21st May, 2020
The South Sudanese citizenry became extremely nervous and worried on learning that nearly all members of the High Level Task Force (HLTF) contracted the covid-19 disease. This committee was formed and chaired by none other than President Kiir, and deputized by his immediate deputy, 1st vice President, Dr Riek Machar. Going by its name, high ranking government officials and senior cabinet ministers of Health, Defence, Finance, Cabinet Affairs and Information are in this committee set up to respond to this deadly disease. In the first weeks of May, they all decided that each one of them will undergo corona virus test, which they did. Eventually, the doctors released the results for everyone tested for the disease. Unfortunately, nearly all of them were tested positive for the virus. As soon as the doctors communicated their status to them individually and confidentially, the President disbanded their committee and constituted another High Level Task Force now chaired by the 3rd vice President, Hussein Abdel Bagi. Currently, we have a new committee which President kiir and Riek Machar are not party to. At first, the citizens were clueless about what was going on behind the curtain until when the 1st Vice President, Dr Riek Machar made a televised addressed to the nation, saying he and his wife, Angelina Teny who is also Minister of Defence and Veterans Affairs are positive of corona virus disease. It was via this revelation that majority understood that things were not okay for the committee. Prior to this pronouncement, we had already anticipated that the committee might be between the rock and the hard place.
At one point, they stopped their daily press briefings without giving reasons. Alternatively, they resorted to issueing statements on the state of coronavirus from their board rooms and in their comfort zones. This was when we became suspicious as covid-19 cases were raising at an alarming rate. In his televised address shown on South Sudan Broadcasting corporations SSBC, Riek hinted that the rest of the task force committee also tested positive. He maintained that he could not talk about the status of other committee members, aware that personal health matters are confidential; and that further, he was not authorized to reveal theirs. In fact he was right not to reveal who was positive or not. However, the question I asked myself was: why did Riek disclosed Angelina’s covid-19 status in her absence? They could have appeared at press conference together or else Angelina can sign the press statement showing her consent.
I was of the opinion that as a public official, she was supposed to say her own status despite the fact that they are couples. On that day, I felt Riek had overstepped on Madam Angelina’s foot by virtue of his position as husband and not as 1st vice President. In the public arena, we ignore their family ties, but viewed them as distinct government officials with different status and defined roles under the laws of South Sudan. Lucky, in his address, Riek avers that they were in good health and that they were going to subject themselves to mandatory self-quarantine throughout the period prescribed by the medical practitioners.
The following day, on 19th May, 2020, Information Minister, Michael Makuei said in an interview on phone, that he was also tested positive, adding that his other colleagues in the HLTF are also tested positive. On hearing these revelations from Machar and Makuei, the citizens became extremely nervous while applauding the duo as courageous and honest public officials. Soon after, many took to social media to wish them quick recovery. Furthermore, they are also called on other HLTF members, including the President to emulate Machar and Makuei examples. I urged the President to come out clear on his status, because he was among those who were tested for coronavirus disease. Fortunately, If he turned negative let him say it in the open so as to ease tension and anxiety in the country. I really doubt because if the President’s test turned negative; he would still be member of the second task force like the Health minister, Dr. Acuei Deng Yol. Madam Acuei was the member of the previous task force, but because her test turned negative he was again appointed as member of the new task force.
Yesterday, the President wrote get-well wishes letter to Riek but maintained pin-drop silence on his status. I think the president is missing an essential point in this matter. The main reason why this is important is because he is public figure whose life is a concern to all. That is the reason we are using taxpayers money to hired guards and soldiers to protect him and his family all the time. Moreover, by mentioning that he was tested positive will send a message to the nation that this disease is real for there are some people outside there who don’t take this virus seriously thinking that it’s not there.
As matter of fact, the law is crystal clear that in unlikely event that a leader is unable to perform his or her duties for whatever reason, he should step aside and allow other persons to carry the nation on. Therefore, the citizens are right to know the health status of their leader. By not being open, the President is denying himself the get-well prayers which we could send to him.
In as much as we pray and wish all of them including those who chose to be silent a quick recovery, I welcome their stepping aside as task force committee for many reasons. The other day they disobeyed doctor’s advices on coronavirus management in the country. Secondly, a week after they started working as high level task force, they lied publicly to students studying in covid-19 affected countries. They said that they would allocate them 3 million dollars to them. And until they stepped down the other day they never talk about it again. This Lie will haunt them because the students did not forgive them. Moreover, they were also hesitating to pay health workers in the country until the doctors went on strike leaving patients alone at this critical time. Were it not for doctors’ patriotism and love for the patients they could not called off their strike yesterday.
The citizens are nervous largely because of the uncertainty that would happen after they succumbed to this disease, god forbid. Imagine if we wake up to the news one morning that President Kiir and Riek Machar passed on, what do we think would happen given that we have no rule of law? I am sure people will cry for them and many more will die over the scramble for the vacancies they left.
This is national conversation that I am bringing to the fore. It should not be misconstrued to means that I am wishing them to die. In fact I wish them to live long, so that they can see how South Sudan will change to better after they retired and abandoned those offices that they are misusing for personal aggrandizement.
In any case, if we wish them dead, we could do that long time ago when our innocent people died in their names. Having say that, let me point out that personally, I am related to Machar in one way or another; and hence I would not be the first to him dead. Moreover, although President Kiir is one of our tormentors, I can’t wish him dead for I am also related to him by virtue of the fact that he is my country’s President. In fact they are the one wishing others dead by lying to desperate students abroad. The disease is real. It is an invisible enemy that has so far robbed us of many lives. The statistics for people killed by covid-19 is there for everyone to see.
This disease has killed so many around the world, and South Sudan is no exception. When our top leaders got infected by this virus, we shouldn’t fold our hands and watch helplessly as if death and disease spares people. We should now start the conversation on how we can replace them in the event that they left us untimely. We must hope for the best and prepare for the worse. As we know death is a normal and natural phenomenon that often comes to us uninvited. In other countries, when someone become old they write a will. And before he died he will advise his children to prepare his grave and even purchase the best coffin for him. Thus, when we talk of someone’s death before his or her demise it should not be misunderstood especially in this context.
In early April this year, Britain’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson was diagnosed with this coronavirus disease. When his condition deteriorated, he named UK First secretary, Dominic Raab as Britain’s Caretaker prime minister before he was rushed to Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at St Thomas’ hospital in London. The time he recovered after he was discharged from hospital he resumed his official duties of serving the nation as usual.
Similarly, the disease has now made our leaders unable to carry out their duties. Thus, we must craft a formal plan B in readiness for what coronavirus will do. The duo should be reminded to name the caretakers immediately as done by Boris Johnson. And in doing so, they should not rely solely on their parties’ structure or hierarchies.
Anyone can be picked depending on his competence. In July 2016, when Machar was forced out of Juba in the wake of the renewed conflict at State House, Juba, it was not his SPLM-IO former deputy, General Lado Gore or then secretary General Dr. Dhuei Mathok which took his position as First Vice President. Soon after Machar left Juba, his erstwhile comrade General Taban Deng came from nowhere to grab his position, because there was no formal plan as to who will succeed him in any eventuality. Therefore, Machar should be the first to name his caretaker as he weigh his luck in a bid to come out from mandatory quarantine. When I see, it’s like President Kiir has already named his successor or caretaker in the person of Hussein Abdel Bagi who is now the chairperson of the new High level Task force. The appointment of this inexperienced and Arabic speaking 3rd vice president speaks volumes. I think he chooses him because he was the only one out of the five vice presidents who hails from his region, Bahr El Ghazal. President Kiir thought the position he occupies is a Dinka position, and hence he has to pick a Dinka indirectly. This was what made him to pick a Nuer, Taban Deng in 2016 instead of appointing Riek’s deputy, Lado Gore who hails from Bari tribe. He then believed that Machar position belong to Nuer community. If President Kiir did not appoint Hussein based on his ethnic and regional proximity, he could have appointed the 2nd vice president Dr. James Wani who is also the senior in SPLM-IG in terms of hierarchy. If at all the duo wants to name their tribe men as their caretakers so be it; all we want is to have people that are named as caretaker so that when things turn worse at the quarantine rooms, the caretakers can continue and prepare the nation for the next step without unnecessary squabbles that may lead us to the post Riek and Kiir conflict in the country.
I am of the view that for us to prevent post Kiir and Riek conflict, the caretaker President and 1st Vice President Must either be none Nuer, none Dinka and or female caretaker. In view of the foregoing, I would suggest that the two sick Principals, Kiir and Riek should settle on late John Garang’s Window who is also the 4th vice President, Rebecca Nyadeng as caretaker President with Machar’s deputy, Henry Odwar as 1st vice President. With the support she garnered across all communities, the former can be supported to usher in the change that we are yearning for. As Nuer community Leader in diaspora, I know the Nuer will support her because she had been very outspoken against the atrocities committed against the Nuer by the government from day one. On the other hand, Odwar will get enormous sympathies from Dinka for his calmness and his soft approach to emotive issues that the government is often accused of by armed dissidents and public intellectuals. You will realized the country of Liberia was changed by woman President, Johnson Serleft. And in the recent past January 2014, the Central Africa Republic (CAR) named a woman and former Bangui Mayor, Catherine Samba-panza as Interim President to take her people through a transition, which he did. As of now, things have turned to normal in CAR. We can also try this example by appointing Nyadeng as our caretaker President. I am sure she will give us good deal by taking us to free and fair election comes 2023 if in case the Kiir and Riek succumbed to covid-19 pandemic.
(The Writer is the Chairman of Liech Community Association in Kenya; the views expressed here are his own and does not represnt Ramciel Broadcasting’s and he can be reached for comments via firstname.lastname@example.org)