Cowboyism: A Political Style

Posted: October 2, 2014 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Featured Articles, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers, PaanLuel Wël

Cowboyism: A Political Style

A Response to Job Kiir Garang’s “Cowboy: A Political Joke

By PaanLuel Wël, Juba, South Sudan

President Kiir with President Obama of the USA at the White House, Washington DC

President Kiir with President Obama of the USA at the White House, Washington DC

Gatkuoth: ‘I want my money now!’ Deng: ‘I will kill myself so that I won’t pay you.’ Deng pulled a gun and shot himself dead. Gatkuoth: ‘Hahaha…if you think you will get away with the money, you are damn wrong. I will follow you until you pay me all my money.’ Gatkuoth took the gun and shot himself dead as well. Lado, who was amusingly watching the scene from a short distance, laughed and said: ‘these guys are very funny. I must watch this drama till the end of it.’ He also took the gun and killed himself too! Who is the most stupid person out of the three? Who, among the three, represents President Salva Kiir, Dr. Riek Machar, and the South Sudanese people?

October 2, 2014 (SSB) — Surely, politics, all over the world, is a dirty, dangerous game. That, in and of itself, however, does not necessarily justify its definition especially if such opinion shapers as writers could afford to stick to and abide by objective writings. That is, if they could trade off the slippery, vulnerable slope of subjectivity for the fortified, much safer and more secured ground of purely objective, analytical writings.

Unfortunately, not many opinion shapers have successfully scaled that slope insofar as political discourse in South Sudan is concerned. Take Comrade Job Kiir Garang (aka Kiir-Agou), for instance. In his “RIEK Tosha” declaration of July 28th, 2014, Kiir-Agou argues that Dr. Riek Machar is “The Ultimate Messiah for South Sudan.” That declaration has been reiterated in his recent article, “Cowboy: A Political Joke”, of September 27th, 2014, in which he recites that President Kiir “is the very definition of what is wrong with South Sudan.”

His fiery political support for Dr. Riek Machar is, ostensibly, based on two premises: the alleged under-appreciated qualities and potentials of Dr. Riek Machar and the wanting state of the Republic of South Sudan under the leadership of President Salva Kiir Mayaardit. On the first point, Kiir-Agou reassures his critics (presumably his fellow Dinkas who might be shocked by his eccentric political stance) that “my apparent full support for Dr. Riek” is because he is “the only man who can pull us out of the abyss of dark ages into a more prosperous and brighter future for our beloved country.”

On the second point, Kiir-Agou argues, “Dr. Riek Machar is the Ultimate Messiah for South Sudan” because the country we so heartily fought for against a faith-driven regime is ever falling behind. The hopes and aspirations we had are ebbing out. The future looks bleak and there seems to be nothing but absolute hopelessness at the end of the tunnel. Reason? A bunch of thugs and political hustlers have decided to run the country as a personal property and the sad part, and probably the reason behind the sudden eruption by our nation into civil conflict, is the fact that a small fraction of the country (in fact a sub-tribe of Gogrial) is running the show in every department within the government…Kiir’s brothers and sisters have become the vultures of the wild that feed off the land and the people for their selfish gains. The Dinka tribe has become a bad taste in the mouth these days. A mentioning of the word itself seems to make smaller tribes cringe detestation. Every Dinka is guilty by association.”

President Salva Kiir Mayaardit and his former Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar Teny

President Salva Kiir Mayaardit and his former Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar Teny

More specifically, Kiir-Agou believes that any future government under Dr. Riek Machar would be inclusive of all South Sudanese people: “Despite his movement being predominantly Nuer in manpower, it surely does look very inclusive. It is what few or indeed many would describe as the microcosm of South Sudanese future. His cabinet is representative of many if not everyone in South Sudan. You have the Equatorians, the Dinka, the Nuer, the Shilluk and many more are expected to be part and parcel of his vision for South Sudan and I am sure the youth will have a say in his government. That would be a country worth building and caring for.”

As to why a sizeable section of the South Sudanese society might be vehemently opposed to a Riek’s presidency, Kiir-Agou hypothesizes that Dr. Riek Machar “has been a victim of political rigidity by his Dinka counterparts either during the political struggle or in the aftermath. His desire to drive the country in a more unified direction has always been perceived by those above him as a secret agenda to overthrow them. He has always been portrayed as someone greedy for power. He is always victimized as a tribalist.”

Kiir-Agou concludes his “Riek Tosha” declaration with the following tantalizing supplication: “if you believe in democracy and peaceful co-existence, the wise thing to do right now is join forces in turning the pages of an old-fashioned, non-progressive, greed-driven, divisive politics and replace it with (although never tested) alternative form of the government that seems on paper the opposite of what we have been accustomed to over the last 9 years.” In Kiir-Agou, Dr. Riek Machar has surely found himself a competent political recruiter and mobilizer.

In his latest article, “Cowboy: A Political Joke”, Kiir-Agou launches another tirade of blistering criticisms against the government of President Kiir: “Some politicians in my country are just absolute jokes. Apart from being non-ideologues, they have no vision. They have no sense of direction as to where the country should be driven. They are a metaphorical “Kayaker without a paddle” in the middle of a rough tided river. The saddest part is, they seem to thrive among these rough conditions at the expense of the lives of the innocent majority. Corruption: is the word. [The] country’s resources are the waters through which they wallow. Their bellies are fully extended and they always need a little more. No one embellishes these, qualities [more] than the leader of our country: Salva Kiir Mayar-dit. He is the very definition of what is wrong with South Sudan.”

In a reiteration of his “Riek Tosha” declaration, Kiir-Agou concludes his recent article thus: “I hope Dr. Riek Machar, the current leader in opposition, comes top for I believe that with him in office, South Sudan would be a better place. He has the glue that can unite that country. I have been attacked for saying this before but I say it again, he has the better chance of providing the peace we need the most.”

Kiir, Pagan and Riek in their heydays

Kiir, Pagan and Riek in their heydays

First and foremost, Comrade Kiir-Agou’s argument can be summarized in one sentence: In the Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir is the problem and Riek Machar is the solution to that problem. Supposing that is a true reflection of his core argument, then what one needs to find out is whether or not Dr. Riek Machar is any better in terms of leadership qualities and potentials than President Salva Kiir Mayaardit. This author believes that although the SPLM under President Kiir has indisputably failed the people of South Sudan, Dr. Riek Machar is not, cannot and will never be the right replacement for Salva Kiir.

Proving that Dr. Riek Machar is not the Promised Messiah can be done in two ways. First, one should establish whether or not Dr. Riek Machar had been an integral member of Salva Kiir’s government for the period that heralded the president as “the very definition of what is wrong with South Sudan.” Secondly, insofar as the past is the best guide for the future, one should, therefore, look into Dr. Riek Machar’s political past to ascertain his qualification for the title of “The Ultimate Messiah for South Sudan” as opposed to “The Prophet of Doom.” Thirdly, one should look into and make sense of President Kiir’s style of leadership in relation to his predecessor, Dr. John Garang, and strive to determine if there are parallels in their approach to certain long-term goals, be they military or political ones in as far as the legacy of the liberation struggle and the destiny of South Sudan are concerned.

From the onset, the person that Kiir-Agou considers to be synonymous with the problems of South Sudan is not the Salva Kiir of the past but the one from 2005 to the present. This is attested to by the following revelation from Kiir-Agou: “give credit where it is due. Having fought in the SPLA liberation war alongside the like[s] of them, I must say that [Salva Kiir] was one of the best in the business. No one would come second to Dr. John Garang if they were a bunch of numbnuts. He was, during the struggle, our proverbial Moses of the Bible. He was supposed to take us all the way to the promise land and he sure did try. Sadly for most of us, he never learned from the master. Instead of following the scripts left behind, he chose to do it his own way: the failed ways as we have come to know them.”

In other words, Kiir-Agou is contending that Salva Kiir was an exemplary leader until he took over from the late Dr. John Garang in 2005. When Salva Kiir took over the leadership of the SPLM/A, he appointed Riek Machar as his right-hand man, entrusted with running the affairs of his administration. In a rare show of consensual leadership and trust, President Salva Kiir delegated most of his powers to Dr. Riek Machar, including chairing the weekly cabinet meetings and coordinating the government’s activities with foreign nations and international organizations. It was not until 2013 that those delegated presidential powers were abruptly withdrawn after Riek Machar had allegedly abused them.

The fact that Dr. Riek Machar has been the second most powerful person in the country for the last nine years, one with delegated presidential powers, means that he is also synonymous with everything that is wrong with South Sudan. The promised dividends of independence have not materialized. There are no economic infrastructures in place, democracy is a sham and political instability is the norm. Corruption, nepotism, tribalism, and maladministration are pervasive and systemic in the country.

Dr. Riek Machar (who was the de facto president) had all the powers and the ample time to initiate, formulate and implement the necessary policies for socio-economic development and political stability in conjunction with the relevant ministries, but he failed. He never protested any government policy (with the exception of certain clauses in the transitional constitution) until the President fired him in 2013. Because Riek Machar had been an integral member of President Kiir’s government that brought South Sudan down to its knees, he is, therefore, a big part of the problem, not the Promised Messiah. In fact, if one were to concur with Comrade Kiir-Agou’s assessment that Salva Kiir had been a great leader until he took over from Dr. John Garang in 20005, then one may be forgiven to muse that it was the choice of Riek Machar as the Vice President that corrupted and bungled President Kiir’s administration.

Given the critical role played by Dr. Riek Machar during the last nine years under the leadership of President Salva Kiir, it is, therefore, a foregone conclusion that both Salva Kiir and his longtime deputy Riek Machar—together with their cronies—are “the very definition of what is wrong with South Sudan.” Those with President Kiir in Juba, with Riek Machar in the bush or with the G-12 in exile are all thieves, guilt-ridden with the same crime of looting public resources for their own personal enrichment. They are the infamous 75 lords of impunity.

President Kiir and ex-VP Riek Machar

President Kiir and ex-VP Riek Machar

Having established that Dr. Riek Machar has been as much a problem in the failed policies of the government of South Sudan as President Kiir, it is time to determine whether or not he could possibly be the panacea to the current problem bedeviling South Sudan. His political past should speak for him.

Dr. Riek Machar, like some patriotic South Sudanese, left the comfort of the West in 1984 to join his comrades in the bush. He fought heroically and was greatly rewarded with elevation to the highest position of the movement: a permanent member of the SPLM/A’s Politico-Military High Command. In 1991, he rebelled against the leadership of Dr. John Garang, William Nyuon, and Salva Kiir Mayaardit and formed, together with Dr. Lam Akol, the SPLM-Nasir faction, ostensibly to fight for the independence of South Sudan, halt human rights abuses and enshrine the rule of law and democracy within the movement.

Instead, those noble goals came crashing down against the backdrop of the Nasir faction’s instigation of the Bor Massacre, the Nuer civil war, the dismissal, detention, and killing of leaders opposed to Riek Machar’s leadership style. Lam Akol was humiliatingly dismissed from a faction that he had engineered; John Luk and Gatwec Dual were incarcerated in Waat; and Peter Manyiel and William Nyuon, among others, were killed in cold blood. Telar Ring Deng, Dengtiel Ayuen Kuur, and Adwok Nyaba had to resign in disgust.

Riek Machar, having alienated all his erstwhile political and military allies, had to abandon his own movement and cowardly fled to Khartoum where he was welcomed by the NCP with the 1997 Khartoum Peace Agreement that President Bashir described as “a return to the fold of the homeland of those who have carried the gun against the state.” It was not until 2002 that Riek Machar rejoined the very movement under Dr. John Garang, Salva Kiir, and James Wani Igga that he had been working so hard to destroy. Riek Machar, the man who could not managed his own movement—who justified his distractive and destructive coup on democratic slogans only to end up dictatorially dismissing, jailing and killing his political and military opponents; who had to shamefully surrender to the enemy and fight against his own comrades-in-arm; who had to return to the movement that he had worked so hard to demolish—is the very man Kiir-Agou dares to describe as the ultimate Messiah for South Sudan.

Well, the past political history of Dr. Riek Machar does not support Kiir-Agou’s assertion that he is the ultimate Messiah for South Sudan. There are valid grounds to contemplate that more or less make him, in the words of President Kiir, a prophet of doom. Riek Machar is not the Promised Messiah; he is part and parcel of the conundrum South Sudan is confronting today. If Kiir-Agou has the “African solution to African problem” maxim in mind, then he is stretching the point to its logical absurdity.

If Riek Machar is part of the problem facing South Sudan because he has been with President Kiir who for the past nine years has ruined the country, and if his actual political and military past runs counter to his desire to project himself as “The Ultimate Messiah of South Sudan”, then it is time to look into Salva Kiir’s style of leadership, dubbed as “Cowboy: A Political Joke” by Comrade Kiir-Agou.

Rather than concluding it as a joke, there is a reason to believe that cowboyism is instead a valid political style. Take Dr. John Garang, for example. His principal goal, the driving force of his leadership, was the liberation of his people. Countless lives and resources were sacrificed in the pursuit of that particularized goal. Garang had to part ways with his closest comrades—Kerubino, Nyuon, Arok, Majier, Oduho etc.—because, somehow, he reckoned that those comrades had, along the way, become stumbling blocks in the pursuit of the ultimate goal: liberation. Finally, with the signing and promulgation of the CPA in 2005, Garang, with Salva Kiir and James Wani by his side, succeeded in achieving his ultimate goal.

The monster in charge "I nearly kill that dude so that I can rule forever" The monster on the run "that dude nearly kill me and must step down so that I can rule" The big brother monster "you must talk or else sanctions" and Poor people of South Sudan! via Garang Bol FB

The monster in charge “I nearly kill that dude so that I can rule forever” The monster on the run “that dude nearly kill me and must step down so that I can rule” The big brother monster “you must talk or else sanctions” and Poor people of South Sudan! via Garang Bol FB

When Garang passed away in 2005, Salva Kiir took over with one ultimate goal in mind—independence of South Sudan as a befitting tribute to the martyrs and veterans of the war of liberation. Southern militias had to be, literally, bought and financially kept within the fold. That is, Khartoum had to be “crowded out” of the political and military market of militia-ism. Southern militias in the army of Southern Sudan used to earn more than twice the wages of their counterparts in the army of Khartoum. This reality was vividly captured in the words of the former national security chief, Salah Abdalla Gosh, when he bitterly “complained that southern militia had become so overpriced that Khartoum was squeezed out of the market.”

This was to thwart Khartoum from using southern militias to instigate protracted conflicts in Southern Sudan to derail the CPA-mandated Southern referendum. There were no substantial rent-seeking rebellions in Southern Sudan as a result of Kiir’s policy. With the declaration of South Sudan’s independence on 9 July 2011, Salva Kiir succeeded in accomplishing his ultimate goal: independence. Of course, that very policy, like Garang’s ultimate goal, had its dangers. Under Garang, unnecessary lives were lost and people were summarily jailed and tortured. Under Salva Kiir, corruption, nepotism and tribalism were condoned and impunity was born and nursed into adulthood. But these adverse results were a small price to pay for a clear, particularized policy, geared toward the bigger goal that was categorically realized. Call it cowboyism if you will. Nonetheless, as such, it is a political style, not a joke.

Markedly, Kiir-Agou’s blatant charge that “the president has been ignorant all along” and this ignorance has somehow been responsible for the political messes and military fiascos in the country does not paint the true picture of the political situation in South Sudan. Blunders were indubitably committed and Salva Kiir, without coercion from anyone, was the first to publicly acknowledge the embezzlement of over 4 billion dollars by former and current serving members of his government. President Kiir had his priorities: independence of South Sudan, much as Garang had his—liberation through a combination of military and political means. But such a lofty goal always has it shortcomings, in terms of opportunity costs and collateral damages. There is no gain without pain.

Nevertheless, Kiir-Agou might retort that if President Kiir had allowed corruption, nepotism, tribalism and mismanagement in the belief that fighting such vices would have permitted Khartoum to poach and use the culprits to wreak havoc on South Sudan and consequently derail the planned Southern referendum, then what prevented the President from disciplining his foot soldiers after July 9th? Well, while this author cannot pretend to be speaking for the President, it is plausible that a number of factors might have precluded the President from taking the necessary measures to curtail and eradicate rampant corruption and maladministration that had hindered socioeconomic development and engender political instability.

The main factor may have been that the pervasiveness of economic debauchery reached every corner of the government so that it is was no longer possible to find a clean government official. Selective disciplinary actions were bound to beget the cry of “our people are being targeted” from certain quarters of the nation. A comprehensive cleanup of the government ran the risk of unleashing a deadly civil war, a point validated by the events of December 15th. Therefore, Salva Kiir was between a rock and a hard place—damned if he took action, damned if he didn’t. He had to tread carefully lest he prematurely plunge the nation into the abyss. December 15th might not have happened had President Kiir not fired Dr. Riek Machar, together with most members of the SPLM political bureau.

Did President Kiir and Riek Machar sign the deal under duress?

Did President Kiir and Riek Machar sign the deal under duress?

Moreover, Kiir-Agou’s attempt to hold President Kiir solely responsible for the December 15th violence lacks any factual basis. Kiir-Agou writes, “Kiir has declared war against the Nuer with the intention of wiping them out not knowing that this will have very nasty backlash whether now or in the near future.” This is simply a subjective statement since it is not independently verifiable. It is as much rebels propaganda as the narrative of a failed coup attempt from the government. What happened on December 15th, if available evidence is a guide, was apparently a tragic case of accidental mutiny occasioned by a poisoned political wrangling leading to December 15th. While the government did desperately try to use the crisis to kill two birds with one stone, it is disputable to presuppose that the conflict was premeditatedly planned and executed by President Kiir.

Any attempt to locate the genesis of the crisis in the alleged preemptive move by the government to rid the ruling party of President Kiir’s political challengers is called into question by the utterly disorganized manner in which the government militarily and politically responded to the crisis in December 2013 and onward into January and February of 2014. Likewise, any attempt to present the politico-military crisis as a result of a failed coup attempt by Dr. Riek Machar against the government of the republic of South Sudan under President Kiir is called into disrepute by the lack of any concrete evidence to back up the failed coup narrative.

Were it not for the spontaneous and independent, tribally-motivated rebellions of Gen. Peter Gadet in Bor, Jonglei State, and Gen. James Koang Chuol in Bentiu, Unity State, the current rebellion under Riek Machar might have never taken root in the country, at least not on the political fervor and military scale it reached. Therefore, Kiir-Agou’s allegation that President Kiir “has declared war against the Nuer with the intention of wiping them out…” has little basis in the political realities of South Sudan.

But of course, Kiir Agou does make some valid arguments. He is at his best when he writes: “The old guards are holding on to power that they cannot even handle with any sensible approach. No provision of public services to the people that need them the most…most journalists are hiding in fear that they might be convicts of the regime if they express their ideas i.e. no freedom of the press. Kids of the less fortunate are becoming the mattresses upon which the powerful and the self-made greedy millionaires sleep on. They are the used and reusable tools by the wealth-thirsty few in association with the president…I have a deep conviction that if the Dinka and the Nuer could live in harmony without political fear mongering and distractions, South Sudan would be a peaceful country.”

President Salva Kiir Mayaardit

President Salva Kiir Mayaardit, with his signature cowboy hat given to him by President Bush

In conclusion, therefore, the view that President Kiir is the chief problem in South Sudan and Dr. Riek Machar is the ultimate solution is fundamentally flawed because Riek Machar has been the right hand man of President Kiir for the last nine years. Although the President is undoubtedly the one captaining the ship, it is preposterous to hold him solely responsible for all the messes South Sudan is embroiled in.

Indeed, as the right-hand-man of President Kiir who was duly delegated to propose, formulate, pass and implement the policies of the government for the last nine years, Dr. Riek Machar is as culpable as the President himself for “the demons of corruption, tribalism, nepotism and sexual immorality” ubiquitous in South Sudan. Such a controversial figure can’t be the ultimate Messiah for South Sudan if objectivity is to be the guiding post for opinion shapers.

PaanLuel Wël, the managing editor of PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB), graduated with a double major in Economics and Philosophy from The George Washington University, Washington D.C, USA. He is the author of Who Killed Dr. John Garang, the editor of the essential speeches and writings of the late SPLM/A leader, Dr. John Garang, published as The Genius of Dr. John Garang, vol. 1-3, as well as a co-editor (with Simon Yel Yel) of President Salva Kiir’s speeches before and after independence: Salva Kiir Mayaardit: The Joshua of South Sudan. You can reach him through his email:; Facebook page: PaanLuel Wël; or Twitter account: PaanLuelWel2011.

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made are the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB) website. If you want to submit an opinion article or news analysis, please email it to SSB do reserve the right to edit material before publication. Please include your full name, email address and the country you are writing from.

  1. DAVID a BION says:

    i did not know Riek work hard to destroy SPLM/A under John Garang when he was in khartoum therefore he deserve accommodation in the govt not to be President as Kiir is crying for .


  2. […] Cowboyism: A Political Style. […]


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