Dr. Riek Machar’s Pagak Bed-Room Politics: Practical Nepotism and Obstacle to Durable Peace in South Sudan
By Umba Peter Bosco, Istanbul, Turkey
Dr. Riek Machar and his wife, Angelina Teny, now appointed defense minister of the SPLM-IO
The fact that the Government of South Sudan has done little to effectively engage some of the few educated women in politics and governance, Dr. Machar’s Pangak bed-room politics, to say the least, is worse than President Kiir’s decree increasing the number of states from ten to twenty eight.
Put together, both decisions to appoint one’s own bed-partner and conspicuously violate the peace agreement by creating more states prior to establishment of a transitional government are typical political miscalculations. Neither President Kiir nor Dr. Machar owes the people of South Sudan any credit for their decisions.
It may be unsurprising to some people but others when I argue that President Kiir’s government and Dr. Machar’s movement will ever remain stuck in nepotism and tribal politics in which peace is always captive. Indeed Angelina is one of the few highly educated South Sudanese women who deserve to be involved in governance although this does not politically immunize her and whoever rewards her with positions in clumsy ways against criticism.
Her appointment in my view is one of the big tests any informed politician of her caliber must be able to overcome if truly he or she cares about the principles of democracy that guide recruitment into public office.
Perhaps a woman can be rightly appointed to public office by a culturally-run government with well established masculinity tendencies such as the one currently under President Kiir and his close allies, the “mighty” members of the Jieng Council of Elders as well as other opportunists throughout the country. South Sudanese men, at home and in government, occupy a leading role and are well placed in “their” position as men whose cultures entertain women subjugation and making them underdogs in all spheres of life.
The worst fellows like Dr. Machar can do in societies like South Sudan whose men hold low opinions about their counterparts is to keep quiet over the issue of women marginalization. By appointing his wife to lead the security committee of the so-called “Advance Team” of SPLM-IO to Juba ahead of an important step in the implementation of the peace agreement, Angelina’s darling has generously chosen to sacrifice his popularity among those citizens with moderate views about the Dragons of conflict in South Sudan.
The decision to appoint his wife to a high level position within his movement is only a tip of the iceberg vis-à-vis nepotism and the prospects for peace in South Sudan. The truth about Dr. Machar in fighting against nepotism is yet to be revealed in the Transitional Government in the making. However, Dr. Machar risks losing the trust of individuals who perceive him as their “Messiah of Federalism and Democratic Governance” that is hoped to give birth to a period of tranquility and total peace by identifying with nepotism.
Angelina’s appointment is also an abomination not only because she is a wife of the leader of a political movement under her husband’s direct leadership, but also the beneficiary of the appointment shares blame for accepting a public position right away from her bed room. Probably Angelina had been suppressing her lust for this unsurprising appointment because if not so, she would have turned it down to show her commitment in the fight against vices like nepotism which her husband’s movement claims to be battling.
What Dr. Machar has done is like sorcery where a sorcerer pours hot oil on a patient’s fresh, open wound. If President Kiir and his government continues to undermine women’s role in politics as well as keeping dull and tribal appointments unchecked, then it is Dr. Machar and his wife to blame at least at this particular time.
Having said all this, a perfect description of the short-sighted South Sudanese politicians is to call them “conflict corroborators” rather than peace stewards as some of them claim to be. Locked up in their ethnic parties, there is little good or nothing at all for citizens to expect from such leaders.
However, unless citizens start to walk away in swarms from ethnic associations that link them to public positions and resources through cohorts, South Sudanese will continue to romanticize nepotism in every aspect of their lives in the society. Eventually, South Sudan will become the world’s worst place for human habitation.
In a nut shell, it is irrational to collapse the roof on either President Kiir or Dr. Machar alone for the crisis in the country. Many South Sudanese citizens are deeply embedded in a culture of nepotism that will continue to ruin the country until it is shuttered into tiny states, counties, payams, bomas, tribes, clans, families, and bitter relationships among individuals based on “me” against “you”, “we” against “them” and soon on.
Peace can only strive in South Sudan when citizens can aggressively rise up against those appointing, as well as the ones being appointed erroneously. Nepotism is a political sin that kills. Therefore, leaders should be careful when making critical decisions that affect the public.
The author is pursing Master of Arts in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at Sabanci University in Istanbul. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.