Why the Jieng Council of Elders Is a Disappointment

By Jacob Jiel Akol

The case against the Jieng Council of Elders is not that they are “self-appointed”, as I have often heard it argued against them. It is that they have squandered and cheapened themselves to a role, which, in my opinion, is far too small for their large shoes.

To us, the generation next to them, these were our national heroes, the people we looked up to and would have liked to imitate. Not only were they children of renown and wise Jieng traditional leading families and personalities – such as Akuei(n) Ajow and Giir Thiik, amongst others, people whose names shook the ground under our tiny feet with respect each time they were uttered – they themselves had become accomplished national leaders in their own right; at least in our eyes as school children then and even later in life.

Some of them had become distinguished Southern Sudanese nationalist politicians, representing our cause bravely and effectively in Khartoum; others had become scholars and lawyers of national stature. They contributed significantly, in word and deed, to both the Anya-Nya liberation Movement and later to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (PLM/SPLA).

They were heroes of our independence, hopefully to be mentioned in our history books alongside leaders like; Joseph Oduoh, Hilary Logali, Peter Gatkuoth, Uncle Clement Mboro, William Deng Nhial, Agrey Jaden, Fr. Saturino, Abel Alier, Joseph Lagu – the list is long. Much wisdom and national leadership was expected from the names now appearing on the Jieng Council of Elders.

Instead of focusing on national issues and uniting the peoples of South Sudan and on to nation-building when needed, they disappointingly zeroed in on an ethnic cause which isn’t theirs to fight, calling themselves Jieng Council of Elders to fight shadow-boxing “threats against the Jieng”, as if Dinkaland has been invaded or even threatened by anyone. And even if it were, would that be a war for them to fight at the expense of unity of South Sudan as a nation?

No doubt, the Dinka tribes need an organisation of that name; but, then, it would be rightly composed of Dinka traditional leaders and chiefs to fight the on-going rampant deadly conflicts amongst Dinka tribes, sections and even clans. The current Jieng Council of Elders cannot claim to be concerned or even effective in reducing the on-going carnage amongst Dinka tribes. What are they for, then?

To set up in Juba a group of highly educated and experienced politicians and name it “Jieng Council of Elders” can only amount to one thing: a lobbying group on behalf of the Dinka ethnic community at national level. What is wrong with that? Their talent, education, experience and national leadership are all squandered and wasted on cheap, opportunistic gains for themselves, their immediate families and, if possible, for an ethnic community that is hardly threatened or side-lined in anyway; a community that is looked upon as having the lion’s share of both national power and wealth-sharing.

What is more, the power of such an ethnic lobbyist, believed to be so close to the presidency, could send negative vibes of bias to other ethnic communities; and they are intelligent enough to have known that. Ever since the JCE emerged, they have been suspected or even accused, rightly or wrongly, of being the power behind every controversial decree declared by President Kiir.

Leading amongst these controversial presidential decrees is the far-reaching decree expanding the states from 10 to 28 – and still counting – without a comprehensive national debate on how the different ethnic communities would like to be governed in a united Republic of South Sudan.

Political and economic viability of these states were simply ignored in favour of political expediency, seen by other ethnic communities as favouring the Dinka.

To argue, in justification, that such a national debate was never called for when [Sudanese President] Omar El-Bashir divided the South into the 10 states, which were forced on us and later accepted, is simply to forget why we were at war with Khartoum in the first place.

What a difference it would have made if these names now appearing on the Jieng Council of Elders were listed amongst a “South Sudan’s Council of Elders”, amongst whom names of elders like Joseph Lagu, Abel Alier, Angelo Beda, Bishop Paride Taban, Bona Malual, and many more would figure? Such a national organisation of elders should have been in place the day after South Sudanese voted solidly for secession in January 2011.

The very necessary National Dialogue, which is now on the table with the poisonous suspicion that it is being called expediently, would have been tabled months before Independence Day in July 2011. We could have avoided the distorted and rushed revision of the Interim Constitution, which gave excessive powers to the president.

Such a voluntary group of distinguished elders would have tasked itself with issues of nation-building; leading and formulating a solid foundation of governance based on a fair constitution recognisance of power and wealth sharing amongst the various ethnic communities.

If such a national dialogue were convened soon after the referendum 2011, it could have been possible to avoid the ruinous power struggle within the SPLM, which resulted in the shoot-out in December 2013. All that missed opportunity, in my opinion, is why the Jieng Council of Elders is so disappointing.

  1. Jacob J. Akol, is a member of Jieng Community and Director/Chief Editor of Gurtong Trust Media. He is based in Ireland. His views do not reflect the position of Juba Monitor Newspaper.
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