Dr. Majak & Dr. Miamingi: A Response to Prof. Rita Abramhamsen’s letter to
George Clooney on the Sentry Report Posted: September 19, 2016 by *PaanLuel
Wël* in Commentary <https://paanluelwel.com/category/commentary/>, Contributing
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*Dear Dr. Rita Abrahamsen: “We will prevail over the flaws of our leaders
with the same will and resilience with which we fought and defeated
Dr. Majak D’agoot Atem in Nakuru, Kenya, Jan 3rd, 2015
*September 19, 2016 (SSB) —* We wish to respond to your letter to George
Clooney of 15 September 2016, published on the website of the Centre for
International Policy Studies.
We write not to defend Mr. Clooney but to correct some assumptions used to
critique his work on behalf of South Sudan.
We were particularly troubled by your suggestion that South Sudan’s
independence resulted solely, or mainly from the work of international
actors; or some kind of ‘dumb stunt’ by a Holywood celebrity which has gone
awry. We don’t deny that countless individuals, institutions and countries
supported our tortuous route to liberty. We deeply appreciate the material
and moral support we received.
Helping a people in need should never been seen as a mistake, cravings for
fame, or self-exoneration –and certainly not in the case of South Sudan. As
the tragic events in South Sudan have not shot Mr Clooney to stardom in the
humanitarian field; it is unlikely that these can take shine off his
stardom. No any other outsider to be blamed for creating the mess we find
ourselves in today. As South Sudanese, we take responsibility for our
successes and failures.
As you must know, given your expertise in the region, millions of our
citizens–not just heroes and heroines of our war of liberation; but also
our entire civilian population — paid the ultimate price. It is, in fact,
this widespread and wanton devastation characterised by scorched-earth
policy and war-induced famine which pricked the conscience of individual
activists and governments in the West to come to the aid of the victims.
An gruesome view of “Vulture Stalking a Child” captured by South African
photographer in Upper Nile in March 1993 is a rare empirical evidence of
Khartoum’s acts of brutality. Such inhumane acts moved individuals like
Kevin Carter, a recipient of Pulitzer Prize, to commit suicide at age 33 in
1994, out of empathy for the people of South Sudan.
By every moral standard – even as your abhorrence to this line of thought
has featured more abundantly in your letter to Mr. Clooney – enslavement,
plunder, and oppressive rule of successive colonial administrations –
especially of the Northern Arab mercantilists cannot be justified,
whatsoever. Our people suffered for centuries under this duplicity and the
very complex geopolitics of contiguous colonialism which South Sudan
Despite the gaping dichotomies that existed, the territory was viewed as
seamless extension of Khedival Egypt and/or independent Sudan. At the
forefront of these designs, were – and still are plethora of experts,
apologists and cynics whose role is concerning until today.
To suggest that South Sudan’s march to statehood was always destined to
fail, based on five years of nationhood, contradicts your own argument that
nation building isn’t a photo-op or a movie but an endless journey. Failure
is in no way inherent in us, any more than it was elsewhere in Africa or in
the United States, which experienced its own civil war not long after
independence. Suggesting that after 50 years of struggle, South Sudan is
worse off today than under the colonialism of the Arabs is disrespectful of
our collective sacrifices as a people.
Whilst this argument sounds logical, we are not in any way inclined to
justifying the abrasive risk appetite of South Sudan’s power elites who
have been responsible for the catastrophic blowouts in 2013 and 2016. But
what we can assert is that the current and temporary setbacks have not
cuased ‘decision regrets’ for the overwhelming vote for South Sudan
indepedence in 2011. South Sudan is fragile but could have still muddle
through without self-destructing, if its current crop of leaders were
Regardless of the blundering of the present South Sudan’s ruling gun class,
South Sudan is independent and will eventually shape up. We acknowledge
that this country was borne with greater promise and huge international
goodwill and was likely to be a success story of postcolonial Africa.
Unfortunately, we keeled over and squandered that opportunity.
Yet, we are capable of picking the pieces and putting the country back
again on the stairway to nirvana. We will prevail over the flaws of our
leaders with the same will and resilience with which we fought and defeated
colonialism. In this new struggle, the efforts of individuals like Mr.
Clooney, though imperfect and only surface-scratching; are incredibly
valuable in our quest for accountable and pro-people leadership in South
*Dr. Majak d’Agoôt: **Former Deputy Minister of Defence and Member of the
SPLM Leaders – Former Detainees*
*Dr. Remember Miamingi: **International Human Rights Expert*
*Letter to George Clooney*
*September 19, 2016 (SSB) — *I’m writing to say that I think you are a
great actor! And, of course, handsome beyond belief!! I loved you in Oh
Brother, Where Art Thou? I laughed my socks off watching you in Burn After
Reading. I even felt sad for your hardened, self-possessed character in Up
in the Air. I’m sure you get many letters from your admirers, especially
women like me. So at this point you are probably tempted to stop reading.
Please don’t; I have something very important to tell you.
That report you just released on South Sudan — wow! Congratulations on once
again capturing the limelight and drawing attention to the suffering and
injustices of the world’s youngest country. You and your friend John
Prendergast campaigned fearlessly for South Sudan’s independence, and your
involvement helped convince the US and the international community to
pressure Sudan to let go of its southern territory. When South Sudan was
born in July 2011, you celebrated. The new President Salva Kiir was your
friend, providing many a photo opportunity. You looked so handsome in those
photos, exuding political vitality, making us believe in the humanity and
goodwill of all people.
But things did not turn out quite the way you thought, did they? Nation
building and peace processes do not follow Hollywood scripts, and there is
not always a happy ending. South Sudan soon plunged into the most gruesome
of civil wars. Killings, rapes abductions, the torching of villages all
became routine. Tens of thousands have been killed. Two million have been
displaced. There are more than 16,000 child soldiers. Meanwhile, South
Sudan’s political elite have profited enormously, enriching themselves
shamelessly and using their militias to profit from the war.
None of this is news, George! We have known for a long time and we did not
need your two-year-long investigation to learn that the South Sudanese
political elite is a corrupt, self-interested war machine. The
international headlines may laud you for “revealing” and “exposing” the
corruption and venality of South Sudan’s leaders, but what I want to know
is why did you not speak up before?
Here is one scenario: In a Hollywood script, there must be good guys and
bad guys, and in your quest to save South Sudan, President Salva Kiir and
his former Vice President and now opponent Riek Machar were made to star as
the heroes against the villains of Sudan. Complex political realities were
made into a morality tale of good versus evil, of freedom versus
oppression. Critical voices cautioning that independence might bring its
own problems were brushed aside. The craving for media publicity was
satisfied by simple stories. For a humanitarian activist in a hurry, there
was no time for hard thinking and detailed analysis.
Now you turn around to find that the warnings have come true, that real
life politics is anything but a morality tale: The heroes have turned
villains, the morally good and oppressed have become the oppressors, the
thieves, the murders, and the rapists. Some people say “I told you so,” but
you feign shock and surprise, because of course you cannot admit that the
warning signs were flashing like Hollywood marquees. The only way out is to
pen another Hollywood script, this one starring George Clooney and John
Prendergast as the lionhearted investigators exposing the venality of South
Sudan’s political leaders and once again appearing as the saviours of this
poor African country. Needless to say, the script carefully omits any
mention of your longstanding support for these very same leaders.
Your character in Up in the Air leads off his motivational speeches with
the question “What’s in your backpack?” For him, the question encourages a
life free from burdensome relationships with either humans or material
belongings. What’s in your backpack right now, George, is a relationship of
political complicity with the situation in South Sudan. You may feel that
your recent report atones for having overlooked the warnings and the
atrocities without protest, and I agree that action now is better than no
action at all, but that doesn’t absolve you from having contributed to
creating this evil mess in the first place.
Like many people, I admire and welcome your political engagement, and I’m
happy that you care about human suffering. Your activism can make the
detachment of academic research seem bland, perhaps even irrelevant, but I
do wonder — and sometimes worry — about the consequences of a global
politics that increasingly resembles a beauty contest or a morality play.
More than two years ago when I was editor of African Affairs, the premier
journal in African Studies, we published several articles that documented
the greed, corruption, and self-enrichment that your “investigation” has
now revealed to such international surprise.
Needless to say, these African Affairs articles could garner none of the
media attention lavished on your report, perhaps because they do not offer
either simple solutions or comforting stories of good and evil. So, I’m
pleased that you have helped to draw attention to a situation that experts
on South Sudan have warned about for several years. My fear, however, is
that once again your involvement will not only reduce complex political
issues to nice morality tales, but will also lead to emotional politics and
irresponsible short-term activism and interventions.
I hope you will forgive my frankness. Meanwhile, I look forward to your
*The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity
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