Power: The Most Misunderstood and Misused Word in South Sudan

Posted: May 27, 2019 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Junub Sudan

Power: a Misunderstood and misused five-letter word that needs to be properly Understood and used so as to forge a peaceful coexistence in South Sudan.

BY Peter Makuach Manyuat, Juba, South Sudan

Sunday, May 26, 2019 (PW) — The word power is something we hear a lot in everyday life. It has a wide range of meanings. In physics for instance, it has a very explicit meaning. It is a measure of the rate at which work is done. In social science, it is defined as the ability to influence others to believe, behave, or to value as those in power desire them to or to strengthen, validate, or confirm present beliefs, behaviors, or values. Power is the social force that allows select persons to mobilize and to organize others to act in concert. 

In this article, the author will attempt to give better view of social and political power, its different forms and where each form applies while maintaining that the best way for our leaders to win back the dwindling trust from the populace is to align the political power with servant leadership. A servant leader is someone whose intention of holding a public position of power is to serve the people and not the other way around. That way, any decision a servant leader takes is tailored towards meeting the idea of serving people’s interests and not the leader’s. 

Power has been an integral aspect of human civilization since time immemorial. Power might be physical, political or social. Due to its current misuse in South Sudan and Africa in general, social power now means many different things to different people. For some, power is seen as a ticket for corruption. For others, they believe that the more power they have, the more successful they feel. For even others, power is of no interest at all. 

In order for us to understand this long existent but too often misunderstood concept, it is good to throw a better light on its bases as identified by John French and Bertram Raven in the early 1960’s through a study they conducted on power in leadership roles. The study showed how different types of power affected one’s leadership ability and success in a leadership role.

The five bases of power are divided in two categories:

A. Formal Power


This kind of power involves the usage of threat to make people do what one desires. In the organizational set up, it translates into threatening someone with transfer, firing, demotions etc. it basically forces people to submit to one’s demand for the fear of losing something. This the type of leadership power in common use now in most of South Sudan settings. This has one major disadvantage. It eliminates diversity, creativity and innovation as only one opinion matters when using the coercive leadership style and that belongs to the person in charge.


As the name suggests, this type of power uses rewards, perks, new projects or training opportunities, better roles and monetary benefits to influence people. However an interesting aspect of this type of power is that, it is not powerful enough in itself, as decisions related to rewards do not rest solely with the person promising them, because in organizations, a lot of other people come into play like senior managers and board for a decision to take effect. The drawback with this power is that giving a reward to an employee, particularly if done regularly, can cause them to expect similar rewards in the future. This reduces the power of the reward as employees begin to see it as simply part of their regular compensation.


This power emanates from an official position held by someone, be it in an organization, beurocracy or government etc. The duration of this power is short spanned as a person can use it only till the time he/she holds that position, Add to that the scope of the power is small as it is strictly defined by the position held.

B. Personal Power


This is a personal kind of power which owes its genesis to the skills and expertise possessed by an individual, which is of higher quality and not easily available. In such a situation, the person can exercise the power of knowledge to influence people. Since, it is very person specific and skills can be enhanced with time; it has more credibility and respect.


This is a power gained by celebrities and film stars as they have huge following amongst masses who like them, identify with them and follow them. Hence, they exert lasting influence on a large number of people for a large number of decisions; like from what car to buy to which candidate to choose for a higher office in the country.

Other power forms include information power, tradition power, and charismatic power. Information power comes as a result of possessing knowledge that others need or want. Information possessed that no one needs or wants is powerless. This power type also extends to the ability to get information not presently held such as a case with a librarian or data base manager. Some examples of reserved information include: (a) national security data; (b) personnel information for government or business. 

Charismatic power is that quality possessed by only a few individuals in our midst; it is pigeonholed by high confidence, typical physical magnetism, social dexterity, amiability, sharpened leadership skills, and heightened charm. 

In conclusion, each of the above forms of power has advantages and drawbacks. They apply at different times and circumstances. It must be remembered that power is effective only when the target of powerful actions consent to the relevant power dynamic; we are all technically able to resist the power of others. At times, however, we may feel powerless to resist or the social, political, personal, and/or emotional proce to be paid is too high or we fear failure in resisting.

Peter Makuach M. Ayii is trained on Peace building and Conflict Resolution Education at Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative with support from UNESCO. Besides being a Final Year Medical Student at the University of Juba’s School of Medicine, Makuach has a Credential Certificate in Nutrition and Dietetics at Juba Institute of Health Sciences. Makuach works as a Health, Safety and Quality Assurance Officer at WS Insight Secure. He lectures Clinical Officers and Nurses as an Adjunct Lecturer at Juba Institute of Health Sciences. He is reachable at petermakuac@gmail.com


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