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South Sudan: The 2008 Year of Political Corruption in Review

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By: Deng Yiech Bachech,* Canada

JAN.01/2009, from SSN; We’re entering the year 2009 and the year 2008 has already passed. As southerners, we’d better review both our government’s successes and failures and prepare ourselves for the New Year. So, I personally chose to focus only on the failures of our government for having not done enough to win people’s confidence, faith and loyalty.

Expose political corruption in South Sudan

Expose political corruption in South Sudan

Since this review focuses only on what went wrong in 2008, I spare to leave out other issues of political corruption which took place from the previous years (2005-2007). And also the analysis will be based on top stories, instead, that are still fresh and available on major news media, because mentioning every shady story of the year 2008 would require an intense writing a book of 700 pages, if you will. So I urge the readers to read these few truncated instances of serious political corruption below that occurred during the past year as justifications for my analysis. Here we go.

On December 22, 2008, the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) president Kiir appointed Nhial Deng Nhial as Defence Minister. This appointment, when announced, generated a lot of controversies and speculations. Many viewed it as unconstitutional, nepotistic and tribally-driven (as it was, matter of facts) since the selection process didn’t go through formal democratic process of appointing ministerial officials as stipulated in the CPA or The 2005 Interim Constitution because there hadn’t been  right consultations ever made, but rather the whole appointment was done behind closed doors by the president’s homeboys. Or may we simply say the rule of law was bypassed and compromised.

On December 13, 2008 Pochala commissioner of Jongeli state lashed out accusations against the revered Anyuak King over “fraud charges”. In this revelation, the public, until now, never know whether the commissioner’s accusations were substantial or not. But cases of similar scale are pervasively happening everywhere in South Sudan.

On December 5, 2008 Stephen Madut Baak’s “mouth-watering” $3 million-in-briefcase saga unfolded and was the top news story for 3 weeks. This issue was a classic form of corruption ever witnessed in 2008. But I may admit, Mr. Baak was  just a victim of organized political crime.  The accused himself was honest to admit the tomfoolery and so was the office of the Minister of Regional Cooperation that illegally gave the money to Mr. Baak—a close relative of the GoSS president—in spite of contradictory and cover-up statements that the said ministry issued eventually. The general public isn’t still convinced, though.

GOSS Ministry of Regional Cooperation giving Contradictory Statement on US $ 30 M saga

GOSS Ministry of Regional Cooperation giving Contradictory Statement on US $ 30 M saga

On October 28, 2008, Malou Military Barracks officers located near the Lakes State capital, complained for not having received their salaries for months while the Chief of Staff and other top ranking generals were busy siphoning money from the army’s budget to open their private businesses in Lebanon (courtesy of South Sudan Nation and Beirut Business Weekly, November 23 and 19, 2008, respectively) and palling around with hookers in East African cities. In this matter, the public sympathized and supported the army officers’ complaints.

On October 15, 2008, the Legal Affairs minister was accused of employing 90% of its staff and sending law students abroad for further studies allegedly from his native state or village; and he was summoned to testify before the concerned legislative bodies under the auspices of Specialized Committee set up by Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly (SSLA). Until today the whole issue has gone with the wind like Arthur Akuen’s case.

On August 15, 2008, Rebecca Nyandeng accused Dr. Riek Machar of awarding contracts to his business friends, an accusation that Dr. Riek

Dr. Riek Machar Accused by Nyandeng of Corruption

Dr. Riek Machar Accused by Nyandeng of Corruption

entirely dismissed as “unfounded” and later Mrs. Nyandeng denied it by saying that she’s quoted out of context. Case dismissed!

During SPLM Second National Convention held in Juba (May 15-20, 2008) the Speaker of SSLA, Wani Igga, toothlessly made a statement that the SPLM/GoSS was committed to replace state governors who’d be defeated at the Convention; but days later the defeated governors of Eastern Equatoria and Unity state remained at large.

On March 17, 2008, president Kiir threatened to wipe out corruption at the Fifth Governors’ Forum held in Juba. Like any other rhetoric of his, corruption remains intact and gains momentum, instead.

On January 26, 2008, the state MPs accused the governor of Unity state, Taban Deng Gai of embezzling about $122 million dollars. Like all other rampant corruption charges, the governor’s case is just another story of unresolved mysteries of corruption in South Sudan.

As indicated above, some of the readers of this piece would agree with me that political corruption exists, but there’re still those who may detest that. Nonetheless, we’ve developed a myth that if you expose ill-practices or criticize our own government officials, you may be perceived as public enemy to South Sudan. Or perhaps you’re someone hired by the Jallaba. According to that faulty reasoning, we can’t analyze or question our own government because we’ve an enemy next door that may benefit from it, despite the obvious corruption that continues to slowly bleed our nation to death.

Here I pose a question. If criticizing and exposing our dirty businesses is wrong because the beneficiary would be the National Congress Party, then what benefits would we get from “silence”? Isn’t it necessary that we therefore have moral obligation to criticize ourselves for the sake of our “common good” and leave the Northerners to criticize themselves?

It’s said in the Bible that “first remove the log out of your eye before you remove the bigger log out of your neighbor’s eye.” Just as an example, on December 29, 2008, Wisal Al-Mahdi, “the wife of the leading Islamic opposition leader [Hassan El Turabi] blasted Sudanese officials including the president accusing them of accumulating wealth through their positions in the government” (Sudan Tribune). This is fair enough for all citizens of Sudan to do their part in criticising government officials suspected of amassing wealth rather in parallel.

However, we can’t win the fight against corruption if we don’t know its causes, driving forces, difficulties and consequences.

The Causes

According to Wikipedia, political corruption is defined as “the use of governmental powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain”. Ultimately, our government officials in South Sudan are more susceptible to serious political corruption and that they put public interest behind. And the prime cause for this is greed — “the selfish desire for the pursuit of money, wealth, power, food or other possessions, especially when this denies the same goods to others.”

Political corruption is sometimes difficult to measure because it comes in many shapes, forms and sizes. The known common types of political corruption are bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, graft, and embezzlement. For example, if you offer jobs to relatives, that’s in itself a nepotism. If you offer jobs to friends who happen to be your comrades in the military, business contractors or old schoolmates, this is a form of patronage and cronyism. Bribery, extortion, graft and embezzlement are just outright stealing and mismanagement of public money which can occur in various ways—for example, the pipelining of money through infamous and ineffective GoSS Mission offices in foreign countries, as well as blackmailing and intimidation of whistleblowers and opposition groups.

The Losing Fight Against Corruption

Hence, this makes it hard for the established Anti-Graft Commission to fight corruption by punishing the thieves. First, to some extent, almost every government official (anti-corruption busters included) in the government of the semi-autonomous Southern Sudan is an accomplice in the corruption scheme, thus rendering the fight useless.

As a result, political corruption disables parliamentary functions and encourages personal allegiances when circumstances dictate. Above all, it promotes individual self-interest over public interest. And this practice solidifies and advocates for tribal cohesiveness in defense of ethnic elites’ leadership or power since the tribal enclaves are the leaders’ political bases that offer protection.

Second, these corrupt elites find the uncompromising whistleblowers, free-thinkers, scholars and civil advocates their number one public enemies. Why for? These groups, who expose malpractices, are threats to their self-interests.

Third, besides greed, arrogance and assertiveness, it’s the lack of properly defined powers—functions and responsibilities—and perhaps the failures of executing and implementing the defined laws that, in turn, do severe effective and efficient delivery of public services. Consequently, lack of established/sustained democracy, unfair and ineffective judiciary, economic inequality, suppressed and ineffective media at institutional levels in our regional government facilitates corruption.

This is chiefly because right people aren’t appointed to work in their respective fields of specializations due to political corruption practices that have become a norm in South Sudan.

The Driving Forces

In Africa today, there exists what political scientists and analysts call “Neopatrimonial Politics”. In theory and in praxis, neopatrimonial politics—or simply a politics of relations—encourages the culture of corruption, nepotism and elite bargains, and creates de facto institutions.

In this sense, a government official may only feel secure when surrounded by his fellow ethnic fellows or close relatives; and afraid of strangers—out-group circle. In return, the best tool is to offer his relatives or clansmen incentives/rewards for protection. This leads to a simple philosophy of “my clan-first and others-next”. And quite apparently, this is president Kiir’s philosophy. I assume most of us fall in this make-belief circle. It’s therefore difficult to eradicate corruption once it’s entrenched.

President Kiir’s  Political Rhetoric

Disappointingly, the tools and instruments for the lack of democratic oversight and accountability employed by our leaders are petty excuses such as “democracy doesn’t come over night” and that “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. In  South Sudan, they often say “we just emerged from the bush and we’re starting from scratch.” This is all rubbish! We know it. What have we done with about $6 billion dollars we got since January 2005 to the present?

By contradicting himself, our lame-duck president had these unsubstantiated statements to say at the Governors’ Forum in Juba, October 2, 2008 that:

“If the money is eaten by a few, all the rest will go hungry, and a hungry citizen is an angry citizen. This is as true in the Counties and States as it is in Juba.”

“At a personal level, if you demand unfair benefits from your relatives in Government that is corruption. If you’re tribalistic in your employment of staff, that’s corruption. If you divert funds to your own pocket, that’s corruption. If you give contracts in return for bribes, that’s corruption. If you promote your friends and relatives, that’s corruption. If you deliberately ignore the regulations and pay your staff as you choose, that also is corruption.”

“….in order to fight this endemic disease in the courts we must have the laws to do so. Until these laws exist, our hands are tied in fighting corruptees, while they betray our commitment to serve and provide services to our long-suffering people.”

“I direct the Minister of Legal Affairs to expedite the legislations related to corruption……….we hope such legislations will be finalized as soon as humanly possible. “(Source: SSN)

In fact, we as concerned citizens of South Sudan are angry at corruption and hungry to eat the fruits of our struggle.  Therefore we want equality, fair justice and peace. But the contradictory messages which our president toothlessly sings into the ears of hungry and angry masses are disturbing. The citizens of the South Sudan only see the president appoints his relatives one after another, and when his relatives are suspected of committing punishable crimes, he lets them loose without being prosecuted, tried, convicted or jailed, especially when they’re suspected of doing corruption. Legal procedures are always bypassed and ignored. Equality of and for all is just imaginary.

Despite these, Kiir had this to say again on corruption:

“Our people in South Sudan did not take up arms so that when they got peace a few were privileged to eat up all the wealth of the nation’…“Dismissing them however is not enough. They must be tried and punished according to the law. Anyone who has stolen and eaten something which is not theirs should be made to vomit it up.” (President S. Kiir on Corruption, Juba, December 2007: SSN).

Is there any grain of truth in the above statements? No, I’d confess. If you believe he’s up to his words, have we heard a word or press statement issued with regards to the alleged money laundering by Stephen Madut Baak, his self-claimed remote advisor in London? How a presidential advisor would live in a far, far away land like London, UK, and claim to be an advisor to the president? Why not call him a spy?  After all, the culprit is Mr. President’s homeboy.

The Consequences

In fact, it doesn’t need a scientific test for us to know and feel the burden of political corruption. It affects every fabric of our social life.

Sadly, such kind of politics is always against efficient/effective public service delivery, ethnic balance, resource sharing, participatory democracy and transparent decision-making.

Administratively, corruption poses a great danger to efficient and effective public service delivery since unqualified individuals who lack skills, expertise and knowledge are employed in public offices where they can’t satisfactorily perform their duties at the expense of qualified ones.

Politically, it undermines good governance and the legitimacy of the government in public eyes. It breeds mistrust, intolerance and ethnic rivalry, especially when political representation in decision-making and sharing of resources are absent.

Institutionally, it undermines the functions of the national and state assemblies or parliaments. Thus, this doesn’t give a room for accountability and transparency. And consequently, the judiciary branch of the government suffers a lot because the constitutions are always ignored, bypassed, compromised and distorted to the advantage of those in power. We can see now that there are innocent people who’re rotting in jails without fair trials and hearings, while big criminals aren’t apprehended.

Economically, the infrastructure developments such as hospitals, schools, roads, and urban planning remain very poor. The worst thing is the rapid growing gap between the poor and the rich. Poverty has skyrocketed.


As long as we’ve no relevant and revolutionary leader in power to contain corruption, we’ll continue to suffer. And our dream of separation will be just a dream or if united with the North, come 2011, our country will be among the top ranking corrupt countries in the world according to Transparency International, as it’s now.

All we, as concerned citizens, can do is to speak openly against corruption because if we choose to keep silent and let irresponsible and self-serving politicians determine our destiny, our hopes and dreams will be shattered. And the end-result will be a nation governed by a bunch of thieves whereby kleptocracy, instead of democracy, will be the only form of government system. For, if we act now, we’ll be the source of inspiration for generations to come.

Deng Yiech Bachech holds a BA (Honours) in Political Science, University of Saskatchewan and currently a MSc student in Sustainable Energy Development, University of Calgary, Canada. He can be reached at


Written by torit1955

January 3, 2009 at 4:57 am

2 Responses

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  1. Please i am intresting in this issue and even follow up of the current southern Sudan political issues.
    I out of the government and the same time a studient of peace and development studies P.hD programme political science.
    Let us work jointly this alone is an awareness to our greed and elit group currently making corruptions

    Fredrick Lokilong

    April 17, 2009 at 7:34 am

  2. this is an amazing article that touched on the true issues affecting southerners!

    Atem Deng

    June 16, 2011 at 5:19 am

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