By Biar John
This article opens with a disclaimer that the information in its content may be ‘fictional’ or ‘fictional re-creations’ of real events. It starts with the definition of BYAA, and the story follows from there.
BYAA is an abbreviation for Bor Youth Association in Australia. Bor Youth Association in Australia is an association for Bor South County Youth in Australia, formed in 2004 (or was it 2005…? I can’t be sure) by a group of individuals with good intentions to help build their home town in the country of origin, South Sudan.
Imagine you’re a group of youth living in a foreign country as migrants. You’re amazed by the amount of energy in yourselves–or maybe you’re appalled by some horrific TV pictures of ruin caused by war (former war; not the ongoing one as the association was formed long before it) in your birth town. You wish (for the hundredth time — you could do something to help change the situation) that you could channel that energy into something productive.
You want to find a way to make sure that what you see or hear doesn’t continue any longer. You know that you all feel the same way—but what can you all do?
Either as a concerned or patriotic young person or an interested adult, one option open to you is starting a youth organization. That is pretty much the story of Bor Youth Association in Australia.
Bor Youth Association in Australia was formed purposely to raise money from its members, and probably turn Bor town into a modern city — perhaps a New York like city.
Having a city akin to those in the west has been a dream or an aspiration for the members of the association for a long time. What is wrong with having sky scrapers, and beautiful community parks as features of a future city?
In the future, some abandoned traditional villages would, also, have to be transformed into urban farms to provide healthy food for the poor. Meaning neighborhood farmers’ markets would spring out. And a new upbeat heart for the city close to outdoor restaurants, i.e., a huge empty space left in the city center during the survey probably for that purpose, would offer a central public space that instills pride and brings people together. Little by little, with community involvement, commitment, and saving from everyone member of the association, the process of making reality out of dream had just begun.
Like every other organization, the association’s objectives would have to be guided by policies, set of procedures, and leadership which was/is also the most important of all. The association, therefore, selected a leader immediately after the formation. And as per its policies, the change of leadership was to be made within two years (not really sure).
According to the policy, the association would have to be a multiple candidacy organization. This means as many candidates as possible could/can contest the leadership of the association.
Candidates’ selection has been a responsibility of all participating members. So, voting has been opened to everyone within the age allowed. Any qualifications, especially those based on criteria of competence, moral aptitude, and allegiance to societal norms, are not put into consideration when choosing a leader. As a result, numerous candidates, with differing backgrounds and beliefs, have always come out and contest for the top job.
Candidates can compete for the office, carry out election campaigns, and try to convince voting members to cast their ballots for them. Those that make the most realistic promises (such as bringing about changes back home or maybe I am dreaming) have most often come out victorious.
So, while some campaigns, in the last few years, have come out and promised creating opportunities for the young local members to connect to others in their foreign home, develop skills and utilize those skills to contribute to their communities, others have been stuck with the ambitious dreams of having to bring about a change back home, and have promised to build hospitals, and schools, there. Ambitions have, each year, grown bigger. Promises such as building airports, car manufacturing firms, and many more, including making Bor the country’s industrial agriculture hub may be on the way with the next generations of candidates.
In the years that followed the formation of the association, though, the leadership style changed, and was characterized by accusations of ‘individual control over all decisions and little input from group members’. This resulted in wrangles, and rift between the elite grew. Subsequent physical fights were not uncommon. Who didn’t hear of the punching, grappling, and kicking, plus all the shaking, jostling, spraining, and ‘the beating each other up with bicycle locks — known as kilometer — between the superiors?’ At some stage, it got out of hand and went into different states, and ordinary members at their local levels started gouging each other’s eyes out, too. Was it over power? No one could be really sure. No one knows if anyone can truly believe that power in the leadership of such an organization can be assumed to mean anything big to anyone.
Power does change people, however. It doesn’t matter how little. People who rise to the tops of organizations and political parties tend to prioritize their goals and desires above those of others, including those who help them get into power, fail to take other people’s perspective into account, tend to disregard other people’s feelings and are, less polite. They act to preserve their power, sometimes aggressively, when they feel threatened. Maybe, SPLM members (including Salva Kirr and Riek) are not the prime example of this.
Traditionally in south Sudan, there is a stereotype that leaders of local organizations such as community organizations and youth associations can make best leaders in the future. This is an argument propagated by those with ambitions to be leaders, to justify their lofty dreams.
This is pretty hard to prove. But there is a leadership theory that argues that leaders are not born, but developed. Would one be, then, mistaken for thinking that the intense rivalry within the association has always happened because everyone one wants to be developed for a future leadership back home? Maybe yes, maybe not! People think differently. So, who knows if anyone would have thought leading an organization such as this association ‘somewhere outside the country of birth, would help them get heard, gain recognition, and be rendered an advantage later should they decide to come back home, and contest a seat in the local parliament.’
In fact, two factions or coalitions (though they didn’t acquire names such as with the SPLM in Juba and SPLM in opposition) emerged within the association due to rivalry or power struggle. And they have been competing for power, influence, and control over policy initiatives, since. This bifurcation created something approximating a mechanism of checks and balances in the decision-making processes.
As disagreements began in the association’s earlier days, the situation got chaotic and was followed by scandals over financial mismanagements. Whether or not there was any substance to these scandals wasn’t anybody’s’ jurisdiction. But one thing that was clear crystal was that the scandals were about much more than one person’s momentous mistake, it was about an entire state of upheaval for the association as a whole including its leadership.
The damage extends far beyond the mismanaged funds. For some individual elites, there was a struggle to cultivate the image damaged by this mismanaged fund accusation, and be able to stay foot in the jobs. Or was it that the subjects were unruly or anarchic bigots whose dealing with became too much for the leaders? Either way, it was so painful. Quitting was probably the most face-saving option on the grab, especially, if the fund accusation was true. Or maybe it was true that the members had been anarchic, assumptive, and failed to live up to the ideal that they all strived to achieve, which led them to form the association in the first place. They say, ‘to make laws that man cannot and will not obey serves to bring all law in to contempt.’
But anyone should better know something before the decisions to take a leadership job, not just in this association but anywhere else. It is a generally known fact; one’s persona would not be on the public endangered species list until they make the bravest decision to be leaders or do something a little extraordinary. It is natural to human that a feeling of insecurity and hurt sets in when someone they know or a friend appears more achieving they themselves. In such a situation as the association’s leadership, the seeming achiever can easily get hurt by the very people who would be on their side. Shakespeare once wrote, ‘if a friend succeeds, a small part of me dies.’
In a confused society like south Sudanese, anything is mistaken for a success. Leaderships such as for the BYAA can’t be any exception in the minds of anti-successful. Therefore, anyone that makes the decision to become a leader, doesn’t matter where, needs to be wary that personal and professional decisions place them in the cross hairs of opportunistic critics— making them far more vulnerable to personal and public missteps than ever before. Even their relatives can go against them.
No one is doing anything more special than others in south Sudanese society the way things seem, currently. But certainly, anybody who is doing anything that appears to set them apart a little bid is taken to task.
As far as BYAA is concerned, there has been disunity among its members. Members have been known to wrestle each other’s characters since the earlier days of its formation. So, it’s known to be kind of dysfunctional in all aspects, despite its existence. And any further signs of elite disunity or upsets in the factional balance of power within the top leadership could be overwhelmingly detrimental in terms of the continued existence of it.
This elite’s disunity is never going to go away and factions will continue to exist. At the same time, these factions themselves are too strong to either unite or destroy each other. With these opposing forces in place the association is ineffective or in another word neutralized.
Any new leadership will continue to be threatened by the continuing disagreements. And subsequent leaderships will always remain weak and symbolic.
But despite the disunity, nothing has ever interfered with the number of those that come out each year and declare themselves to campaign for the leadership. Each faction has always had candidates to oppose the candidates of the other faction. But presently, only one guy has declared himself.
The question now is: where are the numerous dudes that have always wanted to lead? Here, no one is trying to think that the habitual desire of wanting to be developed for a future leadership back home has been killed by the pessimistic situation back home. And no one is trying to think we can’t all be leaders like we have always wanted to be. We surely want to lead all, still. We can even lead our own selves if there is no one is available to be led. But the question remains: where are ‘we,’ the numerous candidates that have often gone for each other’s necks over the association’s leadership? Three weeks on and only one guy is standing.
‘Delusion of grandeur + naivety + despair = giant confused south Sudanese society.’