Why Anthony Makana is My Mould of a Politician and Charles Kisanga a Model Citizen?
The exchanges on SPLM-Diaspora Internet Forum between the GOSS' Minister of Commerce and Trade, Anthony Makana and Charles Kisanga, a Southern Sudanese engineering consultant currently residing in the UK is like the story of David and Goliath, except that in this occasion, both David and Goliath won!
Anthony Makana intervened to respond to comments made by a fellow Azande, Charles Kisanga about the recent attempts by GOSS' Vice President Riek Machar to establish contacts with LRA leadership in Western Equatoria. However, the discussion spiralled out into a heated debate not just about the issues being debated, but on personal integrity and credibility of each. Politics is like that, you can't easily untangle the two: personal integrity, and personal political views. If one suffers, the other suffers too. That is why, in civlised world, when a politician has been proved dishonest in small matters he or she is judged unfit for the high government office.
Many well meaning individuals advised the Minister not to get involved in such discussions on the Internet in future (presumably because it is a place for lunatics, the irresponsible, and idlers?!). Others blamed him for "stooping too low!" to exchange views with Charles Kisanga (a confused commoner and liar?). I believe, such comments were well intentioned. However, I could not disagree with them more. Here is why.
The token shown by Minister Anthony Makana when he rolled up his sleeves to take part in an Internet discussion is of great significance to the development of our democratic values. Although the word "democracy" is used these days as a pepper and chilly to spice up our speeches, our political articles, our books, and our liberation slogans, it has no meaning in our political reality. And nothing could be demonstrable of that state of affairs than our mental models of the state and the politicians which are in fact the result of our long suffering under totalitarian systems. That is, systems cloaked in official secrecy, where politicians are insulated in their Ivory towers (in the Upper Room) until they lose their ministerial jobs, then and only then will they be accessible to the public again! That is what we believe to be "government", and those who keep tight lips are our mould of politicians proper!
In fact, this is not what happens in true democracies. In a real democracy, politicians are never insulated from the public. From a prime minister, to a back bench member of Parliament, all make use of any opportunity that avails itself to them to reach out to the wider society and to exchange views with citizens through newspaper, televised interviews, discussion panels, or taking part in popular TV programmes such as "I am a celebrity, get me out here!" in the UK.
A politician who exposes himself/herself to public scrutiny and opens his/her mouth wide for public to view, hear, or examine, and still survives intact, is a better "tested" politician than the one who hides behind "Official Secrecy Act" and who are "too clean" to engage in mud-slinging exercise with the general public.
When Makana engaged Kisanga, my prayers were with Kisanga to win the argument. This is because Kisanga is a normal citizen like me, and yet brave enough to take on a government minister. Furthermore, I have a deep rooted belief that what government officials say to the public, needs to be taken with a certain dose of scepticism. So my first personal commandment ought to be: don't trust the government. My second commandment is: don't trust the government, and the third commandment: don't trust the government. Then everything else follows. This does not mean I am necessarily anti-government boffin, but one who believes that we can make the most of our politicians if we keep them on their toes - guilty and untill proven innocent!
Here is why. While minister Makana agreed that Vice President Riek Machar has been in contact with LRA leaders in Western Equatoria, he claimed the purpose was not to "negotiate" with LRA but to "deliver a final warning" to leave Southern Sudan, or else. And while the recent address by President Salva Kiir to the Assembly speaks of a policy of using military force to drive out the LRA, RumbeK's SPLM leadership Conference policy recommendations did not rule out encouraging LRA and Ugandan government to negotiate a political settlement to war in northen Uganda. However, one understands that GOSS is aware of the sensitivity of LRA issue amongst the general public, and so tends to play down the pursuit of peaceful options in preference of a military solution. And that, I believe, was what the minister was trying to achieve. Charles Kisanga, on his part, tried his best to give the minister hard times. After all, not all that Charles said was empty rhetoric as some of his comments met with some appreciation from a number of members on the discussion board.
That said, I can hardly conceal my admiration for the positive attitude that has been displayed by the Commerce Minister, Mr Anthony Makana, by leaving his official high towers to get engaged with the public directly, and thereby putting his reputation on the line. Any politician with nothing to hide and who believes in politics of transparency and honest accountability need not shy away from taking part in this sort of discussion on the Internet as an official who has full information and as citizen in his or her own right.
It is my unshakable belief that we need not discourage the minister from engaging in the future in discussions on the Internet which are of interest to him. In fact, all the politicians except civil servants should be encouraged to post or respond to information and opinions expressed on the Internet, when time allows it.
We need to challenge the now embedded misconception that engaging on the Internet is not a job of self-respecting politician. It is the only means that is accessible to a significant sector of our community across the globe to receive information on the function of our government.
This is because it is not only the Top SPLA commanders who follow up discussions on the Internet these days, but also housewives, and young people. The question "Have you not read it on the Internet?" is very common among members of our community these days, specially among moms and housewives. And that is an audience that is often left out of our male-dominated politics in Southern Sudan. They are now fully tuned in and watching everything very carefully. So the influence of the Internet as prime tool of communication is much deeper than one might think. And with it comes the opportunity to reach out with the government message to a much larger audience.
And although I disagreed with arguments advanced by Minister Anthony Makana, he has more than compensated for the shortcoming by showing that he is one of us, that he is from us, and is working for us. I can't find better words to express his young and geeky spirit. It is the spirit of this age.
His risky act is not an oddity to be disbanded, but one to be emulated by other ministers. A new model about how a politician ought to act and get involved with the general public.
This model says: be simple, be honest, and be brave, and your reputation will remain intact, while the trust between the people and their government will be strengthened.