At the launch of Dr Nyaba’s new book, ‘South Sudan: the state we aspire to’, today at the New Sudan Palace hotel in Juba, the panel quite strangely didn’t opt to take questions from the relatively large audience. Instead, we were presented with three speakers: Dr Cirino Ofufo Hiteng, the previous Minister for Culture, Youth and Sports; Professor George Bureng Nyombe, eminent scholar of Bari history; and the Hon. Canon Clement Janda, SPLM member, ECS priest and previous SPLM Envoy for Darfur.
I’ll admit that panels speaking about a book that the audience hasn’t read, in Juba, tend to be paeans rather than solid recommendations, notes or criticisms on the author’s arguments, and I wasn’t expecting to be overawed – although I was keen to get my hands on a copy. I was enjoyably wrong.
While Professor George noted the difficulties of turning Dr John Garang’s ‘vision’ into practical politics in the CPA period, and Dr Cirino outlined the messages of Dr Nyaba’s book helpfully for the audience – and emphasised one of Dr Nyaba’s points, that lessons must be learnt from the state of old Sudan – it was Canon Clement who engaged with the potentially explosive substance of the last few chapters (I’ll post on this later).
Canon Clement, to some amusement from the audience – maybe since the tone had been somewhat lowered by one of the panellist’s chairs collapsing during the previous speech – began in somewhat ambiguous tone: “Are we the we that we say we are?” But he continued, saying – we joined the revolution “in the hope that you are joining so that we become the we that we want to be.” But the revolution ended up the opposite: “we polarised ourselves.”
Canon Clement noted his experiences in Yei post-CPA, where even if you wore a big watch you were accused of having “not been liberated”, and that “we liberated you” – “where does this culture come from? … We have polarised ourselves into we and you, we and them.”
Noting Dr Nyaba’s concluding chapters in his new book – which include chapters entitled ‘SPLM complacency and (dis)organisation’, ‘between treason and stupidity’, and ‘the independent state we want in southern Sudan?’ – the priest noted that “there is very little justice in this country… [and] prosperity is limited to certain people”; “what we set out in vision we have reached completely a different question [sic].” He also supported Dr Nyaba’s emphasis of “the dichotomy between the politics of liberation and the politics of power.”
It’s easy to be scathing about the frequent level of political debate in Juba. It’s also easy to say that good speakers are scared to stand up and voice this type of seriously challenging statement. But there is still political space in Juba for these statements, and for these people’s criticisms, and I’ve been reminded forcefully of that today.