By Peter Adwok Nyaba
It is Arab wisdom, I believe, that runs thus: ‘God protect me from my friends; as for my enemies I know how to deal with them’. Human or societal relationships and interactions are so intricate a web of positivities and negativities that obvious contradictions coexist to the point that they are two sides of the same thing. Why not?
But friends and enemies are two sides of the same interrelationship. Speaking about ‘false friends’ and ‘true enemies’ in the context of social and political engineering of a country like South Sudan with its multiple identities one can’t but call to mind the conflicts and wars that have characterised our history.
The borderline between ‘false friends’ and ‘true enemies’ is so faint that it may not really exist in the realm. This is because the categories ‘false friends’ and ‘true enemies’ are interchangeable in practice. They perform the same tasks in the social and political construction and context.
They either accelerate or decelerate social and political processes. And in this theme resonates with Machiavelli’s philosophy expressed in his treatise of statesmanship ‘The Prince’. Since this is in the domain of power politics it may be necessary to problematise ‘false friends’ are ‘true enemies’ as they play out in the power corridors. They both can act sometimes to lead the Prince to his self-destruction.
False Friends can be some cheeky people who manoeuvre themselves into such asymmetrical relations with the powers that be and make friendship for short term material benefits. Some are state bureaucrats who because of the pressures of the job prostrate them to play in the corridors of power such roles as sycophancy, leadership worshipping, court jesters, flatters, etc.
The cheeky ones forge a kind of friendship that bring them very close to the leader and make their way to position of authority through deception, flattery, trickery, treachery, black-mail, conspiracy, double talking, and all kind of slick. ‘False friends’ are self-seekers as well as political opportunists.
Every powerful leader, somebody whose powers are boundless, draws around him/herself a coterie of lieutenants, who could be ministers, civil servants, or security details, etc., of variegated experience, knowledge, ambitions, motivations, loyalties, and commitment. Some of them are very intelligent and active who quickly discover the opportunities their positions and relationships carry. Others are normal mortals who perform their duties perfunctorily.
The web of relationships, which emerges between themselves on the one hand and that between them and their Principal constitutes the dealing and wheeling, sometimes involving conspiracies and intrigues, in the palace. In this power game or contest for influence and wealth, the most powerful group popularly known as the palace Cabal (after Charles, Bartholomew and Louis in the Court of Queen Elizabeth) emerges consisting of the chief political commissar, the security chief and the financier. At times, the principal operates and performs official duties and functions at the behest of the cabal. They tell him/her what to do, what to eat, who to meet and not to meet even among his colleagues and compatriots; where to sleep and when to go to bed.
Sometimes the principal is frightened with horrific stories of impending or foiled coups or assassination attempts on his life. This is done with the intention of eliminating imaginary enemies or pretenders to the throne. More often than not these enemies turn out to be colleagues of the cabal whom they want eliminated due to contest and competition for influence. As a result a cult of mediocrity is cultivated and encouraged in the ranks.
Palace cabals emerge under authoritarian and/or dictatorial conditions but could also be seen in burgeoning democratic institutions. They could also emerge where internal democracy is muted; and where no or minimal channels of communications exist between the leadership and the base. Nothing that would displease the principal is mentioned but is always kept informed that everything was well. In the end the principal finds self in a prison situation. All his freedom to know the truth is truncated as all the information private and public is effectively and efficiently filtered by the cabal.
When a president’s motorcade cruises swiftly pass you know that the cabal doesn’t want the president to witness or see the effects or impact of his bad policies. Nimeri is said in April 1985 to have quipped ‘the real prison is the wall of silence erected around you by your colleagues, which prevents you from seeing or hearing the truth… until I arrived this place [Bastille station in Paris], I didn’t know I have been overthrown in Khartoum’.
This brings me then to who is a true friend. In my opinion a true friend is s/he who is able to courageously tell a bitter truth and take responsibility for it. A true friend will not shy away from criticising her/his colleague for the mistakes committed no matter how senior in the hierarchy that colleague may be.
In fact, a true friend will try to restrain his colleague from committing mistakes while a false friend or true enemy will encourage commitment of mistakes because that provides opportunities for him, even if that involved a fatal error of judgement in the interest of the country and its people. It becomes worst when the episode is fudged or glossed over in the interest of maintaining friendship thus depriving the individuals, the party or the government of the opportunity to draw lessons in order not to repeat it.
Which therefore is desirable a false friend or a true enemy? The answer is obvious. Definitely a true enemy is more desirable and indeed preferable to a false friend. This relationship is predictable and therefore one could take the necessary precautions.
But social and political engineering or real politick does not necessarily permit this clear definition of relationships. Sometimes one is forced to work and put up with false friends. In such a situation what should a leader do to protect the interest of the nation or the party? It becomes more complicated when sometimes false friends are blood relatives or people who share between them and the leader some strategic secrets. In such a situation, the leader must extricate him/herself by subscribing and adhering to clear principles, strategies and correct rules of conduct of business in order to avoid the pitfall of power game.
S/he should uphold the rule of law; must respect, protect and promote human rights, civil liberties and basic freedoms as well as adhering to democratic principles and practice. The leader should cultivate and maintain the trust and confidence of the masses of the people by doing the right things. The leader must act like a statesman whose relations with the people and power is underwritten by the constitution and the law. S/he must be seen to value neither ethnic nor local politics.
In the recent and contemporary history of the Sudan, we have had leaders who started off with grandiose political program only to retreat to the status quo ante. This is precisely because the new leaders get surrounded by false friends masquerading as staunch supporters and by doing that they elbow out genuine and committed members.
In a space of thirty five years both the ‘May’ as well as the ‘Ingaz’ revolutions fizzled out because the messengers superficially converted to the message they carried lost focus and deviated from the vision which thrust them to positions of influence. Many have since long decamped to the SPLM.
Linked to this theme, in an unfortunate manner, is the notion of somebody being another body’s person, hence the emergence of the infamous literature on the so-called Garang’s boys or orphans. This arises and sticks in a situation where political power and its exercise is not institutionalised and relationships are based on patrimonialism. There shouldn’t be anything like somebody’s person in a political organisation which has a constitution and internal regulations which define and guide the relations between the members and the party organs/institutions.
This brings me to the question whether or not the members of a political party are or should be considered friends or comrades. I submit that members of a political party are first and foremost comrades in the struggle. The relations between individuals are defined and spelt out by the constitution and the internal regulations/order of the party. As comrades united by a noble cause e.g. struggling to change an oppressive regime or a liberation movement resulting in freedom and independence, they will not fear each other as their hierarchal approximate horizontal relations. They will relentlessly criticise their own mistakes as they practise the principle of criticism and self-criticism spelt out in the internal order as a way of consolidating the organisational unity of the party. On the opposite side relations based on social criteria e.g. on friendship amount to intertwined blackmail. Criticism here even when genuine is construed negatively, personalised and could result in conflict.
The happenings in the SPLM these days make a perfect rejoinder to the theme of false friends are true enemies. The fate of South Sudan hinges on a precarious balance as a result of heart-breaking leadership wrangles. The unsavoury measures that dramatize ‘false friends are true enemies’ are jeopardizing and almost breaking the unity and turning into mutual enemies the top echelon of the SPLM. It is now apparent that the SPLM must be saved from itself or it will plunge the country into the abyss. The battle among similar species is more vicious than that between different species so they say.
I would in this respect say that unveiled threats as was in the Legislative Assembly or the dangling of vacant positions in government in order to extract loyalty counter even our democratic pretensions. It would be paramount to installing a monarch or feudal despot, Dinka egalitarianism notwithstanding.
This situation is obtaining principally because the SPLM cultivated social rather than political/ideological relations in its modis operandis since its inception. Coupled with a power relationship based on military routine which nurtured the cult of personality, these social relations became a fetter on the emergence of institutionalized political relationship in the SPLM. The result was that power and its exercise in the SPLM was personified ensheathed by a coterie of friends, most of them false friends.
The lack of institutionalised relations has always been the cause of tensions and splinterism in the SPLM. The fudging or rather the stifling of contradictions always came back like a boomerang. What was not resolved in 1991 and 2004 respectively has sprouted back in 2013 with devastating effect.
In conclusion, I want to ask whether or not I did problematize the theme enough as to allow as to draw lessons. Comrade Salva Kiir Mayardit is the Chairman of the SPLM and doubles up as the President of the Republic. It is in his interest and responsibility to maintain the unity of the SPLM as well as the security and stability of the country. The social and political engineering processes to bring about unity, security and stability will not preclude having competitors whether within the SPLM or outside it. He will have to put up with them but at the same time take responsibility for steering the process and keep the country, if not, the SPLM intact.
It must be made clear that the post-CPA SPLM is not the same as was CPA ante and I believe the Yei crisis 2004 was an eye opener. The political freedoms multiply themselves and could only be restrained at some risks. Those he appoints in whatever positions should be comrades rather than friends. If Comrade Salva Kiir Mayardit decides to rely on gossipers, liars, soothsayers, etc., on the basis of friendship or blood relations, he can count on what happened on the global scene in the last four years. [Published by SouthSudanNation.com, August 2013].