Dilemmas of the southern intellectuals

Zachariah was appointed deputy governor in July 2021. A Luo from Jur River, he is from a prominent SPLM family: his father, Joseph Garang, is the author of the famous 1971 essay, ‘The Dilemma of the Southern Intellectual: Is It Justified?’ (Garang, 2010). Zachariah’s appointment was partly intended as a way for Kiir to show that he remains loyal to the original dream of John Garang—who led the SPLM/A until his death in 2005—despite the appointments of so many cadres from the NCP to the SPLM Political Bureau in recent years. Zachariah was further intended to be a placeholder, who could take the job for six months at the behest of his political patron, the former governor of Western Bahr el Ghazal and the power broker in the state, Rizik Zacharia Hassan, before stepping aside for someone more suited to the state’s ethnic electoral calculus.

Zachariah’s task was to organize the SPLM for forthcoming elections, while ensuring that Cleto remained relatively powerless. Zachariah carried out both tasks with aplomb, and despite the wishes of his patron, is now trying to position himself to be the SPLM’s gubernatorial candidate for Western Bahr el Ghazal. He is unlikely to be successful. Zachariah is from Jur River county (Udici payam), and Kiir has long believed that the Luo of Jur River will throw their weight in with the SPLM in order to influence politics in Wau, regardless of who the gubernatorial candidate is. In the ruling regime’s calculations, it is the Fertit population of the state who need convincing that they should support the SPLM, and who still remember the violence meted out to them by government forces from 2012 to 2018. Thus, all the rumours in Wau swirl around potential Fertit politicians to replace Zachariah and become the SPLM gubernatorial candidate, with pole position being given to Viola Alexander Umili, the SPLM state secretary-general, a Fertit politician who comes from a popular family in Wau.

Underlying this game of thrones is a map of less changeable ethnic realities. At present, the positions of state governor, deputy governor, and speaker of the assembly are informally divided up between, respectively, the counties of Wau (Cleto), Jur River (Zachariah), and Raga (the speaker of the assembly, Muhameden Abubaker). If Emmanuel Otong—like Zachariah, a native of Jur River—is brought in to replace Cleto, then Zachariah will almost certainly have to leave the deputy governorship, with rumours that it will be another Rizik protégé, the speaker, Abubaker, who will take the deputy governorship, leaving the speakership to a Balanda Fertit politician from Wau. The smart money in the state capital is on Angelo Taban, the former governor and a Kiir loyalist, becoming speaker. This is just one potential scenario: the list of candidates is long, and many other potential scenarios are produced by the complexity of Western Bahr el Ghazal’s ethnic make-up.