Figure 1: Mr. Riak Mach giving a speech at

South Sudan Central Issue: Self-Deception In Leadership

He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not, is a fool –Shun him.
He who knows not, and knows that he knows not, is a child –Teach him.
He who knows, and knows not that he knows, is asleep –Wake him.
He who knows, and knows that he knows, is a leader –Follow him.

                                                                                    ~Persian Proverb

By: Eng. Riak Mach Riak

Winnipeg, Canada.

Figure 1: Mr. Riak Mach giving a speech at
Figure 1: Mr. Riak Mach giving a speech at
WUSC Fundraising

My religious background have taught me to start conversation to the public with a word of God and so I thought I would start this piece of writing with a popular hymn from the Jieng Episcopal Church that goes: “Muk yi piöu riny lo wërwër roor”… “Tariir tong ee Sudan abi meth kene dhieth nyic akolde yic nek wök” –Translated: “Have courage the dispersed diaspora generation”… “The struggle, the war in Sudan shall be know by the unborn child, the truth of what killed us…” I was born during the war that brought about Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and ultimately a new nation of South Sudan, being the unborn child described in that hymn song, yes I have know and participated in the struggle itself.
Unfortunately, I thought I knew the truth of what the struggle was about and what killed my people but I do not know it anymore, I thought I could have helped the unborn child know about our struggle but I do not know it anymore as the struggle and killing continue in South Sudan.
Writing about South Sudan can be a lucrative and/or risk business, if you don’t know what I mean ask Ateny Wek Ateny the press secretary of president Salva Kiir, a once extreme critic of the government of Southern Sudan leadership and ask Isaiah Ding Abraham Chan Awuol six feet underground, a man killed for bluntly expressing his opinion on leadership.
South Sudanese have continued to writes in praise or condemnation of the current leadership, regardless of threats and consequences. This articles will just be one of many that is likely to be lost in the mass of many other opinions articles that have been written trying to address South Sudan problems, like “The fundamental problems of South Sudan” or some other catchy titles like that. Here I will put more focus on self-deception in leadership as the unknown or ignored central issue in governance and organization performance.
Self-Deception –How do we deceive ourselves? This question will be answered by the end of this article. Be it intentional or non-intentional, self-deception resulted into emotional coherence that blinds us to the true causes of problems, it corrupt our view of others and our circumstances, and it can become part of us to the extent our happiness and leadership are undermined. I believe self-deception is a general maxim of rationality. Being a storyteller myself, I would like to start out with a little anecdote to help you understand self-deception in simple context.
A village chief was very sick and was rush to a local rural clinic; the villagers were very concerned and came to the chief bedside. A moment later a frog jumped onto the bed where the chief was lying down. The villagers watched in shock, some began to cry, as they presumed, “This is it, this is the sign of bad omen, and our chief is no more”. Startled, the chief raise his head and said, “It would be wise to find out what that frog is running from before you make judgment.” As people step outside the door, there was a snake at the door…Self-deception is very much about thinking “in the box” like in the case of the villagers who were inside the clinic building.
I find it a real problem to many people and specifically South Sudanese leaders and citizens in general. I could speculate why self-deception in leadership is deeply rooted in ‘us’ more than other people. One reasonable explanation could be our cultural influence, our cultures have sharpened our ego so much that everyone else is an object and only your close kin or tribesmen are the real people. It is unreal how many time you will find South Sudanese interlocked in an argument about which tribe are the strongest, the smartest, born to be leaders so on and so forth…our ego have been directly transferred into public leadership and it is very damaging, most of our leaders self-deceived as “all-knowing or omniscience ” wait, isn’t that blasphemous?
Another, fairly acceptable explanation is the long history of struggle and militarization of the general population; Southerners have been fighting since 1955 to date.
I would argue that we have been physiologically and psychologically designed to act tough, to be defensive, to fight back and to not let anyone else have his way. This attitude of “I’m in charge” and “telemat waaza wu zaar” (clear directive) have cost us and it is still costing us lives and instability.
Most of these leaders do not comprehend why they hold such attitudes, feel uncontrollable fear or unleash explosive temper against their juniors or public they are leading. They tend to justify their shortcoming, self-remorse and punishment and they are unapologetic. I remember those bushes days when, “please” was an order not a request and you can be flogged or jailed for telling a senior comrade “please…” well, that mentality pretty much still exist in the current leadership. Self-deception can make you create your problems and be unwilling to see it and even worst resist any attempts to help you see it.
To be brutally honest about our leadership and to have a authentic leadership in South Sudan we need to first find out why the frog jump into chief bed. Self-deception is deeply embedded in our organization culture, it is the foundation of our culture, and it is the way of life in South Sudanese leadership, not just back home, here in the diaspora, leaders are never at fault on anything. To remedy a problem as deep as such, we need a total system overhaul –I am not talking about useless coup and meaningless killings of citizens by citizens, I mean individuals mindset overhaul. Introspection, soul-searching of leaders, step “out of the box” and put on different ‘hat’ or try different ‘lens’.
Two of my favorites engineering areas are system engineering and process improvement engineering, in this two areas the design is never perfect and I’m allowed to think far and beyond to design the best that is never the best because someone will come along and say there is a room for process improvement that become continuous improvement.
This should directly apply to leaders, they should continue to strive for their self-improvement, behavior uplifts, and enlighten themselves, be it through life coach, executive and professional coach or mentors, I would encourage rehabilitation therapy if they have to, it is nothing to be ashamed of, it is what people who want to get better go for. And as a result they will transform and elevate the way government functions, change organization culture and improve performance and most importantly get ride of their self-deception ego. The problem of our leaders is not just ‘hard behavior’ versus ‘soft behavior’ it is ‘inside the box’ versus ‘outside the box’. Get out of the box!

2 thoughts on “South Sudan Central Issue: Self-Deception In Leadership

  1. Mostly true, and in any case invaluable to see and understand what the problem is. Brutally honesty required here.
    The biggest problem is that there are NO leaders at all, not in the sense that the lead or do anything at all. But what has happened is that the men occupying offices, driving big cars are like village elders waiting to decide and perhaps arbitrate. They have not understood at all that the position they hold is not a village council (wonderful that they might be), but being a Minister or a Leader means that YOU must develop a vision of what the future must look like, then formulate a strategy to implement that vision.
    The current bunch of self deluded individuals “think” they are leaders, but the reality as we all know very well is that the produce nothing at all. Close most ministries down and no one would notice. They never developed to be of any relevance at all.
    Now the next thing which then happens. People saying so, will immediately be labeled as very dangerous people, upsetting the big men’s lazy days, disrupting the theater they are playing, disturbing their forum for internal admiration.
    Change must happen, for sure, killing the messenger will achieve nothing. Finding someone to raise above the pettiness we see today, the slaughter of people, the abject poverty, the immense suffering and premature death of a generation – a person who declares “ENOUGH”.
    A person like the leader of Rwanda who managed to get that nation on its feet somehow. We don’t need a South Sudanese Genocide Rwanda style to see that the current situation leads nowhere.
    So, either start to build vision and lead, or “get out of the kitchen” and let others more competent do the job. We have already lost a decade and a couple of 100 000 lives, it is enough now.

    1. “Minister or a Leader means that YOU must develop a vision of what the future must look like, then formulate a strategy to implement that vision”

      I can not put it any better Mr. Majak Luak. I have always said, how do we make people ministers when they clearly do not have any idea where to start on their first day in the office because they generally need the vision and the know-how to get started. Ministerial position is high level, it is responsible of few portfolios and under each portfolio there are programs and under each programs there are several projects. Without a vision there will be no strategies and work breakdown of missions to achieve a vision. Let’s hope with time things will change for better some days soon.

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