WARAH: Making angels out of Africa’s rogue leaders

Wednesday July 27 2016

Rasna Warah is a Kenyan writer and 

Rasna Warah is a Kenyan writer and  Photojournalist 

By Rasna Warah

The recurrence of conflict in South Sudan has shown us what happens when the international community confuses clannism with nationalism and does not make the distinction between leadership and inflated egos.

The truth that is becoming increasingly clear is that neither President Salva Kiir nor Vice President Riek Machar should have ascended to leadership positions in South Sudan because both have blood on their hands.

Both are incapable of seeing beyond their Dinka and Nuer clans, and both have shown no remorse for the thousands of men, women and children who have died, been displaced or been raped in their name.

It is estimated that at least 50,000 South Sudanese people have been killed in the past three years alone. Independence in 2011 did not end the conflict in South Sudan; on the contrary, the conflict became more protracted.

Ideally, both Kiir and Machar should be referred to the International Criminal Court, but neither the United Nations Security Council nor the African Union are likely to do this.

The United States and other countries that supported South Sudan’s independence from the Arab-dominated north will also not admit that South Sudan has been unable to have the kind of leadership that can sustain peace and democracy.


South Sudan does not even have the basic infrastructure and services that are needed to run a country. Yet, arms seem to flow freely into the country.

Years of mistrust between clans has created a paranoid society. Like Somalia, clan-based militias were never de-militarised at independence. There is money to buy weapons but not to build schools or hospitals.

But while the government of Salva Kiir claims that he does not have the money to solve his country’s problems, he seems to have a lot of money to improve his image.

According to a report published by Vice News and the Centre for Public Integrity, the Sudanese president spent more than US dollars 2 million on lobbying and public relations firms in Washington between 2014 and 2015.

These firms were paid to boost his image, to keep US aid flowing and to prevent any criticism of the Sudanese Government’s atrocities against its own people that might have resulted in sanctions. A large chunk of this money went to the lobby group Podesta, and included high-level officials who served in Bill Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s administrations.

Failing to end violence

When a United Nations report released in March this year accused the South Sudanese Government of failing to end violence, protect civilians and punish perpetrators, Podesta issued press releases that discouraged sanctions against South Sudan, claiming that such sanctions could lead to the collapse of the fragile peace agreement.

South Sudan is not the only country that relies on PR firms to stave off criticism. Increasingly, rogue African states and leaders are turning to PR firms in the West to whitewash the atrocities they are inflicting on their people.

Many countries, including Egypt, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq and Azerbaijan, have recruited lobbyists to influence public policy and opinion. The spin-doctoring is so successful in some cases that human rights abusers turn into human rights defenders overnight.

South Sudan was bound to be a failed state from the time of its birth. In other countries, the “resource curse” strikes when stable countries discover oil or other minerals and then descend into conflict over competition for those resources.

In the case of South Sudan, the resource curse was brewing even before the country achieved independence.

Somalia is another example of a state that was doomed to fail even before it got back on its feet.

In the last four years of a post-transitional government, the government of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who had also recruited PR firms in the past to spruce up his image, has been mired with corruption allegations.

Terror group Al-Shabaab still poses a threat to the government, which cannot defend itself and still relies on Amisom troops.

Suspicion between regions is still prevalent; Somaliland, for instance, runs its own affairs without any reference to Mogadishu. And next month, selected clan and regional representatives will vote for the entire country in an election that many consider to be a sham.

Let us hope that South Sudan will not go the Somalia way, where conflict has been the defining feature for more than two decades.

Ms Warah is a writer, and a former editor of the UN’s State of the World’s Cities report and Habitat Debate. She has also written for the ‘Mail and Guardian’