As the news unfolded, it became apparent that some elements within SSOA had been striking deals with the government behind the backs of their colleagues. It was evident that the opportunist, the raw, and the unprincipled won while the qualified and the experienced lost. The same situation occurred within the Other Political Parties (OPP) group as one of the appointees to the Cabinet was chosen against the will of the group.

The SPLM IO camp was not better either. To begin with, it was all over the place sending mixed messages that confused its supporters and the South Sudanese populace at large about the real position of the SPLM IO on the issue of going to Juba. One day the SPLM IO is in and the next day; it’s out. Its leader, Dr Riak Macher and many of its top-ranking officials have been saying there’s no way that they could go to Juba without the security arrangements and the formation of the unified national army being put in place. With time passing by, we noticed that the SPLM IO lowered its demands to being satisfied with the Regional Protection Force (RPF) providing security for its leadership. Well, even this didn’t last, and at the end of the day, the SPLM IO leadership succumbed to being protected by the Mathiang Anyoor and Riak Machar being essentially placed under house arrest (according to Angelina Teny).

It transpired that the infighting within the SPLM IO camp was not about the allocation of ministerial positions to members hailing from different states, but rather about who gets what among the Nuer different clans. The situation degenerated further to the level of family relations. Dr Riek Machar made sure that the lucrative institutions and those weilding power remain in the family. Of course, he cannot be blamed alone as his rival did the same. In fact, this phenomenon is not confined to the two top families in the political hierarchy of South Sudan. Some have long learned that getting married into these families, and even the families of the infamous Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) members, could earn them a ministerial position or open the doors for them into big business.

To the observer of the political sphere in South Sudan, it appears the incumbent government for the sake of political survival has embarked on the process of weeding out those it perceives as a potential future threat to Kiir’s reign in office. In such environment qualifications and personal abilities mean nothing to the warlords. Kiir has the money, thanks to the oil revenues, and the military muscles. Apart from the SPLM IO, those in SSOA who possess none of the above have no leverage whatsoever. They can only ask and accept what is given to them.

Three groups within the SPLM IO seem to have been given the cold shoulder by Riek Machar. They are the Equatorian IO, the Lions of Western Bahr Ghazal, and the Agwelek fighters. I have seen a letter by some Equatorian IO military Commanders directed to Dr Riek Macher whereby they stated that despite receiving nothing in terms of logistics from Riek Machar, they remained loyal to him. They expected him to deliver the promises he gave them. Some of these officers were instrumental in facilitating Riek Machar’s escape to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the aftermath of the J1 shooting in July 2016. Well, as the whole thing played out, the Equatorian IO ended up with crumbs from the table of Riek Machar. The lions of Western Bahr Ghazal have similar issues as the Equatorians. Many had to desert the cantonment sites due to lack of food. They have been neglected, which led some of them to join the government side. The news of General Johnson Olony being selected by Riek Machar as Governor of upper Nile State generated dissent among the Padang Dinka who wanted the position for themselves. But the Agwelek under General Johnson Olony is a force to be reckoned with. It would be wise to give the governorship of Upper Nile State to the group.

Such is the political landscape in South Sudan. We have been there before.

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