Sudan: On Mistrust and Defamation

Sudanese political life has always been marked by low levels of trust. In a society in which institutions are weak, personal relations are commensurately more important for any system to function. But I have the impression that the level of suspicion, intrigue and second-guessing has never been as high as it is today. Beneath the familiar veneer of civility, there is a creeping paranoia and a political culture of defamation. Distrust is being elevated to a political dogma, and the result is further corroding the already-damaged fabric of political life.

This level of distrust provides not only an unpleasant milieu for politicians, diplomats and civil servants, but is enormously wasteful of time and resources. The simplest political tasks, such as handing over a report to a senior official, or appointing a civil servant, can be paralyzed for weeks because people routinely assume the worst of one another. Everything is politicized and there is no room for forgiveable errors or simple failures of management. If one party proposes a reasonable solution to a problem, the other will reject it simply because of who proposed it. An offer of a political concession will be brushed aside because it is assumed to be a trap or a ruse.

A task that could be done in a day will take weeks. A decision that has been made, will need to be followed up each day and nurtured until it is actually implemented.

Distrust can be self-fulfilling. A political leader who assumes there are conspiracies against him, will conjure those conspiracies into being, by his attempts to pre-empt or thwart them. By accusing others of conspiracy, he will compel them to organize against him.

Worse still is the slide towards a culture of personal defamation. It becomes routine to insinuate that somebody has been bought, or is biased, even without a shred of evidence. Recent weeks have seen cases in which personal vilification of appointees to senior positions—appointees who are civil servants rather than professional politicians—has paralyzed appointments and forced honest and competent candidates to withdraw. By these means, the culture of mistrust entrenches itself—only the cynical or corrupt will be ready to take public office if they are expecting to be rewarded with campaigns of denigration. Only those political analysts with a partisan position, or nothing meaningful to say, will be ready to make their opinions known.

The Sudanese political system has always been inefficient–a large amount of energy is expended for a modest result. A culture of distrust, sometimes deliberately cultivated, is making it even more so. Those who are in a hurry to meet deadlines or keen to earn credit for good behaviour should be wary of the wider consequences of using rumour, suspicion or defamation as a political instrument. Distrust has corroded enough already: salting it further risks bringing the machine to a complete halt.

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2 thoughts on “Sudan: On Mistrust and Defamation

  1. Very interesting Alex

    It was not like that just 30 years back.

    How did the change come about? What are the inherent weak political structures within the political parties that have taken over the “Political Ethical Conduct” from a credible one to a shallow and obnoxious one?

    Where did the “catalyst” that kept some sort of balance and honourability go?

    The major political parties were basically built on Sectarian Religious Constituency in the 1940s. The spiritual and political leadership of the two major parties (Umma and DUP) have changed stature, wisdom and charisma along the years through “Political Agents of Denudation”: Death of charismatic leaders, demise of Sufism, grievous political mistakes by political parties, repeated military regimes wiping out incremental achievements in democratization, diminishing commitment and membership of the foundational religious sects and hence of the political parties. But the lack of the development and implementation of any credible “Political Theory” to manage Sudan takes the biggest share in the crises.

    Political parties and military regimes did not spring from a board of “managing the country’s affairs” but from “getting to power” which was always a primary objective.

    The glue of the Social Structures in Sudan was Sufism and Native Rule. That glue has weakened. People now know better. The Glue and catalyst of Political Structures was “Civil Society”, both Structured and Traditional. The NIF that relied heavily on Civil Society during their opposition years and were/are aware of their powers has, thus, systematically demolished and butchered Civil Society as an agent of change as demonstrated by Civil Society’s roles in 1964 and 1985.

    One reads the “Strategy” or “Objectives” or “Strategic Direction” or “Plan of Action” of any party and all that one sees is “sets of words”. Repeated and recycled general principals that can not walk one foot to implementation.

    The “infertility” of the major parties to breed new leaders to replace the “petrified” current dinosaurs cements the status quo. The “one-man show” whence the “One-man” is incompetent produces a state of stagnation.

    In the absence of ” credible achievements” or even the potential for them, political actors resort to political bickering and character-assassination as a modus opernadi for their survival.

    Tag Elkhazin

  2. By Prof Oliver O. Mox

    The government created institutions and made development-oriented policies and the people dedicatedly engaged themselves in economic activities. To most southerners, it was a dawn of self-determination and self-reliance, a denied right! However, the excessiveness of the dollars in this part of Sudan, mainly in the hub of Juba has diverted the positive thoughts and plans of the patriotic leaders in the south to self-enrichment. Corruption and tribalism have overshadowed the national objectives of the government.

    GOSS, which stood for Government of South Sudan was reinterpreted to mean ‘Government of Self-Satisfaction’! Foreigners from all parts of the world ignored security concerns and stormed the risky villages of South Sudan with all sorts of businesses just to have some share of the floating dollars. As a result, living standards in Juba drastically sky-rocketed leading Juba to the group of the most expensive cities in the world and yet it is ‘a village city’! Juba competes with Tokyo in living costs!

    The influx of the foreigners in this ‘dollar city’ created more problems in the south. There is increased spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, high-rate of organized crime, congestion and poor sanitation. The ineffectiveness and inefficiency in the implementation of the immigration and custom laws, has made foreigners to be the direct beneficiaries of these donations, as they fix abnormal prices for their goods and services, and they send the abnormal profits to develop their respective home countries—capital flight.

    The dollar mesmerism among the leadership in GOSS bred a culture of self-service in the public sector, whereby a minister, director or under-secretary in any ministry takes as much money as he or she desires. Within a short time, the new South Sudan ranked among the top corrupt countries in the world. Very surprising!

    The twin-sister to corruption, which is tribalism, soon took its toll and employment within GOSS became a family affair. Recruitments are done secretly at homes and people only come to offices to assume duties. Relationship is more valued than merit in the GOSS hidden terms of employment. The other weird thing is the attempt of the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) top leadership in promoting a Dinka monopoly in the entire administration of GOSS based on a false impression that since the late Garang was a Dinka and so is Salva Kiir, then GOSS is a Dinka dominion. This has, as a result, made most intellectuals from the sidelined tribes to doubt the future of South Sudan, if it still remains under the stewardship of Salva Kiir, the chairman of the SPLM, the political wing of the SPLA.

    The GOSS new recruitment criteria which gives first priorities to relatives and acquaintances, obviously leads to the employment of unqualified and inexperienced people. Poor policy and programme designs, misallocation of resources and unproductivity became the output of the public sector. It is not surprising to find a doctor who is supposed to treat the sick in the hospitals working with Customs or Revenue. The ministries are occupied mostly by semi-educated people, mainly from the Dinka fraternity. They live a first class life; drive expensive cars, reside in luxury hotels and every evening gather at their pubs where they drink until the wee hours of the morning.

    Meanwhile, poor people sleep on empty stomachs and die die from curable diseases in the rural areas. Teachers and nurses strike almost every three months due to delays in the payment of salaries and many have left their professions and resorted to business so as to catch up with the increasing cost of living. The angered poor got fed up and vowed to deal with these corrupt and hypocritical leaders with the peaceful weapon of the ballot during the general elections in 2010.

    However, electoral malpractice was massively exercised and most of the untouchable fraudulently retained their positions. The disappointed poor and their cheated candidates got silenced by the security forces and these senior members of GOSS came back to their usual business. The Governorship seat was the one mostly hit by these electoral frauds, as out of the 10 seats of the 10 states of South Sudan, SPLM fraudulently secured eight. Both international and local observers confirmed harassment and intimidations in most of the polling stations. Two of the cheated candidates Ladu Gore and George Arthur, of Central Equatoria and Jonglei states challenged the results and this caused public riots until the latter went to the bush—a threat to peace in South Sudan! Soon, there will be a referendum to determine separation or unity of the south with the north.

    The very people who welcomed GOSS cheerfully and campaigned for separation are today re-considering their decisions. It’s most likely that they will vote for unity because of the gross errors they witnessed within GOSS.

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