Thursday, April 06, 2006

South Sudan: Where Silence Pays Dividends

A few days after SPLA attack on SPLM-United conference in Pinykor, near Kongor, Jongeli State (March 31 1993), that resulted in the capture of the veteran politician Joseph Oduho and his on-spot execution, a friend paid a visit to my home. This friend told me that he was going to support SPLM. That he will no longer criticise the policies and human right abuses in the movement. Previously, this friend used to fight with me in the same bunker. I told him that he is free to express his opinion and join any political organisation he likes. That we will continue to be good friends despite our diverging political views.

As I accompanied him to the door, he started to woo me to do like he did. That is stop criticising SPLM mainstream and join as a supporter (or rather as a choir boy- as I saw it then!). I told him there was no way I was going to do that. He then gave me a rather chilling warning: "if you continue to preach this kind of politics, you will never have a future in Southern Sudan." I replied that already I do not see myself fitting into the current political system and mindset. That I did not imagine the political climate in the movement sinking any lower that it had already done. From my point of view, it looked more honourable and right to continue to fight to change things for the better for everyone. Another friend of mine also once asked me: You are a good boy, do not destroy your good name with this kind of [critical] attitude!

My friend was not alone in that frame of thinking. As they say: "reward determines behaviour." In academic world, for example, promotion of a university faculty is based on the number and quality of publications, and research citations under one's name. Quality of teaching does not count to anything. Hence, in Western universities, professors have shifted their energies to their research away from teaching future generations. Hence, students often miss out from picking the top brains. And unless the reward system changes, that behaviour will continue to persist in the university system to the detriment of the of high education.

In Southern Sudan, political appointments and other favours are allocated not on the basis of how an individual is active or contributing to the cause, but by how one can comply and fit in with the dominant mindset. For this reason, you will find that your typical state MP or minister in GONU (Government of National Unity) or GOSS (Government of Southern Sudan) is a quiet politician who likes only to be seen and not to be heard. They will never question the status quo, nor ask how things could be improved.

I recall a few years ago meeting a fellow South Sudanese on a train while travelling from Birmingham to London. He commended me for writing on the Internet. However, he quickly added that he only reads messages and would not dare to comment. As he said that his body language betrayed a culture of fear. Most recently, I learnt that my friend has been appointed to be a member of a state assembly in Southern Sudan, while I am still blogging away on the net. So, it would appear, my friend and those like him got their priorities right.

So I learnt quite a while ago that if I have to speak truth, then I have to forget about political appointments, favours, and promotions. In Southern Sudan, I am convinced, it is contradiction in terms to try to win both. And that is quiet liberating.

Those who prefer silence over self-expression will continue to walk the walk, while some of us will continue to talk the talk. The nation need both. This is Adam Smith's division of labour.


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