The sounds of despair over South Sudan are growing ever louder.
A disheartening time-to-give-up-on-South Sudan report was published in The EastAfrican just over a fortnight ago (“Five year-old South Sudan coming apart as inter-ethnic divisions worsen”).
“With more than 10 militia groups, observers say that the country — which is only five years old — could be divided into the three regions that formed the South under the larger Sudan: Equatoria, Upper Nile and Bahr-el-Ghazal,” it said.
With the continuing mass murder, ethnic cleansing, rape, pillage, and economic destruction, only the most irrationally optimistic, the believers in miracles, and the deluded still think there is a future for a united South Sudan.
President Salva Kiir and his hardline henchmen, and rival Riek Machar’s camp are both to blame. But of all parties, the one with the most options to do something dramatic and turn the situation around is Kiir.
And so we shall spotlight Kiir.
Like another leader of a war-weary nation, Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza, Kiir is increasingly hidebound.
However, he did venture out of Juba a few days ago to Nairobi to attend the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) summit.
There was the usual communiqué issued, and big words uttered, after the summit. The most revealing thing about that summit, though, was probably the most insignificant – at first sight.
One of the official photographs issued after the meet had the Igad big men who attended seated in this order, from left to right: Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, Djibouti’s President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, and then President Kiir.
All the leaders are sitting straight, and have both their arms on the arm rests, except Kiir, who is also leaning off to his left. There is nothing there, but there is something in what is happening to his and Museveni’s hats.
Museveni was wearing his safari hats long before Kiir became president, so maybe he has had time to master hat etiquette. In any event, he is holding his hat square on his lap.
Kiir is wearing his. His face cannot be seen.
Clearly, of the two hat wearers, Museveni has a greater sense of occasion. Kiir has none. It all speaks to his inability to see the small things that make a big difference.
Kiir had the possibility to co-opt Machar during the shortlived government of national unity, and then let Machar hang on the rope of his own megalomania. He chose to try to finish him off, and the fellow fled, with some political points still in his pocket.
Kiir almost no longer appears without his hat on. It has become a mask behind which he hides, refusing to submit to transparency.
Even the choice of his hat tells a story. He wears a Western fedora. His benefactor Museveni wears a safari hat. You can only talk about Yoweri’s hat in an “African context.” He is a very lousy democrat, but the one thing Museveni is not, is foolish.
On the path Kiir is on, one of these days he will be photographed with other leaders sitting inside an air-conditioned room, with his hat, of course, and dark glasses to boot.
It would then be time to finally hold South Sudan’s funeral service.
Charles Onyango-Obbo is publisher of data visualiser Africapaedia and Rogue Chiefs. [email protected]