opinionBy John A. Akec
Bad news travel fast. Good news travels slow but can also travel fast. That is the reality of our highly wired-up and networked global village, the world.
For example, the unlucky South Sudan Member of Legislative Assembly Hon. Aleu Ayeny Aleu, received bad press last week when he was unable to take hard questions from journalists on some articles related to media freedom in South Sudan's interim constitution, and instead chose to walk out of a public consultation meeting in Juba's Nyakuron Cultural Centre. Instantly, everybody heard the unfortunate incident and what a flood of bad-mouthing the legislator had to endure!
In contrast, I thought to share with my readers some good news. And the news being that President of South Sudan Salva Kiir Mayardit, fashion super model Alek Wek Athian, together with founder and former boss of Zain mobile telecom giant, Mo Ibrahim, are the 3 Sudanese who appear on the list of 100 top most influential Africans.
The list was compiled and published by the London-based New African magazine. It also contains Bishop Desmond Tutu, President Nelson Mandela, Jonathon Goodluck, Jacob Zuma, Professor Wangari Maathi, writer Chenua Achebe, Kofi Annan, and Wael Ghonim, the Facebook blogger credited with organising the Egyptian revolution, among others. Having 2 South Sudanese in this illustrious list is a great credit for the people of the nascent nation. It signals a very promising start.
And for all the controversy stirred up by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in the last decade, Mr. Mugabe too is listed amongst the top 100 most influential Africans living today. The list is not ranked in any particular order of importance or significance, according to the magazine editors. Commenting on the publication of the list by New African, a commentator for the Economist makes clear the distinction between being famous (well known faces with no real influence on the world around them), and being influential (that is being one or more of "opinion-shapers, doers, agitators, groundbreakers, and myths busters..."). This clear distinction between what is influential and what is famous is something I never reflected on nor thought about before. For me, famous has always appears to be synonymous with influential. Now I know and have learned something for which I am forever grateful
Despite the generosity of the African culture and people, the continent has rarely taken the full credit in regards to its contribution to global good. This is now changing. According to Baffour Ankomah, editor of New African:
"This is the first Top 100 Influential Africans issue of New African. "Our continent has produced, and continues to produce some impressive individuals from all walks of life who are having a profound impact not only on Africa but on the international community. The names on the list I am sure will be discussed the length and breadth of the Continent. And the list in itself is not necessarily an endorsement as such but what it does show is the diversity of skills, talents and personalities amongst Northern and Sub-Saharan Africans in contemporary times, and who are driving change across the continent and beyond."
New African editor is right. The South Sudanese born supermodel Alek Wek has been in fashion world since 1995 and there is no slightest suggesting that she is quiting the limelight anytime soon. In words of New African editors: Alek Wek "inspires many African girls to say they are beautiful just as they are."
The North Sudanese of Nubi origin, Mo Ibrahim, an electronic engineer and telecom business tycoon turned-philanthropist, sold his mobile telecom business (Celtel) for US $ 3bn and devoted his time promoting good causes that include good governance in Africa by awarding very generous monetary prize annually to a retired African president who has done exceptionally good things for their country during their term of office.
And prominently on this prestigious list was President Salva Kiir Mayardit, the president of autonomous government of South Sudan who, according to the magazine, "using his dogged pragmatism, led his people through tough and tortuous negotiations to independence in 2011." The magazine hopes that in Kiir's reign which will commence on 9th of July 2011, South Sudan will witness improvement and peace. As son of South Sudan, these accolades make me proud. As son of Greater Gogrial in Warap State, where Kiir Mayardit and Alek Wek originate from, I am doubly enthused.
It is worth reminding ourselves that we in South Sudan, have often criticised President Salva Kiir, not necessarily always fairly, for what he failed to do. Yet rarely acknowledging what has been achieved under his watchful eyes. Perhaps, this drives home the point that prophets are rarely recognised in their home town. New African shows us the importance of positive encouragement. Ours does not always have to be criticism, more of it. Juba today and other South Sudan cities are is a far more lively than they were in dark years of war in mid 1980s/early1990s. That is if you were there at the time, and you happen to revisit Juba or other cities in 2011. We need to count our blessing and not only count what we do not have.
It is also worth noting that throughout the history of South Sudan, sons Greater Gogrial in Warap State, like their counterparts in other states of South Sudan have contributed enormously to the struggle and advancement of the cause of South Sudan in many spheres of life, ranging from politics to military to academia to judiciary to media to culture and sports. We have a long list (not in particular order of importance) of influential names that include Apuk Paramount Chief Giir Thiik (who baffled British administrators with his dodged wisdom), Southern politician and statesman Bona Malwal (Sudan's presidential advisor who recently announced his retirement from active party politics from 9th of July 2011 to devote his time to research and writing.
I wish Bona Malwal good health and productive intellectual output in his new choosen role), General Emmanuel Abur Nhial (second in command to General Joseph Lagu during Adis Ababa accord in 1972), General Kuol Amum (a fearsome Anya I movement commander and later SPLA commander), basket ball player Manut Bol, Dr. Lawrence Wol Wol (first and last South Sudanese to be finance minister in Khartoum), Dr. Justin Yac Arop, Ambrose Wol Dhal (one of earliest South Sudanese diplomats of immense intellect and one a group of liberal Southern politicians called Big Six), Kerybino Kuanyin Bol (a Sudan army officer who led Battalion 106 in historic Bor mutiny in May 1983 and thereby sparked SPLA long liberation war), General Salva Mathok Beny (currently presidential advisor for Security and SPLA Veterans Affairs), Justice Ambrose Riiny (first South Sudan chief justice), Justice Chan Reec Madut (Khartoum and Harvard's trained judge who oversaw with Prof Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil the successful and historic South Sudan self-determination referendum in Jnauary 2011), Professor Matthew Atem Aduol (gynaecologist and 2-terms vice chancellor of Bahr El Ghazal University in Wau and currently founding vice chancellor of Rumbek University), Kornelio Koryom Mayik (founding general manager of Ivory Bank),Sister Amandit (an entrepreneurial-minded Catholic nun who founded and run a successful private girls school in Aweil before civil war broke out in 1980s to close it down), Nhial Bol Aken (the outspoken, yet fair-minded editor of the Citizen newspaper, who is always in trouble with police in Juba for his critical views), Jacob Jel Akol, the widely influential editor of Gurtong website, Dr. Jok Madut Jok (the Layola University Professor who did much to raise expose modern day slavery in Sudan through his books), Aman Aniek Atak (Alek Wek's niece, and a promising young women civil engineering student who began at Imperial College and now completing studies at Cambridge University). The list is very long. These are self-made individuals who elected to indulge their passion in the society without fear. Let us thank God and the women of Greater Gogrial for giving so generously from their wombs to the advancement of South Sudan. And may the culture of allowing individuals to be different and free to persue their passions without hinderance endure in that part of our land.
Last but not least, my final words are reserved for Gogrial great son, the President Salva Kiir Mayardit. Congratulations for this recognition. You are in a very privileged position and you hold great potential to make a difference to the lives of millions of South Sudanese at this point in our history. Indeed you have already done much through your 'dodged pragamatism." I pray that when it comes to making choices about your legacy as the first president of an independent South Sudan, that it will be working for peaceful coexistence of all our peoples; for peace and fearless freedom to reign across the length and breadth of our vast land; for prosperity that is not confined to privileged few; democracy that is self-evident; justice that knows no colour, status, or tribe; and rule of law that exempts no one, no matter how powerful. You are not to dwell on bradishing glittery yet empty slogans; nor engage in sweet talk during occasions that is never followed through with concrete actions, but to have deeds that are reality lived everyday by common man, woman, and child of South Sudan.
Mr. President, write these goals out at your door post. Let them decorate your chest. Tie them to your neck. Cling to them and let them direct whatever you do from rising of the sun to the time it sets. Let no self-interested kingmaker or temptations of power persuade you away from their sacred path. And may God of all truth be your wise counsellor, your protector, and your redeemer in your going out and your coming in: everyday, every hour, every minute, and every second.
The author is vice chancellor of University of Northern Bahr El Ghazal in South Sudan, and chairperson of Academics and Researchers Forum for Development, a think-tank and advocacy group formed by the South Sudanese academics and researchers.